…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Monday, July 31, 2006

jesus is my barista

I come to you today from Latte Litchfield in South Carolina, where the partner and I vacation with her parents annually. We're not actually vacationing at the coffee house but at a beach house about a half mile from here, a house that, as it turns out, has Internet access--sadly, that feature wasn't advertised in the brochure, so we didn't bring our laptop. Question: Had you a beach house to rent, which features would you highlight in addition to the obvious, i.e. oceanfront beach access, A/C, and the like? For instance, if it had an elevator and wireless Internet, would you gloss those amenities and instead use your precious brochure space to talk up the plantation shutters?

That being said, Internet access is only 10 cents per minute here at Latte Litchfield, and I get to sip a delicious java chip blended mocha as I blog, so all is well. Besides, last year the rental computers were located smack underneath two giant Ten Commandments tablets mounted on the wall. The tablets are still here, but the computers have been moved across the room. Still, I'll do my best to post morally. What would Jesus write?

While Jesus, with a hard e, is certainly at home here in S.C., Hay-suse is not. Yesterday at the Piggly Wiggly I asked the deli ladies where I could find tortillas. "You mean chips?" asked one of them. "No, tortillas, like for burritos and stuff." The ladies furrowed their brows and shook their heads at each other, like I had asked for something as rare and unappetizing as cow spit.

We did eventually find a small Mexi-Asian section, the cuisines being very similar, you know, and against our better judgement bought a package of pillowy Old El Paso flour tortillas (the only option available), the kind that are so processed they never really expire, like Twinkies. So anathema to a girl born and raised in Southern California.

On the drive out (we generally fly into the in-laws' home city then drive to the coast) we once again interacted with the lawmen of Springfield, about 100 miles from the coast, where I was pulled over for speeding last year. This time it was a routine driver's license checkpoint, which nevertheless resulted in a fair amount of knee-slapping over the fact that we had come all this way to go to the beach. "You took yourselves a wrong turn somewhere!" said one of the officers.

My California license saved me a ticket last year. "California!" the officer who pulled me over exclaimed when I handed it over, then asked, "If I give you a ticket, will you promise to pay it?" That "if I give you a ticket" part made it seem optional to me, so I answered, "Well, officer, I would prefer not to get the ticket." He slapped my registration and license against his wrist and, to my everlasting surprise, handed it back to me with an admonition to "Take it easy from here on out." I thought I was all cute, having charmed my way out of a ticket, until my partner told me that the officer was weighing whether to arrest me to ensure payment.

So, no trouble with the law, and the swimsuit is performing like a champ: The mastectomy suit is the single greatest invention since seamless undiepants. Ooh, and we swam with dolphins yesterday! Or rather dolphins passed by roughly 25 feet from where we were swimming. And even I'm not too jaded to squeal with delight when dolphins leap through the ocean within my spitting distance--you know, if I were a whale, with a blow hole in my skull.

Three days passed. Four to go. Hope to check in again soon.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Via Salon's Broadsheet blog, which was itself citing a New York Times article, I learned this summer that Lands' End had introduced a revolutionary new swim line promising suits “thoughtfully designed to fit real women and flatter every figure.” Every figure? Really, Lands' End, are you sure you want to make that claim?

I'm shaped, roughly, like a refrigerator, with identical hip and bust measurements, without a heck of a lot of contour in between. Oh, and I have only one boob—just born that way, or developed that way at any rate. And no amount of one-armed pull-ups during my teenage years did a lick of good, as my horrified pubescent self gamely tried to help the stunted hemisphere catch up with its mate.

Go for it, Lands' End, show me the suit of my dreams.

I visited the online site and called up their virtual model, where a girl can plug in her own ghastly stats and try suits on her CGI doppelgänger. I had big ideas about giving my CGI self a makeover, with a crew cut and glasses and a less vacant look, but I couldn't even get the thing to accept my measurements, not because it didn't believe such a figure existed but because the application didn't like Safari. Nor did it like Explorer. And I'm not going to download a new browser for any goddamn swimsuit model. So my virtual model defaulted to something like the actress Anne Archer, which isn't terrible, as CGI selves go, but she wasn't going to be very illustrative of me without considerable imagination.

Lands' End offers a variety of ways to shop: by “anxiety zone” (my brain?), body shape, suit type, bra style, and…omigod, they have mastectomy suits with built-in pockets for prostheses! This really is revolutionary! Though in the past I've installed my own fake-boob pocket—a deconstructed sock sewn into the suit's “breast shelf”—my fix has always left me wanting. For starters, I think I look reasonably lopsided even with my gelatinous friend in place. Then there's the whole fear about it falling overboard whenever I'm hit by a wave, causing me to grope at it anxiously and often—at which time its stress-ball-like properties come in handy. (Ha! Get it?)

I've been kluging my own solutions for so long it never occurred to me that there might be more “manufactured” options. A mastectomy suit would be almost as momentous a leap forward for me as when I switched to silicone from foam, which lacked natural movement and absorbed water. Yep, that girl you saw so many years ago wringing out her boob as she emerged from the Big Sur River—that was me.

My breast(s) and I, we have an uneasy relationship.

Have you ever been to Frederick's of Hollywood with your mother? I have, and I can't say as I recommend it. This was back in the day, in Orange County, and Frederick's may as well have been the moon—if the moon were populated entirely by things you never, ever wanted to see in the presence of your mother, like panties whose crotches were decorated with feathers and googly eyes. But my imbalance—the fleshy, not chemical, one—was becoming obvious as I transitioned from a “B” to a “C” cup in early teenagehood, and my mother had heard Frederick's sold “breast enhancers.”

If there are two things my mother can't stand, and certainly there are many more than two, they would be slutty women and “showboaty” types. Frederick's is the five-and-dime of sluts and showboats, the twin groups' needs converging in an NC-17 miasma of hot pink, lace, and fake animal skin. And it was into this world that I was led—past the fur-lined bondage cuffs and edible undies, my mother disgustedly tsking all the way to the counter—to solve my “problem.”

A very friendly woman who was statistically likely to be named “Brandi” took me into a dressing room and nonchalantly sized me up, then she sold us a couple of sets of nylon-encased foam boobs. To “Brandi” the purchase was as controversial as soap, but we couldn't get out of there fast enough. We paused only long enough to scout our position before stepping out of the store and back into the mall, thus ensuring that a neighbor didn't happen upon us and get the wrong idea. This wouldn't be my last lesson in shame.

Now a “D” cup (nature's cruel joke on me), I'm frustrated to find that the mastectomy suits at Lands' End all seem to top out at “C.” Are bountiful breasted cancer survivors SOL?

Never fear. Lands' End offers live chat help, and no sooner had I entered my name and requested a chat session than a little window popped up and representative “Karen” asked how she could help.

“Hey, Karen,” I typed, then, because I'm not accustomed to using chat, I hit return to skip a line, at which time “Hey, Karen,” popped up as my complete reply, as though I were greeting my very best friend.

“Hello,” Karen typed, “How can I help you?” It sounded terse in my head, though I'm sure she didn't mean it that way. That's just not who “Karen” is.

I type, “I'm what your catalogue calls a 'rectangle shape' (Oh, stop it with the sweet nothings, Lands' End, you're embarrassing me!), and I need a mastectomy suit that accommodates a 'D' cup.”


“Hold on,” Karen replied. “Let me check with our Shoppers.”

“Thanks!” I typed, hoping she was going to check not with actual customers but with someone whose official job title is “Shopper.”


“Sorry,” Karen replied. “We don't have any 'D' cup mastectomy suits.”

“Shoot,” I typed, hoping to charm her with my quaint word choice, then I waited patiently for her to offer some alternative advice. I'm not sure what kind of advice I expected from “Karen” exactly. I'd exhausted the whole “buy a regular suit and make it your own” thing. I was looking for something more sophisticated this time. Something along the lines of, “Maybe you could just cut the other one off?” which, believe me, has occurred more than once.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Karen asked, a bit lamely, from my consumerist standpoint.

“No,” I replied, wondering if she could sense my disappointment in the type. “Thanks anyway.” Our chat session ended with a thud, the little window vanishing as quickly as it had appeared.

Better put an asterisk after that “flatter every figure” promise, you silver-tongued devil. It's not nice to get a girl's hopes up like that.

Looking back, fear of being found out wasn't the only reason (perhaps not even the main one) I was shy about boyfriends groping my breasts. But at the time it seemed like such a momentous announcement—maybe even a deal-breaker: “By the way, before you feel me up, I should tell you not to be put off by a certain sponginess on my right side.” Since I didn't much date guys I couldn't take in a bar fight, most of them took it well enough, though they more or less avoided my little underachiever from then on.

Lesbians, you may have heard, are of a different breed entirely, and the girls have by and large found my stunted member compelling, if not downright fetish-worthy. From girlfriend number 1, the littlest mammary has enjoyed acceptance and affection, and girlfriend number 6 suggested that we go so far as to celebrate it with a unilateral piercing. This wasn't long after I had first seen—in a feminist bookstore, natch—the “Tree” poster of a topless Deena Metzger, her arms spread wide in joyful tribute to her tattooed mastectomy site.

I became fascinated by the idea of turning a potential source of shame into a focal point. “Let's do it,” I said, and just for the asking I was shirtless in a gynecological exam chair, a heavily pierced and tattooed dyke asking me where I wanted it. “My right,” I said, losing my bra. The piercer smiled and nodded at the dwarfish one. “Cool,” she purred, and got to work.

If there's enough call for the term acrotomophiles—folks sexually attracted to people with missing limbs—surely there's a tiny kingdom in which I and my fellow uniboobs would be worshipped by dint of what's not there, and methinks it would be populated largely, if not entirely, by lesbians. God bless 'em.

I ordered a mastectomy “tankini” in a “C” cup, and upon receipt I was delighted to find its built-in “soft-cup bra” just generous enough that I could pour myself ever so gently into its smallish confines. (You're not off the hook, Lands' End—see to those generously endowed cancer survivors PDQ!)

Still, I see a little breastwork in my near future: I think I'm gonna let 'em cut the other one off. I know that this imperils my status as an object of worship, but the imbalance is almost certainly exacerbating my spinal arthritis, and at this point I measure relief by the inch, not the yard. I hope to get it lopped off in the next year or so, thus achieving the boy-girl body of my dreams. (Is it too late to become a supermodel?)

At any rate, my left side has seen quite enough attention lavished on the right, and she's felt more than a little slighted: Imagine for a moment that you're a conjoined twin—no, really, imagine it—and that your dwarf sister, who was for many years considered grotesque and weird in comparison to you, because, you know, though you had a dwarf growing out of your side you had developed in a more expected way, is now continually fêted because, after all, isn't she just as cute as a button? And come to think of it, who ever said bigger was better, Jolly Green Giant? Yeah, you'd be pissed, too. And maybe it's about time ol' lefty meets the brief, white-hot pain of a piercing needle and joins the ranks of her much-venerated sister. She's been in exile so long, my left breast, the prodigal daughter led astray by punky hormones all those many years ago, and she's ready to come home at last.

Friday, July 21, 2006

not about boobs

I was asked recently what my favorite element of punctuation is. Really, copy editors are asked these kinds of things, and good golly are they glad anyone cares! OK, in truth, it was my partner who asked, but when I replied she asked me to flesh out my answer for possible use in a language course aimed at adorable little freshmen. Pretty cool, huh? Since writing about my favorite punctuation derailed me from writing the blog entry I was planning—which, by the way, might've been about boobs!—I've decided to instead post my punctuation piece. Punctuation, boobs: It's all good, right?

This is an em dash: —. Isn’t she beautiful? While her uses are many—introducing attributions, signifying interruptions in quoted speech, setting off lists (as used here)—her most heroic function lies in eliminating confusion in long or complex sentences, particularly when a writer wants to signal to readers a shift in thought, tone, or pace. Take the following:

1(a). When asked to name her favorite element of punctuation, the copy editor thoughtfully considered parentheses, the semicolon, the colon, at once deftly delineating and joining sentences, complete and otherwise, and the em dash, fairy godmother to the overworked Cinderella of punctuation, the comma.

Decipherable, perhaps, but such sentences cause readers to stumble or even reread them in trying to understand their meaning. A confused reader is an unhappy one—of this you can be sure—so the primary aim of good writing is always clarity, whether ideas are expressed in simple or complex sentences. In the sentence cited, a simple set of em dashes accomplishes that aim:

1(b). When asked to name her favorite element of punctuation, the copy editor thoughtfully considered parentheses, the semicolon, the colon—at once deftly delineating and joining sentences, complete and otherwise—and the em dash, fairy godmother to the overworked Cinderella of punctuation: the comma.

Replacing a set of commas with a set of em dashes not only breaks the monotony of example 1(a) but signals a shift in emphasis between the main idea of the sentence—a list of favorite punctuation elements—and the secondary information contained therein—an aside about the particular appeal of the colon (perhaps honoring its runner-up status?).

In the sentence just above I used em dashes to emphasize detail—signaling that the phrases contained within are meant to illustrate the points made in the body of the sentence—and parentheses to deemphasize a tangential thought (an aside that may otherwise serve only to confuse the reader). Setting such details off instead with commas creates minor chaos:

2. Replacing a set of commas with a set of em dashes not only breaks the monotony of example 1(a) but signals a shift in emphasis between the main idea of the sentence, a list of favorite punctuation elements, and the secondary information contained therein, an aside about the particular appeal of the colon, perhaps honoring its runner-up status.

Looking back at example 1(b) for a moment, bonus points for anyone who noticed one other minor change: the replacement of the final comma with a colon, lending more emphasis to the phrase “the comma” than it might have enjoyed were it set off by, well, a comma.

The comma’s greatest strength is its versatility, which also, sadly, can be its most frustrating weakness. Just because the comma can be used doesn’t mean it should be used, not when written language is so rich with options: Adopt a couple of neglected but eager parentheses. Employ an out-of-work colon. Dust off a pair of em dashes. Go crazy! But not too crazy—keep this rule in mind:

In general, em dashes emphasize content while parentheses deemphasize content, with commas steadfastly maintaining the middle ground. Thus, choose your punctuation with care.

It would be silly, for instance, to write:

3(a). It would be silly—for instance—to write this.

Though it would be sillier still to write:

3(b). It would be silly (for instance) to write this.

Save em dashes for clauses you wish to highlight—at which time they’ll spring forth as eagerly as a puppy, ready to lend energy and character to your writing—and let parentheses serve in their own parenthetical way (though they’ve been known to grouse, with a sigh, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride”).

And don’t assume that em dashes must occur in pairs (though, for your readers’ sake, please don’t open a parenthetical statement without ensuring that it is properly closed). Employing a single em dash in a sentence commands your readers’ attention, enticing them forward—c’mon, readers, let’s go see what’s over here! It can also lend particular force to a short, terminal phrase—really, it will!

Steve Martin wrote an essay for The New Yorker in 1997 in which he announced a worldwide shortage of periods and, indeed, used only one period in the entire essay, resulting in a knuckle-cracking demonstration of skill with alternative punctuation.

Were a comma shortage afoot, how would you do your part to conserve? If you say, “Use more em dashes, of course!” thanks for listening, but I’m not so biased toward her seductively long sweep that I would forsake other useful elements of punctuation.

My best advice for fellow writers is this: “Listen” to what you read and write, and train yourself to “hear” the flow of the language. Clear, concise writing flows swiftly, while confusing, unnecessarily complex verbiage stammers and leads readers aground. We rarely notice when language is wielded with precision—it’s the jarring jangle of the wrong that gets our attention: That’s good! Notice the wrong in everything you read, and then ask yourself, Why did that sentence make me stop reading midway, sending me back to the beginning as though it’s MY fault it was constructed poorly? If it was in fact your fault, fix it! If not, fix it anyway! Sharpen your punctuation skills to a steely point and unleash your sense of all that is elegant and fine on a disorganized world. If you’re not part of the punctuation solution, you’re part of the problem.

Monday, July 17, 2006

a wonderlier® bowl of one's own

Forty-five people were expected at my parents' ranchito Saturday for an extended family reunion, so naturally my mother had made enough scalloped potatoes for 100. Actual head count: 30. The low turnout was attributed to a variety of reasons, many of which impugned the character of those not in attendance, but I thought it perfectly acceptable to avoid the California high desert during fire season—with blazes actively flanking my parents' property to the north and the south—on a day that promised, and delivered, a high of 106 degrees. But maybe my cousin was just using her daughter's asthma as an excuse.

My aunt was pouring the leftover scalloped potatoes into a very large ceramic bowl that was long past heaping. She kept pausing to glower at the volume, willing the thick glop of creamy potatoes to somehow settle and make room for more.

“I could take some off your hands,” I suggested. I *heart* my mother's scalloped potatoes, and she only makes them on special occasions, like, to celebrate fire season.

“Oh, good idea,” my mom said, then, assessing the overflow, exclaimed, “And I have just the container!” With that, she hurried out the door of the kitchen and crossed the yard to The Shed™. (No offense to certain readers of this blog who may have quite handsome sheds of their own, sheds that serve their sheddy utilities very well at that, but this is no ordinary shed. Were one to amuse The Shed™—an act I didn't think possible until recently—it wouldn't so much snicker as explode in paroxysms of mirth.) Mom returned with a plastic clamshell container, the kind one would get when ordering, say, a quart of macaroni salad at the grocery store deli counter. These are the sorts of things for which one apparently needs a gigantesque shed.

In light of our utterly bizarre weather of late—humidity in California?—no doubt signaling the death knell of a planet at last defeated by our timeless quest for convenience and transient gratification, my mother's frugality has become something of an asset. Disposability is in the eye of the beholder, and neither squares of aluminum foil nor plastic forks are squandered at the ranchito until they're utterly spent.

During my childhood my family's thrift was a source of embarrassment. Also confusion, as demonstrated by the dreaded shell game "Which margarine container in the refrigerator actually contains margarine?" Ungrateful at the time for the ascetic ideals I would later value, I selfishly yearned for Tupperware.

Tupperware was rarely sold at yard sales, from whence came most of our household goods and clothing. When it did pop up, it was generally warped beyond use—or stinky. And even when perfectly good Tupperware appeared, my mother, for her own arcane reasons, refused to buy it. “You don't know what people have been doing with that,” she fairly spat, though, curiously, she had no compunctions about buying used bed sheets and bath towels. Wanting to understand the distinction I pushed for details, but she couldn't come up with any specific scenarios to illustrate her fears. I knew from experience, though, that urine figured prominently in her distrust of strangers.

I grew up in a part of Orange County that was, during my youth, one part residential to three parts agricultural. And while we loved going to local fruit and vegetable stands for our produce, my mother admonished me never to eat so much as a strawberry until we got home, where it could be properly washed. I thought she was concerned about dirt, something I had eaten a fair amount of in my childhood, until she told me that the immigrants who worked in the fields relieved themselves on the fruit to “get back at whitey.” And lest I think this was aberrant behavior, she also advised me never to send food back at restaurants. (Having worked for a number of years in a restaurant with an all-immigrant kitchen staff, I can say with some certainty that line cooks in general exercise no such urine vendetta against diners, even picky ones, but pissing off waiters is a total crapshoot.)

No one wants Tupperware that's been used to collect or distribute urine—for which vessels suburban needs are myriad. And no one's fool enough to pay retail for new pieces when our lives are so very rich with empty margarine tubs and plastic clamshell deli containers, especially when The Shed™ is there to store an airplane hangar's worth of storage containers—and, good God, how we Americans love storage: One need only observe the checkout aisles at Target, with all those shoppers buying coffin-size plastic bins, to witness our zeal for stuff and the putting away of it.

Logic against such profligacy aside, I grew up with a platonic fetish for genuine Tupperware. (Rubbermaid knockoffs just aren't the same.) But it took many years of adulthood and financial independence before I treated myself to a few pieces. Old notions die hard, and in my world Tupperware was for those with more disposable income—and far less monetary sense.

In short, I was a sitting duck when Phranc came to my workplace to host an afternoon party—working as I do to further the Gay Agenda™, my company's HR goddess thought it the ideal office event—demonstrating the wondrous wares of Earl Tupper. The überbutch lesbian folksinger and latter-day Tupperware Lady has elevated the classic home sales party to the level of performance art—and she brings her guitar to strum out a ditty about the miraculous burping plastics.

Who could resist her androgynous wile? Besides, I gave Phranc absolutely no reason to pee on anything I purchased from her.

And so it is that I finally have Tupperware of my own. The phabulous Phranc sold me two CrystalWave™ soup mugs. The little red nubbins let steam escape when microwaving!

Two sandwich keepers, for the sound use of which I must caution you to buy squarish loaves of bread, not the pillow-size loaves that are increasingly the norm:

Your classic Wonderlier® bowl:

And a neat-o cake decorating set that Tupperware International seems to have discontinued, making it a comparative rarity that just makes it more special.

But we didn't stop there, my partner and I. We've since acquired a round cake taker, which, alarmingly, we bought at a yard sale. (Only a barbarian would pee in a cake taker.)

A Jel-Ring® mold, allowing us to make fabulously retro desserts:

And a snack cup set, for your peanuts and cottage cheese and what have you. These little guys compete with the CrystalWave™ soup mugs for Most-Used Tupperware status:

I still covet a Spin 'N Save™ salad spinner, one of the pricier items in the Tupperware catalog. It would be perfect for rinsing the urine from my farmers' market greens, and if I had one, I would eat salad every single day for the rest of my life.

Can a shed really be so far behind?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

notes on camp

Heh heh, look, a lesbian roasting wieners.

This was the funnest camping trip ever! Funner even than the time a horse dumped me on my head at Girl Scout camp. Funner even than when my whole extended family convinced me that my mother had gone missing in the woods.

Come to think of it, why do I even like camping?

It’s 1976. I’m 9 years old and crying inconsolably in the living room of a rented cabin in Coffee Creek, a wilderness area in Northern California. That afternoon I had been riding shotgun in my uncle Merlyn’s camper when we passed my mom and her two sisters walking along the road. They had been out picking blackberries and were heading back to our cabin. When they saw Merlyn’s camper they jokingly stuck out their thumbs to hitch a ride. Merlyn answered the joke with his own, yelling out the window, “Sorry, ladies, I don’t pick up strangers,” then sped down the road. I laughed along with him because the cabin wasn’t very far down the road, and also because he was the grown-up. It’s best to laugh along with grown-ups.

Hours later my mom and her sisters still haven't arrived back at the cabin and I get this feeling in the pit of my stomach: I have to remind myself to breathe. As time drags on I can’t believe my father and uncles haven’t gone out to look for them. Instead they drink beer and tell stories about their dingbat wives and their terrible sense of direction. Merlyn says he hopes they haven’t fallen into the river, adding that the current is running strong. Uncle Gordon says he saw a bear not far from the cabin that afternoon.

As they banter back and forth I’m certain that I’ll never see my mother alive again, and I think about how sorry the men will be when they hear the bad news, whether their wives have been eaten alive by animals or kidnapped and killed by terrible men. I know about terrible men. My mother had prepared me for this world by telling me all about serial killers and rapists, “sickos” who get their “jollies” by torturing and murdering innocent girls and women. When she was alive—back before this camping trip—she used to put newspaper articles next my cereal dish, and along with my Honey Nut Cheerios I digested details of the latest local killings—nipples twisted off with locking pliers, desecrated vaginas, faces brutalized beyond recognition.

I angrily put on my jacket and head for the cabin door, not because I feel that I can do anything about my mother’s fate but because I can’t listen to my father and uncles anymore. Before I reach the door Merlyn, failing to stifle his laughter at my undoubtedly red and pouty face, says, “OK, kiddo, hold on. Your mom’s around back; she’s been there the whole time.” I race out the door and run around to the back of the cabin, where my mother and her sisters are sitting in folding chairs, chatting casually and eating blackberries. I should feel relieved. Instead I feel confused and humiliated. I turn around and walk into the woods, thinking that I might just disappear forever, teach my mom and dad a lesson, but I soon get scared and go back.

Years later I’ll recount the experience to my mother as one of the most unsettling moments of my life, but she won’t remember it.

My favorite camping activity is river-walking, stepping from stone to stone—and into the drink when necessary—navigating my way to some far-flung boulder, my own personal island, where I can lose myself amid the white noise of rushing water. River-walking was limited on this trip, in part due to the icy conditions that chilled my feet and made the riverbed feel like a field of broken glass, and not least due to my partner’s pleas for caution. A ranger told us on the way in that a “young girl”—hard to say whether he meant a girl or a woman—had disappeared while swimming in the river a few days earlier. He warned us that the current was particularly strong—late thaw this year—and a Sequoia National Park bulletin appealed to campers to keep an eye out for her body.

I heeded my partner’s concerns and stuck close to shore, though I was hell-bent on finding a silky-smooth river rock for her work desk, a multitasking souvenir to remind her of the trip and maybe pin down a few loose papers all at once. I picked up and rejected rock after rock, staring into the water and trying in vain to train my eyes to flicker at the same frequency as the current so as to bring the riverbed into sharper focus. I finally settled on a couple of candidates. As I climbed up the riverbank I retrieved the rocks from my pockets with a witty reference to Virginia Woolf’s suicide, a bit of gallows humor that maybe didn’t play so well given the missing, presumed-dead girl.

It’s 1979. I’m in the mounted unit of a Girl Scout camp in San Bernardino, Calif., and I’ve acquired the nickname “Noose,” a nod to my singular talent for making them out of the clothesline we were all instructed to bring. Most of the other girls think I’m weird, but they’re curiously drawn to my art: A couple of them ask me to make nooses for them, and I oblige. I’m soon approached by the head counselor, who says that the nooses are inappropriate and that I’m scaring the other girls, and she asks whether I can’t put my energies into something more artistic or productive, like macramé. Sure, I tell her. No problem. Instead I sulk in my bunk, reading some horror novel I had brought along.

The only counselor I really like, a solid woman named Deb who swaggers around camp and winks at me with kind understanding, is taken away by ambulance after a horse falls on her and crushes her leg during our second week. We later hear she’ll be in traction for at least two months. The other counselors won’t tell us which horse had injured her. I decide it must have been my horse, who had reared up and bucked me off just a few days earlier. I can’t help being nervous around him now, no matter how many times the counselors tell me horses can “smell” fear.

I fake sick one morning to get out of the pre-lunch trail ride, and I hike into some nearby woods to make my nooses in peace. I lose track of time and I’m discovered by one of my fellow campers, now back from the morning ride. When I look up she turns and runs back toward camp.

A short time later I trudge back into camp myself, and it quickly becomes clear that the snooper has been telling stories about me to all the other girls. I can smell their fear.

We didn’t find the dead girl. Maybe she’s not dead after all. Maybe she found a nice boulder in the middle of the rushing river and can’t bring herself to abandon it. Or maybe she’s out in the woods, hiding from her family, practicing some dark art the rest of us can’t understand, and wondering how long it will take before someone comes out to find her.

Friday, July 07, 2006

this morning at starbucks

“My” Starbucks is busy, especially now that tourist season is in full swing. Most mornings, a line extends out the door and onto the patio at the Hollywood and Highland complex. So it was that I was standing in such a line a bit before 9 this morning, alternately being charmed by the singsong cadence of “my” Starbucks’ newest employee, a Brit who surely took diction and etiquette lessons from Miss Julie Andrews herself, and wondering who the heck thought it necessary in 2006 to cover “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” which was merrily jangling through the speakers at me:

You'd better look before you leap still waters run deep
And there won't always be someone there to pull you out
And you know what I'm talking about
So smile for a while and let's be jolly; love shouldn't be so melancholy
Come along and share the good times while we can

The guilty party is Martina McBride, and she lays it down without a trace of the irony with which you or I would surely smother the song were we to get drunk in a karaoke bar.

You know how it works when lines extend through doors—most notably at concerts, during intermission, when 5,000 women have 15 minutes and five bathroom stalls in which to pee—there are the people inside the establishment and the people outside the establishment, and then there’s the doorstop: the poor schmuck stuck holding the door open so that the people outside can see what’s going on inside. If the door isn’t held open, one or more people behind you are liable to get all antsy and think you’re just idly standing in front of a closed door, or that maybe you don’t know how to open it. (I’m reminded to be grateful that humans don’t come standard with horns—the loud kind, not the ramming kind, though those would be dangerous as well—because they’d be honking them all the livelong day.)

Just as the guy in front of me at Starbucks was due to assume doorstop duty, he pulled up a chair and sat down just to the right of the entrance, out of the line of the door and in the shade. “Man, this wait is crazy,” he said, then, looking at me, added, “I’ll catch up with you.”

Catching the door as the former doorstop squirted inside, I thought, He can’t possibly mean that I’m supposed to hold his place in line for him, that he’s going to sit there until I make it to the counter and then, like a dear old buddy pal of mine, slip inside to give my beautiful Mary Poppins his order. I decided that he didn’t expect that, that the scenario was so impossibly rude anyone with common decency would be embarrassed to attempt it.

For the record, I believe in extending common courtesy to others. I’ll hold the door for anyone, young or old, man or woman. I’ll hold it longer for a senior or a physically challenged person. And I don’t mind being thanked or acknowledged for doing so, because I think if I’ve taken the time to notice and accommodate someone, they can find the time to nod, smile, or even say thanks. I sometimes wonder if young, able-bodied men who blow through doors I’m holding open without so much as a wink in my direction suppose they’re doing feminism a favor? That would be the more charitable explanation.

Indeed, as I approached the counter, Mr. Sitonhisass popped through the door and slid into line in front of me without a glance or a word in my direction.

Had he asked me to hold his place in line, I would have. But three human traits I find particularly galling are arrogance, selfishness, and presumptuousness, and he managed to nail all three in one gesture. I so often find myself speechless in the presence of louts like him, but then I hang on to the psychic angst they generate far longer than I should.

Tell me, am I taking the decline of Western civilization too personally?

I’m trying to think of ways to let go of the negative energy I unwittingly glean as I move about society. Maybe I could take a cue from soccer and carry around yellow and red flashcards to signal violations of generally accepted manners. Just stoically hold the appropriate card in the offender’s face for a couple of seconds, then move on. They may have no idea what had just happened, but I could walk on in peace, leaving the toxicity behind to be reabsorbed by its source.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

not so fucking scary

Sometimes you get a haircut, and sometimes the haircut gets you.

Last week I was just itching to shave my head, not because I had head lice but because I was in San Francisco, and being there reminded me of a time when I shaved my head but not my legs—an attitude that horrified most hets and a few homos too. Ah, glorious baby dykedom.

About 10 years ago I ran into a college classmate at the West Hollywood Gauntlet. I didn't recognize her at first. Now a professional piercer covered in tats, she had been an unassuming sports dyke—a shot putter on full scholarship—when we had an autobiography seminar in common. When she recognized me I remembered her immediately. She and her track buddy used to sit across the room from me, and we never spoke even though it was clear that we were all sisters. I told her I had always wanted to break the ice with them but that they seemed unapproachable.

"Are you kidding me?" she asked. "You were fucking scary."

It tickled me to think this mammoth alpha butch was once intimidated by me, though I wasn't actually cultivating "scary" back in the day. While I first buzzed my head in a dark mood, I maintained it more out of utility than anything: I rode a motorcycle to school and I hate helmet hair.

Shaving my head served another important utility: My mother never again complained about the length of my hair, as long as I had some.

My partner reminded me last week that our South Carolina beach week is coming up and that now might not be the best time to revisit my lost youth, what with gay-bashing on the rise and all. So I split the difference and asked my hairdresser for a "soft" crew cut. God love a West Hollywood hairdresser: My boy's not afraid to get out the clippers when I say "summer cut."

I don't spend much time on the motorcycle these days, but I do bicycle—a pursuit for which I gladly shave my legs—and I still hate helmet hair. With this cut, when a shower isn't readily available, the sweat generated on a ride is generally enough to revamp and restyle.

Monday, July 03, 2006

the gospel according to dierdre

“By the way,” said a disheveled 52-year-old runner I had met just moments before, “you’re an old soul. You’ve led 36 lives. I’m very psychic.”

It was a jarring non sequitur.

The disheveled woman in question, whose name turned out to be Dierdre, had flagged me down on the Sepulveda Basin bike path. She looked distressed, and I figured she needed to use my cell phone, probably to call her husband for a pickup—the valley heat had crested 100 degrees on this Saturday morning. I veered off the smooth pavement and managed to stop just at the edge of an unevenly bricked area; weenie racing tires and rough surfaces don’t mix well.

“Oh, thank you for stopping,” she said breathlessly, her face splotchy with broken capillaries and her dyed black hair dripping sweat. “You look like a good person to ask: How do I buy a bicycle?”

Not what I was expecting, but I was ready to take a break from the heat myself. I was a couple of hours into a ride that had taken me across the valley and back, with a rest stop at Jamba Juice for a big protein-fortified fruit slushy. Not that I have to ride across the valley to get to a Jamba Juice—there were undoubtedly three or four along the way—but I’m trying to build my stamina back up after many months of energy-sapping physiological and psychological weirdness that kept me and my bike parked indoors, on a stationary trainer in front of the TV. A trainer can mimic road resistance and keep you pedaling—and will even keep you up to speed on Law & Order reruns—but it won’t re-create the brain-frying dispirit of riding into a strong hot wind. For that, you need the great outdoors, which is why I was on the path, counting the miles in my own personal Tour de Bonk, and was all too willing to stop when Dierdre caught my attention.

She apologized for interrupting my ride, but in truth the only thing bike geeks like more than riding bikes is talking about bikes. Also, talking about riding bikes. And since bike talk is so terribly scintillating for people who don’t give a crap about bikes, it’s exciting to encounter someone who actually wants to talk about them.

I asked her what she felt like she was in the market for. She said she didn’t know, that she had blown out her feet running and needed to find another way to stay in shape, then, she said, she saw me and thought, Bicycling!

I don’t have a terribly prescriptive personality, so the idea of sizing a stranger up and telling her what she needs makes me uncomfortable. (My partner probably shot milk through her nose laughing at the concept of me not liking to tell people what to do, such is the yawning gulf between her perception and my own.) So it was that I began to tell Dierdre everything I know about cycling. Maybe she was just trying to change the subject when she told me about my old-soul status.

“Ancient Egypt, Samaria, the French Revolution, you’ve seen it all,” she said. “And the old souls are being awakened now because the world needs them.”

“Oh,” I said. “Thank you.”

“My teachers warn me to be careful with my talent. My psychic eye is very strong, and not everyone is ready to hear what I have to tell them, but you have a strong spirit and you know you’re here for a greater purpose.”

Goodness, am I that transparent? I have always thought that I’m here for a greater purpose. I mean, maybe not a great purpose, but, for instance, when I was still waiting tables four years out of college, I thought then that perhaps there might be something better in store for me. Ditto when I worked, briefly, for a publisher of gay male erotica. Indeed, I shouldered through the colorless depression that practically consumed my post-college life with the gilded hope that an unknowable purpose was yet to come, and here was confirmation that my purpose is extant!

And while I don’t remember much from my Egyptian and Samaritan lives, I’m pretty sure that during the French Revolution I was Marie (Madame) Tussaud. How else to explain my sick fascination with wax museums? I remember as though it was just yesterday: I (Tussaud) had been a friend of the court and was consequently arrested by the Jacobins on suspicion of royalist sympathies. I was to be executed, and my head was shaved in preparation for the guillotine, but on the eve of my doom I managed to save my neck by consenting to root through the decapitated heads of my friends and make death masks of them for posterity. In my present life, too, I have shaven my head during dark times, and I used to enjoy pulling the heads off Barbies. Coincidence? I think not. Besides, the resemblance is uncanny, as shown here in a waxwork I made of myself:

Dierdre continued to extol my virtues, which included but were not limited to: my powerful insight, my compassionate nature, my valuing of the human over the material, my patience, and, oh, the list just goes on and on.

In sum, I am awake, and I am here to help heal a world in peril, as is Dierdre. (How could she know how special I am were she not equally special herself?)

Oh, and she’s probably going to get a hybrid bicycle, with a more relaxed, comfortable geometry, though she’s considering a racing bike like mine.