Month: June 2008

06.30.08 pennies

I was feeling around in the lining of the beloved small suitcase that has traveled with me ever since the first Lessons in Taxidermy tour, and guess what I found?

Pressed pennies from San Diego, the Woodland Park Zoo, and Central Park Zoo. This is remarkable in part because I am such a maniac about pressed pennies – they always get sorted and stored!


6.23.2008 different

This morning I waved goodbye to my eleven year old son as he departed to attend his first ever sleepaway camp with his Church of England school classmates.

I’m seriously freaked out – he is my baby! So young! So sensitive! Though I am also sure he will have a great time, except for the prayer and hymn singing. He doesn’t care for that bit.

Of course at the same age his sister went on a road trip to Yellowstone sporting an Impeach Bush button that generated massive fights with strangers throughout the journey. As far as I know she didn’t punch anyone, but it is sometimes best not to ask these questions.

During that trip several kids had sex in the school bus, and one girl overdosed, but hey! It was groovy good fun with the happy hippie school, man. My kids are so very… different.


6.21.2008 exterminate

A London friend pointed this out and I think it is super awesome:

The Hair Force

And, though some might get all haughty about paying for the service, it is also a return to a traditional industry. Lice are just a normal part of life as a parent. But as a parent, I’m also susceptible…. and I’m psyched that I can pay to have an actual human pick through my hair instead of grappling with chemicals and combs!


6.20.2008 happy

When Jeffrey dragged me to the Bus Stop the first time I resisted – bars have never been my scene. What a tremendous shock to find myself instantly adopted by a crew of charming reprobates under the direction of the notorious and noteworthy Mark Mitchell!

Mark is in fact the only person I have ever met who completely understands everything I say, or fail to mention, instinctively and truly, without the need for excessive discussion. He just gets it in a profound and unique way. Hanging out with him is the best tonic I can imagine, and of course, endlessly hilarious and entertaining. Even when he makes me go shopping.

Many happy birthday wishes to a brilliant, amazing, supremely scathing person. I am lucky beyond words to have him as a friend.



6.21.2008 ponies

If you remember two highlights of 2007 – Pony Attack and Pony Update and wondered – hey, what the heck is happening with the ponies at Ely Cathedral? Never fear, we made the annual pilgrimage, though we forgot to film a movie, and there were no faraway friends in attendance. England is truly a gorgeous land:


6.20.2008 busy

This has been an extraordinarily busy week, with my mother here to entertain during the day, one visiting artist and a flock of scientists to visit at night, Jonathan (minus Hiya, plus mother) arriving tomorrow, one massive fair ending and another even more sinister one starting requiring me to bodily protect my boat, and, oh yeah, a circus. I’m a wee bit tired and also highly allergic to something or other in the air.


6.19.2008 remaindered

I am a peripatetic reader in the sense that I consume whatever is offered, and make purchases in a semi-random fashion, usually based on price.

Translation: I buy second hand or remaindered books and presume the adventure will take me where I need to go. There is a lot of good stuff to be had in this academic city, so I never lack interesting reading material.

Yesterday I took my mother to the cheap, strange, moldy bookstore next to Sidney Sussex (aka the place where Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried) to peruse the racks. Imagine my surprise and delight to find my very own self marked down to a quid!

This is the ugly “literary” version of the book… the attractive one sold out:


6.16.2008 improbable

Late one night in a dark club an academic was confused about my antecedents and my reply included geographic information since we grew up on the same continent:

I went to school in Olympia – I started – but he interrupted and exclaimed Like the Courtney Love song!

I replied Um, yeah.

He asked Is the song accurate?

I shrugged and said In some respects. Except she didn’t actually go to school there. And I definitely dated more people in that town than she ever did, so I feel confident saying no… they don’t fuck the same.

This summary caused some consternation but, well, he asked.

Later in the same week a British born, raised, and educated scientist asked where I went to school and I restricted myself to a one word reply: Evergreen.

He clapped his hands in delight and said Matt Groening! The Simpsons!

Oh, indeed. Though as I pointed out, the show had not yet premiered when I applied to attend that institute of higher education.

Though I was always a fan of both MG and Lynda Barry, when they published in alternative weeklies. I would not have survived junior high let alone made it to university if I hadn’t discovered Marlys and Life in Hell, huddled in the art room cupboard while my feral schoolmates ate lunch.

This was on my mind over the weekend because the public administration alumni association emailed to ask for help with Super Saturday. The evidence suggests I finished grad school fourteen years ago. How improbable.


6.15.2008 friends

The other night I dashed around London attempting to attend book release and art opening parties all happening simultaneously. This was, of course, impossible, though I did have a nice chat with the always charming Michael Moran at the pub celebration for his amusing new book, Sod Abroad.

Then it was off to a reading at a bookstore in King’s Cross, where I fell into conversation on the sidewalk with someone who not only understands the literary scene I left behind in the states, but also knows one of my publishers. I laughed with delight and said I made him cry once!

Then we had a jolly chat and he handed me free copies of intriguing books. Later inside the venue I was chatting with various people and a man I have never met appeared in front of me. He said Hello, Bee.

Extrapolating the fact that Stewart Home┬áhad been performing, I presumed it was him, though he doesn’t look much like his photographs. Unlike me, apparently.

When I said hello in return Stewart reeled back and exclaimed You have an American accent!

I said What else would I have?

Steward: If you live here, you should have an English accent!

Me: I don’t live here. I live in Cambridge.

Stewart: But why??

Me: I’m in exile for my sins!


6.11.2008 palpable

The excitement about an extended Grandma Visit is palpable around these quarters – and now she is officially in transit!

The only major problem on the horizon is the fact that the primary school is experiencing the fifth round of lice infestation this spring. And bugs love me.

And, while the latest lice treatment seems highly effective, it also did not wash out. Four cycles with Expensive Imported Lady Products left me still looking like a greasy urchin and I had to tie it all up and go searching for cheap toxic shampoo to finish the job.

When I finished that, I realized that my feet were covered in bug bites – there are no mosquitoes around so who knows what they are – but not just ordinary bug bites, oh no; I could ignore those.

Instead I have Badly Infected Bug Bites Requiring Treatment. This takes the form of using (once again imported, cause I can’t get the good stuff here) antibiotic creams and bandages. Except, you know, I am allergic to the adhesive used in medical tapes. Ouch.

To round out my list of woes, I have lost the little coin purse I use to organize my (also expensive and imported) face powder. Including the contents, which cannot be replaced on this continent.

I’m way too OCD to lose things – it just doesn’t happen – so this is quite a wrenching experience.

My kid commented Mama, if you were a cat you’d have a crooked tail!

Indeed. I do not like spending money on misery, and this lice adventure is adding up to no fun at all! The worst indignity, however, is the fact that putting my hair up makes me look ten years old again. Oh, woe is me!


6.10.2008 delayed

Oh, what a shocker: <Teenagers with cancer often face significant delays in being initially diagnosed, researchers have warned.

Since my primary genetic disorder went undiagnosed for thirteen years and my rare and virulent [and obvious given the massive tumor at the front of my, you know, neck] thyroid cancer was ignored so long it wandered over to my lymph system way back in ye olden times (aka the 1980’s) this is just, well, unacceptable.

We should have learned a little bit more by now. I do not think this is specific to the UK: it is an inherent attitude on the part of even the most experienced and well-meaning medical professionals.

With my excessive personal and family background, and history of advocacy, it still took over two years of persistent arguing to get my sick child diagnosed with a chronic Thankfully Not Cancer disorder.

When the doctors finally started to pay attention they ended up doing a biopsy of her esophagus: quite a different answer than the original refrain “Oh, she is a teenager, she is probably making it up to skive off school” expressed numerous times by her physicians.

While there are definitely Ferris Beuller characters wandering around this planet, it is simply unfair to characterize all sick kids as malingerers – or worse.

Children and teenagers have, perhaps more than adults, a keen understanding of their health – an intuitive ability to report when something is really wrong. I always knew before the doctors when my remission ended.


I say it all the time but feel the need to repeat once again: listen to kids. They are the best experts on their own lives.


6.9.2008 geek

My son begrudgingly finished his ever so annoying standardized tests and as a reward I took him to London: whatever he wanted to do, we would at least try to fit it in.

His list included (in this order):

The zoo

The arcade

Peter Pan Park (aka Princess Diana Memorial Playground)

Coram’s Fields

Science Museum

Roald Dahl House

Benjamin Franklin House

Sherlock Holmes Museum

See a play

Shop for toys and shoes

We crossed off most of these, though the Roald Dahl excursion proved too complicated since it is off in a far distant shire. The Franklin and Holmes options fell off the table in favor of other choices, but were not missed, as our time was a nonstop cavalcade of fun and adventure. Plus a few hours of television at a friends house, oh, forbidden treat!

Of course it rained most of the time, and I ended up huddling in bushes while my kid played, but this is to be expected on holiday. The best part was, of course, the Science Museum, specifically Dan Dare & the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain and Plasticity: 100 Years of Making Plastics. Yes, as my grown-up child often points out, I am a total geek:


6.8.2008 movie

Let’s Get Lost is enjoying a much deserved theatrical re-release here in jolly ye olde world this week. If you have a chance, it is definitely worth seeing on the big screen. Bruce Weber is in town to talk about the film tonight but that sort of thing makes me twitch so I went to the matinee on Friday instead. Kind of ruined my whole day, but hey! It was still very interesting!

I would also make the observation that fifty-seven is really an amazing age for a junkie to reach; most of the drug addicts I’ve loved were dead by thirty-five, and only one made it to her late forties.


6.6.2008 type

Recently I took a little throwaway quiz that ranked my skills as a 1930’s housewife and was not surprised to get a high score. Why? Because even in my most severe, sarcastic, and extreme incarnations I’ve always been the marrying type.

Much to my dismay, since I do not approve of the formal institution.

I was never the sort of child who dreamed of weddings or babies; I just wanted to be alone reading books. I was never the sort of youngster who sought or desired a relationship; I just wanted my independence, and maybe a built-in source of entertainment (and later, free high quality baby-sitting). So long as the person didn’t annoy me too much.

Why then do people stick to me like barnacles? Why do people perceive that I would be a marvelous wife, even though I lack most of the overtly feminine and nurturing traits? Why have I never dated, though my private life is strewn with marriage proposals and broken hearts?

Maybe because I am by nature a pragmatic bureaucrat with a specific focus on civil rights (translation: civil, fair, rational behavior). I’m very good at designing and implementing policies and procedures that create a greater common good. I do what is right, not what is easy – and I never feel martyred by my ethical code. I am, intrinsically, fair.

In other words, a really good mother – and that, my friends, is something a lot of people are seeking… without even realizing they need that sort of love more than they need a girlfriend.

There is a fundamental, inescapable reason why babies, abused dogs, and broken boys are my biggest fans. Kinda sucks to be me, as far as that goes. I would have been a much more pleasant twenty-two year old if I had been hedonistic instead of honorable.


6.2.2008 precarious

I’ve been collecting opinions about spending my repudiated so-called birthday in the ski resort where Kafka wrote The Castle.

James replied with a baffled and emphatic No. He suggests, if I must retreat to that land in that season, a spa vacation including long soaks in whatever it is people soak in there. Of course he also, at various times and for long periods, elected to live in Arizona – something I would never consider. Beyond that he developed a sincere devotion to public bathing during his years in Tokyo.

None of which really explains how a friend of twenty-one years has failed to pick up the fact that I am not allowed to participate in shared water activities. Especially since he went to Governors’ School with me in 1988 and therefore knows that the single, solitary time I was exposed to communal showers I picked up a staph infection requiring the partial amputation of a toe. I’m not joking.

There are valid reasons why my doctors have always forcibly advised against hot tubs, swimming pools, dorm washing facilities, and the like. My immune system just can’t take it, not even splendid options like the mineral baths in Glenwood Springs or the saltwater pool in Seattle.

Add to that a chlorine allergy that leaves my entire epidermis a screaming rash after no more than ten minutes exposure: I suspect I am the only person permanently excluded from swimming lessons in a school district requiring certification of mastery to leave the cursed facility.

I’m very sensitive.

I’m also the sort of person who rarely allows such things to intrude on my daily activities; for the most part, I don’t spend time thinking about the rules and restrictions. This in turn means I rarely talk about them, even when acknowledging physical limitations would be a more acceptable answer than my stock I don’t want to, I don’t feel like it, I have better things to do, I don’t care.

The truly amazing fact is that James could know me so long and so well, yet fail to account for the very real limitations of my life. This is I suppose a credit to my faultless facade of strength, but mostly a reflection of the fact that people who love me just don’t want to know that my health is, at best, precarious.

I can’t blame them: I don’t want to know either.