Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blossoms of Light

Between work assignment, social obligations and holidays, I have been spending far too much time on planes lately. All my numerous times through security and yet, I feel no more secure. However, with every return to Denver, I am filled with a relaxed joy and it confirms my relocation decision all over again.

Even as I recently struggled to find my truck at 2:00 a.m. at the Mt. Gilbert parking lot at DIA, (Calling it Random Kansas Wheat Field Parking Lot, would be more accurate.) I could feel a familiar warm excitement at being home again. All the cars were frosted white and it was the first time that I'd ever experienced a steering wheel too cold to touch. Too hot? Sure. Melted Chapsticks are a signature of my childhood but this other extreme, I am slowly discovering.

Denver is, for me, The Never-Ending World of New. For example, today was my first time driving in snow … ever. It was also the first time using the 4WD on my truck; I felt so incredibly studly and made no effort to contain my squeals of delight. (That's a Squealing Stud in the Snow, for those of you following along.) Then, I played a blues riff on my guitar for the first time at my beloved music school, Swallow Hill. Three major firsts - all before lunch.

Tonight, I met my friend, Sarah, at the annual "Blossoms of Light" at the Denver Botanic Gardens down the street. It was quite spectacular, tingly even. Mayor Hickenlooper counted down, flipped the switch and … zzzzt ta-da! A giant magical snowy ChristmasLand appeared - a site to behold. Hundreds of excited gloved and mittened hands made for some comical applause - Puffpuffpuffpuffpuff! I found this hysterically funny, for some reason.

Seriously, around every corner and over every wooden bridge, we expected to encounter sparkling fairies handing out candy canes or giggling elves cheerily making toys. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when Will Farrell's character in "Elf" walked to New York from the North Pole, he came through here.

So much effort went in to setting this up, color me impressed. Thousands of bright, twinkling LED lights ("Energy-saving!" insisted our wonderfully green mayor) covered trees, archways, waterfalls, trellises and walkways - even the frozen pond had green 'Lilly pads'. Great care was given to color choices – not just your predictable greens and reds, lots of pinks, oranges and purples. There was even a grove of trees done entirely in autumn hues. Sarah's favorites were the trees wrapped in blue and green – so clean and crisp looking. Mother Nature, ever the dominant stylist, gave the final touch by dusting it all with the whitest, fluffiest snow I have ever experienced. (My inner LA voice insists that it feels so real, it has to be fake.)

Later, defrosting our extremities inside, Sarah and I drank hot chocolate, munched on cookies and listened to a string quartet. We watched kids get their picture taken with Santa and marveled at how we could see the detail of the cellist red thong. Always nice to see classical music getting sexed up a little, especially with holiday colors.

It is one of those nights that make me giddy about the future. This is Denver's ongoing gift to me, a breath of fresh (if not frigid) air that makes me welcome whatever else might be coming around the corner. I feel ready.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Familiar Ground

Stuck at LAX, as inebriated as I can possibly afford to be, I long to be home in Denver. Like many of us, I have spent the last several days with family, eating too much and spending time in places all too familiar. Please note the homemade cranberry-turkey sandwich at left with the double shot of airport whiskey - both quite necessary, I assure you.

[Note: The post comes a day late - thanks to false promises of "Free wi-fi!"]

Yesterday, I arrived at my favorite place on Earth: 29 Palms, California - specifically, a quirky little house that sits astride Joshua Tree National Park. I'm not sure exactly what draws me to this place. My mother first introduced the Dr. Seussian landscape to my grandfather back in the 1950s and the North Dakota farmer was instantly smitten. He bought a couple lots, had a house built and it still stands as the Hi Desert Branch of our small but mighty Clisby Empire. As with the San Bernardino Mountains Branch, there is no phone or television, just lots of books, games and wildlife to observe, plus the shuffleboard court in back.

The bunnies are large and the quail especially fat and plentiful this year, always a good sign. However, as much as I love this place, I dreaded this particular trip. It was here in February that I first innocently read a blogger fan letter from the man who would eventually (ahem) inspire my move to Colorado. Also, when I returned in April - I was here with MonkMan, camping with his friends. We'd stopped by the house and made love practically in every room, thereby tainting my beloved place with the foolish memory. That was a mere seven months ago and it feels like years. Such a naïve young girl I was then; such a wizened old cynic I am now.

Still, it needed to be done, which is why I insisted on the trip. Painful as it was, the place badly needed to be reclaimed. To honor all the years spent in 29 J-Tree, time with family and reveling in its natural peace and beauty, I cannot let one disappointing affair mar my feelings. After all, this is the place I've chosen to be "lightly toasted and sprinkled" after my spirit has moved on.

Quite soon after we arrived on Saturday, I went for a stroll to walk off some gravy. After a few hundred yards of purposeful walking, I quickly realized I had a specific destination in mind. Down a long sandy path, I soon came upon an old friend.

We'd met years ago, under the pale light of a full moon. I was off down some midnight trail, probably muttering to myself and trying to figure out my life, as usual. A recent flash flood had made the sand mushy and I slipped down steep incline, landing in a gritty heap. I then heard a contemptible snort following by whinnying laughter. This is how I met my equine friend, Snort.

This time, he stood there, it seemed, waiting for me. I walked straight up to his shoulder blade, gave some rubs and let him sniff me over. I had grabbed my grandfather's old coat from the house, a TUMS tablet circa 1960s still in the pocket. Snort found the coat fascinating and couldn't get enough of it. I stroked his jawbone, scratched his ears and touched his silky nose. My public face then dissolved and I collapsed into yet another heap at the hooves of Snort. There, between the cacti and the desert gourds, I sobbed and sobbed, embracing all the searing pain before letting it go. Under the horse's guard, I felt small and worthless but the demons just scattered.

Later that evening, after Leftovers Round Five and a family game of RummiKube, I found myself in that holiest of places, Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace. The Rojer Arnold band was doing a tribute to the late Buzz Gamble, and I was unspeakably content. I had a frosty cold beer, a front row seat to the action and I was back, once again, making new memories at my favorite place on Earth.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When Celebs Lose Their Shit

After returning home from another brilliant Monkey's Uncle improv show last night, I was hungry for more hijinks and flipped on "Seinfeld." There are few shows I never tire of ("I Love Lucy", "Sex in the City", etc.) and this is one of them. Doesn't matter how many times I have seen the episode, I still laugh uproariously.

There I was, marveling at the collective genius, when I had an impulse to switch channels. By sheer chance, I stumbled across Jerry Seinfeld guesting on David Letterman, discussing Michael Richards' very public display of racist rage in the middle of his stand-up act last weekend. To my surprise, Seinfeld was quite serious and trying to make amends for his friend. Next thing I know, they've got Richards on satellite, looking older and visibly distraught, struggling to explain his reprehensible actions.

Just seeing Richards face brings visions of Kramer famously whizzing into Jerry's apartment and so the audience began to laugh, as did I. Then, Seinfeld uncharacteristically tried his hand at seriousness and chastised the audience, "Don't laugh. It's not funny." That alone, was surreal – like Madeline Albright launching into a striptease or Dick Cheney doing a guest voice on 'The Simpsons.' Awk-ward.

But not half as awkward as Richards himself. While he sputtered and fidgeted, it took a while to sink in that the man was deadly serious. I had to get up and brush my teeth in the middle - it was that hard to watch. I picked up some nervous laughter in the audience and again, they were called on it. "I hear some of your audience members laughing," Richards said to Letterman, "and this is no laughing matter." After that, you coulda heard a pin drop. This was television at its weirdest.

So, what is the deal lately with celebs going bonkers these days? Tom Cruise is beyond repair in my book – the three-minute "I'm really not gay – see look!" kiss at his own wedding is just another example of his inner struggles. Can't exactly blame the media – it's not like Mel Gibson was being trampled by paparazzi when he went drinking with his inner anti-Semite and trotted him out for all the world to see.

It's not so much the meltdowns that I am tiring of – because those can be really fun – it's the barrage of earnest apologies that are starting to chafe. I'm not saying that Celebs Gone Postal should not make amends but it's starting to feel like the soup of the day.

I feel like some enterprising broadcast executive could start an "All Apologies" network (theme music by Nirvana) and just run them 24/7. You think I'm joking but remember, folks laughed at Ted Turner – "Who wants to watch news all the time?" (I also had the same idea for car chases but I think "Cops" now has that covered.)

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for celebs who do not apologize for every mistake. Despite going barefoot in a public restroom, driving with her infant in her lap or chomping gum through a major interview, Britney Spears' best quality may be that she just doesn't give a shit, hence, the fascination. Instead of Richards' promise to "take some time off, do some personal work," Britney just shrugs, snaps her gum and says in her Louisiana twang, "We're country, that's just how it is."

Obviously, Richards is mortified by his actions, as he should be, and seems as shocked as anyone that he's actually an angry racist. Admittedly, targeted members of the audience had found his weak spot - his failure to succeed post-Seinfeld - and were taunting him about it.

We all have angry buttons and apparently, mine is watching the morning express bus driver casually forget to stop and pick up me and my fellow shivering commuters. In San Francisco, I completely snapped during one occasion and attacked just such a bus. Crazed and frothing, I nearly got run over as I tried to board it at 35 mph. I'm pretty sure I even beat my fists on a passenger window in a full-blown rage as people grabbed their children away from the raging psychotic that I was. Nope, it wasn't my finest hour and you know what?

I'm not sorry.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Spicy, Glorious Stew

As Bush finally ships off to Vietnam to make nice-nice (30 years too late, as Fang points out) and volunteer Minutemen – or, as I like to call them – Mi-nute Men – stalk our southern border, I can't help but notice some fascinating cultural seepings in W's home state.

Yesterday morning, I read a news story that got me downright misty-eyed. Traveling abroad a few years back, I somehow morphed into a dedicated rugby fan. My team was, and remains, The New Zealand All Blacks. At the start of every game, the Blacks, cued by the blow of a conch shell, would perform a harrowing Maori (NZ indigenous folks) war dance called the 'haka.'

With bulging eyes, wild tongues, knee-slaps and frightening growls, the haka is a sight to behold. It is impossible not to be seduced by the sheer power of it. "Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! ("We're going to die! We're going to die! We're going to live!") – the deep baritone warrior chant makes your hair stand on end and, for some of us, draws our nipples towards the sky. In Maori tradition, the haka was performed prior to battle and the All Blacks were the only sports team in the world that indulged in this Pacific Islander tradition.

Until now.

Joy-of-joys, this menacing and beautiful display of testosterone has now taken hold in that bastion of Americana – Texas high school football. Bedford, home of the Trinity Trojans, also boasts a large population of Tongans, who are big and mighty and make for excellent defensive ends. One of these Tongan Trojans, taught the ancient war dance to his teammates during a practice rain-out. Not only did it take but Trojan fans have gone haka-wild. Evidently, young girls now wear shirts in Bedford asking: "Got Haka?" Fans even hang around after the game, in the hopes they will perform it again.

Best part of the story: A videotape of the Trojan haka performance was shown to a group of elderly Bedford Tongans. They couldn't take their eyes off the white Texan boys performing this ancient dance with such fierce intensity and dedication. They wept with joy, knowing that future generations of Tongans would be accepted in the community. The Trojan football coach now jokes that Bedford first-graders are learning the haka before they learn to block and tackle.

Meanwhile, the border town of Laredo is gearing up for its annual Society of Martha Washington pageant – an elaborate tribute to the First First Lady. Young debutantes, the great majority of whom are Latina, vie for the chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to portray Martha on this highly-anticipated night. As National Geographic explained: "It doesn’t matter whether you're Anglo or Mexican. All that counts is old blood, deep roots and the size of your hoop skirt." Indeed, it's all about the gowns, which can weigh up to 85 pounds and cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.

As a border town, all citizens of Laredo are bi-lingual and easily slip between both worlds. It is often said that the two Laredos, "beat with one heart." The NG article observes that the "cultures have not so much collided as colluded to form one region, separate and apart from both home countries." This is a dream, or a nightmare, depending on which side of the … er, fence you're on.

Speaking of blockades, I was in Berlin the summer after the wall was torn down. I even paid five deutsche marks to rent a hammer and chisel and take some blows myself. I can tell you, there will never be a wall high enough to keep out the ideal that George (the original), Tom, Ben and the other founding fathers had in mind. This country, flawed and fabled though it may be, is one big social experiment in constant progress. While the politicians spit and argue, the rest of the country is busy getting on with organically and spontaneously getting along.

This is the real America and it cannot be withheld or contained.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Feature – 'The Year of Living'

I've decided that my first Colorado winter will be spent as a Writing Monk. The Plan: Slave in the corporate mines, eat gruel, do yoga and write. Sure, I'll take time off for guitar lessons, travel and skiing but seriously, I gotta get my ass in gear. Otherwise, I'll still be writing press releases in the year 2026 and probably trying to hang myself with the USB cable that plugs straight into my spine.

Consequently, I am rummaging through the hundreds of half-written essays, notes scribbled in earnest and especially, volumes of journals. Remember those? Before the Blogosphere was born in a sudden white flash, there was the tangible romanticism of paper and pen. To my delight, I've recently unearthed several battered notebooks that accompanied me on a year-long adventure around the globe a decade ago.

When I was 29, I gave up my cool apartment, left my sweet boyfriend, quit all my jobs, sold my belongings and bought a round-the-world ticket. For some of 1995 and most of 1996, I explored Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii as best I could. There is not a day that goes by I do not recall that magical time period of my life. What this experience taught me about the world, about people, about cultures – especially my own – is invaluable to me.

On a semi-regular basis, I'd like to share some entries from that period, get some of this stuff out into space. Here's the first, a short entry jotted down just after initial take-off:

LA to Minneapolis

The day has finally come and here I sit, hovering above my country in a DC-10, not really believing it. How could this possibly work … me, the world and everything? What if we don't get along?

Sharing a hot dog and a Budweiser with my mother in the airport ($12) was a poetic act. She's been so supportive, meanwhile enduring all kinds of disturbances in her own life. I will worry about her and her about me because that's how that sort of thing works.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Know Thyself

I’m trying here in Denver, I really am. I’ve been signing up for random social groups, clubs, activities, botanic gardens, film societies, whatever. I’m Marcia friggin’ Brady over here in the square state but developing a new network from scratch doesn’t happen overnight.

I attended one of my first ‘singles events’ this afternoon – a Broncos game in a bar – and had a revelation of sorts. Everyone there was perfectly nice - like me, a bit shy (ha!) and looking to meet new people. As more folks arrived, however, I started to feel more and more detached. Not just the usual girl-in-a-bubble sensation that I feel in daily life, this was something else. The feeling was that I’d somehow wandered into the wrong tribe.

Most of the other folks in the group were either much older than me or had just given up early, hard to tell. Mind you, I’m the most immature 40-year-old you’d ever want to meet, a source of pride, I don’t mind sayin’. Nearly every woman I met (yup, always plenty of those) had short, conservative haircuts and wore those non-descript Mom Jeans. They mostly lived in the suburbs and try as I might, I could not develop a connection with anyone. I remember thinking, “The first person who says the word ‘fuck’ I am buying a drink.”

I know plenty of rocking mamas so it really has nothing to do with whether someone has kids or not, it’s more about a vague resignation or an immense desire for safety that makes me impatient and fidgety. There is a stiffness there that makes me stiff as well and I should know to avoid it at this point in my life.

Right about the time I heard the woman next to me say, “I do not like horses,” my phone rang. It was a new friend, Bliss, a vivacious gal with a heavy Mississippi accent. “Girl! Carlie just got a new puppy! Ya’ll gotta meet us over at her place!” Something in my head clicked and after contemplating this for two minutes, I hopped off my barstool and left. It was still the first quarter.

Driving over to Carlie’s house, I had to admit that the perfectly nice people at the bar were simply not my people. Again, lovely folks but something about them all screamed, “NORMAL!” I always forget this and have to re-learn it over and over again. I try to fit in with NORMAL and I can never fully choke it down. My people are the FREAKS, I am so proud to say. Thankfully, Bliss, Carlie and others in their world are nowhere near NORMAL. There is drama, there is art, there is funky shit on the walls and plenty of mistakes out there for all to see; I find great comfort in this atmosphere.

I’ve always envied people who were committed to one distinction or another. I have lots of NORMAL friends and I have lots of FREAK friends and love them both dearly. Keep in mind that FREAKS can look perfectly NORMAL and certainly even sound that way but in their heart of hearts, that Freak Flag is ready to fly at a moment’s notice.

My pal, Court, is a perfect example: Blue-blood Boston-bred, pearl-wearing, blonde, blue-eyed wife works corporate PR in Manhattan but lives “in the country.” Among other freaky items she would kill me to divulge, that girl knows everything there is to know about rap and hip-hop. Together, we were once privately serenaded by Cypress Hill and I had to bring her with me to a Snoop Dogg concert so she could explain the music to me. While Courtney appears NORMAL (and may, in fact, be) she speaks FREAK fluently and that’s really all I need.

I remember being a cheerleader in high school (I know, I know but they gave me free audiences, matching outfits and all the boys I could eat – what’s an opportunistic girl supposed to do?) and secretly wanting to be in the band or do stage crew - something darker and lower profile. I should have realized it when my brother’s friends (shiny, happy, surfers) and my friends (conflicted, struggling artists) accidentally collided one day, the difference was notable.

I had a boyfriend say to me once (he was the most beautiful FREAK of all) “Yeah, the thing is, you can pass for NORMAL but you’re a FREAK inside.” It was pretty crystal clear after that. He’s right though, I can move undercover without much pushback but for the love of god, I certainly couldn’t keep it up full-time.

Takes one to know one. Years ago, I was in North Dakota visiting family and was meeting the wife of a cousin for the first time. When I stepped into Kim’s living room, my jaw dropped. I had been in enough North Dakota farmhouses decorated in family quilts and country ducks to know that Kim was interested in a different route.

The carpet was deep purple and in the middle of the room was a bright red baby grand piano. On the stark white wall below sun-lit cathedral ceilings was a beautiful art rendering of Disney villains – powerful and slightly disturbing. I was impressed with her chutzpah and quite sure the tiny farm town was scandalized by her inspired decor. All that was missing was a needlepoint satanic pentagram and a paisley octi-bong and they would have been obligated to run her out of town.

I looked this farm wife in the eye, with her blonde perky haircut and perfect white teeth, and noted something behind her eyes that said, “By god, this is who I am and I will not conform.” We recognized one another instantly and struck an immediate bond. Sadly, my cousin divorced her and she moved back to Fargo, where she died of breast cancer at the age of 42. She was too much of a lady to ever utter the F-bomb, I'm sure, but I know she could've used a drink.

I still see that twinkle in her eye and am so glad we got the chance to confirm our FREAK-kinship, albeit silently.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Beautiful Day in America

So many work deadlines are staring me down right now but it's nearly impossible to focus. How can I when it looks like it may be the The Beginning of the End of the Nightmare? It feels like Christmas morning and Jesus Claus was especially generous.

First off, Rummy goes down!!!! Woo-hoo! That only took six years of one abysmal failure after another. In this morning's press conference, Bush was unusually candid. A reporter asked him why he was so steadfast in his support of him a week ago and Bush responded, "That was before the election."


The most interesting stuff I've read this morning was about how the world is carefully watching. One story described pubs-goers Europe all glued to the TV, watching the returns. It's hard to picture us, as a nation, giving a rat's ass about another country's political outcome, especially in a bar, when a perfectly good football game could be on.

The Dems are sweeping away control of the House and possibly the Senate, though we are still awaiting word from the Virginia race. This was more or less predicted but even Bush admits that Republicans got a serious "thumpin'" in yesterday's mid-term elections. I'm doing a jig right now, can ya feel it?

Nancy Pelosi, first female Speaker of Da House! Oh, yeah! This is where I can't help myself, as a fellow California native chick, to contain my pride. Nancy is terrific and she's perfect for the job – she never shuts up. In celebration, I'm running topless around my mother's house while my ovaries and I sing, "I'm Just a Girl." All manners befitting a victorious lady will come later, if I calm down.

Meanwhile, I understand that my absentee ballot in Colorado has yet to be counted due to some tech glitch. Wtf, people? If I can get board a plane through a touch screen without ever speaking to anyone, what is the problem here with voting? More importantly, why is there no involvement from Silicon Valley on this issue? Maybe that will be my new drum beat since I am dealing with these folks anyway.

In a sad bit of news, Colorado and I don't see eye-to-eye on some important issues such as gay marriage and marijuana possession. Fine. I guess I'll launch my stoner lesbian wedding party in some underground club and send a special invite to James Dobson and his Focus on the Family goons just down the road.

I am still getting used to the curious mix of liberal/conservative thing here in Colorado. I have liked it so far - preaching to the choir gets old - but passing of similar measures has been taken for granted in California. I came from the town where the hot, hetero mayor sparked national controversy by letting gay couples marry. He was widely criticized for it but I was deeply proud of the move, still am. They told him it would kill his chances of ever running for the U.S. Presidency and he just laughed.

I look forward to the day when we look back and wince in remembering that we treated our fellow Americans as second-class citizens because they were different. Seats on the bus, separate drinking fountains, voting rights … the right to marry – these exclusions were, and are, shameful and cast the only shadow on an otherwise beautiful day in American history.

Now then, where can I get some good bud?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Trying to Relax in Santa Barbara

Once again, I'm out of town and once again, I have mixed feelings about it. I've come to Santa Barbara to celebrate the 40th birthday of an old friend, Michelle, who is now even older.

It's always strange coming back to California, in one region or another. So many people, so much smog and yet, I feel a pang of sadness for the SoCal I used to love. It certainly isn't the place I left in 1997.

I was forced to work yesterday, not something I'm thrilled about. Good lord, this cannot be my life. I don't want this to be this corporate doofus that I've become. I'm not at a point where I'm ready to accept this adult albatross. It was just a few weeks ago, on a conference call, when I heard some biggity-wig utter the words: "Well, we'll just have all the worldwide operations go through Heather."

That woke me up. I thought to myself, "Holy shit, I hope there's another girl named Heather on this call." There wasn't.

So, I'm trying to juggle these new responsbilities while still live my usual carefree life. A part of me thinks that it is about time and that I've been putting this off for as long as I possibly can. The louder part of me refuses to play along. This inner argument is exhausting - see photo.