can you hold this for me?

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My sister gave me a clutch for my birthday because I don’t do purses or wallets and she was sick of me asking her to hold my necessaries like license, debit card, lip balm and tissues, sometimes I like to bring a hat to maybe wear and always a book. She’s a mom and happens to have a gigantic purse with plenty of room for me. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I don’t travel light and it’s nice to have a human with me to hold all of my things. That’s why I was very excited back when they started making fanny packs for men, but nothing came of it. Call it a failure in my powers of persuasion. You try convincing a man that fanny packs are hot.

The clutch is my favorite color and it dangles off my wrist so my hands are free to wave and communicate when drivers nearly bump us in parking lots. I’m cleaning up my language here, but there are loopholes.

Are you giving them the finger?

Yes!

The clutch isn’t big enough to hold a book, if it were it’d be a purse and I hate purses so books don’t come with me on errands anymore. The end of an era. Tata. That’s fine. The habit was out of control anyway. I’ve never read a book in the grocery store yet I used to bring one, sometimes two, in my boyfriend’s bag. Why? It takes at least six hours to read a book. I try to be in and out of grocery stores in about six minutes no matter how many things don’t get crossed off the list. An up-and-down-every-aisle trip would probably destroy me. Gotta go.

The books were mostly for subway reading or the-person-I’m-meeting-is-late-and-I’m-uncomfortable-in-public reading. Regardless I don’t ride the subway anymore, I ride my bike. Nobody reads and rides a bike. Some people can ride bikes and when their hair gets in their face they can take a hand off the handle bars and brush the hair away. Not I. This lady must stop all forward motion, disembark from the seat and then tuck the rogue hair into helmet while cursing it. Live the life you deserve, hair.

My sisters and I lead very different lives. I’m cursing my own hair while they’re running businesses and raising children. I admire and envy them, and somehow give them the worst gifts. There was the year of the spiralizer. Everyone I love got a spiralizer for Christmas because I couldn’t sleep and informercials came on and by the third hour I was convinced we’d all be living it up on zucchini noodles. What made the spiralizer year sad wasn’t only that they all broke right away, but that it came in a box the size and shape and weight of something good, like a toy from the Fun Box Monster Emporium in Portland, Maine (luv this place). They were all so excited, tore off the dollar store paper at the same time and then they got spiralizers.

This year my sister gave me a clutch that I use all the time when she’s not around. I would like to find her something as thoughtful and handy. If it’s just that thought that counts I’m good to go. The problem is I keep going back to bloody toes and fingers in this one Etsy shop I want to be best friends forever with, DeadGoatCompany. Does she need them? No. They also have severed ears and ripped out eyeballs. You get to choose gore and rot level! Ew. Just a little bit for her, thanks. I put them in a cart with her address just to see how it’d all look in the cart and it looks right. The heart wants what the heart wants. She’ll get her package of severed body parts and call to tell me I’m her sinking ship on this sea of shitake and I’ll finally forgive myself for the spiralizers and say That’s what sisters are for.

banana slug club

roaming mode

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I rode an elevator with a judgy dog this weekend. She was some kind of mix with three different types of fur and she sat on my feet as we rode up. Her human said she only sits on lonely females. Excuse you, sir. I think he meant to say “solo” or “females who are alone”, maybe, but he called me lonely and I laughed my elevator almost-to-my-floor laugh then stepped off and stewed. Where’d my good mood go?

Garden of the Gods

I flew back to Colorado to hike a mountain not to be pity sat on by a cute dog. California has mountains, but California is on fire and many of the forests not on fire were closed in case of fire. On the way over, the pilot directed our attention to thick grey smoke from the Caldor fire near Tahoe and the enormity of what those firefighters are confronting once again. A little phrase races around my head now in place of knocking on wood or tapping my chin or any other auto ticks performed to break a jinx or detract something dark. Instead it’s a chant of protection for firefighters, animals and homes – even the bears. Okay, sometimes I include myself as in please keep the bears safe AND away from me.

The big plan was to hike a 14er. One whole day of not thinking about anything but the path in front of me all the way to the peak and back. I wanted that top of the mountain satisfaction and a peaceful lunch with the birds. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better on mountains. Viewing other mountains from a summit and wanting to hike every one of them is a similar sensation to walking through the shelves of a massive library and wanting to read every book and knowing we can’t. There are more mountains and good books than we have time for in our short lifespans.

Sometimes it’s fun to be choosy and make a destination of a particular mountain that’s gotten under your skin, for me that was Mount Washington. It’s fun when it works out, but lately smoke and heat are stopping me.

I didn’t hike my 14er. Maybe it was the altitude or being a mile closer to the sun on a hot day. I turned back because everything felt off and shaky. Maybe I didn’t train or acclimate enough. In any case, I was still in a beautiful place surrounded by a skyline of mountain tops and feeling physically better when the dog plopped on my feet and the dog’s human threw me off my balance with his presumptuous translation. To react or not to react?

They say Cathedral Spires, I say “okay” fingers or hand goggles

My library offered free subscriptions to Calm, a meditation site, and I signed up because my body won’t nap and I need a mid-day activity to keep from going mentally stir crazy. So far it’s been worth the two minutes it took to sign up. Meditations are guided in soothing NPR voices and afterwards I feel very adult. One of the calming anxiety meditations focuses on not wasting energy reacting. Instead you label thoughts like “Okay, that was a sad thought” or “Okay, that’s an anxious thought” and then move on rather than dwelling. This all sounded very doable during the 12-minute meditation. Then it ended and I went back to the workity work on the computer, forgetting my lesson for a few weeks. Reacting to a stranger’s thoughtless comment would’ve cost more than I cared to spend on what was supposed to be a break. A friendly dog said hi was all. That was a disingenuous thought.

I do miss my family. I’m still nursing a trampoline injury from my last visit so every time I twist my leg a certain way I think of bouncing around with my darling nieces. I wish I was there.

Pikes Peak

Colorado was a nice respite. I wandered around the mostly flat Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The city is at an elevation of over 6,035 ft., just under Mount Washington’s 6,288 ft. It was storming the night I arrived, but the place felt like a desert by day – I guess I’m spoiled by fog and ocean breezes. Arriving early meant beating crowds and the worst of the heat. I wanted to stay and watch how the shades and shapes change throughout the day, but my layers and layers of sunscreen were no match for the sun.

Curious to see how it’d feel to run at a higher altitude, I went for a run at Bear Creek Regional Park before leaving. Olympians train here! I shall run with the Olympians, like an Olympian. Never have I ever needed so many walk breaks on a 4-mile run. I was up early, I thought, but the sun was up and firing even earlier. Hardy residents were out with their dogs smiling like we weren’t roasting in an oven. A woman with a golden doodle stopped to help me figure out a loop on the map. Her dog rubbed against my hand. She kindly refrained from existentialism and instead directed me around through a sort of canyon where, after a mile of not seeing any people, I came across a track and then fresh bear scat. It was time to turn around anyway. All humans of dogs are against me. That was a paranoid thought. A bear is going to get me. That was a frightened thought.

While we’re on the subject of Colorado, Resident Alien on SYFY is set there and it’s a funny show full of wintry mountains. You may recognize the star Alan Tudyk as Wash from the space western Firefly, and the movie Serenity. Horror fans know him as Tucker from Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Well, now he’s in another charming gem of spacey entertainment. As someone who has trouble connecting with other humans, I lala love this show.

Say cheese, naked ladies. Sayonara, skanky flip

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One of my sisters was a florist before allergies made her change professions. Still I assume she knows everything about every flower because she almost does. She’s one of those incredibly intelligent, capable maniacs the world is lucky to have. Regardless of where it grows or how delicate its petals, if one of her brides wanted a particular flower in her hair, bouquet or twirling in the air just so, my sister found a way to make it happen. So I didn’t think much of sending her pictures of naked ladies. Lots of pictures of naked ladies with appropriate subject lines.

Oh, more naked ladies… Naked ladies by the beach…

I thought they’d make her day. When she didn’t respond I did what I do: took offense and doubled down.

Naked ladies by the highway!

Why are you ignoring me? Do you not like naked ladies?

bare in the Presidio

I couldn’t stop with the naked ladies. It takes me a minute to figure out how to text her these delightful pictures. Never occurred to me she assumed all my naked lady pics were spoofy spam.

Finally I go old school and ring her up on my fancy phone. This is my first call on my very own smart phone and I’m an adult. According to the guy in the Sprint store in Brooklyn before we moved, it’s just oldies, skankies, dealers and me holding on to the flip phones. His actual words were something about people only using flips for burners or to give to grandparents for emergencies but I took his words to heart, mildly. It was almost time to upgrade, maybe. Another year and some months later, behold a free upgrade swings my way. Alas! It didn’t apply to the one flip phone model the store carried. So I upgraded and now empathize with my dad’s horror when my sister gifted him his first microwave in the 90s. These things are not to be trusted, I know, but they do take better photos. Sorry, Flip, your memory will live on every time I send a text message and don’t have to hit the 1 button three times to get the letter “c”. Good times.

My sister never heard of the Naked Lady, Amaryllis Belladonna. I couldn’t believe it. They smell so sweet, especially clustered in a eucalyptus grove. Come visit, I text. Then, like lightning, I text No don’t. If I had to text on my flip phone she may have booked a ticket by the time it took me to remind her of the lousy air quality. I think that’s why I missed the naked ladies until now. So far this year I’ve only been here for a few really bad air quality days. Last year, the fires were much closer and all around. We basically stayed indoors from mid-August until October.

Other places have it much worse right now, but I’d love to get back on a plane heading east.

Unfortunately, air quality is too unpredictable for family visits. Now is the time for west coast peeps to visit east coast peeps, but I just got back. Bad timing for me. I spent June in Maine and Colorado, and most of July in NJ and PA savoring the green and humidity. I took a nap on a hammock on a rainy day and woke up soaked and happy. At night we watched fireflies then projected Grease on an outdoor screen. It was my nieces’ first time seeing the movie and what a different experience for aunty me. Danny Zuko was a jerk to Sandy over and over again. What? After all these years we’ve been singing and dancing with him, he changes? His big arc is putting on a sweater while she changes her personality to be with him, takes up smoking and sews herself into leather pants? Pass.

That’s strike 2. Strike 1 was Killer Klowns from Outer Space (a favorite of mine – don’t pass). Apparently they’re not old enough to appreciate the glory of practical effects and makeup, the horror of shadow puppet monsters.

The girls didn’t love watching Killer Klowns. I didn’t love what they made me do either. They made me wear a VR set and play Five Nights at Freddy’s. I fell down when Chica came for me. I fell down when Bonnie came for me. Then they made me take an elevator the top floor of a skyscraper, walk the plank and jump off. This is what they do for fun. I fell down again. VR is too much for me. Maybe I should’ve stuck with my flip. Oldies and skankies, rollout!

shot through the arm and dogs don’t fly

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I forgot my fellow is afraid of needles, pale cold sweats sometimes fainting phobic. I forgot because I love them. Give them to me. Ouch. More. Ouch. More. I was thinking of how long it’s been since I’ve been stabbed and thinking of Ren and Stimpy giving shots to each other for some reason. Remember Ren and Stimpy, fellow young people? And of course Bon Jovi accompanied us on the drive. The first appointments we could get were at the Levi’s Stadium. Thought it’d be fun to see where the 49ers play, but then we read that people were standing in the sun waiting for hours. We were lucky enough to get appointments at a nearby pharmacy instead.

Vaccination means moving on, seeing my little buddies for the first time in over a year. We’ve read the first two Harry Potter books in our Zoom book club and on weekends we squeeze in a few rounds of Among Us so they can murder me, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. Once I’m fully vaccinated, I’m going surprise them, hide in their closet and scare them so good they’ll never open a closet door again without a bracing pause. It’s cool. This how we express love in my family.

I was thinking of my nieces when the pharmacist asked me to comfort him. Who? Oh yeah. Last time my fellow got a needle for a blood test he nearly passed out. So I went in to hold his hand. The pharmacist was nice but she kept talking about the shot and doing a count down that made him jittery. He needed some distraction but my mind was back to Ren and Stimpy and gigantic needles that go straight through you.

I squeezed his hand and reminded him to be thankful for the pointy things. Like at least the needle wasn’t going up his bum. He took issue with that. My sister swears booster shots used to be administered in the cheeky bottoms area and the needles used to be much bigger. My only childhood needle memories involve this sister drawing my other sisters and I getting stabbed by needles bigger than our bodies. She does love us.

The pharmacist pinched and then it was over. No big deal now do me. Best of all, our site was next to a Trader Joe’s so now I’m eating cookies because I was so brave. We were advised to pop & lock to reduce soreness, which means it’s time to switch up the tunes, Bon Jovi.

Hopefully any side effects are gone by the weekend. The green hills are already turning brown and I want to enjoy a few more trail runs with the wildflowers before they’re gone. This past weekend we went to Pinnacles National Park hoping to see a Condor. Small for a national park, Pinnacles is a beautiful place to hike and it’s always fun to add a stamp our park passports. We arrived at 7am and the parking lot at Bear Gulch was half full. There was a line of 80+ cars waiting to get in when we left in the afternoon. Heading back we stopped in Gilroy so my fellow could try garlic ice cream. He’s very brave.

Condor
We turned a corner and saw a big black dog in a tree? With a pink head and ruffled collar? With a wingspan of 9 feet?
wildflowers at Pinnacles
view from High Peaks trail at Pinnacles
wildflowers

not a ghost, just me beasting

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Yesterday I was so happy. Blue skies at last. Yay! The CZU fire is the one closest to us, not so close anymore, and it’s now 26% contained thanks to the thousands of firefighters working endlessly for a second week in a row. It felt so good to step outside and open our windows. The air purifier we ordered last week is still on its way so our apartment got pretty stuffy. We’ve tried to keep the doors and windows sealed tight. A few days ago our air quality was close to 250, which is very bad. Yesterday strong ocean winds took it down to the 20s. Now we’re back in the red.

Flights to the east coast are so cheap right now. I was tempted to fly back to play with my nieces, hike in the Catskills again and escape the smoke, but nooooo. Covid risk is the reason why flights are so cheap. Oh yeah, the pandemic. The fires were all consuming this last week; I almost forgot we’d be wearing masks outside anyway. I almost forgot now’s not the time to fly and visit family. Inside this apartment we stay.

My calves started to melt a few days in, that awful feeling of atrophy. I jogged around our apartment loop after loop. It didn’t go well. Grumpkins started making cameos. Moody Me takes over whenever I miss more than a few days of running. We decided to try some HIIT workouts on YouTube to get some cardio. I couldn’t do more than 10 minutes at a time because it’s so steamy in our apartment, but beasting 10-minute HIITs twice a day is equivalent to running up and down a dozen mountains. Didn’t you know that? Okay, we didn’t “beast” the workouts, but we tried. In order to “beast” a workout I think you have to be able to say “beast it” like you mean it.

HIITs are magical. I started feeling like myself again with a pumping heart and everything. Pamela Reif’s classes are my favorite. Her workouts are like eating too much wasabi – first very painful and then your whole body wants more and then you eat more and you’re like Why? But the after feels so good. It’s a brutal cycle.

Waking up everyday to heavy smoke outside and red dots over our area started getting to me this week. I’d check purpleair first thing hoping our windows were just dirty. Must distract myself. We do still have six boxes to unpack but now I have a block on that. Staying indoors, having zero physical interaction with the outside world makes life feel like one long bad news, steamy stale day. I miss the screams of kids playing outside and riding their scooters around.

What if we’re residual ghosts trapped here? We’re going through the motions while living people occasionally feel the floor shake from our side jump squats or the whoosh of heavy breathing after another burst of high knees. Disembodied voices chanting Higher! Beast it!

I shared this nagging suspicion with my fellow now that we’re once again in the triple digit air quality zone and back to being trapped inside, not expecting judgement because we did just watch Beetlejuice and I think the movie holds up. This would explain why we keep finding the cabinets open. It’d also explain the light over our dining table. Flick the switch and 90 minutes later it turns on. How is that useful? He made the point that if we were ghosts we wouldn’t be doing HIIT workouts in an apartment we just moved into. I like to think that’s true. I may be the one leaving the cabinets open but the dining light is a mystery.

Yesterday we were able to run a few miles and start shaking off this heavy feeling in my calves. Last night we watched Zombie Tidal Wave to keep our spirits up. Today I started crocheting Sam Hain dolls for the ones I love. Some positive local news is trickling in. Though fires are still burning, the marine layer seems to be helping the firefighters gain ground. They managed to save the Lick Observatory from flames of the SCU fire. Many of Big Basin’s ancient redwoods are reported to have survived the fire and that’s something to be thankful for.

People have lost their homes. Keeping our windows shut for a few days is nothing really. I think it was the first book I read on California since moving here, Trees in Paradise: A California History by Jared Farmer, that described the state as a land of extremes. Yesterday we ran with bay breezes and sea fennel. This morning my mouth felt like I’d licked a camp fire after watering the plants for 2 minutes. We’re already getting a taste of those extremes.

Walking among redwoods that have stood for thousands of years is a special experience I’m still hoping to share with my nieces if they ever visit. There’s a sense of protection and physical connection that stays with you and pulls you back. I’m hoping Big Basin and the communities impacted recover with the support of everyone who values them.

No exploring for us this weekend. Fingers crossed for open windows and heavy marine layers.

Inside a fairy ring in Purisima Creek
Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Smoke on the ridge and everywhere else

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I just told my fellow “I don’t need to smoke your ear” in response to his question “Do you want more coffee?” Smoke is in my head and outside our closed windows. The second big negative I thought about when he told me about his Bay Area job offer back in February was wild fire. Now here we are with fires burning north, south, east and southwest of us. According to the Chronicle, the Bay Area has the worst air quality in the world right now.

Smoke rolled in yesterday evening and we immediately closed all windows even though we’re in a heat wave. Dozens of fires were sparked by the thousands of lightning strikes that hit Sunday-Monday. The lightning was beyond anything I’ve ever seen. The sky rumbled and it felt like a dozen crotch rockets doing donuts around you. Lightning bolts cracked, throbbed and flashed with splintered bolts that lit up everything like flicking a light switch in a dark closet. It was mesmerizing to watch. I had no idea how dangerous lightning is here when it’s so dry. I was only thinking about how much I miss summer storms on the east coast.

The storm woke me up at 3 am Sunday morning. The sky was still ripping apart when we started our long run at 7, thinking it had to be almost over. Guess who turned around real quick? Suddenly all I could think about was what the lightning could be hitting. We saw some smoke on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of Half Moon Bay on Sunday. We reported it, feeling a bit silly because maybe it was just a camper. We later learned dozens of fires by lightning had already been reported.

I had an appointment in Palo Alto this afternoon and watched smoke rise and spread from the ridge line while people went about their day. The doctor said the fires happen every year, but not usually everywhere all at the same time. Now we’re getting the smoke from the burning woods and hills. From where we can see it looks like some of our favorite places are burning, including Russian Ridge. Big Basin, California’s first state park is surrounded by fire.

Here’s a picture from our first Russian Ridge hike in May.

Russian Ridge on a foggy morning
Russian Ridge fog

Big Basin on a better day.

Big Basin redwoods
Berry Creek Falls trail
summer waterfall in Big Basin
Big Basin fairy ring

Our car had a layer of ash on it today. Little particles of ash in the air look like gentle snow. The sun was a bright red dot in a dark grey haze this morning and I realized before checking the news that the fires probably spread and more people were probably forced to flee their homes. Where do they go? Evacuation orders yesterday detailed which roads and directions to take. Some places provided evacuations centers but with Covid concerns I wonder where most evacuees go if they don’t have family nearby. Meanwhile there are empty apartments all over the peninsula and San Francisco.

I have a California folder and until this week it was full of only fun stuff: places to hike, eat, run, swim, ride, paddle and take people when they visit, as well as long road trips. I love bookmarking fun things to do later when Covid is a bad memory. There’s also a file for books, movies and shows about or set in California. I want to make the most of our time here because it doesn’t feel like a place to build a life in long term. Now I’ve added another no-fun but necessary file to fill with pragmatic things like emergency supply checklists and the Chronicle’s Air Quality Tracker.

I ordered an air purifier because this is all a first for us and we don’t know how long we’ll be sealed inside. It already feels like we’re living inside of our face masks, breathing the same hot still air. For the foreseeable future we’re staying inside as much as possible and wishing the weather would be as generous with cold rain as it was with lightning.

eucalyptus lifemarks and moving bookmarks

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Matt Davis trail from Stinson Beach

We moved into our new apartment two weeks ago. It doesn’t have vaulted ceilings or a fireplace. I know, life is tough. At first glance, it seemed like all Bay Area apartments were luxurious shoe boxes. What we really wanted was a little breathing room within our budget and we finally found that. Only after moving in did we realize the property is shaded by eucalyptus trees and therefore naturally smells like we tried to make our Brooklyn apartment smell via essential oils. The real thing is much preferred and also sounds comforting on breezy days. I made the mistake of telling my dad and he promptly smashed that comfort. This is why we call him DadSmash.

DadSmash strikes at random and not very often so I forget. I call to tell him something fun and sometimes he smashes it. Like when we were planning a camping trip on Lake George. The beauty of camping there is some of the spots are on islands you have to paddle out to. Bears don’t paddle and I’m afraid of bears soooooo I was excited to spend a few days hiking and camping on a lake without fear of bears. Then DadSmash calls to laugh at a fact I’d neglected to acknowledge: Bears can swim.

My father puts horseradish on everything. I brought him a jar of beet horseradish last summer thinking he’d like to try something new. DadSmash says beets’ll kill you. I didn’t exactly insist he eat his weight in beets, but now I can’t be trusted in the kitchen.

I sent him a picture of the eucalyptus trees outside our balcony and he responded with the subject line ‘LOOKOUT’ (all caps his) and a link to an article on wind knocking over limbs and whole trees in another part of the region. I can’t stop trees from falling, but I can enjoy inhaling through my nose after a decade of mouth-breathing. My only concern with the trees is in having a good time, positive associations since smell is the strongest memory sense. Eucalyptus will always remind me of our first year in California, like a lifemark, so it better be a good one.

It’s been a long time since I had to unpack in a new home. When we started cleaning, purging and packing in March and April moving often seemed impossible to do at all let alone during a pandemic. Yet people do it all the time. I tried to imagine getting here then getting past apartment hunting to this point, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see beyond uprooting our life in Brooklyn to us actually living here with our mugs and pans and blankets. Now we’re here and those things are here, too.

Now it feels real. This is where we live now.

The next challenge will be unpacking the rest of the boxes. We set up our living room, bed and pulled out what we needed to cook. Then we got tired and, inspired by Community’s pillow fort episode, made a fort with the boxes instead of finding places for the things inside of them.

We lived out of suitcases for two months and it was relaxing to have so few clothes to choose from, so few things in general. Moving made me very aware of our things, every physical object we hold on to. The movers said we were average in terms of the quantity and weight of our stuff, but I think it’d be nice to continue pairing down. Later. For now, I think it could be fun to work and eat and watch our stories in a box fort. Then again, we mostly used boxes from the liquor store so that might not make the best impression on new colleagues.

The suitcase I flew here with was stuffed with running clothes, hoodies (I thought it was supposed to be chilly here) and books. I was feeling very adult in our temporary relocation housing because it was so fancy. Then I hosted the first Harry Potter book club meeting via Zoom and it was my 9-year-old niece, as usual, who gave it to me straight. “We’re wearing the same play pants!” So not feeling very adult anymore. I should probably dig into the clothing boxes and put on something with structure.

The book boxes are what I’m looking. I knew I’d regret my lazy labeling in March and April, but being here was so far away. I spent hours at a time packing boxes and yet grabbing a sharpie and jotting down what was in those boxes was just too much work. So I’m sifting through boxes of Jameson and Sauza, looking for pencil scratchings. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a word like “dots” written in my handwriting because back in March I thought future me would remember wrapping my picture frames in polka dotted tissue paper. I guess I did.

Most of all I’m looking for my old bookmarks. I used to have a nice stack from Strand and libraries. Then we changed address and I fell to an old habit of using what’s within reach. My fellow took some pictures. Moving bookmarks have included the following.

a classy cookie wrapper
other books
They can’t tell there’s a snack inside.

Don’t fear the scissors

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I cut my own hair. I also cut my fellow’s hair and for some reason that’s socially acceptable, but, according to my sisters, cutting my own hair is weird. Maybe it was weird but I’ve done it my entire adult life. Considering the current global pandemic I don’t think it’s weird anymore. What’s weird to me is risking your health for a haircut. There’s not a vaccine yet. It’s just hair. Cut it yourself.

I was a freshman in college the last time I paid for a haircut. Where does a 17-year-old gal with a couple of crisp fives in her pocket and no clue go for a new look? Not 5th Avenue. I went up 5th Avenue past the elegant building where Richard Gere supposedly lived, past Art Deco towers and the Beaux Art style pre-war buildings of lower 5th Avenue. Oh, a marbled beauty boutique. Here’s the place for me.

I walked up to the mezzanine thinking the gold railing was a nice touch. I felt fancy and not at all out of place. There I spent 30 seconds with a woman I’ve never forgotten. Ten heads of red hair blew from her scalp. I still remember her pained face upon touching my dead sun-bleached hair and telling me it was very porous. I said, “Thanks!” She said she’d help me for $100. I said I’d be right back and headed far from 5th avenue all the way to 6th avenue.

Supercuts was on 6th Avenue. I love Supercuts. Never been back there since, but I’m pretty sure they’re the best salon in NYC. There I paid 11 dollars for a simple chin-length bob, and tipped another 11 dollars because that’s how I thought tipping worked at salons. I walked out after what felt like hours later with ear-length hair because my stylist was a student and I couldn’t keep my head straight. The haircut was great but was it worth having to look at myself in a mirror while a stranger touched me and talked to me? She washed my hair and I know this is standard but I was horrified. Nope. Never again. I began cutting my own hair and don’t see how it’s any different from cutting my own nails or washing my own hair.

Today, I read this in the New York Times email:

Haircuts have become a symbol of luxury during a pandemic that has shuttered many barbershops and hair salons. Waiting lists for $1,000 cuts are already swelling in New York…

NY Times

Hmm. Maybe my 5th Avenue frenemy was offering me a kindness. Maybe even then $100 for a fixing cut by a fancy pro was a good deal.

Also, I wish people wouldn’t risk their health for a hair cut. Protesting for Black Lives Matter, yes. Be safe. But don’t risk your health for a hair cut. There’s not a vaccine yet. I remind my sisters when they show off their stripes of purple, pink and blue. No problem coloring their hair but the fear of the scissors is real.

What’s the worst that can happen if you cut your hair yourself? I ask them this and they send me the worst pictures of me, those sweethearts.

Truth be told, home hair cuts don’t always turn out so well. They can go bad and when they’re bad they’re really bad. Sometimes you have to put the scissors down and wear a hat for a few days. Then you get back in there and even it out. I still have short hair and it figures itself out. My hair is a work-in-progress. I take breaks when my arms get sore.

A few tips:

Cutting my own hair comes out best when I’m in a good mood. Sometimes you get a dip in the back. This should be severed post-haste. It’s not cute. Don’t trust a significant other when they tell you it looks great. Especially if he can’t be trusted to warn you about giant coffee stains on your white shirt before leaving the house. Always use hair scissors and call them shears. Don’t cut your hair when you’re sleepy or emotional.

Anger = way too short

Frustrated = uneven

Stress = weird

Worry is okay. If you’re worried, cutting hair is a pleasant distraction, but do it a little at a time and don’t cut bangs. Don’t cut bangs.

Oh, yeah. Do yourself a favor and never tell anyone you cut your own hair.

First month in California

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We landed in California one month ago stunned that we’d actually made it here. Never while going through the motions of packing our lives did I fully believe we’d make it. I worried constantly that one of us would get sick, or the airports would close completely or we’d wake up one day to find all of the city sealed off from the rest of the world. That’s the way it happens in books. On the journey, I kept switching to the screen that shows the plane inching closer to the Bay Area, the growing distance between us and NYC. A guilty sigh trapped in my mask.

The virus is everywhere, but life was so much harder for us in New York. I thought things were tough before the Coronavirus took away the restaurants, bars, stages, museums, libraries, wanderings and people who consistently propped up our quality of life. Things kept getting worse. Numbers kept going up. Sirens sounded like sirens again after years of desensitization. Laundromats closed and we didn’t know how to clean outside germs from our clothes. We’d take drives at night to keep our car battery from dying. One night, we drove past a line of morgue trucks, a sight from post 9/11 days I’d forgotten, and I stopped obsessing over closed laundromats and accepted the pain in the back that is tub washing.

The red bucket was one of the last things we packed after futile attempts to wash clothes. This was not the sort of problem addressed by TV personalities in their spacious backyards or sunny living rooms worrying over touching up their hair color. I wanted to see the lighting guy or the person who waters the flowers in the studio crouched in the one sunny window in an apartment shared with two other people. That person wouldn’t have to say we’re in this together. One look would be the only thing needed to convey “I’m still here.” The viewer thinks “Me too” and goes back to packing.

commuting in plastic wrap

It took me 10 years to fall out of love with NYC and another 11 years to leave. My decade of inertia seemed full of highs and lows without a lot of in between, but that’s just hindsight. New York was home and I miss it. I like missing it more than I liked living there. I don’t like missing my family.

Tacos were my last meal in Brooklyn and my first meal here. After sheltering for the first 2 weeks, and aside from apartment hunting and getting back into the habit of working every day, we spent our first month pointing out hummingbirds like they’re shooting stars. We hike where and when we can and savor runs along the Bay Trail.

Sea fennel grows along marshy stretches and it smells so good.

We’ve also seen jack rabbits, kiteboarders and all sorts of lizards, which we learned eat Lyme disease-carrying ticks so bring on the lizards.

from Pillar Point Bluff

We visited the Pacific Ocean and found a new favorite tree.

California isn’t perfect, but a door opened for us and we’re glad to be here. Right now we only know it on the surface. It’s the well-adjusted, pretty friend sharing a fruit roll-up and offering us a place to live with our very own washing/dryer. All we have to do is sign the lease. Sigh, the lease. I got so used to looking at apartments, I forgot about the lease signing part. Sigh. It’s waiting for my signature and I don’t want to sign. It’s too soon. We barely know each other. What if California doesn’t like me? What if we’re living an ’80s movie or ’70s novel and California is only pretending to be our friend to dump a bucket of pig blood on our heads? I wish there were a mustachioed equivalent to signatures. That wasn’t really me who signed, it was mustachioed Hailey.

I don’t have a mustache. Got to go.

First hike in Briones, the curse continues

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I should’ve known to be extra methodical in preparing for a hike this weekend. Should’ve remembered Memorial weekends are cursed. It’s become our own special holiday tradition to flirt with doom. Not doom doom. My grandpa’s received Purple Hearts during World War II – doubt they’d use “doom” to sum up discomfort. We’re talking intense discomforts. Blisters, coffee headaches and I-didn’t-bring-enough-mango-strips intensity.

This year’s intense discomfort revealed itself as soon as well pulled into the Bear Creek Staging Area in Briones Park. I take off my sandals and ask my fellow to hand me my hiking boots from the trunk. He looks and says, “You’re not wearing your boots?” I say, “No, I wore my sandals this morning because you put my boots in the trunk. … Right?” He swears he never said he put my boots in the trunk. I swear he did. The only possible explanation is paranormal. Some supernatural monster sounding just like him told me my boots were in the trunk. “Wear your sandals in the car,” dirty monster says in my fellow’s voice. “I put your boots in the car already. You be comfortable.”

I remained in denial for a few minutes, staring in the empty trunk while my fellow refused to take responsibility for the fact that I forgot my hiking boots. You know the expression: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That’s not me. However, when I get up early to walk in the woods and remember to bring socks but forget my boots, I put my sandals back on and start walking.

“Like in olden times!” I told him every time five pointy rocks massaged my arches or a sticker stabbed my heals. Surely old timey hikers rocked purple wool socks in strappy Karrimor sandals.

Old Briones Road

We scrapped our planned route for the day and set off on the lovely and much exposed Old Briones Road. Past Memorial Day weekend discomforts have also included heat exhaustion, dehydration and helping another hiker in danger of heat stroke. As we continued down this picturesque gravel road, I kept thinking how quickly one bad decision leads to another and then we get in trouble. We decided to turn off on a more shaded trail and see if I could do some elevation in sandals.

This was our first trip to Briones. As far as discomforts go, hiking in sandals here wasn’t that bad. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it didn’t take away from our good time. In New York’s Catskill Mountains, hiking in sandals would’ve been a disaster, at least for me.

We lucked into getting a paper map at the kiosk when we first arrived. Trails here are clearly marked and we found it easy to figure it out as we went along. We wound up strolling the rolling ridge and other trails for just over 6 miles. Plenty of people were about hiking and biking, but it was easy to keep far apart.

The butterflies and humming birds seemed happy to have us. Baby butterflies fluttered around our legs for much of our last stretch along the Seaborg Trail. At first we thought it was one super energetic butterfly keep up with us. Then we realized where one would land, another would take off. Then we thought we saw one look back at us in terror and wondered if maybe they weren’t so much flying with us as away from us, running for their lives while we laughed and the purple-footed one waddled up a cloud of dirt with every I-think_i’m-getting-a-blister limp. Two blisters for me. Sorry, butterflies.

Note the cut off feet. That’s photographic denial right there. This is why we never learn from our mistakes.