Thursday, August 28, 2008

I am rocking jelly and I have a little belly

Mostly due to Jam Guy's banana cream pies and korova chocolate sable cookies and macaroni and cheese and the takeout habit we've picked up during these last several days when we've been too busy moving to cook. But he appears to still be in on the deal of taking me as I am anyways, so it's all good.

Maybe one of these days I will believe him when he says he likes me no matter what. I guess it would be awfully unfair to put pie and cookies and pasta in front of me with this type of regularity and then have a problem with a little jelly, and Jam Guy is a pretty fair guy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The right thing

Last night our doorbell rang at 3 a.m. A girl's voice called "Hello? Hello?"

Toby growled. Jam Guy groaned. I cursed. We all thought about going back to sleep. Then she called "Can you help me, please?"

One of the big reasons that I love Jam Guy so much is because this kind of request is as impossible for him to dismiss as it is for me. Years of living around people who ask for help and then, when it is received, put it aside and continue more and more determinedly towards self-destruction haven't quite extinguished the will to help people in either of us. We got decent quickly and answered the door.

Obscured in the country-lane dark, a girl in a hoodie with messy hair stood on our porch steps, asking where she was. Jam Guy asked her where she needed to be. She gave the name of a street that is just down the block from us, maybe less than the length of a football field away, that we can see from our front door. She gave the name of a corner store on that street, and an address on that street that we didn't recognize. Jam Guy told her where the street is, pointed it to her, explained that if she just turned around and walked straight for like a minute she would be on it. He told her that as soon as she hit that street she would see the lighted corner store sign. She asked him to take her there.

At this point we both hesitated. I don't know exactly why; I do know that it had a lot to do with the fact that we had just been waken out of a sound sleep and were aware that our judgment faculties were still bleary and impaired; for me at least it also sounded New-Yorker alarms in my head: "This is a ploy to get you out of the safety of your home so that the thugs she has hiding in your driveway can beat you up and burgle your stuff," or "She's friends with the people that keep trying to hop your fence and cross your backyard but get chased out by Toby, and they want to exact their revenge," and the simple "It's three in the morning and you're in a new place. Don't assume safety until you're much more familiar with it. " And there was definitely the concern, based on experience, that having begun to help someone commits you in some way to helping them all the way--maybe all the way home, maybe all the way through her hangover tomorrow morning--and our bodies ached to go back to bed.

She began to walk towards the street we had pointed out to her, and Jam Guy called that we wanted to make sure she would be ok, and I asked her if she wanted us to call someone for her. She called back that she was drunk and confused and her friends always screwed her over. We stood in the doorway and watched her weave down the block. Suddenly she sobbed, my heart broke, and she veered off into what appeared to be someone else's driveway. We waited and waited for her to reappear.

"What do we do?" I asked Jam Guy. He said he didn't know, that he'd never had a stranger at the door at 3 a.m. I said I had, frequently, but it had always been in a New York apartment building, and knowing that people often ring all the buzzers in a lobby, I'd just pulled the covers over my head--but this isn't New York all full of people with savvy burglary techniques.

We stared into the dark for a while longer.

"What do you want to do?" Jam Guy asked me.

"I don't know," I said. I was literally wringing my hands. "What's the right thing to do?

This attempt at finding the "right thing to do" is what made us chase a stranger's lost dog for hours on Saturday, what made us offer a stranger my couch in Brooklyn when she'd missed the same last flight to Oakland as Jam Guy, what makes each of us the person that the other wants to be with forever. I say all the time that I never regret choosing compassion or kindness when faced with a difficult decision.

But man, were we tired. We had spent the week, when not running after someone else's lost dog, carrying impossibly heavy furniture to the new place, cleaning the old place, chasing after our own dog when he decided to explore a ding in the fence. It was, my sleep-addled brain repeated, three in the morning. Then Jam Guy groaned again and I cursed again and we put our shoes on and walked out to find her.

We couldn't find her. We saw that the driveway she had turned on cuts through to another major road. We know that she could see the store she mentioned from that major road, but there was no trace of her, and we could see the store was closed. We looked up and down the road she'd asked us to take her to, and it was deserted. We hoped that having reached that big intersection she had realized where she was and become oriented enough to find her way home.

Finally we went home and back to bed, but I was furious at myself. I had squandered a real chance to help someone who was right on my doorstep asking for help; it is so rare that the people who need help will actually request it and rarer still that they appear at the front door. I lay in bed awake, angry that I hadn't gotten her name, gone out on the porch to sit with her, brought her some water, asked if she was hungry. I was angry at myself for lying in the clean white sheets that Jam Guy had just laundered, on my Temper-pedic hypo-allergenic pillow, next to the fiance who would never let me wander the streets lost and in tears if he could help it. I wondered if I had ever been that drunk, and remembered in a flash two friends carrying me home one night to the Upper East Side apartment I shared with my sister my junior year of college, fishing my keys out of my purse, carefully laying me across my couch, laughing about it with me the next day instead of reproaching me, as I had feared. I remembered another night being in a cab that pulled over three times between the West Village and Morningside Heights so I could puke into the gutter while my friends sharing the cab with me screamed with laughter, mainly so I wouldn't feel like such a wanker, and probably to drown out the sound of my retching. I had been lucky enough to have been with real friends both those times, and they would not have abandoned me to find my own way home, and that is how I didn't end up ringing a stranger's doorbell at three in the morning.

When I finally fell asleep I dreamed about swimming against the current in the open water, diving under huge, terrifying waves, trying to swim away from the shore as fast as possible but making very little headway. There were many women and little girls swimming with me; we were trying to escape a landslide on the beach. I could not help any of them; I was working as hard as I could to save myself.

So today I am still furious at myself, for not grabbing some cash and calling the girl a cab, for not sharing with her the bounty of love and fortune with I have suddenly found myself blessed with, which I belatedly realized would have been the right thing to do. I think the fear sometimes in acting with kindness is that word will get around that you're a sucker and suddenly the whole town will show up on your doorstep asking for cab fare, but of course that's a silly fear. There's fear too in not knowing how to direct your kindness: sometimes the right thing to do is to be kind to yourself, to protect yourself, which was my first instinct, although now I wish I had not listened to the cynical part of me that felt I needed protection from a young woman in distress. I worry that someone took advantage of her confusion and that she didn't find her way home. I think about how she is someone's daughter; I worry about my own unborn children; I worry about my actions falling so short of my principles and the excuses I make to myself when that happens.

I know there is a lesson in this for me. Something to do with letting go of cynicism, I think, and trusting that I am protected; something to do with women needing other women to help them, and that what makes me like myself the most is taking care of others, and so I shouldn't ever miss an opportunity. It was a hard reminder that I have a lot of growing to do still.

And at some point it will have to be a lesson in self-forgiveness, that as much as I would like Jam Guy and I to be the Patron Saints of Lost Dogs and Lost Girls, we are humans who need sleep and experience fear like everyone else. But I am not speeding towards that forgiveness today, because I think the lessons to learn before that are too important to miss.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Some snapshots from Life in Our New House

Toby, my constant companion in the garden, knows he's not supposed to be lying in the raspberry patch, so when he's caught, he first attempts to camouflage himself in the leaves,

and when that proves unsuccessful, resorts to looking tragically adorable.

Meimei keeps me company while I'm working at the kitchen table, and is clearly astounded by the quantity of plums I am about to pit for the dehydrator.

She considers whether they would be good to eat, or at least to bat around the floor.

Curious about what's outside her new digs, she peers out the dining room window, and we can see her from the kitchen.

New smells are as crucial to information-gathering as new sights.

This was the first of many plum harvests.

This was the first of many resulting plum tortes.

This is my reading nook.

This is how my reading nook looks when I feel like sharing it.

This is the view looking up from the reading nook, into the fig tree.

This is some produce brought over to Our New House from Jam Guy's old place, which were growing on his deck in EarthBoxes: The little ones are Sungold tomatoes, which are amazing and life-changing and my new favorite tomato; then there's some kind of plum tomato; some kind of orange tomato (I think they're called Jeune Flamme, or something romantic like that); lots of lemon cucumbers.

This is Toby and his friend Deacon the Puppy wrestling enthusiastically in the living room. You can't tell that this photo is not a random blob of fuzziness, but I promise, it is Toby and Deacon.

These are some gorgeous flowers my dad kindly sent over as a graduation present and a taste of home, which are very appreciated. They are in a pitcher made by Jam Guy.

These are the vintage suitcases we bought at two different yard sales last Sunday (for a grand total of, I think, $5.50) that we'll use for clothing storage.

This is the vintage birdseye-maple dresser that we picked up for a song on Craigslist, with some flowers from the garden in a Cinzano Baby bottle from a hotel-room minibar in Milan where I stayed one night with Giles, who that day pretended falsely to a stranger to speak neither English nor French nor Italian in order to prevent being evangelized, or solicited, or something.

This is the wheelbarrow, the weeds, and the soon-to-be-resuscitated vegetable garden area. We do have our work cut out for us, but it was a vegetable garden for 30 years, so the soil is beautiful and raring to go. Over to the left is some year-old swiss chard gone mad, probably from lonesomeness. We'll fix that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It occurs to me

that now that I have joined the ranks of homeowners, I cannot make cynical, worldly-sounding jokes about making rent anymore with any hope of authenticity. And joking about making the mortgage sounds awful and not funny. I have also lost the chance of throwing a rent party, which I was always planning to do but never got around to.


Jam Guy and Sidewalk Monkey start planning their wedding in earnest

Sidewalk Monkey: Let's look at wedding dresses online!
Jam Guy: Ok.
Sidewalk Monkey: Yay! Dresses!
Jam Guy: Yay, dresses.
Sidewalk Monkey: I like this one. But I don't think I could get my boobs to look like that. You know how they do that? I think they use duct tape. I guess I could get someone to duct-tape my boobs.
Jam Guy: I think I should be the one to duct-tape your boobs.
SM: What? Why? Because you don't want a stranger touching them? The way it works--
JG: No, because I know how to use duct tape. You want someone who has a lot of experience with duct tape.
SM: Oh. But have you duct-taped boobs?
JG: Well. No.
SM: Maybe I should find someone with a lot of experience duct-taping boobs.
JG: Are you going to pay someone to duct-tape your boobs?
SM: I mean, there must be people who are experts at just that...How do you take off the tape, though?
JG: ...
SM: I don't really like this dress, anyways.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

And one way that where I live now is like where I grew up, and not like New York

When you run into someone you know--even someone you've just met once, like the County Ag guy coming by to check the fruit-fly monitoring trap he set up in your fig tree--you are supposed to make small talk with them for a while. So far I have made small talk with five people today. I like it. Small talk is one of my particular skills.

More evidence that we're not in Manhattan anymore, Toto

Last night we heard a gunshot in our quiet little U-shaped neighborhood. It's the kind of small area where everyone is sort of supposed to know everyone and gunshots and sirens make everyone peek out their windows and eventually wander into the street and ask each other if they heard that too. Jam Guy and I decided it must have been a truck backfiring, and forgot about it.

Today I met one of the neighbors for the first time, one of those neighbors who takes it upon himself to fill you in on all the other neighbors' lives. He assured me that it was indeed a gunshot I heard, but nothing to worry about: someone had just found a skunk in their backyard, and was disposing of it.

I tried very hard to look like I heard stuff like this every day.

I think this neighbor really, really wanted to have something to gossip about regarding me and Jam Guy--the new neighbors. For his benefit, I tried to think of something I could pretend to let slip that sounded vaguely scandalous about us, but I couldn't think of anything. I think he was disappointed. We are just not awfully scandalous, Jam Guy and I, particularly on a first impression. I did give him a house tour--he said he'd never been inside our place, and then looked pointedly wistful--and he looked around inside like a detective at a crime scene, and told me our bedroom door is crooked. Otherwise he was very nice.

It is definitely not the city, but I think, as long as I start thinking about what boundaries to erect, it will be nice to have relationships with neighbors again. But I definitely need to figure out some boundaries. Toby helps--he growls at anyone that shows up until Jam Guy or I show him we're friends--but I wonder if I don't need to practice my own growliness. We certainly need a big privacy fence, a very literal boundary, because all of our very kind neighbors can see everything we're doing when we're outside, and it might be nice to be able to run around nekkid in our backyard sometimes, or at least sit out with a book and not feel obliged to be chatty when we feel like being hermitty.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The other night I dreamed

that my friend D and I and some other folks were on a road trip somewhere, and I had been in charge of making travel plans, but apparently I wasn't very good at it. We were starving, without lodging, in a busted-up car; I think we were trying to get to Vegas but there was no way the car was going to make it.

I found Satan in an old motel room somewhere. He was trying to make a living as a travel agent. He really looked scary--like eight feet tall, with these bat-ear horns, all in black--even his face covered in black--very broad, maybe a little pudgy. I think because of the pudge--and the fact that he was scratching himself while slumming in this dingy motel, with some clearly strung-out women laying around and wandering in and out--I wasn't scared of him and got down to the business of negotiating our travel plans.

He offered to take us to Vegas himself by absorbing us into his body, magically transporting himself to Vegas in a flash, and then un-absorbing us. He said it would feel weird and we would lose our physical forms while we were absorbed. I thought that the speedy travel sounded appealing, but then again, this was Satan we were talking about. He offered to do it for no cost, except for our souls.

I was like, "Dude. Come on. Fifty bucks, no souls, and none of the shape-shifting stuff."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things I did this week that I never did before

1) Scratched a sheep on the head. He baa'ed at me as I approached and again as I left him.

2) Dug up three small red onions that peeked out at me from under the dirt in our backyard as I was weeding. They must have been planted, and forgotten about, by Tom, the lovely and kind previous owner of Our New House.

3) Peeled, cubed, and roasted a perfectly unbelievably huge mystery squash, given to us by a triumphant friend who somehow grew it in his garden. This thing was huge. Currently it is mashed up and bubbling with some butter, carrots, cream, chicken stock, garlic, parsley (clipped from a bursting patch at the corner of the house) and a couple of those little red onions in a soup pot on the stove.

Monday, August 11, 2008

shameless request for yet more good vibes, plus crazy raving

I need them.

So the last few days have been a pretty extreme set of ups and downs. Actually mostly ups--so I can't complain. On Friday, we closed on our house (yay!) but learned that we're not officially closed till this Wednesday; something about the loan funds completing their transfer. So that makes me nervous. Nevertheless, we got keys, hustled over to our new place, ran around all the rooms and out to the garden, where we ate ripe plums and pears off the tree and blackberries peeking up around the tool shed. We sat in the greenhouse and decided it would be nice to have a hammock in it. We ordered pizza for the pleasure of having it delivered to our new address. We were giddy.

The next day I was in a fit of despair over how unprepared I felt for the boards, which are tomorrow. I talked to my dad, who told me a long story about a tough exam he took in graduate school, which I know he meant to reassure me, although I wasn't sure I felt reassured. I tried to prepare him for the possibility that I might not pass this exam--I am, after all, taking it six months ahead of schedule; sooner by six months to two years than everyone else who started the program at the same time as me--so if I were to need to retake it in six months, there's no shame in that. It's just a shot--might as well try to take it now and get a practice started sooner, if I can. My dad, however, is incapable of imagining me failing at anything. He extolled for some time the power of confidence. I got off the phone feeling misunderstood, and cried a bunch, while Toby sat next to me and whined in either concern or boredom.

Then after I finished crying I realized that I had been infected by my father's implacable confidence in me--sort of along the lines of "If Dad really can't imagine me failing, then maybe I just can't fail! If the possibility of my not passing this exam does not exist in his universe, maybe it doesn't exist in the universe at all!" and then, preposterously, I studied harder for two solid days than I had in all the last three months that I've been preparing for this exam.

Yesterday my sister reminded me that it was my mom's birthday, when we usually put gifts of fruits, sweets, flowers and incense in front of her picture and kowtow. I freaked out when I realized I didn't know which box her pictures were packed in. Jam Guy saw me freaking out and helped me lift and open box after box from the mountain of my boxes piled in the new house until we found the photos in a large bag (where Jam Guy remembered he had packed "all your precious-precious things") in a corner next to the mountain of boxes. I was so relieved to see her face looking out at me from the cracked frame that I cried again.

I picked a plum and a just-blushing pear (she always loved the way fruits looked as they were just turning red) for her from our lovely trees and clipped a rose from a bush in front of the house. Jam Guy offered a slice of the banana cream pie he'd made the night before, but I worried that it wasn't wise to leave a whole slice of cream pie out overnight. He considered this, and then said, "We can give her just the tip of a slice, in a container. The tip's the part you make a wish on."

I love Jam Guy.

He also found some incense and fixed some rice and pie weights in an old cocoa container to hold the incense, since things like incense holders are too packed-away to dig for. I set it out with the rose in a jelly jar, the pear, the plum on a branch with some leaves still attached, and a ramekin with the tip of a slice of pie and a chocolate cookie Jam Guy had made. I held up my incense and kowtowed the way my mother had taught me to do before my grandmother's picture. I sat in the room for a while afterwards and had a talk with my mother, telling her how happy I am now, thanking her for her part in that happiness, telling her how much I miss her. My sister had suggested I ask her for a little help on my test, given that my mother was a Fulbright scholar and far more scholarly in general than I am, so I did.

I felt better again, having solicited the help of both my parents on this exam. Maybe it is a little dubious--my father and I still learning how to talk to each other, and my mother and I conversing in my head, through her picture, me believing ferociously against any sort of practical logic that there is a reality to our conversations, that she is present in my life; believing it because I've seen and felt evidence of her presence that I can't and don't need to explain.

Anyway I am grateful for the plum and blushing pear, for a man who gives the mother-in-law-to-be he's never met a tip of pie to wish on, for a home surrounded by rose bushes, for an older sister who reminds me when it is time to perform the rituals that have shaped us since before we were born. I am grateful for all the non-concreteness in my life--the house we are living in part-time that's still waiting to be officially purchased; the small-silent-and-secret conversations with my dead mother; the shaky broken conversations with my father that cover the deep sustaining love we don't know how to bridge our way to.

And I am grateful for my friends, who will love me whether or not I pass this crazy test tomorrow (right? right?) . I am soliciting more good vibes please. Or whatever. I'll take it. Good thoughts for safe travels, self-forgiveness, multiple definitions of success.

I have been back and forth these last few days from crazy-joyful to verge-of-nervous-breakdown to eerily-calm. I want to pass this test, for good reasons (it would be nice to quit studying, I'd like to start practicing soon) and reasons that feel less good (I am afraid everyone will think I'm a failure if I don't.)

Where I am right now is: I think I'll pass, and if I do or if I don't, the important things are all here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Conversation between potential car buyer and Sidewalk Monkey, via telephone, 2 hours ago

Potential Car Buyer: Hmmm. What were you hoping to get for it?

Sidewalk Monkey: I was going for $900 or so, but now I don't have time to get it smogged and I'm moving in like two days, so I'll take as low as $500. Because now the buyer has to smog it himself. I didn't know till just now about the whole smog thing.

PCS: I can do $250.

SM: Um...? Well, how about I wait and see if somebody else makes an offer, and then call you tomorrow if I still have it?

PCS: Cool. I can be there within ten minutes of your call.

SM: Oh. Wow. Ok.

PCS: I can tow, like, ANYTHING.

SM: Uh. Well! That's great, but the car drives just fine. Doesn't need a tow.

PCS: Oh. (Sounds disappointed.) Ok. That's good.

SM: What's your name?

PCS: Kahio. K-A-H-I-O.

SM: Hey, that sort of sounds like a Hawaiian name! Are you from Hawai'i?

PCS: No.

SM: Oh. Sorry, it's just I am, and I always get excited when--

PCS: But what I am is really good looking.

SM: ...

PCS: If you want me to be Hawaiian, I'll be Hawaiian, baby.

SM: Um, that's...huh. Nice of you?

PCS: You got it.

[So then I got off the phone and thought, what just happened? Did my car sales call turn into a gigolo solicitation call when I wasn't paying attention? Did I call a potential car buyer that has been doing a lot of very casual dating recently who got confused midway through the call? Is "You emailed me about my car for sale," some kind of grownup code for something booty-call-related that no one has filled me in on?

Happy news is that someone bought it for a much more comfy price than $250 and now I don't have to wonder whether I should call this guy.

But sad news is that now I miss my car, which I named Lucille. I think I need to write a blues ballad about her. Any suggestions for lyrics will be appreciated.]