My horoscope this week claims that I need to purge my delusions.
But I like them! They are way more entertaining than the six unopened letters from the cancer clinic.
When Thanksgiving arrived this year I was suffering from jetlag and a profound desire to be back in Seattle. I felt perplexed and melancholy but cooked for two days and nights.
My son made the cranberry sauce, my daughter the pie crust. The doorbell kept ringing as I basted a turkey so enormous the oven door almost did not close.
Jean didn’t have the address of the party and called my agent, then Rachel in Canada, finally fetching up at Bacchanalia, where the proprietor kindly directed him to the correct door. Expeditions were mounted to collect various other lost guests.
Iain, Xtina, Susan, and Amanda all came from London. The usual crew of Cambridge people descended, some with brand new small children to admire. Sally brought flowers. Karen brought sake. Don appeared with whiskey. Others brought copious amounts of wine.
My daughter delivered a ringing monologue about sex education ending with the proclamation that she has no plans to participate in such activities. Later she gleefully discussed her opinions and concerns around dating with a crew of sarcastic grown-ups – an interrogation that no other teen of my acquaintance would survive, let alone enjoy. Yet she revels in the attention.
Those of us who feel that Cambridge does not meet our social needs chatted about the subject. Don objected when I said that this city isn’t worth the investment of my time – even though he was the most outspoken about the fact that I would not find the place congenial.
I served a feast to more than thirty people I sincerely like, then ran out to deliver a piece of pie to the fellow at Bacchanlia. My friends sat around talking and drinking for hours.
In the middle of one of my anecdotes I described what I was wearing in 1990, including the slogan on my favorite shirt. Josh recognized the phrase and interrupted to ask Why were you wearing a 101st Airborne shirt? With the emphasis on you.
He was quite surprised to learn that I was a teenage Army bride.
While I was baffled that a member of the East London Massive has the mottoes of the 101st memorized.
Jean was not successful in coaxing scandalous stories out of me, even though he kept filling my glass with wine.
I was thankful for the usual things – health insurance, family, traveling, the fact that I have good friends and challenging relationships, that I can learn and change and be loved.
I have problems, but they are at least interesting – and that is a fact worth appreciating.
The first UK review of the book:
Highly readable, fast-flowing account of a life of fighting off death – literally…. It is an extraordinary tale. –Bookseller
Without trusty companions to supervise my kitchen exploits, guess what happens?
I slice the tip of my finger off, of course.
This will be the first Thanksgiving in years without Stella, Al, and Marisa.Even the move to different coasts or continents has never stopped us before. I miss them.
I flew back specifically to prepare for this feast, which we will celebrate at the weekend. I am suffering from jetlag and a sort of emotional hangover but today will be devoted to racing around the city tracking down all of the elements of a traditional dinner not eaten in this nation.
The notes from Marisa’s father about turkey preparation are still sitting on the counter from last year, but whoever will extract the giblets? Pluck the feathers, clean the bird? Not to mention all of the other work involved in hosting a huge party. As those who know me well can testify, I do not cook or clean or care. Stella once even asked if she could make a postcard with the phrase on it.
Domestic matters are not my thing.
Why then am I about to make a dozen pumpkin pies from scratch?
The whole thing is a mystery.
On the train to Portland I sat with my arms crossed, staring out at trees and water and fog, listening to music that reminded me of every painful fact of my life. As the train passed Olympia the misery mix tape switched to something I remember hearing when I lived there and I started to cry, real human tears sliding silently down my face in anticipation.
Portland is the place where I found a community, learned to sing, opened myself up to loving people who might not love me back. The place is haunted with history and since moving away four years ago I have stayed in town for perhaps six days total. The intense longing I feel to be with my friends is never enough to pull me back; it is just too painful to know that I do not live there.
I remained in a state of intense sorrow until the first sight of the St. John bridge, when the day itself turned golden with sunshine and Marisa texted that she would meet me at the train station.
The weather held as Marisa drove me to the bank to deposit the book advance I’d been carrying around with me throughout the trip (under pressure from my agent I finally have a bank account – too bad it is in the wrong country!). We stopped on Alberta to eat a burrito and then headed to the old neighborhood.
It would be impossible to exaggerate the state of shock I feel walking down the streets of the place I used to live. When I moved into my derelict house ten years ago the street was a crack corridor. The nearby commercial district was boarded up. Now the whole place has been reinvented as… fancy. There are still outposts of the old ways – lots of the punk kids bought their houses a long time ago – but there are also cocktail bars and dog boutiques. There is very little left that I recognize.
Wandering around showing me the places where celebrities have cut records or purchased buildings we kept running across friends: Stevie Ann popped out of a cafe, Dwayne was on the hill, everyone was familiar or recognizable down to one of the kids from the Gossip standing on the corner. Marisa laughed and said It’s like fucking Sesame Street around here these days.
We retreated to the relative safety of the Chicken House, where I said hello to Jim and Ben and hung out in Marisa’s room listening to a recording of one of the bands she plays in.
We met EB and Jody, had drinks at the Wonder Ballroom, and sat around talking for awhile before it was time to go to the Scorpio Party at the 19th Street House.
I threw my gear into the nook where I sleep, changed hurriedly in a closet, and descended to join the raucous scene spilling through the house. What can I say? I love these people so much and wish I could burrow back into their lives; instead I make do with their erratic embraces. It was intensely wonderful to see everyone.
Stevie Ann, Anna Ruby, and Erin Scarum were spotted first. Talking to Maki I realized that she knows Byron Number One. I ran across STS in the basement. Erin Yanke rounded a corner and was extremely surprised to find me in the hallway.
It isn’t really a party without some kind of trouble and I had some firmly in mind before I even arrived. I was very brave and only a little bit transgressive and then Stevie dragged me on to the dance floor and a series of smoking hot girls tried to make me dance.
They did not succeed but I took up a position in the corner to watch the scene. Bob came by and said intensely sweet things to me; another girl decided to hold my hand and stare into my eyes for a good long time.
Somewhere in the middle of the night I found myself in Stevie’s bedroom talking to Beth about my undergarments. I’ve had a lot of conversations about underwear lately. Odd since my clothing hasn’t changed; more evidence that something has gone haywire with the defense systems.
The party was still hopping at four when an end was declared. Some bike punks from elsewhere refused to leave, one muttering that he wasn’t a zoo bomber before shouting at his comrades to meet at Eleventh and Skidmore.
They all started to chant the street names as they wheeled around, obstructing traffic and not departing. Several of us stared them down and they finally zipped away, except for one who had a flat and said he needed a ride. To Eleventh and Skidmore? We laughed derisively and went back inside.
I woke up late knowing that it was time to leave. But instead I called and changed my ticket, then stumbled around with housemates in various states of hangover and exhaustion (or in my case homesickness for the place I was standing) until Erin turned up and decided we should go to breakfast.
Back at the house again we all slumped on couches in front of a wood fire, idly talking. Jake from the circus in Santa Fe showed up and I felt so calm sitting wedged between Stevie and Anna Ruby I drifted asleep.
People napped or read or wandered around. I went for a walk intending to visit Gabriel and my house but only made it as far as MLK before I got distracted and turned back. I bought a cup of hot chocolate at a cafe, some water at the co-op, and bumped into Stevie on her way to pick up food.
We ate fish tacos and chattered away about everything that has happened since our last visit. Then Stevie asked So what new scandals has Bee Lavender been causing?
I tried the Who, me? answer but she just stared at me until I put both hands across my face and mumbled I haven’t done anything wrong…. and Stevie laughed and laughed.
Ana Helena (last seen in Barcelona, not the Ana from the Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks) spotted us walking around the neighborhood and stopped her truck, grabbing Stevie to run off to band practice.
I sat around 19th Street talking to Anna Ruby about life and love and then wandered over to the Palace to hang out with Erin Scarum. Stevie, Marisa, and Jody arrived over the course of the evening and we spent hours trying to figure out what to do other than sit around another living room.
Seattle people started to text in a flurry when they noticed my absence: Jeff knows me best and predicted when I left that I might not return. He told me tales of drinking absinthe, dancing with Ade, and a party that ended with blood on the walls. Mark said he missed me.
One of the Bus Stop crew realized he might not see me again. I said Portland people adore me.
He texted back We all adore you.
I said Not equally.
He shot back No, we love you more.
That is probably not accurate. Though the people who have met me this year certainly know more about me than those I’ve known for years. When I started to tell secrets… everything changed.
There are pictures of the Mudwrestling Hoedown on the wall at the Palace; I made the chorus songbook for that event and there I am in the photographs, singing with my friends. I was wearing the orange dress that shows up in my passport photo, when I decided to leave town forever a few months later. Staring at the images of my muddy beautiful friends I do not wish that I could go back; I just wish I could have understood everything better at the time.
Somewhere near midnight Bob turned up and sat with us at the table, playing solitaire and catching up. I asked if there was anything fun happening to round out my visit and of course there was a show.
Stevie and Bob and I walked over to borrow a truck and set off, remembering as we drove that the three of us share the legacy of barely surviving horrific accidents. We talked about the consequences of that – and how it makes us different from our peers, who can blithely go on tour in ramshackle vans while we twitch about seatbelts and fret about who is driving.
At the show I kept my place at the front, hands in pockets, laughing as the lead singer of Ape Shape yelled at us to dance or get the fuck out. But with Ana singing and the thump of the music even I was compelled to hop around for most of the set, only moving over to the wall and leaning against Stevie toward the end. Then Stevie joined the band for the finale and it was time to leave.
In the yard I ran across several people who also moved away long ago, hugged Ana and promised to see her this spring in Spain, then walked away toward an uneasy sleep at three in the morning, worried that I might miss my train at eight.
In other words, the days unfurled along the purest of Portland lines – like that kid said so long ago at my Travelers Party, it is a punk rock retirement community. It is where I feel safe and also completely vulnerable.
Nothing and everything happens there and the place is dear to me despite my protests that I do not like the way time and emotions are distorted in a twenty block zone of a Northwestern city. If I had a home, it would be Portland.
Right after I arrived in Seattle a boy I barely knew texted and said Want to come over and make out? I always wanted to say that in junior high!
I replied I dropped out of junior high.
He said Even better!
At the time I was having the email conversation with Ayun about how hard it is to work when confronted with so much temptation. She replied Give in to temptation! I do and I’m not even in Seattle. Bust out the Halloween candy!
She told me about a friend who, years before, decided to declare Phil R’s Seventh Grade Summer. It was his stated intent to ride his bike, eat ice cream, hang out with friends, and do whatever seemed like the most fun.
This struck me as a fantastic idea. I resolved to follow the example, pursuing only what made me happy. In some sense this is how I always organize my life, but I also have a tendency to spend too much time alone and thinking.
Making a decision to be explicitly decadent meant that the ensuing three weeks were filled with wild, mad, strange, and rewarding adventures. I was having so much fun I nearly failed to document any of it, but here are a few glimpses:
The Bus Stop. Why do I have a relationship with a bar? The reasons are obscure – I certainly do not get drunk and carouse on the premises. I find it baffling to overhear people say things like That was a gnarly Jaeger bomb!
But I do meet fantastic, lovely people who surprise me with generosity, affection, friendship, and solutions to problems. They keep my glass full of fizzy water and we tell each other stories and I feel at home in a city that has never loved me.
I do not particularly grasp the point of karaoke (perhaps because my performance addiction is adequately fed by touring), but my friends like it so I trail along behind. The Bus Stop of course offers the best I’ve ever seen, with the wickedly hilarious Ade behind the machine every Sunday.
Second best is the Crescent on Wednesday, because Laura is the DJ. Highlights of these evenings include the DJ’s singing, Jeffrey not even needing a microphone to fill the room with sound, and Anouk performing Walking on Sunshine while Rodney and Zack pelted him with ice.
One afternoon I stopped at Pagliacci to grab a snack and eighties alternative hits were playing on the sound system. Looking around, I realized that the place looks exactly the same as it did in 1988. Even a morbid mind like mine cannot resist remembering the thrill of being old enough to go to the city alone, walking long distances to shows, romance and moonlight.
The fact that my youth contained even a few of those moments is extraordinary – being able to remember and feel it wash over me again is a tremendous gift.
I went to Bauhaus every day to work (and be distracted by the wireless internet). One morning while I was having a confusing text conversation instead of writing an essay Lovely Day started to play.
That song was the theme of eighteen months of my life, the track played most frequently throughout the move both to Seattle and away again. I sat listening and thinking about how abruptly I abandoned my life in the states – a decision made without any rational thought, following only instinct. The whole thing could have been a mistake but instead it was fortuitous. I am in fact the luckiest person ever.
One of my publicity averse local friends shares many of my robotic responses to the world. One day at lunch I was fascinated to watch him entrance the waitress. He managed to get her life story and dating history, reveal her back tattoo, and give up her phone number – distracting her so much she failed to deliver checks to other tables.
I spend most of my time with notorious flirts and very little surprises me but this was still quite an accomplishment in the middle of a lunch rush. Given that he claims that he does not flirt, the scenario was quite amusing. I decided not to wonder if my non-flirting also looks suspiciously like something else.
I dropped in to Left Bank to buy a copy of my book for Ade. Joy Division was playing on the sound system, bringing up a whole sequence of memories of selling zines to the store way back in the days before Kinkos, when producing such things entailed sneaking into locked offices. But those years were rather grim so I put the thoughts aside and marched onward to look for a jacket to wear over the new grown-up dress.
In the middle of the excursion I texted Mark Mitchell to check if he thought a specific purchase worthwhile and he, in a very magical fashion, materialized within moments to supervise my Fashion Emergency.
He tried to get me to buy a silver silk trench coat but I asked a critical question: what would I do about lipstick stains? He conceded the point and I left the store with an excellent black thing that was on sale for ninety percent off. I do love a bargain.
Toward the end of the trip Zack from Bauhaus was sitting next to me at the bar. He gestured toward Jeffrey and asked So are you dating?
I shook my head no but Mark leaned across and said No, it is strictly about oral sex.
I dissolved into laughter and Jeffrey wandered over to see what was happening. When Mark repeated his assertion Jeff was so embarrassed he put his head down on the bar.
Zack looked back and forth, mystified, and asked Who is lying?
I wagged my finger at Mark over his desire to mislead sweet young people.
Just before playing a benefit show Jeff told me a scandalous and totally false rumor he heard about yours truly that made me laugh and laugh. During the show he dedicated a song to me and I noticed a girl glaring across the dance floor; remembering Ana’s injunctions against cock blocking I efficiently found a ride back up the hill in hopes that Jeff would land a date after his spectacular performance.
While Mark was in charge of my wardrobe he conceded eyebrows and hair to Ade, who kept insisting that my head could be styled. I argued otherwise – my hair is far too slippery and unkempt to even bother. I’m not good at the girl things but there was much chitchat about makeovers. I insisted that all the ideas would hurt my neck, and also pointed out that my mother won’t let me wear high heels, but they shook their heads purposefully. I finally asked with some nervousness You aren’t going to make me get a haircut are you? They promised not.
At the last second I managed to arrange to have dinner with Scott and Byron Number One. They knew me at the same time but have never met, in one of those continuing mysteries of my life. Scott was the boy we went up the mountain to see before the accident. Byron went to the prom with me and got arrested with us that night. We had great fun catching up and then I dragged them over to the Bus Stop since I had promised to introduce Mark to some people from my troubled youth.
I cancelled my San Francisco trip when I was sick (even though I dragged Hiya and Jonathan’s keys all the way from the UK) and that meant that I had time to go to Portland – which is another story entirely. By the time I got back I had run out of time to see the rest of the people I wanted to, particularly those with regular daytime jobs or homes outside the city limits. The present I bought for Susan two years ago has now crossed the ocean three times without being delivered. Sometimes I am in fact a bad friend.
There were secrets and surprises and schemes in abundance and I remained so busy I had a scant ten minutes to pack before dashing to the airport.
On the way out I sent Mark a message saying that it is hard to maintain an existential crisis when surrounded by so much love. He was pleased that I noticed the adoration all around me. And I did – truly. My days were filled with confusion and happiness.
On the plane I stared out at the clouds, overwhelmed with sadness, regretting nothing.
There is an article about Byron’s research today in the Financial Times. If you grab the December issue of Scientific American you can see another article about his work.
He is doing awfully well given that he chose his academic subject according to what the cute girl in front of him in the admissions line was studying.
In the middle of the trip I woke up early with a bad head cold and headed to the county to see my family. In my histamine-addled state I failed to notify anyone of my departure or which ferry I would be taking; I have officially forgotten the enormous distances and expenditure of time required to navigate the place where I grew up.
My mother picked me up at the Bainbridge Island terminal and we set off to explore. The forest of my childhood has been chopped down to make way for strip malls and big box grocery stores, and many other familiar things are gone or changed beyond recognition. The gas station where I spent most of my childhood is now just another convenience store. But the signs I painted at the lumber yard are still directing traffic. The battleships are still in the bay, along with cruisers and supply ships and all manner of military vessel, waiting a turn in drydock.
I was determined to catch up with the family on this trip, and that inclination along with the coughing fits kept me in town long enough to have complicated dinners with the few surviving members of the clan.
I do not believe that anyone has a claim on my loyalty unless they earn it, least of all blood kin. I would never make time for people out of a sense of duty. This perspective is not just a quirk of my own personality; it is a key element in our family history.
The feuds and fights that have split up our crew are legendary. My people hold a grudge – and while they can keep secrets they are not shy. I am only unusual in that I moved away.
I love my family, but leaving caused a permanent rift that will never be mended. Then of course there is the fact that I grew up in terrifying chaos; I won’t be able to publish most of the stories until a few more people die. All of this makes for worthwhile yet difficult reunions. I always go back, I just limit the amount of time I spend there.
During one particularly gruesome dinner Mark Mitchel kept texting me to suggest stabbing a problematic relative in the neck with my fork to which I replied But then how would I eat my Applebee’s salad??
Normally I do not visit long enough to go on a tour of youthful indiscretions, but several days of driving around gave me plenty of opportunities to think about the past.
At age twenty-one I was living behind six foot fences with Dobermans patrolling the property. Those were the days when I thought gun safety meant putting the Glock on top of the fridge, and a baby gate on the back room where the big weapons were stored. Where most people would find pennies under the sofa cushions I always turned up knives, bullets, expanding titanium clubs.
My time was split neatly in half, with a domestic side in the county as a military spouse, and another life in Olympia as a grad student. In the middle was a two hundred mile daily commute, back and forth several times a day across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, during a time when I still suffered from panic attacks and flashbacks so severe I would often end up stranded in far distant towns.
I looked after my daughter, ignored other household chores, and spent a lot of time thinking about implementing federal civil rights laws at the state and local level.
In my spare time – and there was plenty as the head injury kept me awake around the clock – I was reading the existentialists and Thomas Jefferson’s letters. I also developed a deep obsession with the Grange movement.
Did I have other emotions or attachments? I loved my daughter in a profound and raw way. I admired and respected my young husband; he was funny and brilliant and together we were an impossibly tough proposition. KTS says that boy is the scariest person he has ever met – an insight I agreed with at the time while still thinking it hilarious. The narrative was endlessly entertaining, even as the daily reality became dangerous.
What went wrong with my love story? We were too young, and too proud, and together for all the wrong reasons. I remember the last time we kissed, at the car wash on Bethel Road. I didn’t know then that I would lose his friendship along with his love, that we would never laugh together again. I thought we were just growing up, not away.
Driving around with my mother I was reminded once again that my hometown is the most beautiful and wretched place I have ever known. The mountains loom, the inlets sprawl, and the trees enroach.
The first time I came back to Seattle as an autonomous adult it was to do a reading with Inga and Ariel. As we drove around town I was overwhelmed with a set of unwanted emotions – nostalgia, longing, the intense choking claustrophobia of the place.
Memories I had long before stored away came back so fast I was breathless with anxiety. Inga asked what was wrong and when I told her I was sad she offered to make out with me to cheer me up. I replied No thank you – I don’t think that will help and laid down across the back seat of the car, closing my eyes.
The problem with the memories is the fact that they are too ambiguous: dramatic and honestly horrific scenes do not stand alone. I remember rage and fear, shattered glass, the sound of bones breaking. I remember smelling blood for so long I didn’t know how to taste anything at all.
But I also have these perfect small recollections of learning to drive on impossible hills. Laughing with my friends as we did silly pranks. Swimming at night. Riding the ferry home from shows. The intense confusion and sweetness of first love. Kissing a beautiful boy on a desolate beach. Letting someone touch me.
Both the good and the bad memories have faded with time. I grew up, moved away, came back long enough to prove whatever point I needed to make. Sometimes I feel sad when I think about what was wasted, but I am never angry at the people who hurt me. I know that I hurt them just as much – and I’m the one who escaped. I’m the one who is privileged enough to write the story.
Now that I am older I can see Inga’s point. It would have been much better to surrender to hedonism rather than letting the flickering mental images overwhelm a day in the city.
One of the main objectives of the trip was the purchase of clothing to wear to formal events. For this purpose I put myself into the capable hands of Mark Mitchell, an individual who has both the style and the patience for such a daunting task.
Because, you see, I am afraid of the lady stores.
I warned him ahead of time that I am not a good candidate for a Pygmalion makeover. There are too many hindrances: my fixation about colors, my abhorrence of certain pattern cuts, the fact that most clothing hurts my neck.
And, beyond all those that we might classify as perhaps psychological, there is of course my figure to contend with. Mark refers to my Legendary Milky White Bosom (LMWB) with glee but the fact is that I have an hourglass shape that hasn’t been fashionable in a couple of decades.
Our first stop was a frightening yet fascinating poke through the racks at Barney’s. The sales clerk and Mark picked out dozens of outfits for me to try on, all of which were perhaps beautiful – on other people. I rejected each mostly on the fit; even Mark had to agree by the end that finding the right thing is a difficult proposition.
If it fits everywhere else I can’t even get the top buttons near each other let alone fastened. And why would you spend real money on clothes just to hack them up again? It would be more practical (though less timely) to have things made from scratch. If I were that sort of person.
A stop at Betsey Johnson was much more promising, and there were a few nifty dresses I might have been interested in…. if they’d been symmetrical. Or made of something other than plaid terrycloth.
Onward to lunch, where I told one of my favorite stories about a wedding and we chatted and rested before venturing into what would consume the rest of the day: Nordstrom.
Mark pulled me along in his wake, efficiently sorting through the racks, rejecting most of the garments but picking out a few dozen carefully vetted choices. By the end of the six hours (yes, six) I was even excited and helping. At the very end my attention was drawn by a jacket that seemed to call my name from a far wall. Mark pointed out that it wasn’t on my list of needs but I grabbed it anyway and headed to the changing room.
I tried the jacket on first and it must have been made for me; I don’t know who else would wear it.
The other garments required a demoralizing long struggle with zippers and clasps and yielded no results. Until the very end, when the last dress slipped over my head and was…. perfect.
Mark has the great distinction of finding my first ever grown-up dress, and persuading me that I had to buy it. I will be in his debt forever.
Wednesday night some hours after bar closing time I found myself in Jeff’s living room pondering the nature of existence and the mystery of physical chemistry (as one does). Chatting with Ruth as our host cooked a very late supper in her honor, I mentioned something in passing about one of my kids.
Ruth’s eyes opened wide. You have children? she asked. From your own womb?
When she learned their ages the astonishment was palpable.
This reaction has been a recurring theme in my life. Some people are shocked, sometimes speechless, by the fact that I have kids. In direct contrast, people who know me through my work around the politics of parenting are often surprised (or embittered) by the fact that I travel and have adventures.
For the most part I find it easier to put both subjects off limits rather than deal with the expectations of other people.
My relationship with Byron started as a clandestine are-they-just-friends-or-what thing (my reasons for secrecy at the time revolved around the lawsuits and a legitimate need to be perceived as respectable). He responded to my recent journal about looking wholesome with this:
No, you are not wholesome. You know better.
Fair enough – though what I know about myself is rarely evident to others. Most people want to believe what they see, and there isn’t much you can accurately guess based on my appearance.
I have no fixed identity and sincerely believe that life is a costume party. Change the outfit and you can change the story itself – fundamentally.
During Sunday night karaoke I sat with my back to the graffiti wall, watching the antics of the people onstage and talking to whoever decided to sit next to me. Toward the end of the evening a friend turned up and was surprised to find me in town again.
We fell into conversation about our experiences with the military. I was an Army wife during the first Gulf War, he was active duty in the second. We both have scores of friends and relatives who are still overseas.
Neither of us find this background antithetical to hanging out at the Bus Stop. Though there aren’t too many people who want to reminisce about the Fort Lewis commissary at any given karaoke night.
At some point in the ensuing conversation about risks and change I said If you’re not scared how would you know you are alive? He laughed in agreement.
After applauding my entrance to the Bus Stop and embracing me, one of my friends said I can’t tell if I’m really excited you are here of if I’m having a drug overdose!
The city itself, in contrast, greeted me with harsh sleeting rain.
I scheduled my arrival to allow plenty of time to settle in before the Rosyvelt show at the Sunset. What I did not anticipate was the fact that I would be welcomed into the bosom of the Henry clan, and taken along on all of the family celebrations in honor of Jeffrey.
We went out for breakfasts and dinners, shopping, and later drinking. The Henry men were friendly and open in all situations, even the late night scene in a bar with half-naked youngsters jumping about the place.
I felt like the disreputable and sarcastic black sheep little sister wedged into the SUV as the strapping Henry boys bantered back and forth in the easy way family members who care about each other do. This was in fact a lovely experience; it was a great honor to be included and to be able to spend so much time with the folks who raised my friend.
The show itself was, of course, outstanding. The venue sold out just after Gabriel and a whole crew of people made it up from Portland. Friends from various other scenes congregated; it was endearing and slightly confusing to see everyone in one spot instead of in their well defined hang-outs– but also completely genius to be able to walk from group to group.
One of the Henry brothers showed up late and was astonished to hear that his father had been driving me around. Why? Because he has read my book.
Dad approached and apologized for his driving skills but I stopped him and told the story of the day I was released from intensive care. My own father drove home so recklessly he went right off I-5 into a ditch. There are very few people who can match my father for reckless.
After the show a bunch of people ended up at Jeffrey’s house where Shannon and I went slightly mad filling up his birthday camera before he even got home. We raced around the place laughing hysterically and crawling in and out of cupboards, laundry baskets, Jeffrey’s bed, and over a sleeping Gabriel staging contrived shots and giggling over the results. As Shannon pointed out, It looks real because it’s unflattering!
The slumber party continued throughout the weekend, with various small breaks to work on top secret projects, have confusing social encounters, and occasionally sleep. By Monday night Jeffrey looked ready to crack, and I’d had perhaps five hours of sleep in six days.
To state all that differently: I’m in Seattle.
Mario made it to first base:
Jeff made it to second:
We tried to make it look like Gabriel hit third, but he is so…. pure:
By the second day the boys were fading:
And I hadn’t slept more than five hours in six days:
We had the most excellent time!
I have always been obsessed with luggage. Years before I felt a stab of lust over the suitcase in Desperately Seeking Susan I started collecting bags of all sorts. Back then the best vintage stuff was cheap – the thirty or so Enid Collings purses I own cost perhaps a dollar each, often far less. I have dozens of clutches made of gold lame, or black vinyl, or leather of all shades. I have beaded bags, and bags made to look like jeans, and an original Carpet Bag, tag still attached.
Even though I did not travel further away than my best friend Anne’s house down the road, I purchased all manner of suitcase and valise, the odder the better. These moved with me to college, around Olympia, to Shelton, Portland, Seattle, and even to England.
Those that were not ruined by the flooding en route are mostly in storage but some have functional purposes, holding similarly hoarded antique stationary and postcards, cracked yet precious cassette tapes, family photographs.
For years I used old airline bags to haul my stuff around every day; my favorites were from Pan Am and Japan Airlines. When they became popular with the ironic hipster set I put all of mine in a cupboard, muttering imprecations against fashion trends.
I used to travel with other bits from the collection – the vintage white leather makeup case with tassels accompanied me on a few tours with Ariel. The round locking suitcase went to Denver and Los Angeles. The matching red set of Sears-brand (and very sturdy) suitcases made several cross-country trips.
Age and infirmity (or rather, typing injuries and a broken tailbone) forced me to succumb to modern conveniences like ergonomically designed suitcases with wheels. This was of course sad, but locating the perfect suitcase proved to be a fine new obsession.
It took a few years of experimentation to find a bag that had everything I needed: small and lightweight enough to minimize hassle crossing London or NYC, the right size to take on board a plane, sturdy enough to check if necessary, and sufficiently flexible that it could be used for all sorts of trips.
While I agree with other travel writers about packing light, I have extenuating circumstances, like the need to attend dinner parties or perform for audiences. I am willing to wear crumpled clothing, but I do actually have to dress up.
It is impossible to shop in Cambridge so I set off on the Lessons in Taxidermy tour with all of my possessions in plastic grocery bags, hoping that somewhere along the way I would figure out a solution. In the middle of the trip, while resting in San Diego, I perfected my system.
The suitcase I selected measures ten inches by thirteen. In it I can pack everything I need: a dress, three black tshirts, four pairs of tights, jammies for when I do not have a private place to sleep, an umbrella, an electric toothbrush, medication, spare lipstick, packaged hand warmers, a scarf and three pair of gloves, three books and a half dozen magazines.
Half of the interior space is taken up by toiletries – sunblock, moisturizer, potions and creams that are also sunblock. The only soap I am not allergic to, nail clippers, assorted prophylactic and first aid solutions in case of emergency (you would not believe how often friends and even strangers inquire if they can “borrow” a Band-aid). When fully packed, the bag still has room for the additional detritus I collect; mostly that takes the form of stocking up on sunblock I cannot buy in Cambridge.
The runoff and the laptop go in an ugly briefcase that slips over the handle of the first case, saving my neck and back the pain of carrying it around the airport for hours. If circumstances (like, say, haggling a dealer down on the price of antique Russian marionettes that my son obviously had to have for Christmas) forced me to carry extra things home, I could buy a duffel to check as my only allowed piece of luggage. Each time I set off on a new trip I felt smugly satisfied that I had developed such a smart and compact approach to travel.
As I have discovered in the past, it is never wise to be smug. The new security restrictions came along and destroyed my system.
Checking the bag with the toiletries takes away my wheeled system and leaves my sensitive spinal column at risk. Even though BA changed the allowance to two checked bags, my poor twitchy brain cannot cope with the possibility of additional rule switches.
Obviously, I need a new bag to check, so I can use the carry-on as a briefcase and retain the duffel option. And since I spent an exhaustive week or so stalking luggage sites I figured I might as well try to find a not ugly briefcase for daily use.
The most significant complication in this scheme is the fact that there are no stores in Cambridge that sell my preferred suitcase, and I am not willing to pay what they charge in London. Instead, I ordered a suitcase to be delivered to my parent’s house, saving myself a huge amount of money.
This means that I am once again setting off on a long trip with all of my possessions in plastic bags; though this time I reckon I will use one from Selfridges rather than Sainsburys.