Friday, December 29, 2006

Party at the 'Port



Last night, RMAC (that's my brother and his wife, collectively) and I went to a party in Gulfport that sure didn't look like much from the outside. Behind an abandoned storefront, boarded up and apparently forgotten, we found one swinging scene. A jam band, not formal enough to have a name, played their hearts out below posters of Herman Munster, John Wayne, Jesus and the Rebel Flag. My brother, Robert, immediately placed a cold Budweiser in my hand as I leaned against the foosball table and took in the scene. Nearby, on a long table covered with a plastic gingham tablecloth, I eyed a pot of homemade beans.

A tall fellow named Rick told me the place used to be a feed store when he was a kid. "Yeah, my parents used to send me down here to pick up chicken feed and now here we are," he said, "whooping it up." Behind him, I noted a weathered white wooden beam that stood in the center of the room. In rough black ink, someone had scrawled down the side, "Thank you our Lord and Savior, General Lee."

I met tons of folks, including Dean, a shy man who loved the music but lost all color in his face when I suggested he take to the dance floor. "I .. I .. can't dance, there's no way I would ever do that," he said. To Dean, this was a certain social death he could not bear. Then there was Kelly, who gave healthy, solid snorts with each burst of laughter. She was easy to locate at all times. I also met Lisa and Andy, a darling couple, who were notably impressed I had made it here from Denver.

At some point, I grabbed my sistah-in-law, MaryAnn, and swung her around the dance floor. We were both wildly drunk and by this time, I was a few other things as well. Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Rolling Stones – awesome cover bands who know their shit can never be appreciated enough. I led, of course, bad habit of mine. We were squealing like little girls and after the song ended, the audience - arranged along several living room-esque couches - clapped wildly.

Sure don't miss a nightlife with long lines, cover charges and velvet ropes. I'll take Southern abandoned storefronts any day.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in the Deep South










Down on the bayou, once again, for the holidays. Lil' bit o'duck gumbo, some hush puppies, collard greens, fried okra and wash it down with a big fat dose of the blues. Best of all, my kindred are here and there is not a snow drift in sight. (Kinda miss it … until I heard another storm is headed in tomorrow.)

Last year, the Mississippi Gulf Coast experienced a tough Christmas post-Katrina. Antebellum mansions flattened, bridal gowns stuck in trees and casinos on the beach in a mangled heap. All this devastation was set against a grim brown background, with every blade of grass and leaf blown away. This year, there is more hope. Piles and piles of debris and ruined vehicles have been carried away and rebuilding is underway. At the very least, new street signs are up, which provide an uncanny sense of civilization to once bustling seaside towns.

Today, my sister-in-law, MaryAnn, and I cruised what used to be a proud downtown in Pass Christian, we came upon trailers marked "City Hall," and "Hancock Bank" and "Public Library." Of course, there is also, Pirate's Cove, the local bar trailer. Surveying the scene, it struck me that when rebuilding a town, we start with the basics: banks, books, bureaucracy and booze.

All this surveying made us thirsty so we picked up a six pack, a pack of cigarettes and two of the tiniest brown paper sacks I have ever seen. These were provided so that we could continue our drive while still enjoying liquid refreshment. Love that Southern service!

We hopped a car ferry Bay St. Louis and watched the Gulf sunset burn a line along the horizon. Approaching the still-charming town, I recognized a beachside church I had photographed years earlier, Our Lady of the Gulf, and was relieved to see it still standing proudly.

Once ashore, we explored the gutted Fire Dog Saloon, recently filled with sand for a Jimmy Buffett music video featuring a song about hurricanes … in Florida. Then, we headed home but not before stopping in at the lone gift shop open. Turns out, it was also connected to an elaborate grid of art galleries, many pieces of which focused on the surviving the storm. It was impossible to escape but people are moving forward – what else can they do?

Meanwhile, I worry about my new home town, whether it is prepared to handle another two feet of snow and all the headaches that will bring. Lucky for us, it will eventually melt.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Snowbound!


Yesterday's blizzard has mellowed but the two feet of snow has disrupted life here in Colorado. We made national headlines - even NPR squeezed us in between a dead Turkmenistan president and Baghdad's suicide bomb o' the day. I received worrisome calls this morning from all over the country, mostly warm places – friends worried about how a lone California woman will fare in her first Rocky Mountain winter.

Honestly, I couldn't be more thrilled. This is precisely the stark lifestyle difference I was looking for. Mind you, it was great growing up in Southern California but there was something very 'Groundhog Day' about it, weather-wise. It was basically 75 degrees all the time – small variations on the same damn day throughout the year. It used to feel quite wrong going to the beach in December, though I did it anyway. Christmas lights in palm trees? Not the same effect. (Xmas in Australia, in the middle of their broiling hot summer, has to be particularly annoying.)

Years later, I (with the help of famed grumpster, Tamburlaine) finally put my finger on my own irritation with this bland weather menu. The perpetual Sunny Day was an implicit forced happiness that often didn't jibe with my moods. There was an unspoken sentiment, "Hey! It's sunny outside! Go on and get happy!" Holy fuck. It used to drive me nuts. My parents – Dad from South Dakota and Mom from North Dakota – did not understand this and probably thought us ungrateful, I'm sure. Thankfully, my brother is the same as I. He now lives in Mississippi and cannot get enough lightning and thunderstorms to make up for the past without.

San Francisco was a big improvement in weather variety. I used to love watching the fog roll in over my city at the end of the day like a big misty blanket. There was no pressure to be joyful-on-command. I could be moody and arty if I so desired, or I could be bliss-ridden, but at least it would be my own choice.

When I heard that Gov. Owens had declared a State of Emergency today, I was shocked. Honestly, I thought this was normal, exactly the scenario I'd pictured. No State of Emergency I've ever experienced was this beautiful. Mostly involving earthquake devastation or race riots, I'm used to crumbled freeways or intersection violence, not something that looks like an idyllic Christmas card.

It is quite amazing to be in a major metropolitan city that is entirely shut down (minus the city-hosted sledding parties.) There is that feeling of abrupt self-sufficiency with a lovely tinge of anarchy. I felt this during the LA riots and my brother felt it even more intensely post-Katrina. He and his wife took a boat out on the bayou the day after the storm and could hardly believe their eyes and, of course, their ears: complete devastation and total silence. Though we worried about them, they did just fine. "You know I love that urban survival shit," my brother assured me.

Of course, my snowbound giddiness is lessened by the knowledge that 5,000 of my fellow Coloradans are stuck at Denver International Airport (DIA) and that the National Guard is there now, delivering blankets and diapers. I mean, it's one thing to have your flight cancelled or endure a long layover but jeezus, that situation has to be some special kind of Hell. (I fly out on Sunday so we shall soon see how far out this flight disruption goes.)

In yesterday's Denver Post, a reporter observed that nobody was on the streets, except for one tourist couple from Fresno, California. Unfazed by the blizzard, they were out shopping. After watching many a Broncos game on TV, they'd decided to visit Denver for their 10-year wedding anniversary and had no regrets. "We thought it was like this all the time," they said. They were having a blast, which I understood completely. Of course, here's the part where I reiterate my work-at-home status. Not dealing with a commute will surely keep my Snow Love alive and I'll admit, I am feeling great affection for my employer today.

Back in my S. Milwaukee Cave in Washington Park, I live right up against I-25 (sounds so ghetto but it's really quite nice) and am used to seeing traffic go by. At the moment, there is not a soul on the interstate and no cars on the street. Best of all, the snow provides a padded acoustic effect resulting in the softest silence. It is incredibly peaceful. The only sounds in my neighborhood are the snow shovels scraping down sidewalks.

At some point today, I will layer myself up and trudge outside. I will take a little walk, nothing too ambitious, just a block or so. If you see me, by all means, make some Hot Toddies. I'll be the one with the giant grin on her face, intensely happy on my own terms.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

'The Year of Living' – Part 3


I sit here, marveling at my first bona fide blizzard, when suddenly I am pinged by a bored colleague. "Post something," she commanded. I gave her a list of subject choices and she opted for another installment of 'The Year of Living' where I pull an entry out of my travel journal, a dog-eared page from my globetrotting days:


MINNEAPOLIS
… STILL! 4 November 2005, 12:42 p.m.

Amazing, the things my new 'family' and I have been through with Northwest Airlines. I'm trying to document the situation before it becomes clouded by other incredible experiences.

The Saga of Flight 56

Los Angeles, 2:35 p.m. 11/3/95

We board the plane, destined for the Midwest and sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes. Finally, we become airborne. Upon landing in Minneapolis, I make it over to Gate 2 to catch Flight 56 to Amsterdam, where I intend to catch a flight to Nairobi.

Initially, I was in the wrong seat which pissed off a German couple. Then, the German woman became enraged at me and my sleeping bag for reasons unclear. We managed to fly for about 45 minutes before the captain announced a problem with the wing flaps. We made a U-turn and flew back to Minneapolis.

We sat there, in a faulty tube, for nearly two hours while mechanics tried in vain to adjust the problem. They had us deplane and we stood around for another hour or so before they found us another plane. (People were openly smoking in a posted 'Smoke-Free' environment – a German woman was crying.)

We boarded another plane around 1:00 a.m., confident that it was fixed. Because it was a different plane, the seating arrangements were jumbled and people were busy arguing and wouldn't sit down. I noticed that the flight attendants became quite panicky.

This made more sense an hour later when Mary, the lead stewardess, announced that the flight crew had now exceeded their regulated air time and the flight would have to be rescheduled. The level of anger amongst the travelers was so high that the Airport Police were called in to nip any rioting plans in the bud. (Though we did storm the galley and manage to relieve the aircraft of its soda and nuts.)

After we 'deplaned' – a verb I am really getting used to – we then had to wait in hideously long lines to receive our hotel vouchers. At this point, faces became familiar and waiting in line allowed for exchanges of sympathy and interesting conversation.

I was fortunate enough to find two women to connect with. Carol Hanson – a 49-year-old Gloria Steinem look-a-like from Iowa – is trying to meet up with her husband in Moscow, where he doing agricultural research. Robin – a 40-year-old Army brat who looks like a brunette Cybill Shepherd – is desperately anxious about reuniting with her French husband at their home in Mulhouse, France. She, unlike Carol and myself, is at the end of her trip after spending a week in Tuscon, cleaning up the details of her previous life.

I couldn't have hand-picked two lovelier women to be in Hell with. All three of us are writers; Carol is also a psychologist and Robin teaches English as well. They are both happily married, happily child-free and both are well-traveled. They are living with their minds open, their hearts taken and their passports full. They are an inspiration to me and I have told them as such.

After a very comforting rest at the Thunderbird Motel (heavy on the stuffed wild animals and Native American motif), I'm now writing from a very luxurious business class seat on my way (?) to Amsterdam. Once again, there was another last-minute panic in boarding this morning's aircraft. When I heard Mary scream, "Everybody, just find a seat anywhere you can!" a scruffy young Frenchman and I instinctively ran to the front of the plane. (Despite our language barrier, we are now having a blast, toasting every five minutes with our selection of wines and champagnes.) Additional elements to this story are simply more of the same – a grumpy pre-dawn shuttle bus, other confounded problems, angry Europeans nearly dead from homesickness, etc.

But there has been much laughter and I've never been so acquainted with so many fellow passengers on one flight. (At breakfast, we talked of getting t-shirts: "I survived Flight 56, over and over again.") And, because of the destination - catching connecting flights in Amsterdam – everyone is off to exotic locales.

Take Rob, who moved to Fargo, North Dakota from his home in Jerusalem in 1984 and is trying to get to Spain. Then there's Elizabeth, who is going to Vienna with her daughter for a three-week shopping spree to look for a wedding dress in Paris and Milan. One good-humored woman was trying to get to Berlin while another man – a talkative chap who loved to tell jokes – was returning to his home in Switzerland.

It's odd but in cases of Major Bummer, people really do reach out to one another and form bonds. No matter how brief, they still matter and serve their purpose well. I do, however, look forward to brushing my teeth …

"You're not actually writing about this nightmare, are you?" –Debbie, stewardess, Flight 56

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

Amazing but true, I managed to survive my 40th year and today entered into my 41st – another telltale tree ring.

It was spent primarily recuperating from yesterday, which seemingly lasted years, 22 hours (awake) to be exact. I rose at the butt crack of dawn to join my pal, Carley, for a day of skiing – my first such outing in Colorado. Though she was having lower back pains, she decided we should still charge on up the mountain to Breckenridge.

Apparently, we hit some 'traffic' though knowing the LA quagmire for 31 years, this definition seems quaint. Carley was frustrated with our late start but I was too busy being impressed that I live so close to a variety of ski resorts. I am used to the four to six hour drive to Tahoe so getting there in two hours seems incredibly luxurious. My Rocky Mountain proximity is still dawning on me as I feel my inner ski bunny slowly take shape.

It had been several years since I'd last skied and I was just banking on ingrained body memory. I stuck to the green square trails just to get reacquainted and wouldn't you know … it is just like riding a bicycle. Sometimes, clich├ęs do come true! Mind you, I'm no Suzy Chapstick but the basics – stopping, turning, avoiding trees – all came rushing back. What a relief!

Now that I am an old woman, I can tell you that much has changed in my expansive lifetime. When I began skiing at age 14, a lift ticket cost $18. This amount now covers your noontime bowl of chili and a cold beer, that's about it.

In hindsight, there were early signs of snowboarding clearly evident in empty swimming pools across America – although skateboarders of yore were not nearly as fashion-centric. While noting many hyper-cool boarder outfits, I couldn't help recall watching my handsome brother ski one bright sunny SoCal winter day in faded 501s, sunglasses, nylon gators and no shirt. I think it was during the 80s. In my book, this image remains the pinnacle of winter sport organic hipness.

The biggest change of all: the omnipresent cell phone. For safety reasons, this is a huge improvement but I've heard of people being knocked over by swinging chair lifts as they chatted away. One of the Breck operators told me they lecture folks all day long, "Pay attention!" to no avail. Still, I have to admit, I'm impressed everyone is getting a signal.

Later that evening in Denver, I was surprised by a birthday gesture from a friend. The lovely Miss Bliss from Ol' Miss had an informal gathering at her place. I'd arrived in a wild outfit, as instructed, and she set about accessorizing me until I looked appropriately pimped up for the evening. "Girl, you look Super Fly!" she assured me. A group of us went outside to smoke a cigarette and were treated to live opera coming out the window of a higher floor. "Oh yeah, that guy is a professional opera singer or some shit like that," she explained. I really enjoyed it. Arias and nicotine, it turns out, go together nicely.

Back inside, champagne was popped, 'party favors' consumed and gifts were bestowed. Bliss gave me the most amazing painting she'd created just for the occasion. She is a superb artist and I was deeply touched. Every image in the brightly colored painting had a reason, as she explained, "See, this is your new life – the mountains. This is the ocean, the life you left behind in Cali. The lotus is me … " I was speechless. Again, I have to marvel at my phenomenal luck with friendships. It sure makes up for an awful of stuff that is missing.

What is so fortuitous about this gift is that my living room has a noticeable bare wall. The apartment is filled with trinkets from the past - treasures, photos and mementos from days gone by. I had intentionally reserved the most obvious blank space for evidence of my new life. I wanted something from Denver for the best spot, a piece that was all about the future and the promise of things to come.

When I unwrapped the canvas, I immediately knew, "This is it! This is what the blank wall has been waiting for!" I hung it up today and the bright colors enrich my little cave more than you can believe. The warm intentions behind it go nicely with my twinkling Xmas tree.

After a few more glasses of bubbly, a gang of us headed out into the night, off to a fancy nightclub with various rooms, DJs and wildly dressed partygoers. Throughout the evening, I was referred to as "the birthday girl" and they would not let me pay for anything. There was dancing, there was smoking, there was flirting and a few other things I cannot describe. Sometime around 4:00 a.m. I fell into bed – my own, thank god. My head was fuzzy but my heart was fuzzier.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Network Kicks In


While my romantic life is forever in shambles, my world has no shortage of love. True, my Man Picker may be broken but my taste in women is impeccable.

It all began last Thursday. There I was, minding my own business, toying with loneliness and depression when an unscheduled Love & Friendship Parade came storming through my life for a full three days, making a lovely point.

There was a knock at the door – Mr. Fed Ex dropped off a massive mysterious box. It turned out to be a 17-piece cookware set! My good pal, Laurianna, (a bad ass firefighter in Albuquerque) decided that enough was enough. We are former college roommates and during a recent visit, she'd noticed that my cooking skills had advanced, yet I was still using pots and pans purchased at garage sales and Thrift stores in the 80s. With mine and Jesus' birthday creeping up, she splurged on the most beautiful cookware I have ever seen.

Once out of the box, I laid all the shiny pots and pans on the counter and just marveled. I even took a photo. It feels unreal, like I won something. Honestly, I was worried I'd have to have to stage a wedding to get my paws on some quality kitchen goods. Laurianna basically saved me from my first marriage.

Next day, I received a long, loving email from Joanie, an old friend from the LBC. She'd gotten caught up on the blog and felt compelled to say, "Makes me wish I'd known you better all these years." Her out-of-the-blue letter really made my day. She also provided a brilliant theory about our mutual love luck:

"I think it might be that we're freaks, and so we go for fellow freaks (freak fellows?), and though I don't think that freaks are necessarily any more assholish than any other group, the ones we, or at least I, tend to go for are the ones that are more overtly freaky, and I think those do have a higher incidence of fucknuttery."

Whether this is true or not, does not matter – what does matter is that my new favorite word is 'fucknuttery' and Joanie gave me that gift amidst her gesture of understanding.

I then recieved a random phone call from my old friend, Andrea. We go back to the 10th grade. "Just thinking about ya," she said, "Howz it going?" Again, completely out of the blue.

Later that evening, my friend, Jennifer, flew in from San Francisco. She is always full of love and laughter – a welcome antidote to a tough work week. We took the light rail (my civic pride insists) to Buckhorn Exchange for some rattlesnake and whiskey. There under antlers and wagon wheels, we discussed the state of our lives and dreams for the future.

Not long after we returned to my Milwaukee Street Cave, there was a knock at the door. (Very odd, since no new friends know where I live.) To my astonishment, there were two additional friends – Andrea and Maria – who had also flown in from San Francisco as a surprise! They stood there, bags in hand, shivering, laughing at my dropped jaw while I sputtered and made an effort to process the new expanded situation. The three women (all work friends) had organized the hoodwink from the get-go. Thank God I had cleaned the bathroom. The next two days could be a viable candidate for induction in the Weekend Hall of Fame.

As previously discussed with Jennifer, the main goal for Saturday was clothes shopping for me. I had to attend an intensely professional three day corporate seminar the following week (where I am now) and needed to appear highly respectable, completely crisp and thoroughly competent. In other words, I needed a convincing costume. (Turns out, faded jeans and dirty cowboys boots don't convey the necessary characteristics.) Admittedly, I have little or no skill in this area and look my best when dressed by committee. As I explained to my friend, Karen, "It takes a village … to dress the idiot."

After a delectable breakfast at The Egg Shell (love those potato pancakes!) we stormed the Cherry Creek Mall. With military efficiency, we took over the dressing rooms of Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, Ann Taylor and Aldo to accomplish my Corporate Fashion Makeover (CFM).

I tried on many items expertly picked out for me by the CFM Team – black pants, grey skirts, crisp white button-downs, blue sweaters, black blazers – you name it. Under the curious watch of amused sales staff, I learned that a tapered leg is a big fat no-no and that a mid-calf length skirt is – no matter how pretty – unflattering. I now speak the term 'kitten heel' with a general inkling and understand it is technically okay to wear black patent leather pumps with brown pants, even though my gut still tells me 'no.' In short, I got an education.

To bring all these new items together, I purchased a designated 'key piece' that the CFM Team was/is crazy about. Thrust upon me, the dress jacket is black with grey piping and a thick, nubby texture. Like a dog due for a bath, I fought and fought but it was no use, CFM Team had made up its collective mind. Nub Jacket was not only a crucial part of the new wardrobe, I was told, it would be the crux of the entire strategic effort. Knowing they know best, I pinched my nose, handed over the plastic and made the purchase. Operation Nub was ready for launch.

To celebrate my deeper plunge into debt, I took CFM to DAM, Denver's new crowning jewel. Plenty of art to ponder and weird angles for wooziness – all much appreciated. Then, it was off to the grocery store to buy egg nog, circus animal cookies and suitable hosiery. We then picked out a Christmas tree upon realizing Maria had never done so (apparently, her family drags a piece of green plastic up from the basement every year.) After some hilarious peer pressure, (I think CFM became drunk with power at this point) I eventually gave my phone number to our helpful, hunky lumberjack who apparently was flirting with me. (My knowledge of men decreases every day so I believed them.)

Since we were getting in the yuletide mood, I then took CFM to Blossoms of Light where they 'oohed' and 'aaahed' in all the right places. Then, off to my favorite Denver restaurant, Steuben's, for chocolate shakes and mac-n-cheese. ("There are so many straight men here, I can't believe it!" said Andrea, offering at least one reason I no longer live in SF.) Then, it was back to the cave, where we decorated the tree, teased one another and giggled past midnight.

The next morning, I made my famous Deluxe Egg Burritos while they put together suitable ensembles for my trip. Jen carefully explained, "Okay, Heather. This is Day One, Day Two, Day Three and here is an alternate you can rotate in. Of course, The Nub works on all days, as we'd discussed."

While waiting for their airport shuttle, Maria asked to see me complete in one outfit, pointy shoes and all. I complied and Jen's eyes got teary. "Oh, our girl is a grown up!" Maria just stared and shook her head, "It's like a different person." Meanwhile, Andrea openly coveted The Nub, "I've got to get a jacket like that. I'm going back there and get one for myself."

This morning at 7:00 a.m., in a high-rise hotel in San Francisco, I reached for the crisp new clothes and thought about the CFM Team and all my girls (new Denver pals included) – all the expert guidance, the endless love and the never-ending support that keeps me afloat. How lucky can a girl get? I'd be lost without this network – truly, truly lost.

I reached for The Nub and put it on. It looked perfect – CFM was right. Still, I could not resist. I looked in the mirror and singing into the toothbrush did my best Roger Daltrey, "Whooooooo are you???? Who, who – who, who! I really wanna know …. !"

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Background: "The Year of Living"

We recently introduced a semi-regular feature here at ClizBiz, called 'The Year of Living.' Once a week-ish-or-so, I would post a journal page from my mid-90s globe trotting days. I'm just one page in this experiment but joy-of-joys, I got me a real live anonymous reader request! My ego just busted a belt:

*Please* can you write about how you were able to do this world-wide trip? For those of us who aspire to that depth and breadth of adventure and travel --- how does one financially and mentally even BEGIN to think about doing something similar? My friends and I can barely pay our rent, and my parents would kill me traveling 'alone' as a woman... but it's an ultimate dream. Congrats for doing it! Please share how one can do the same!

Sincerely,
Aspiring SuperGirl World Traveler


Dear ASGWT,

The year was 1993 and some crazy Australian friends quite matter-of-factly announced it was time for my walkabout; I must have been crazy ready to hear that call. After very little thought, it was decided.

I then mapped out the next two years, worked like a dog, saved my money and focused like a horny hummingbird. (Holy shit, where is that girl? I could use her now.) I set up my credit union to take $200.00 out of every paycheck (twice a month) and figured on approximately $10,000.00 for the trip, including airfare.

For the next two solid years, I worked two jobs (ironically, a newspaper restaurant reviewer and a pizza waitress) and poured over maps, with an eye on Africa. Keep in mind, children, that this was still one year before the Internet became known to the general public. I actually had to read travel magazines, investigate ads, and send away for pamphlets … up hill, both ways, in the snow. THEN, I had study them … er, by firelight.

All through this process, I would slowly announce my travel plans to family and friends. My father and brother were predictably excited and envious. Mom raised a worried eyebrow and may have instinctively said, "We'll see." Friends dutifully cheered me on and Fang worried about the lack of plumbing on my behalf. This statement process, I now realize, was really more for me, a promise to myself. I remember working the drive-thru at McDonald's in high school and watching the planes fly by. "I am soooo outta here someday," I'd declare between the McNuggets and the single cones.

Of course, there was also great fear. Part of it was going it alone. I mean, just who did I think I was? Apparently, I was a bad ass. Then again, at 29, I had traveled enough to observe that traveling alone might not only be easier but also present a better opportunity for meeting people. Ultimately, I knew myself - I'm at my best on the road, just like my father.

T-minus six months is when push comes to shove. You have to start actually buying tickets, faxing over visa applications, making a final budget and worst of all, planning where all your shit is going to go. Also, I had a lovely white cat, Nik – what to do with him? (He stayed in Washington with my Dad and stepmom, Shirley.) I almost didn't go out of guilt and then I asked myself, "So, um, you are not going to see the world because of your cat?" I mean, how crazy is that? Thank god I recovered my sanity.

Once I'd decided my trail – Africa (nine countries), Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii – I had to start gathering gear. You have to start pondering what to put into a backpack for an entire year. What in god's name do you leave out? You have to adapt a turtle brain - a very good excercise in basic needs. (This is another blog post entirely.)

I'm packing a long experience into a fairly short summation here but basically, you just have to want it bad enough. It used to infuriate me (still does) when people would react to plans of my trip with, "How lucky! I wish I could do that!" Turns out, anyone can. I can understand older people with kids, jobs, mortgages and what not – makes perfect sense, but I would get this from 19-30-year-olds! Wandering around the world is the kind of thing everyone apparently dreams about and I feel very fortunate I've experienced it. Recalling this adventure is making me remember how nice it was to want something so bad and just zero in on it. Hmmmm, must find new obsession ...

Supergirl, you say your parents would 'kill you' for traveling alone and it makes me wonder if you are underage, still living in their house and and/or on the payroll? Otherwise, if the idea of defying your parents still terrifies you than yes, you are not ready to travel alone because you will have to defy a lot more than that to get there.

I wish you the best of luck. Please don't hesitate to ask me anything. Seems like all this info should go to some use.

Zippers and ziplocs,

~ClizBiz

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Found My Soul Mate and (Sadly) it’s The Wall Street Journal

I observed to a friend recently that I tend to think of publications as individuals. I've got the long, unrequited crush on that well-dressed literary hottie Esquire, I've got my fun, fiery girlfriend with BUST, a lust thing for the savvy nerd that is WIRED (can't explain it, geeks makes me hot) and my up-on-a-pedestal thing going for the brainy, outdoor genius of National Geographic. Strange then, that I should recently discover that the publication closest to my own mind is the 'staid and boring' - The Wall Street Journal.

Admittedly, I only read WSJ out of professional necessity – my company pays for the subscription. Every morning, I lay the paper out and see who has bought whom, who has fired whom and what tech trends I might find interesting and/or inevitable.

Earlier this week, I'd had a dream involving North Dakota. Bizarre, I know, but I often worry about the place. Its population is dwindling, the small farmer is struggling and I've just got a soft spot for all underdogs in general. The next morning, the WSJ calms my fears with a left column, A1, piece entitled: "Energy Boom Lifts Small-Town Hope on Northern Plains – Ethanol Plant Lures Outsiders to Tiny Washburn, N.D.; Population Skid on Hold; Remembrance of Busts Pasts." Whew. Okay, that's exactly the kind of news I needed.

Next, I prepared to screen a DVD entitled "Goodnight, We Love You" for a radio show in San Francisco, my beloved, "Movie Magazine International." The film is a documentary about Phyllis Diller's final stand up performance and I am currently reviewing it for broadcast. Before watching the film, I opened the WSJ to see a huge feature entitled "Comedy Comes Clean: In a backlash against racy and gross-out material, some comics are turning to still-biting but less salacious jokes." The article was a perfect primer for Diller's material, which is plenty salty but noticeably free of the F-bomb.

The next day, I read an intense front pager detailing the long journey of a war photographer, entitled: "A Chilling Photograph's Hidden History: Twenty-six years ago, a picture of an execution in Iran won the Pulitzer Prize. But the man who took it remained anonymous. Until now." The gripping article follows the photo's creation in 1979, its explosive trail all the way to the Prize and the final uncloaking of the photographer's identity in 2006. It is a truly phenomenal story – wish I could link ya'll to it.

So, I thoughtfully absorb all this and then go about my day – organizing my office, returning phone calls, making soup, filing papers and cleaning house. While dusting the living room, I spot a Netflix envelope and realize I have completely forgotten about my cinematic expenditure. "Damn, I better watch whatever it is," I said to the cat, "I'm paying for it!" So, later that evening, I plop down with some homemade soup to enjoy a highly disturbing documentary called: "WAR PHOTOGRAPHER."

I mean, it's just starting to get creepy. Should I be concerned that a major media outlet knows my thoughts before I do? Sigh. If only WSJ had horoscopes ….

Friday, December 01, 2006

Man Grows Limb Out of Crotch!

Okay, so that is not entirely true but I'm competing with the tabloids here. I came across this story and felt it was my obligation – nay, my duty – to pass it along. It possesses my favorite mix of emotional elements: truly heartwarming, totally disturbing yet somewhat hopeful.

Apparently, Israel Sarrio in Valencia, Spain got his arm … er, detached from messing around with a drainage ditch. He then walked in to the local hospital carrying the limb, assumingly yelling some Spanish version of "Holy fuck!"

The doctors hurriedly stitched it back to his stump but soon realized that the sewer water was going to spread infection. They had to quickly relocate the arm to another part of his body to keep it viable while they cleared away infected areas with antibiotics.

After what must have been a very bizarre family conference, doctors chose the groin. The story is, when the guy woke up, doctors had to quickly explain Israel's new tripod status before he could look down and see for himself. (I mean, some jarring images just do not leave the brain.) Even more troubling, he had to stay that way for NINE DAYS.

Can you imagine????

Good new is, Israel's arm has been successfully reattached and he's undergoing physical therapy. Doctors expect him to return almost-normal status. (For you sickos, more detailed photos can be found here.)

Other freaky things I found today's news: You can buy a four-bedroom house with a three-car garage and a big front porch for $150,000 with a view of a river valley … in North Dakota.