Thursday, January 29, 2009

Karmic Eggrolls

He did it! Vinh (see below) came through on his word! He knocked on my door about 6 p.m. tonight and when I answered the door he handed me a giant batch of home-made Vietnamese egg rolls. He smiled and said nervously, "My wife make these for you."

I was vaklempt! I attempted to give him a little hug but he just sort of stood there. Not sure how much they hug in Vietnam but anyway ...

Look at these babies! I mean, there must be 30 of 'em. I has eight of them for dinner and they are dee-lish! They are full of meat and spices and a bunch of other things I'm sure I can't pronounce.

I thanked him profusely. He smiled shyly and ran off like a teenage boy. ADORABLE. Man, that one food order will now end up feeding me twice what I originally paid for it. Good to know there are people like Vinh in this world.

Still, I bet he won't lock his keys in his car again anytime soon ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A New Friend

Yesterday was awful. After days of being sick, I'd tried to work at my computer but the words just kept mashing up together. After feeling dizzy and sickly all day, I finally passed out.

I woke up several hours later, rested and famished, with no desire to actually cook. As a rare treat to myself, I ordered food for delivery. Thai food, to be exact. Later, a small, dear man came to my door to deliver my Green Curry and Thai Eggplant with complimentary egg rolls. Yum. I tipped him, bid him good night and he left.

I set up the DVD (still making my way through "Buffy - The Vampire Slayer" - now on Season 3) and excitedly prepared for a feast. Then came a knock at the door. It was the delivery guy who nervously explained that he'd locked his keys in his car and did I have a coat hanger?

I fetched him a coat hanger and also told him I'd call AAA - my steady heroes. I called, explained the situation, gave the address and went back to my dinner biz. Another knock at the door. The poor man had tried to work the coat hanger with no luck. I told him to come inside - it was maybe 20 degrees out - to wait for AAA.

And there we were. "Sooooooo .... ?"

Since he was shivering, I made him some green mango tea. I invited him to sit but he wouldn't. He was quite mortified with the situation. I assured him that his only crime was being human and that we all do such things. In his broken English, he was very apologetic and insisted I go about my dinner. "Eat! Please! PLEASE! EAT!" he kept saying. Clearly, he felt terrible and hated interrupting my evening.

I had to explain that this was impossible - not the way I was raised. My mother would never hear of it. I could not sit unless he sat. Also, I could not eat in front of him as he was now a guest in my home and this would be rude, unless he was eating as well. "And hey look, I've got some food right here. Some nice man brought it to me!" I said. We laughed at this though he emphatically shook his head no.

Somewhere in his 50s or 60s, this sweet, shy man was trapped in my living room for 30-40 minutes and I did my best to entertain him like a proper guest. Finally, I got him to sit (he would only sit on the floor, with his shoes outside the door) and so I did too. I asked him everything about his life and eventually he opened up.

Though he said his name was 'John', I learned that he'd changed it from Vinh when he arrived from his home country, Vietnam, over 23 years ago. He admitted that it seemed like a good thing to do at the time but now, he's thinking about changing it back. I told him that I thought he should keep his original name - too many Johns around anyway.

Sometime in the 80s, Vinh arrived in the U.S. via a small boat with 58 other people. They'd come to seek a better life - to escape political turmoil. The eight-day trip was grueling and they hadn't prepared very well.

"Very thirsty," he said. "Very scared."

He only had a nephew here but he made the best of it. He's lived in so many states, he's lost track. He lived in Oakland for eight years so we shared our memories of the Bay Area. He has two children - ages 8 and 11 - and they are arriving in the next few months to live with he and his wife in a studio apartment. I asked him if he thought life in America was hard and he agreed that it was.

"Very hard. Work, work, work. All the time," he said, with a weary smile.

In turn, I tried to share things about my life so it wasn't a '60 Minutes' thing. I told him I was from Long Beach, California which made his eyes go big. The LBC (and nearby Orange County) is a haven for refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia - he knew it well. In a moment of desperation, I pulled out my guitar in an effort to fill the silence. From the outside looking in, the whole scene must have appeared comical.

Ultimately, the locksmith arrived and Vinh went down to get it sorted. Then, another knock at the door. Vinh was back to thank me. He insisted that I am deserving of a home-cooked Vietnamese meal and wanted to know when he could bring it by. "Thursday," I said, "I should be home Thursday night."

Whether he shows up or not, I'm happy to have met Vinh. (The photo above is not Vinh but he looks similar. I thought about asking to take his photo but he seemed so painfully shy, I was afraid he might faint at the idea.) It was pretty cool to get a new friend with my egg rolls - bonus!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Frank and Joe

I think Obama should make a new policy: A duck in every home in America.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stock Show Moves On

Today, the National Western Stock Show drew to a close and I pulled my final volunteer shift. I manned (woman-ed?) an Info Booth with a young cowgirl named Lisa. We answered questions all day long: "Where's the rodeo? Where are the animals? Where's the ATM? Where should I eat????"

In spite of a spiraling economy, the NWSS only saw a 4.5% drop in attendance. Not too bad considering the state of things. I guess people still need to bask in their Western culture. I know I do.

Near the end of the shift today, a young boy came up to me and asked, "Is this the Lost & Found? 'Cause I found this." Then, he bends down to the ground, picks up a scraggly mutt - still on her leash - and plops her down right in front of me. The boy's name was Cody, about 9 years old, and he was very concerned for the pup. So, Cody and I went off a wild chase to find the dog's owners. "We need to find them soon," I said to Cody. "I'm getting the urge to name her."

Cody, like all young cowboys, was unfailingly polite. He'd race ahead of me so he could open doors for me and the dog. Eventually, we had the Barn Office make a formal announcement over the PA system and the dog - named Erkel - was reunited with her owners. A happy ending.

It'll be nice to have my so-called 'life' back but I'll miss being around all the cowboys and livestock. One of my favorite memories of the show: Getting dirt in my teeth and hair from being so close to the bucking bulls. Yee-haw!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Congrats RDJ!

I am SO PLEASED that my favorite movie of the year, "Tropic Thunder", was recognized with a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Robert Downey, Jr for his portrayal of "a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude." Blackface has not been done since Al Jolson and believe you me, there's a reason for that - not just anybody could pull it off.

I only wish Ben Stiller had been recognized too somehow. I know that satirical comedies generally aren't Important Enough for the Academy but jeez, the guy spent 8-10 years developing the story, co-writing the script, taking the lead and then directing a movie within another movie in the middle of a jungle. No small feat.

RDJ is up against Heath Ledger so not sure about his chances but would love to see him win.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama - At Long Last

Last night, I stayed up later than usual to bake a huge batch of patriotic cupcakes for this evening's Inaugural Party. While stirring and frosting and decorating, I played an old LP I have been carting around with me for years but have never actually listened to. The cover has two giant photos of JFK and FDR and reads:

"United States Presidents Series - actual speeches of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy."


"Hear and re-live the historic moments of these classic speeches by two great American presidents. The complete inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president, on January 20th, 1961. Highlights from Franklin D. Roosevelt's most memorable speeches from 1933 to 1945. Where were you the day these voices shaped the hopes and aspirations of free men everywhere?"

Fitting, no? After listening to those speeches, and to President (!) Obama's speech today, I would say that JFK and FDR would be impressed. The America that they spoke of in those tough times - Depression, war, a dearth of spirit - practically mirror where we are today. We pulled ourselves outta the mud before, we can do it again.

Later I put on another old album - Harry Belafonte & Lena Horne, 1970 - and had to chuckle at this line from the song, "Love Story" when they are playfully imagining their future together and their hypothetical child:

L: "He'll drink his baby brew ..."
H: "From a big, brass cup ..."
L: "Someday he may be President ... ?"


H: "If things ever loosen up."

So congrats, America! You've loosened up.

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Day - Reason to Celebrate

After a month of holiday interruptions and plain old inertia, I finally returned to my still-new running routine this morning. Winter came just long enough for me to build a snowman and then left so we are now having a delightful spring - clear, sunny skies and balmy weather.

My weekend was delightful - herding longhorns, riding bikes, chatting up cowboys, taking pictures, reading, eating homemade chili and singing. My new Sunday morning habit, Mile Hi Church, has become a growing source of peace - something I've been chasing for 43 years.

All of this - plus having the day off - has left me with a very distinct feeling: 'Me and my country - I think we are going to be okay.'

I can't even imagine what black Americans must be feeling today and - holy cow - TOMORROW. Such a swirl of emotions, I'm sure.

I caught Terri Gross on NPR's 'Fresh Air' interviewing Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) who worked with MLK, Jr. in the Civil Rights movement and led the march on Bloody Sunday in Alabama. His parents were sharecroppers and repeatedly warned him not to get involved, to just stay out of the way. Thankfully, he defied them. To come from that tumultuous and daunting experience and live to today must be mind boggling.

As a curious child, John went to check out a book at the public library in Selma, Alabama and was told no - "Whites only." He did not return until 1998 when he gave a book signing for his memoir, 'Walking with the Wind.' The library presented him with an honorary library card. Even as he told the story, you could see him shaking his head on the radio, incredulous with the changes.

Tomorrow, I'm going to be intensely proud and relieved but today, I feel major gratitude for all those folks like John Lewis who spoke up and were shunned, beaten up and arrested so that our country could become what it proclaimed to be at the beginning - a place where all could find equality. I'm in awe of their bravery and fortitude.

Now, I'm off to bake red-white-and-blue cupcakes for tomorrow's Inauguration Party - Halle-friggin'-luah!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

National Western Stock Show

Well, it's January again that means my second home becomes the National Western Stock Show here in Denver. It's just my second year as a volunteer but it's great to be back amongst the dust, the crowds and the funnel cakes. I am still learning the ropes but I've gotten to know my way around pretty good. Lots of great photo opps - that's for sure. Here are some of my favorites so far:

Okay, the kids here are pretty much the cutest. They all wear cowboy hats and go crazy with the cotton candy. These two young ladies had just watched the Wild West Show and simply could not get over this:

And I had to agree. Even though I saw it twice last year, it's still hard to accept that the dude is standing on TWO HORSES AT FULL GALLOP. The guy's name is Max and he does about nine other mind-blowing things, including riding these horses through a ring of fire. Crazy.

Confession: I did not take this photo - Joel Rafkin did. HOWEVER, I did actually witness cowboy monkeys on Border Collies herding giant Rams on Thursday night. I was busy helping Miss Kitty with the Gatorade for the pro cowboys behind the chutes when she looked up at the monitor and grabbed my arm, "Heather, c'mon! You HAVE to see this!!" We ran out and watched it. Weirdest fucking thing ever. I couldn't stop laughing.

I took about 8 gazillion rodeo shots but I like this one 'cause I got his hat flying off. Those guys either brave or crazy, I'm not sure which but they are also the most polite bunch of men I've ever met. During my shift on cowboy hospitality, I met a few of them. My favorite was a young guy who came up to me, "Ma'am? I've got shit on my sleeve - can you help?"

I walked by another who'd just tangled with a bull. He had his nose in his boots. "Whatcha looking for bugs? Blood?" I asked.

"Nope," he shook is head. "Nails." I don't know what that means but it sounds tough.

OBSERVATION: I always find it ironic how much the rodeo world adores the music of Queen. Sure, they play other stuff - country, rock, country rock - but really, everyone consistently goes apeshit whenever the ghost of Freddie Mercury - a British-Indian homosexual - unleashes his four octave talent on the conservative cowboy crowd. Without realizing it, they are fiercely loyal to him, more than any other artist. I'm probably the only one who notices but it always gives me a little chuckle.

So there ya have it - you've been warned. More to come!

Friday, January 16, 2009

This Will Blow Your Mind

At least it blew mine - but there's not much to blow there.

As we head into what might be the gnarliest year in modern history, this video is a stark reminder of where we've been, where we're at and - gulp! - where we're going. (Investment tip for the future: Learn Chinese!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad & MLK, JR!

Today my Dad turns 75 - born in 1934 in Lennox, South Dakota. (Here he is playing a Confederate soldier at the Jefferson Davis home, Beauvoir, in Biloxi, Mississippi.) I spoke to him this morning and he is feeling great and sounding cheery. All the medical drama of last week seems like a blur to him though he admits to being "feeble-minded" lately. He feels that all he really needed was a good nasal rinse.

Also, a shout out to the memory and spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr on his birthday too - he would have been 80 years old. I wish he could be here today and especially, next Tuesday, to see Barack Obama sworn in.

MLK was our own American Ghandhi - a brave soul and a national treasure. Dad's always been honored to share his birthday with such a man. (I guess I have to be content with Giovanni Ribisi ... hmph.)

In honor of these two great men - both fathers - please enjoy this video of Guy Clark and his paternal tribute, "Randall Knife." (Thanks, Fang!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good Riddance

Okay, not only did I watch Bush's final press conference but I watched in its entirety. All 46 minutes and 42 seconds of it. I was hoping it would make me nostalgic or sympathetic to him but no. He's so contradictory - telling the press that he "respects what you do" after actively shutting them out for the last 8 years.

George was his usual defensive, petulant self with very few regrets. Instigating an entire war by invading a country that had nothing to do with 9-11? Nope, that one doesn't cross his mind. Ignoring the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina until it became a national tragedy and a worldwide embarrassment? Nope, that's not what he regrets. It's PR blunders ("Mission Accomplished") and campaign missteps. ("I should've campaigned on immigration reform instead of social security in 2004.")

Still, he seems to be a tad haunted by Katrina, despite jamming his finger into the podium declaring otherwise. (When his eye narrow and get beadier than usual, a Dubya tantrum is imminent.) More than the Iraq war, it seem to be the topic that knocks him off balance.

In a move that nearly gave me whiplash, he jumped from angrily defending the Federal response to Katrina to turning all squishy over the historical significance of Obama's election. He even admitted to being affected by media reports - something he has vehemently denied:
"Look, I was affected by the TV ... When I saw people saying, 'I never thought I would see the day that a black person would be elected President' and a lot of people had tears streaming down their cheeks when they said it ... I consider myself fortunate to have a front row seat to what is going to be an historic moment for the country."

It's as if he was trying to speak directly to Kanye West and assure him that he really, really does like black people.

My favorite quotes, many are contenders for Understatement of the Century:

"Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake."

"Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not but ... things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way."

Also, I love him calling pilots "helicopter drivers."

Anyway, as my friend, Mat, said recently: "Pfffft. I have no hate left. I ran out of it around 2005, just when all the people that voted for him started to wake up."

Agreed. Just when I'd run out of steam to argue with my usual, "The Emperor has no clothes! I'm tellin' ya!", I started not to care as much. Then, most of the W fans woke up and a second shift came in with fresh anger.

Which reminds me, you must read this brief article in Vanity Fair ("My Dinners with Dubya") by a regular guy who happened to be a close friend of Bush's daughter, Barbara. He visited the White House often during W's presidency and his account of becoming 'friends' with the president is freaky and jarring:

"Barbara’s sister, Jenna, severs the tension by asking her father how many words he screwed up in that speech. I nervously sip my beer and add that I am a horrible speller. Everyone laughs. We’re just a normal family eating chicken potpie, poking fun, blaming farts on the dog. In the White House."
You must read to the very end - it's a doozy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The First Snowman

Meet Bernie, the first Snoman I have ever crafted. When my Minnesota neighbors first moved in, I made a request: They must help me make a snowman - something I've never done. Last winter came and went but the weather, timing and our schedules did not cooperate.

Today, neighbor Tim IMs me: "Today's the Day." A layer of fresh snow and a sunny sky meant the conditions were perfect. First, I had no idea that snow could roll up like sod or carpeting. Trippy. Also, I didn't imagine snow being so heavy when compiled in a ball. The whole experience made me want to take up sculpting.

I realize that Bernie looks a bit demonic but he's just overly friendly. His arm-branches are holding Mardi Gras beads from last year and a scarf that my Grandma Bethel knitted. His nose is a big fat carrot and his eyes are gorgeous rocks from Utah, gathered from my geology trip last May.

We tried various items for a mouth, including glass beads, rocks and curved branches, but in the end, I used food coloring. (God, I hope that's not some bio-crime I'm not yet aware of.) Much like a deranged sno-cone, Bernie's features have bled a little; he looks like the 7-year-old boy at the birthday party who ate too much cake and ice cream and is now on a sugar-infused rampage.

Together, Tim and I agreed on a green heart - a hope that all this eco-mindedness will take hold and become a permanent way of thought. Also, I hope Bernie sticks around for awhile too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Some days - such as today - you wake up in Denver and this is your front yard. There's something about the snow that makes everything prettier. Take the nastiest junk yard you've ever seen, let Nature do Her dusting and voila! Beauty.

Thanks for all the sweet notes of support regarding my dad. He's out of the hospital and doing fine. Still, this brings up some hard questions about the future. Where is the best place for him to live? Who will take care of him? What about my mother? She lives alone in Long Beach, with no family nearby. Such thoughts make it difficult to plan for the future. Perhaps in the long run, I'll have to move back to California and kiss my snowy mornings goodbye.

Dunno. We shall see.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Circle of Life

Something went wrong with my Dad this week. Sitting at a table with his son, daughter-in-law and wife, he suddenly could not speak. He could not see. He could not respond. His right arm went numb and he felt nauseous.

Seems he had a mini-stroke - basically, nature's polite way of warning you that a big stroke is in your future. As he recounted to my brother later, it was like " ... my gears went into neutral. Like the movie screen that plays in my brain suddenly went blank." A great reminder that we run on electricity, just like a space heater.

As I type this, Dad is checking out of the VA hospital in Biloxi, MS and returning to his motorhome, along with his wife, Shirley, who actually lives in Redmond, WA. They've got a bi-coastal marriage and it seems to work.

The whole episode gave us quite a scare. The worst part is knowing that stuff like this is the natural cycle of things - right on schedule. On January 15, Dad will be 75 - outlasting his own father by over a decade. He is getting older and I noticed it more over the holidays. I like to be in denial but events like this make it harder.

Truth is, old age catch up with all of us. Earlier this week, I applied henna to my hair in an effort to hide the gray. Though I'm in pretty good shape, I notice that things are changing and I am starting to understand why old people talk about their ailments so much - pure astonishment at the cell break down.

Against the advice of an inner circle friend, I saw Brad Pitt's latest, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." ("This week might not be the week to see this," she warned, "It's pretty intense.") She's right, the movie is not light but it was actually the perfect time to watch it. The premise is a man who is born old and progresses into youth - turning nature on its head and emphasizing that we all need to be taken care at both ends of our lives. (Other than a few annoying voice-overs and endlessly bad accents, the writing and acting - Cate Blanchett, fer chrissakes - are superb.)

Rich or poor, black or white, fat or thin - we are all born helplessly naked. Pretty or ugly, short or tall, Democrat or Republican - we all (hopefully) die old and infirm. In between, you better live to the fullest because before you know it, party's over.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Year, New Direction

Here's me, happier than a pig in mud at Black Canyon National Park. It was during my road trip with Gins last summer. (Yes, I am waaaay behind on sharing some kick-ass photos - it's on my list.) My favorite straw hat got munched up in the truck but that didn't stop me from wearing the sad thing ...

So, I sense big changes coming this year and I'd really like most of them to be my own doing. I have a terrible habit of not taking control of my own life, of just floating down the river, bouncing from bank to bank and leaving it up to the whims of the current. The scenery has been fabulous but I need to pick up an oar or something - a few areas are stagnating.

The night of my birthday, I lost my cell phone. Turns out, those suckers are pretty damn useful. I went to the Verizon store to get another one when a tall, gorgeous man approached me and said enthusiastically, "Hi!" At first, I thought my romantic luck might be changing but I quickly realized it was the same dude I had moved to Colorado for - MonkMan.

I had not seen him since that painful breakup in June 2006 - just eight short days after my arrival in Denver. We talked and yes, even hugged, and he apologized. (We'd already made peace through a brief email exchange in 2007.) He'd just graduated and gotten a job in Hawaii as a chaplain for a retirement community. (He even made the comment, "I've never been lonelier. I have all this great stuff going on and no one to share it with." I held my tongue.)

Weirder than me not recognizing him (he looked no different, except for a goatee) was how little I felt - nothing near hate or love. If anything, I felt closure and a small twinge of friendship but that's it. Case closed. Show over. I told a friend recently that I felt so disconnected from the entire relationship that it was like some movie I'd seen, not something that had actually happened to me.

Anyway, I'm glad we ran into each other. Strange that he lived and attended school a few blocks from me (as we had originally planned it) for three years and we'd only now crossed paths. While I don't blame the guy for my decision to move to Colorado, I simply would not be in the Centennial State if he had not popped up in my life. Once again, I was floating down the river and hit a rock - direction changed.

Still, I'm proud that I jumped heart-first and head-last into love. As luck would have it, it was a rare display of bravery in that department. Should I be so lucky to have another chance, I won't hold back. I just hope he lives closer.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Life in the New Year ... thus far

I hope ya'll had a great New Year's 'cause I sure did. Here's my brother's backyard pier which faces Fort Bayou - a great place to pick on my guitar. We shot fireworks off the deck last night. In the summer, they catch their dinner from here - mostly crab. Not bad, eh?

Meet Joe, the Most Grateful Dog in the World. Not long after my brother purchased Phoenix, a German shorthair specifically bred for hunting, an incredibly sick and undernourished black lab came wandering out of the woods. Rob took him to the vet who told him the dog had a severe case of heartworm and may not survive. They treated him, he recovered and Rob took him home and named him Joe.

Turns out, Joe an experienced and highly skilled bird dog. And Phoenix? Not so much. Joe - when not going after ducks fallen from the sky - wags his tail with extreme gratitude and gives love to everyone he meets. He'd put his head in my lap as I was working and it was pure HEAVEN.

Ah, Wal-Mart. My arch nemesis. I like to brag that I have never set foot in one and it's a life goal to go to my grave without ever having done so. Who knows? It may even end up being a big chunk of my obituary. Eventually, a family member ends up going there with me stuck in the car and I have to sit in the parking lot, sweating alone with my principles. I think they get a kick out of it. I don't mind too much as long as they crack the window a bit for me.

I found this cookbook in the kitchen. It's a beautiful book and goes into the history of humans living off the land here in the South. Recipes include "Frog in the Hole" and "Wild Boar Chops." Yum.