Appalachian Trail hike at the Delaware Water Gap

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Back from house sitting in the Poconos. Made the mistake of opening an Atlantic article on the Senate’s healthcare proposals. No. No. And No. Not good for my rage. Does rage count as a preexisting condition? Life seemed okay a few hours ago, driving back listening first to Weezer’s Pinkerton then Sabbath’s Master of Reality. Felt like putting my skin back on. My boyfriend shared the sentiment, though de-creepified it by liking these albums to a favorite pair of pants instead. Who wants to put on pants when it feels like 90 degrees out? Choose wisely. I’m sticking to my skin.

My preferred route from the city to Poconos is via I-80, provided I get up early enough to zip through Manhattan and the Holland Tunnel. I-80 has an exit for the Appalachian Trail at the Delaware Water Gap. It puts you right in the trailhead parking lot. We’ve driven by it many times, always tempted to stop but quick with an excuse not to – too hot, too late, too hungry. This time I planned ahead. Rain began to fall as soon as we parked but quit after a few minutes so the very rocky trail didn’t get too slippery.

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The first part of this trail follows a rushing creek with small waterfalls. Then there’s a split. The AT ascends and the Dunnfield Creek Trail continues along the creek. Both trails will eventually take you up to Sunfish Pond (on the AT it’s 3.75 miles). The mosquitoes and heat were too much this time, but the pond loop is on my to-hike list for next time. There were so many hikers on the trail that I didn’t even think about bears.

House sitting coincided with a heat wave, which inspired a lot of swimming and very early morning runs. I read, reluctantly worked and baked some brownie sludge. Mostly, I swam by day and at night watched Twin Peaks and horror movies before laying out under the stars. It was great. I kept thinking, Why can’t this be all I do? 

It wasn’t until driving back and impossibly torn on which route to take – Manhattan VS. Staten Island, always a gamble – that I realized I was just a few chlorine-soaked swims short of turning into a shriveled pool zombie. After a week of mental checkout, it’s hard to check back in. I went on the pop tart diet of lifestyles and then complained of malnutrition.

We’re back in steamy Brooklyn and our neighborhood smells like burnt pickles. The neighbor’s fence-that-will-never-be has morphed. Now there are partial brick walls, deep ditches and wood planks slapped up to give the place a certain this-is-where-bad-things-happen feel. It wants my skull and not in a boppy Misfits way.

My sister got a promotion at work and my bf passed a certification. I injured my wrist dong something stupid and can’t really move it or use it, but did get the monstrous air conditioner in the window one-handed. So yup. We’re all winners this week.

My wrist is getting better, which is good because I only own so many dresses. The most ordinary tasks are tricky one-handed, like squeezing toothpaste on the toothbrush or putting on shorts. Washing a glass. Working. Eating SO Delicious mint chip ice cream is doable, possibly the cure.

 

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Reclusion all I ever wanted

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They’re into week five of Project Slo-Mo Fence Build next door. These are the same neighbors who allowed scaffolding to remain on their building for three years, which was quite fun to walk under late at night. We call them The Fancies because there are children around. It is becoming a wonder, the construction of this fence. The fence itself is more of a notion. Workers do spend hard hours laboring. I know because I work from home and breathe their smoke. Their smoke comes in our window. No matter how many times a day I ask them not to smoke right below our window they smoke right below our window. So I put a fan there. It’s something.

My dad smoked heavily for more than twenty years. He’s a meat and potatoes, black coffee and beets’ll kill ya very grounded man. But he also buys warts off of people. When he couldn’t quit smoking on his own he went to a hypnotist. He said they had a casual conversation and when he left he noticed he didn’t feel like a cigarette. After a few days of not wanting one, he threw his last pack away. That was over ten years ago and he’s never smoked again.

Suggest hypnosis to people trying to quit smoking and most will look at you very differently. Never again will they believe your wand is just a pointer because you suffer from short arms. Plain ordinary Lipton’s tea goes cold unless you take a sip first. All for trying to help.

Apparently you can’t hypnotize people against their will and you really can’t hypnotize them into doing something they don’t want to do. The fence builders don’t seem to want to stop smoking anymore than they seem to want to finish this fence.

I need to go away forever, and if not forever than for a little while. My bf just started a new project so our travel plans are pushed back. Spending a weekend in NJ helping my sister move doesn’t count, but house sitting for my other sister does. It’s like a mini vacation. There are trails, a pool and all their animals! Counter space in the kitchen and quiet everywhere. I’ll be able to see more than three stars at night. No sirens, construction or NYC! Maybe I was a little too excited when they asked me to house sit. At first they thought I’d misunderstood and took it has an invitation to go on their vacation with them. Um, no.

I’m packing the essentials – bathing suit, hiking boots, running shoes, stack of books. Reclusive days ahead!

Haunted haunted haunted

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The Super Sister, Help Me Move signal was sounded again. My little sister has two oak credenzas. Do you know how heavy oak credenzas are? I do. Down a flight of stairs then up a flight of stairs. Always the second floor. This time she moved into a converted creamery near our hometown. A real creamery. To keep milk cold the metal buckets were kept in a creek that used to run through the dirt floor. Then it housed horses. Now it houses my little sister.

Massive wood beams in unexpected places and wild flowers out the window. A makeshift bridge over the shifted creek takes you to an abandoned shack of unknown origin. At night there are noises, paranormal noises.

Her last place was too new for ghosts so paranormal speculation focused on the surrounding woods. The one before had a jagged hole in a closet ceiling leading to a windowless attic full of strange footsteps too heavy and steady to belong to a squirrel or raccoon. Every time we talked on the phone I heard voices in the background even though she swore she was alone. That place was surrounded by empty vacation mansions but we convinced ourselves someone was living in the walls of her cold, tiny hut.

Fun fact: In his memoir Iron Man Tony Iommi wrote about hearing voices in his home. Turned out squatters were actually living in his walls.

After one of my sister’s first moves, we discovered the basement crawl space beside the washer/dryer smelled like one of those rainbow swirl lollipops she always begged for as a kid and never ate. That was an easy case to solve. She was clearly being haunted by the restless remains of unfinished snacks.

Now that I’m no longer losing my grip on her hefty-bottomed couch, I appreciate her new home’s slightly uneven staircase and odd angles. The porch is a nice place to doze off while counting bruises. A woman walked by chatting on her phone, trailing a very tired little boy behind her. We tired people can spot our kind with one eye open. Also he said, I’m tired. The woman told him to sing his song. He said, No. I’m tired… tired… tired.

That kid is onto something. Tripling a point is magical. Degree of intensity is hard to express when you’re consumed by a single sensation. Today I ate a cookie for lunch because it was within arm’s reach and I was hungry… hungry… hungry but still too sore to do much else about it. This was the sixth move I helped a sister with in the last two years. That may not sound like much, but they’re all readers who like heavy wood furniture and steps.

My boyfriend thinks our imagined hauntings are the cause of these constant moves. He doesn’t share my family’s affinity for ghost stories. I’m not even allowed to hide when he gets home or takes a shower and I love…love…love jumping out and scaring people.

Convincing my younger sister that every place she moves to is haunted probably negates any good I do my karma by helping her move. I accept that. And it’s not mean because this way she never feels alone. She loves it. And anyway she started it.

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I started reading The Handmaid’s Tale the other night. Finished the introduction and reached page 8 when the headline of Montana’s special election, a House candidate body-slamming and punching a Guardian reporter, uh, distracted me. Then he got elected and raised over $100,000 post assault. So much for all those anti-bullying campaigns. America! It’s survival of the most bloated out here. The Bloatest. Th well-bloated class. That’s a fun word. Bloated. It reminds me of jelly donuts.

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We know. We’re all reading the same headlines. We’re rooting for the same sinkhole. Maybe we all have the same growing urge, but we’re patient. We’re not alone.

I’m reading Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot very very slowly. Take comfort in knowing we’re all no-see-ums on a beautiful blue speck. Early in the book Sagan writes:

On the scale of the worlds – to say nothing of stars or galaxies – humans are inconsequential, a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

Back on Earth, it’s super author Margaret Atwood to the rescue. For years, since reading and loving The MaddAddam Trilogy, I checked out The Handmaid’s Tale from the library only to return it unopened. –

Oryx and Crake

The Year of the Flood

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-The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel and in my view those are no-funs. As Atwood says in her new introduction, written in February 2017, most are implausible. But now it’s been adapted into a show I’d like to see. Considering the headlines and bloateds, The Handmaid’s Tale seems like a sweet vacation. It’s fiction, right? Couldn’t happen for real.

In the intro, Atwood tells of writing the first draft while living in West Germany in 1984. The fear, paranoia and oppression of the time inevitably influenced her writing. When she realized she was writing speculative fiction she set some interesting rules for herself. Every element is taken from history. She invented no technology or laws or practices.

We readers have no buffer. We cannot assure or comfort ourselves with Oh this would never happen in real life. It can. It has. At some point in history everything in this book has happened. The approach is brilliant. Dark and sobering, but brilliant. When it gets too dark, I’ll read more Sagan. That’s my plan.

Again, I’m only on page 8. My boyfriend commandeered my copy for his commute. On his way home he was so engrossed he hurried to the wrong train and wound up in Williamsburg. This morning he was late to work because he missed his stop reading. The book is really good, I hear.

Have you read it? Am I the last one to the party?

Normally I let Raj steal a book if he wants because I have a stack of others, but I’m in the mood for this one. Our compromise is to share. He gets it for his commute and every other night. We haven’t switched off this way since reading the Harry Potter series.

I know The Handmaid’s Tale is going to be great. I don’t expect it to ease any anxieties and anger, but the appeal is similar to that of historical fiction focused on resistance. Perspective. We’re inside it and sometimes when you’re too close you lose perspective on the good things individuals are capable of. We stand in their way with actions of hope.

Remember to remember our fallen heroes this weekend.

 

The Likeness by Tana French

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The beautiful day of my birth came and went last week. All I wanted to do was take my Tana French book beneath a shady tree and read. Think this doesn’t sound exciting? Read Tana French. Spend a few weeks sick first then read Tana French and you’ll absolutely understand.

Nobody believed I wanted to disappear in a book on my birthday, so we went places instead. Now that I’ve finished The Likeness, I still want to disappear in it, specifically its midsection. I liked this book so much. One glance at the cover elicits longing if-only’s, and this cover doesn’t come close to doing the story and writing justice. Nobody writes like Tana French. She’s one of the greats. The first two books I read by her, In The Woods and The Secret Place, set the bar high. This one blew me away. It sealed the deal. Cemented our forever friendship however one-sided. I’m renaming our neighbor’s cat Tana French.

This is part of The Dublin Murder Squad series. I’m reading them out of order and so far it hasn’t mattered. They stand alone.

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I plan to read everything Tana French ever writes simply because her writing is intoxicating. Reading her is effortless. The action and physicality of characters and settings are accessible and lingering, but also nuanced. A paragraph about a home’s former grandeur reveals a layered glimpse into Ireland’s past and the social conflicts still imbuing how people relate. I take my time with these books. They could be quick page-turners, but speed comes at a cost. I prefer re-reading as we go just for the pleasure of enjoying her words again and again.

Besides being written like a drug, the story is fascinating. I’m not giving any spoilers here. Not telling you anything beyond the gist of the premise.

Detective Cassie Maddox is surprised when her boyfriend Sam calls her into a crime scene. He’s on the Murder Squad but she transferred to Domestic Violence months ago. She’s even more surprised when she arrives to find her former boss in undercover on the case. Once she sees the body, her life changes forever. The victim is her exact doppelganger. Weirdness gets weirder when she learns the woman went by the name Lexie Madison, an identity the detective invented a few years back for an undercover assignment.

It was like going blind; my eyes couldn’t take her in. She was impossible: a high-fever hallucination, a screaming crack straight across all the laws of nature.

The temptation to take her former boss up on his proposal to go undercover as Lexie in the massive Georgian home she was living in with her five close friends is irresistible. Whitehorn House is near a small village outside of Dublin. Inside Whitehorn House, it’s another world.

That house shimmered in my mind like some fairy fort that appeared for one day in a lifetime, tantalizing and charged, with those four cool figures for guardians and inside secrets too hazy to be named.

French digs deep into the psychology of Lexie/Cassie and her four mercurial housemates. You can almost see each scene from every angle and moments open up that you don’t want to ever end. The suspense chimes in from a low hum to a piercing turn around! at the end of every night. We have no idea who the killer is or what happens once Stabby McStabStab thinks Lexie’s alive. We don’t even know the victim’s true identity.

That’s the gist.

Then there’s all the waves of earnest wanting that come rushing at you throughout. The lives of “unfettered thought” that Lexie and her friends dream of when they’re secure in the bubble of academia is a stark contrast to the “real world” awaiting. To them, the lives they want is just as real and valid, if not more, however unconventional.

Every choice has a price. They talk about paying that price for the things you want. So you have to really want them because then the price is worth it. Choose things you don’t really want just because they’re on the path of least resistance and imagine the bitterness of realizing you paid a higher price.

What struck me is how simple and luxurious life in Whitehorn House seems. Possibilities are so bright inside and on the sprawling grounds, where it’s right to patch pealing wallpaper with lovely fabric and spend a whole day sanding and painting and caring for your home. They don’t have to ask permission or rush off to make a few pennies working crummy jobby jobs. They work constantly – physically and studiously – but they do it without fear and struggle, content living within their modest means because their means are just enough. You don’t want Cassie to ever leave because then we have to go, too.

The Likeness is labeled a Mystery, but it doesn’t read like a whodunnit. It’s the Why and ideas that drive this story. Why is where the story breathes and morphs and inevitably breaks your heart because you know it can’t go on. I didn’t want it to be over. Very disappointed in French for ending this book.

Soaked my brain in coffee and didn’t build a fence

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Having my first cold coffee of the year. Why so long since? Because we were out of chicory and cold coffee without chicory would be like Twin Peaks without Dale Cooper. Most stores around here sell a brand of chicory in an orange box, which is really good. We get ours at Puerto Rico coffee company because the place smells like what the whole world should smell like. Plus I pass this store weekly. It just wasn’t top of mind. It took the dread of 90 degree temperatures to finally remind me what’s been missing from my life: Chicory!

Our cold coffee is very strong. We use the coffee sock cold brew jar and fabric filter. Fill it up then stick it in the fridge for 12ish hours. It brews for 12 hours. Perhaps we’ve figured out why it’s so strong, Watson.

I am not picky about coffee as long as it tastes good. Even bodega coffee is forgivable after a taste of something sweet to curb the burnt bitter bites. With cold brew we find the best results come from finely ground grinds and a heaping scoop of chicory. Raj and I had a cup this morning then he left me alone here, defenseless with another 4 cups of the good stuff begging for ice and just screaming my name.

I drank it all.

It does feel strange to turn the AC on in May, but it had to be done. The men outside are very loud. For weeks our fancy neighbors have been making a racket here and there. We were warned there’d be some noise as they were having a fence put in. A fence. There are currently three massive luxury buildings going up around us.

We are no strangers to noise. A fence is nothing. One summer, I helped my dad put up fences around backyard pools. We dug a lot of holes. I remember splinters, lots of Neil Young, blisters, and eating WaWa hoagies with raspberry iced tea on our breaks. I do not remember … jackhammers. They are using jackhammers to break ground. I’m sure they have good reason but help me. For the last few weeks, they show and make a lot of noise for an hour or two then leave. Why they chose this 90+ degree day to work all day is a mystery. Our AC drowns out the noise, but I can’t stop watching them place cinder blocks, measure, dig, smoke.

I’ve been at the window most of the day when I should be working but at first it helped me concentrate. Now it’s like we’re in it together. Yeah, I’m in my air conditioned apartment sipping very strong ice cold coffee rather than breaking a sweat doing stuff, but I almost feel like my watching while bouncing and lifting weights has contributed in some meaningful, essential, what-would-they-do-without-me way. Don’t mention it.

Thinking of wonderful things in the world, I found a Misfits Famous Monsters CD. It was cracked but the moral of the story is this is a glorious album and it’s streamable on Spotify. High energy music is equalizing some of the unexpected coffee effects. Hopefully next time the fence builders look up I won’t be there waving back like a weirdo.

Free Comic Book Day May 6 – Capes take two

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Bozo is in town. Streets around the Hellmouth are fittingly lined with sanitation trucks. Knowing blondie is surrounded by garbage trucks makes me almost as joyous …

as all the lovely comic books hot off the press and ready for our eyeballs.

This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, the happiest day. Repeat: If it’s for free, it’s for me. Every year I find a few gems for my nieces. Last year, Science Comics! were a hit. This year they’ve requested stories with … capes. I tried so hard to steer them from superheroes and I failed big time. So instead of fighting it we’re making them capes to go with the reading.

This is my second round of cape-making for them. The first round didn’t turn out as I pictured them in my head. Still don’t know what I did wrong, possibly sewing them by hand in poor lighting. This time will be different because I begged my sister to sew them with her machine. She asked for the pattern like an amateur.

The pattern is just sew two capes with snaps at the collar and maybe a hood. I sew the way I bake, which is not always the best approach as it produces not always the best results, but when something does turn out it’s magical because it’s certainly not due to hard work and know-how.

In lieu of a sewing pattern, I’m busy barring the door from villains like, oh, slimy bigots in suits wielding executive orders and golf clubs. My buddies must harness their own powers, along with all the rest of us.

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Giant Days … pillow fort reading until Twin Peaks

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I started watching Community whilst sick and now all I want to do is build a pillow fort on a rainy day. Inside there will be a room for eating pie and damn good coffee, a place to roll around in Twin Peaks anticipation. Two hours of glory on May 21st. Possibly later for us as Showtime isn’t one of our three channels, but my sister’s recording it for me or she’s out of the family.

Also in my pillow fort will be a room for reading Giant Days and eating crumpets. I ate a crumpet nearly every day when I lived in London. Now I can’t watch or read anything set in England without aching for one lightly toasted with a little butter and preserves.

Unfortunately there are only 4 volumes of Giant Days so far. Discovering how fantastic this series is so early in is almost like watching Twin Peak for the first time and getting really excited that there are two whole seasons of wonderful strangeness only to arrive at the second season and find the party long over, all the magic gone save for the dreamy opening sequence, which I’d live on were it chewable.

Giant Days and Twin Peaks have nothing in common other than that I want more of both RIGHT NOW. I’m ringing my sick bell for them. Ideally Special Agent Dale Cooper brings me volume 5 and then we fly away.

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dalecooperBoom! Studios publishes Giant Days and Lumberjanes so I expected to like it, though the intended audience is older for Giant Days. The series follows three close friends, Susan, Esther and Daisy, in their first year at university. The stories are small slices of their lives – dating, yearning, looking for an apartment too late. It’s best to go in with no expectations. I was told Giant Days is hilarious. So funny. So when I read the first volume and didn’t harm myself laughing I figured it was another overrated comic. It’s not.

I read it again because the colorful characters and lively artwork are too good to put down. Giant Days is universally amusing addictive eye candy. The characters are wildly entertaining. I’m not into fashion, but even their detailed outfits are fun. The whole experience of reading each volume is total joy.

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Curious to see a fresh reaction, I handed them over to my boyfriend without saying anything. He laughed a lot and I think he has a thing for Daisy. Everything I like about the series, he likes, too. The characters are so different from each other. Then there’s a handful of side characters who are just as endearingly flawed.

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There’s so much to like about Giant Days. I missed the hahas the first time I read the first volume because my arms were crossed demanding to be delighted. Every character has their own sense of humor. Their stories are grounded in reality while the tone is heightened in silliness. The dynamic of every relationship varies and evolves. It’s a pleasure to read because the series hits so many different notes and the friends have genuine moments of regret, loneliness, delusion, lust, hope, failure and other good time emotions. You can even read it in my imaginary pillow fort.

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Life Of Agony show and new album

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We took the subway to 14th street. The train smelled like stale beer and Friday’s pepperoni pizza re-discovered on the fire escape Sunday morning. I checked my bag and was relieved to discover antibacterial stuff my nieces gave me for Christmas. I put some on my hands and wiped the excess on Raj. Seconds later I realized what I’d done. We were on our way to a Life Of Agony show covered in sparkles and smelling like candy.

Many years ago we saw Mina Caputo on the street somewhere in the Lower East Side. This was before or maybe during her transition. LOA wasn’t on my radar for a long time. Anyway my boyfriend melted into a giddy 14-year-old and just opened his arms (which Mina graciously dodged), expressing his love in happy expletives. It happened again last night only this time Mina was on stage and larger than life, holding an entire ballroom of lifelong fans.

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We were in the presence of greatness. All at once the crowd surged forward and around and some very enthusiastic fisty dancers broke through into their happy place. This incredible band thrilled a lot of people yesterday as they finally gave the world new album. A Place Where There’s No More Pain is everything I didn’t know I needed.

Mina Caputo performed with such confidence and swagger. Her voice is as powerful and gripping as ever. You can argue it’s even better but why bother comparing when all that matters is that they’re making great music again and now it’s coming from a good place. After months of empty horribleness, seeing them live filled me. I felt so lucky to be there. I never thought I’d get to see them perform. Now here they are right when we need them with a brand new album.

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My sisters call me The Pusher. When something is good I just want everyone in the world to read it, hear it, taste it, do it, go experience it. I’m not allowed to push things on them anymore, they say. We have different tastes, they say. Fine, I say.

Their loss. But the show’s magic bubble hasn’t popped yet and I’m feeling the urge to … push. Listen to Life Of Agony. Check out their new album over and over. Go see them and have a good time. You don’t need to be a lifelong fan to appreciate the new album. This isn’t a nostalgia trip. They still have so much to say. And if you’re ever lucky enough to see any of them on the street, please give them our thanks and love but maybe don’t try to hug them.

 

I demon NYC

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I thought I saw the best license plate this morning. I was alone and doing something I haven’t done in so long on a neighborhood run – listening to music. Volbeat. We’ve traveled hundreds of miles together, me on foot and them in my ears driving me on with big theatrical sound and lyrics full of drama. I used to worship the bands I loved. Now they feel like friends. They’ve been there through every incarnation. When we’re together I’m more myself.

So basically I was running with some of my friends, my singing playing friends, when we passed this truck and had to stop for a laugh. Clear as my eyes could see the license plate said: I DEMON NYC. Only all squished together.

For a moment this made me very very happy. Some special soul used “demon” as a verb on a license plate. For a moment I lived in a city where people declare they demon. I want to demon, too, if it involves anything more than tearing up the streets and filling my lungs with the yummy taste of hot tar. Okay. I read it wrong. The plate actually said something about Demo.

The blurred world is magical. This is why I don’t ever wear my glasses. They’ve never been the same since I sat on them anyway.