Friday, May 29, 2009

All Mine

Finally, my independence has arrived - and not a moment too soon.

The other day, I opened up a letter from my friendly Ford Credit folks and angels flew out of the envelope. They immediately struck out trumpets to announce the words I had long dreamed:
"Thank you for financing with us. This notice is to inform you that the FINAL PAYMENT of your Retail Installment Contract is due."

That's right, that handsome 4WD silver devil is now entirely mine. No more monthly payments and the timing could not be better. Until I get a job, I'm trying to live lean.

While I know plenty of people that buy and sell things like cars, houses, boats and whatnot without much flinching - the thought makes me dizzy with dread. I am notably squeamish when it comes to long-term-financing. The purchase of this Ford Ranger back in May 2004 practically gave me hives.

Up until that point, I had been driving Alice, a legendary 'machine' that is still famous in certain circles. (She will get her own blog post as soon as I find her photo album.) Not unlike a vet with a weepy pet owner, two very kind and gentle garage guys had to sit me down and gently explain that I needed to start thinking about my next car. "The thing is, Alice just can't breath anymore," said Gus. "You can't keep putting money in this thing-er, I mean, her."

I tried to donate Alice to a worthy cause but she was rejected. Then, while I was in DC attending the funeral of a friend, someone in my shi-shi San Francisco neighborhood had her impounded. (They were always doing stuff like that. They once tied bags of dog shit to her side mirrors. Fucking snobs.)

So, I grabbed my dad for guidance and protection and we went car shopping. When I flew open those nifty suicide doors, I suspected I'd found The One. When I noted the truck's locking bed cover, my search was over.

Friends asked if I had a name for the new truck but I was determined not to get attached. It is higher and heavier than Alice and it took some getting used to. Also, the truck has an automatic shift so I missed the delightful engine intimacy of gear shifting. The first couple of years, it just felt like I was weenie-driving this giant monster truck; I felt like a nimrod.

Yes, we were slow to bond but after driving it cross-country for my Colorado move and then experiencing the Denver blizzards of '06 together, my respect for the machine grew expotentially. Then there was the time last summer when it carried Gins and I up and down 'roads' that would have made treacherous pedestrian paths. There's just no way we would have reached a certain mountain top yurt in Eagle without Jack's astounding bad-assedness.

Hmmmm ..... Jack .... Jack? I like it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gardening with a Friend

When I travel too much, there is but one cure: Hard-Core Nesting. And so, despite the occasional downpour this Memorial Day Weekend, I attacked the weeds with a vengeance and won. The 2009 Veggie Garden is now 3/4 under way.

The annual planting also gave me a long-awaited opportunity to say a final goodbye to a friend. When my furry friend, Simone, suddenly died last November of liver cancer, it was a terrible loss. Though I am not one for long drawn out goodbyes, I requested her ashes so I could sprinkle them in the backyard - her beloved domain.

However, when I brought the ashes home and looked around the yard, I realized that winter was setting in and all the plants were dead or dormant. Didn't seem right to just dump her out there in the cold. (I know, I know, ashes don't get cold but STILL.)

And so, I opted to wait until spring, when the color green would return and a new cycle of life would appear. Then, Simone could be sprinkled out there amongst the dirt, helping things grow.

After sitting in my living room for nearly seven months, I finally opened the box that read:

"Denver Pet Cemetery and Crematory hereby certifies that on November 9th, 2008 there was cremated the body of Simone Clisby at the request of Alameda East Veterinary Hospital who duly identified the body as that of the above named decedent, and these are the cremated remains."

And there sat a little plastic bag full of grey ash; a black furry being reduced to a handful of powder.

After digging a hole for each plant, I put a handful of tomato/veggie food in and around. Then, I'd remove my gardening gloves and reach for the plastic bag. I wanted to really feel those last bits of her and sift through them before sprinkling her ashes into the earth.

I found mostly bits of bone but did come across a metal staple, a remnant of an overzealous grooming accident. Her hair would get so matted up and I tried to cut off clumps with shears and accidentally cut her. To her credit, she never complained and the vet had to confront me: "Did you try to cut off her matted hair yourself with scissors?"

Me: "(Gulp!) Um, well ... yes, I did. Why? What did I do?"

Vet: "Wow, that's amazing. I can never get anyone to admit to that ....everyone always denies it."

Good lord, I had mangled my own pet - it's just as well I don't have children. Anyway, she had to get staples to close the wound and I hired a pro groomer every year after that.

I've got more planting to do today and will again sprinkle her remains throughout. I couldn't think of any appropriate words yesterday so I'd just kept saying, "Thank you, Simone." Anyway, I hear mournful gratitude really helps those tomatoes, zukes and peppers shine ...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Uninvited Guests

A few weeks back, Cousin Linda was making her usual stop at our desert cabin in Twentynine Palms, as she always does when she makes her monthly drive between her home in Mesa, Arizona and Long Beach, California.

Armed with a flashlight (electricity wasn't on yet), she entered the house to find a big raggedy American flag nailed to the wall, a serious detour from the usual mid-60s-Midwestern decor. Investigating further, she found the place essentially trashed. Not knowing if there was someone still in the house, she got the hell out of there, fast. She called the cabin's owner, my mom, who then called the cops.

A deputy found a broken window and clear evidence that someone was using the home as their own. We (my mother, Cousin Linda and I) were planning to head there anyway for Mother's Day weekend but now we had a mission.

Upon arrival, we called the cops to make sure Homeless Dude wasn't still in there. They sent out Det. Dibbell, a guy straight out of Central Casting with a neck the size of tree trunk and the tendency to speak only in cop code. "Ma'am, you'll want to step back while I secure the area, we may have a 5140 on our hands."

Bless his badged heart, he took the entire case very seriously which is exactly what we wanted but I had to suppress the urge to ask, "Haven't I seen you on an episode of 'Reno 911'?" The good detective did, however, provide the most accurate phrase for describing the scenario: "It's wrong and it's creepy." 10-4 on that.

Entering the cabin, which had been built by my grandparents, Wilbur and Myrtle, in 1960, I wasn't prepared for the scene. Sure, I knew about the flag but was skeeved out by the Blair-Witch-inspired sculpture in the living room. Gourd innards (I'd often bring them to my mom from desert walks) were everywhere. Broken light bulbs were embedded in the ancient green 60s carpeting and soda cans were stuck in corners.

The kitchen was thrashed - the cupboards had nearly been emptied and all the spice jars had been dumped. They'd found the leftover paint in the garage and put a few symbols above the sink - Anarchy, Pentagram and a Heartagram. (I looked it up later, a Heartagram is a trademarked symbol for Finnish rock band, HIM, and it has now become more famous than the band itself.)

And yes, it was kinda funny watching my sweet mother wash dishes under the symbol of Anarchy - I got a chuckle or two from that.

As Det. Dibbell took notes, I photographed and he encouraged my mother to list anything that had been taken. The boom box was gone - and I'd lugged all those CDs, dammit! The mini fridge in the garage was gone, along with the beer - double dammit! Later, we learned that neighbors had seen two teen girls rolling it down the street.

We also learned that the neighborhood kids had thought the house abandoned, found the open window and was using it to party during the day. Night came, and Homeless Dude would move in, using our oil lamps and toilet - even though the water was not turned on.

While Mom and Cousin went off to City Hall (to register for the Neighborhood Watch Program) and Wal-mart, I stayed behind to clean. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I do not take naturally to mops, brooms and vacuum cleaners. (My first act upon winning the lotto? Hire a maid.)

But something snapped in me and I suddenly became a frickin' cleaning MACHINE. I got down on hands and knees, moved furniture like it was cardboard and even washed rocks in the window sill. I didn't even notice that it was 99 degrees in the house with no air conditioning until I stopped later to breathe and realized I was dripping with sweat.

My cleaning spree had been fueled by sheer rage and I'm so glad no one else was there since I was probably mumbling expletives the entire time: "Motherfucker comes in OUR HOUSE .... No right! ... Thinks a flag makes it okay .... motherfucking loser can't even use the toilet properly .... asshole .... idiot" and so on.

In the end, we had fun doing an amateur CSI profile all weekend. We determined that Homeless Dude was just looking for a place to sleep and, although mentally unstable, had not caused as much damage as the kids. They had marked up the new fridge and left kid-level gouges in the living room wall. Fucking desert rats.

Meanwhile, Homeless Dude - who had also taken care to sleep only on top of the bedspreads and not under the sheets - had begun to take pride in his new home. According to Linda, he had actually tried to clean the place up since she stopped in last Monday - there were half-filled trash bags everywhere. I had to laugh when I pictured a scroungy old man trying to keep the place in order: "Motherfucking KIDS! ... I finally find a place and .... no respect, I tell ya ... fucking desert rats."

But what to do with the American flag? Even though it was mangled, it's not something you just throw in the trash - especially when you are just down the street from the world's biggest Marine base where all those brave folks train just before being shipped off to Iraq and Afghanistan. Didn't seem right.

And so, we dragged out the caged fire pit, threw in some kindling, folded it up in that mournful triangular way and placed it on the flames. "Shouldn't we say something?" I asked Cousin Linda.

"Um ..." she said. Then, placing her hand over her heart, she began, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ..." I joined in and there, under the desert stars, we gave that sad old flag a proper send off.

I pray that Homeless Dude finds a better home soon - preferably, one that isn't ours.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


As a friend pointed out to me today, Rachel Alexandra, a filly I have actually met, went ahead and won the Preakness Stakes and I have yet to celebrate. What can I say? I'm about 12 blog posts behind but real life must always come first and it's been coming at me nonstop lately.

Most recently, I have had the pleasure of celebrating the 11th year of Chick Cabin Weekend, an annual gathering at my family's tiny getaway cabin in Green Valley Lake, California. Every year is different and yet, every year is the same. You put a bunch of funny, strong, beautiful women in the forest, add several pounds of bacon, champagne and margaritas and voila! You get approximately 48 hours of deep love and even deeper belly laughs.

It's strange watching us get older. With the annual marker, it's easier to spot our changing attitudes and habits. In the beginning, Debbie (mother of four) would be doing tequila shots within 15 minutes of arrival. Now, she takes naps. "This is the only time all year, I get to sleep uninterrupted," she says.

Then there was the year we all came with chips and beer, reasoning somehow that surely somebody else would bring the real food. Now, thanks to Susie, we are more organized and the snacks a tad healthier. Although Chef Lisa continually created baked goods from scratch while dancing away on her iPod - how could we resist? We simply didn't.

I couldn't help but notice that our weekend was magically timed with another female gathering - a ladybug fest. Kim and I watched them for awhile and noted how un-ant-like they are. No single file lines for them, no marching. Each Lady is on her own mission and yet they're still all hanging out together. Seemed fitting for our own lady gathering.

This was also the first year I was able to successfully quiet a batch of giggly girls long enough to enjoy what I call, "The Frog Cocktail Party." On the annual midnight walk, we go past a large pond that is home to thousands of frogs. At night, they chat up a storm but the intrusion of cars, porch lights, humans - anything that makes noise - causes them to shut up all at once. If you are patient and still, they ultimately forget and one frog inevitably picks up the conversation, "Anyway, as I was saying ..." and the Frog Party begins again. It is one of my favorite sounds and this year, I was able to get others to hear it a little too. So, yay!

I'd sprung a new tradition on the gals this year and wasn't sure how it would go over. After the Saturday Night Feast, I proposed an Open Mic Talent Show where anybody could get up and sing, tell a story, juggle or whatever. Chef Lisa had brought stand-up microphone that connects to an iPod so ultimately, it ended up being karaoke-without-a-net in that lyrics were not provided. If you knew the song, you just got up and belted it out.

This seemed frightening in the beginning but ultimately turned into, "Hey, you've gone twice already it's my turn now!" The biggest surprise of the evening was Kim, mother of two and easily the funniest gal in the bunch, belt out an expletive-laden version of "Crazy Bitch" by Buckcherry.

Not to be outdone, Andrea, also a mother of two and former warrior of Corporate America, launched into her word-for-word performance of Kid Rock's "Cocky", which brought down the house. Later, Kim and I did our version of Prince's "Housequake", which got us many laughs. And to think it all started with John Denver's "Country Roads" ...

Good to know we still got it, even if we have to dig deeper to find it.
(My photos are all here.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meet Eli The Teenage Moose

I had a truly bizarre weekend which I'm still digesting and photo-organizing but in the meantime, please meet Eli The Teenage Moose.

So, there I was, flying to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby when I found myself seated next to a lovely woman named Pamela from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For all the flying I do, I rarely engage in chatting with the seat neighbors unless they prove to be extra interesting or charming or if, perchance, I am feeling likewise. Truly, the planets have to be aligned for this and they lined right up for this trip.

Pamela was traveling to Atlanta with her buddies to check out an interior decorating show but she hates to fly, has terrible fears about it. And so, out came the tiny bottles of vodka. I loved her immediately.

In my effort to distract her from the flight and all its inherent risks to life and limb, I asked Pamela about her life in Jackson Hole and she regaled me with stories about beauty and wildlife. She told me about Eli, a young moose - still living with his mother - who hangs out in their backyard. (Young moose stay with their moms the first two years of life.)

Eli has not only gotten used to Pamela and her husband, but has grown curious and gets excited when their car pulls in the driveway. Moose are not known for their interest in humans but Eli is different, he's got that youthful curiousity that is so adorable on all young creatures. Eli's mom, however, hangs back just enough to keep an eye on things and clearly disapproves of his human friendships.

One special day, Eli got curious enough to stick his entire head in Pamela's kitchen window. She even got to scratch both sides of his prominent nose and to her, the experience summed up life in Jackson Hole, Wyoming just perfectly.

I made Pamela promise to send me the photo and she obliged. Then she sent me an update today:
"I am glad you liked the picture of Eli. He’s a sweet little moose for sure. I had to push him off my deck the other day because he was eating my geraniums and he got pretty upset with me. He gave me a dirty look over his shoulder, put his ears down, looked disgusted and totally offended. He stuck his nose in the air, walked down the steps and did not look back. Very un-Eli like. Good thing I’ve seen enough moose to know when one is being overdramatic. He’s just getting spoiled. I told him that he needs to learn to be a moose and eat the willows instead. He hasn’t been back in many days. I thought he would get over the geranium thing but you know how moose tend to hold grudges."

Oh, the joys of travel! Sometimes talking to your neighbor in 17E pays off ...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I'm Off ... Again

Later today, I am boarding yet another plane, this one bound for LA, where the deep memories of my past reside.

Among other things, I'll be removing a homeless guy from our desert house, celebrating Mother's Day with Mama Iva, going to a concert with an old buddy, visiting with friends, reconnecting with my very first stepsister and experiencing the joy that is Chick Cabin Weekend. Somewhere in there, I'll also be working on another article, redoing my resume, reading, eating, hiking and picking on Sally, my neglected gee-tar.

I finished my final BlogHer Derby post and I think this includes higher quality writing than the other two. This one focuses on celebrities I met, parties I went to and the whole weird concept of fame. When you get close enough to even catch a whiff of it, you realize its this other squiggly dimension that involves an awful lot of giving up, not to mention painful footwear.

It was nice to be back in Denver, even if it was only for four days. Long enough to reconnect with my beloved Rodents, albeit briefly, and bond with my neighbor Erin over the relentlessness of life.

Hugs to you Denver! BRB!

Guess where I'm going in June? NOWHERE. I'm so excited!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A New Face

I'm still processing all the Derby stuff and posting my take over at BlogHer but a story in today's news has me distracted.

A woman in Cleveland, Ohio who had received the nation's first face transplant had remained anonymous ... until today. Connie Culp, who had had her face destroyed when her husband shot her in a failed murder-suicide attempt, literally faced the press to say this:

"When somebody has a disfigurement and don't look as pretty as you do, don't judge them, because you never know what happened to them. Don't judge people who don't look the same as you do. Because you never know. One day it might be all taken away."
Facial disfigurement stuff always hits close to home and I applaud Connie's courage in facing cameras. The main reason I started taking photographs was to avoid being in them.

My parents raised me with the philosophy, "Beauty is on the inside" and it's a lovely sentiment but society doesn't always agree. The reality is, people like pretty people better and that's just not going to change. Also, if it looks like you've been hurt, it scares people because they see scars and they imagine pain; it's uncomfortable for them.

Connie's psychiatrist Dr. Kathy Coffman, relayed a story that really got to me:

Once while shopping, she heard a little kid say, `You said there were no real monsters, Mommy, and there's one right there,'" Coffman said. Culp stopped and said, "I'm not a monster. I'm a person who was shot," and pulled out her driver's license to show the child what she used to look like, the psychiatrist said.

This story sparked a childhood memory: I recall running around with the neighbor kids when we learned that a new family had moved in down the street, the Morenos - and they had four kids! We all went to investigate. There stood Ricky, Irene, Oscar and Carlos - ready to play.

Oscar, a happy, chubby kid a few years younger took one look at me and his face lit up with delight. He immediately walked up, grabbed my hand and said: "Ooooh! I like you! I like monster movies!" and off we went.

I still think about that and laugh but also remember my confusion. 'What did I have to do with monster movies?' As with all kid comments, the translation is quite literal.

I also remember a boy I had a crush on in middle school say to me: "If you didn't have that thing on your face, you'd be such a babe." And then - here's the kicker - I said, "Thanks!" with real gratitude.

Seriously. I THANKED HIM. This is how insecure we are at 13 so what are you gonna do? To this day, the worst thing someone could say to me is: "I think you're beautiful anyway."

Reading the article this morning, I briefly entertained the fantasy of getting a face transplant. Not necessary, of course. I've finally made peace with mine. Now, if I could just stop the aging process ...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Kentucky Derby - Mini Recap

At least physically speaking, I have returned home from experiencing the Kentucky Derby; I am completely floored and totally exhausted. What an incredible experience to see a 135-year-old tradition up close like that! I am grateful to BlogHer (where I'm posting Derby recaps today, tomorrow and Wednesday) for making this happen. The whole thing re-cemented my love for the South, hats and horses.

My recap of the actual Derby race is here but suffice to say, it was an exciting surprise. There's a lesson in here somewhere ... Never underestimate the underdog? Or the underhorse? Don't over look the long shots? Calvin Borel has turbo-charged underwear?

Either way, he and his 50-1 steed, Mine That Bird, came from dead last to clinch the Run for the Roses. I've never heard so much screaming, followed by so much confusion. People were stunned; there was much cursing and only a handful of victory shrieks.

Ah, yes. The humans. Imagine a sea (attendance: 153,563) of extremely well-dressed happy drunk people all in one place. It was a photographer's dream - everyone was on display and therefore, highly approachable.

Even though legal clearance for public photography is printed on the back of one's Derby ticket, I did usually ask people before I snapped their faces. Only two women turned me down but most were thrilled. "Of course!" they'd say, then strike a pose

Most had gone to great effort to look photogenic so they were quite accommodating when I started bossing them around: "Okay, can you come outside where the light is better? Okay, now stand here. No, keep the drink up. Now turn your head so I can see the hat feathers, okay? Great! Smile big!" It was like having thousands of interesting models at my disposal. HEAVEN.

Yeah, so running around shooting is the fun part but the editing, tagging, captioning and organizing part? Not so much. That is what I'm doing all day today on just four hours sleep. If you want to take a peek, visit my Flickr stream but I'll be updating and organizing all day and hope to get it finished by sundown. I'll repost here with more photos and stories too in the coming days.

In the meantime, please enjoy one of my favorite shots from the Briar Rose Party in nearby Shelbyville. I call it "Seth Myers and His Human Kindle." Enjoy!