Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sunday Scene

On Sunday the neighbor across the street was taken away in an ambulance. Don’t worry. It didn’t seem to be a serious emergency, because the EMS guy had time to saunter around the yard, kicking at snow, and to pause and sigh before he started up the engine. As if to say, “This weather, man, am I right?”

Not thirty minutes later a Burger King delivery car pulls up to the house and the driver brings a white bag of food up the walk.

The door opens; a hand emerges; the bag is gone.

BK Driver saunters, sighs, etc. etc. this weather. Drives off.

(Our front window is the better than any television channel.)

Why I Don’t Write

I don’t write because it’s -12 degrees on a warm day, and the cold has sunk into my bones and made me tired.

I don’t write because the television just distracted me with pictures of a 600-pound woman undergoing surgery.

I don’t write because after a long day at work, and then the bustling evening activities that include exercise and food, I only have an hour before sleep, and I want to spend that hour with my wife, plucking fallen eyelashes off her face and talking about all the things that happened to us that day.

Also, is it just me, or does the internet seem a little crowded these days? Like, so full of opinions that there isn’t room for any more? Every day I see something I want to blog about (Girls has gone off the deep end! When did it stop being cool to be a figure skater? I have urgent opinions about the Oscar-nominated documentary shorts!), I turn on the computer and see that someone else has already made my point, and 546 people have already left nasty comments in response, and then a counter-essay was written, and I get so exhausted I just close the computer.

Dear Reader, you’re too kind to stick with me.

Hermit Day / The Neighborhood Looks Up

Yesterday, aka “Hermit Day” because the high temperature was still below zero, we were lazing about, reading books and working on a puzzle, when there was a knock at the door. A blonde realtor stood on the steps, rubbing her hands together in the cold.

We could hardly contain our excitement when we recognized her–Come in! Holy crap, it’s freezing out there!–because we know this woman may be the key to turning our neighborhood back around.

It’s December, and our block is still reeling from the chaos swept in last summer by Occupy Homes Minnesota, a grassroots organization that claims to fight for homeowner rights but really–from what we can tell, being right next door?–just squats in vacant homes and tries to sell kittens in the front yard.

Occupy volunteers had been staying in our neighbor’s foreclosed home for six months when they disappeared a few weeks ago, apparently moving on to another cause, a halogen lamp left burning in the front room the only evidence of their presence. They never did get our neighbor back into his home, but they did tear down his fence, break his basement windows, dump trash in the backyard, and throw loud parties amplified by rented PA systems. Streams of people swung through the door every day, never introducing themselves, so we never knew who was staying there and who was just passing through. Underneath the thick blanket of snow coating our neighbor’s lawn is a matted layer of autumn leaves, never raked, and under that, more cigarette butts and trash.

So the biggest problem with Occupy Homes is that they’ve dried up the empathy in our neighborhood. They’re fighting for a worthy cause, but they’ve gone about it in such a radically disrespectful way that it’s hard to believe their primary motivation is the preservation of our community. They’re hazy on financial specifics and dishonest with the media, and rather than actually helping the homeowners by giving them money or rallying neighborhood support, they prefer to block downtown traffic and hold grandiose, camera-ready sit-ins at City Hall.

So all of us neighbors–good-hearted people at our core, supporters of and participants in the working class–now have chips on our shoulders. I saw a foreclosure sign on another house while driving and immediately my heart shut down instead of opening; I thought, Great, here come the squatters instead of recognizing the pain and groundlessness the former owners must be going through. Not good for my lovingkindness practice. Not good for anyone, really.

(Also, nobody bought the kittens. We watched a few days later as Animal Control pulled up and retrieved a box pushed through the door by an anonymous arm. This too made me enormously sad.)

So yeah, we were pretty excited to see the blonde on our front steps. She gave us her card and promised to come back. We watched her get into her car and drive off slowly, her neck craning back to look at the abandoned house. Imagining its promise: a couple, maybe, or a family, hanging clocks and Swiffering the floor.

We miss her already.

Twenty-year-olds Are Sweet, Sweet Idiots

I never realized how sad that Miley Cyrus song is until she sang an acoustic version on Saturday Night Live. (Yeah, I stay home on Saturday nights. What?)

Even though the recorded version of the song hits a lot of minor notes and the tempo is kind of slow, the video (concept: sexy rave-party with giant teddy bears) gives it a fun, sparkly feeling, like you’re a fresh 20-year-old who just jumped into a pool of Fresca.

But strip the song of its slick production and auto-tuned vocals, and plop that 20-year-old on a stool with her hair combed down, and we can’t stop turns from a fun lyric to admission of a problem; we won’t stop from a cry of rebellion to a mournful prediction of the future.

Miley Cyrus on SNL

“Holy [super freaking bad word],” I said as we watched. “This song is depressing.”

“Yeah,” my wife said. “I told you.”*

As we watched the performance unfold, I realized how unlucky Miley Cyrus is. Because when I was twenty? I think I also had some idea in my head that I was going to live forever and always have that kind of ripple-less, creamy skin that, now that I’m older, I realize I did not spend enough time admiring in the mirror. But at the same time, I also had lots of adults telling me “No, you’re not invincible. You’re just twenty. And twenty-year-olds are idiots.”

"La di da la di, we like to par-tee"

“La di da la di, we like to par-tee”

I suspect Miley Cyrus doesn’t have the benefit of these types of adults in her circle. The wild grin on her face during her performance was the saddest part—she’s still clueless, has no idea what the song means to everyone else. She thinks it’s a party anthem, not a howling testament of the despondency and restlessness of American youth.

“I don’t think Miley has any [really freaking bad word] idea how depressing that was,” I said as we watched her high-five her guitarist and stick her tongue out triumphantly to the applauding audience.

“No,” said my wife wisely. “But Pharrell does.”

That’s when it hit me—this song works because it can go either way, which to me is the best kind of art. (Just like Animal Farm can be read as an allegory of the Russian Revolution, or a fun book about talking animals. Either way, it’s awesome.) So it’s okay for Miley to have fun up there, just as it’s okay for her producers to wink at the rest of us through the lyrics.

(Bear in mind that the witness I bring to this performance is in her thirties, wearing pajamas, and has one eye on the clock because it’s really late.)

But Miley? If you’re listening? You’re an idiot, sweetie. The very best kind.

*This is true. She figures things out before I do, including math problems, Trivial Pursuit answers, and other people’s genders.

On Ownership

It’s been a long, blog-less time. Since my last post, I had a birthday, bought a new couch, did a lot of yoga, loaded up on freelance work, found four bunnies in the backyard, watched the snow melt, got married, and found a confused German Shepard in the backyard, too, and shooed him gently away, out the gate.

The German Shephard incident was just this week, and my own dog watched this whole interaction happen from the bedroom window, howling at the injustice of it all.

I’m realizing that when you own a house, your sense of personal space gets much larger. What I see as mine is not just my body and my clothing anymore, but extends across the yard, over the vegetable garden, all throughout the garage and along just this side of my fence. This sense of ownership has quietly morphed into a territorialism that keeps me just a little anxious about everything I see on my property—what’s that squirrel burying by my begonias? Whose child is that biking through my alleyway? Why do the freaking neighbors always have to park their car DIRECLTY in front of my house?

(Insert feelings of shame, attachment, ego-fullness, more-bourgeois-than-I-ever-intended, etc. etc.)

And then to put it all in perspective (or perhaps just tilt it so it catches the light at another angle), my next-door neighbor was evicted and moved into an apartment.

Now a camp of activists are living in his foreclosed home. They don’t own the house, so they aren’t burdened by a homeowner’s paranoid sense of responsibility about the property. Examples: they flick lit cigarettes into the back yard, which sprouts grass a foot high each month before getting mowed (Andrea=minor panic attack). They ignore the trees growing from the gutters and let the busted-in windows carry the sound of their music out into the street (Andrea=moderate panic attack). They hold loud rallies in the front lawn and ask us to please quiet our anxious dog so they can “concentrate” (Andrea=major panic attack).

The neighbor.This week, 75 of them launched a protest against the 30 sheriffs who came to take the door off its hinges and kick them out. (The protesters returned shortly after the sheriffs left and began occupying the house again.)

Their idea is that they will stall the entire eviction process long enough that Chase Bank will grant my neighbor a mortgage modification and allow him to stay in the home. The odds of this working out are looking ever more doubtful, and we’ve been warned to expect many more protests and probably more arrests.

In my eyes, the good these activists are trying to do—help a family fight a giant corporation for the mortgage modification they requested some time ago and believe they were promised—is diluted by their total lack of respect for the property itself. They’ve forgotten that this building is not simply a prop or symbol of injustice, but a home, where someone once watched television and flossed his teeth and sent his 10-year-old son over to the lesbians’ house next door for a late-night cup of sugar and looked through the kitchen window at the moon falling over the yard and the fence and the deflated basketball and thought, “This is all mine.”

Maybe my neighbor will get to move back into his home and his son will come back over to play bags with us in our backyard. Maybe he won’t, and the last of the protesters will stay until winter moves in through the broken windows. Maybe a slick developer will buy the house, flip it, and by fall we’ll be living next door to some other, boring, young married couple. Maybe some tragedy will befall us before any of that happens, and we’ll be the ones begging for help from an unsympathetic bank, realizing we never actually owned those begonias to begin with.

Oh, the things of life.

The Philisophical Life of a Toy Poodle

I’m not sure why we decided to start putting the dog on the kitchen counter, but I think it had something to do with wine.

Shirley ponders the nature of reality.

Shirley ponders the nature of reality.

But it turns out that an exercise in bored self-amusement once again reminded me of the superior spiritual life of my pup (or again, maybe this was the wine).

For Shirley, I think being hoisted up to the counter is like being one of Plato’s newly unshackled cave-dwellers; she’s suddenly faced with the origins of the reality she’s always assumed existed ad infinitum (by this I mean the crumb-laden floor, and the realization that there are cookie jars and bags of flour that create these crumbs).

Watching her sniff the surface and examine this new territory with a bold curiosity–not fear–I felt moved. And because I harbor a strangely deep admiration for my dog, I started to think, as I often do, how can I be more like her?

DSCN3055Shirley is an adaptive creature who knows when to let her guard down. She enters new experiences with a strange bow-legged hesitation, skittering backwards and forwards like a spider, and when her gut gives her the all-clear sign, she relaxes into the present like it’s the only thing that has ever existed. She lets go of grudges–when I step on her foot during our morning walk, she squawks and forgives me. In fact, she’s already forgotten about it five paces later.

Me, on the other hand–it’s like I’ve got molasses goop all over my heart and my hands, and this goop connects me to all the times that anyone has hurt me and loved me and all the places I’ve ever been. And when I step on my dog’s foot and hear her mousey little squeak, let’s just say I don’t immediately rush into self-forgiveness mode.

When we moved into our new house this month, I felt waves of what the internet tells me is very typical transitional anxiety: trouble sleeping, little appetite, a gnawing fear that the spontaneity and spice of life was gone and replaced by the red brick of permanence, of settling. Also, where in the heck were my trusted routines? My toilet that never flushed right, the reliable way I made awkward small-talk with my neuroscientist neighbor as we waited for the bus?

Our first night in the new place, Shirley gave the house a good sniffing and then went to bed and slept the transcendent sleep of a worry-free poodle. She accepted the change by creating new routines, like waking up at 6:15 and playing with her tennis ball instead of sleeping all day.

We even took her back to the old apartment after a week to see if she harbored any old nostalgia for the place, but she took a lap and came back into the living room, like Guys? I am so over this place already.

To which I was like, You, dog, are so unbelievably cool, I can’t even believe you’re my friend.

DSCN3047(Right now she is sleeping on the couch beside me, the tuft of curly hair on her head so overgrown that I can see it vibrating slightly in time with her tiny heartbeat.)

In the end, yeah, I’m probably anthropomorphizing to a degree. It’s hard not to when this animal communicates so effectively and whose love bears such striking resemblance to the love humans share. And I’m probably also overestimating her adaptivity–the impressive splash of diarrhea I found in the backyard snow serves as evidence that Shirley’s body, too, felt the strange groundlessness of transition, at least for an evening.

Or, could have been the wine.

Mornings

ImageImageThe more I think about it, the less it makes sense to believe in any kind of permanent anything.

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The Spiritual Life of the 30-Year-Old (or: House-hunting is Suffering)

Now that I’m 30, everything around me seems to be oozing with spiritual significance. I’m assuming this is a normal part of approaching the age when your mind and body briefly meet in the middle, as the mind grows deeper and wiser but the body hits its peak and starts to get–like, more tired? Not as eager to stay up past 10 o’clock? And kind of sore in the ankles and wrists? Etc.

But I love getting older and feeling like every experience I have is some kind of teacher. An example: we’re house-hunting. Which, I’m learning, is a bizarre paradox of life–you spend months or longer doing painstaking research and analysis of neighborhoods and combing through every inch of your finances, knowing the final result of all that work is a go-with-your-gut quick decision in which you and your partner look at each other, give the OMG This Is It look, and say, “Let’s make an offer.”

At which point, your sweet suburban realtor will make a fast and frowning phone call, where she learns that the owners have actually already accepted an offer. And it was just a few hours ago. And maybe this happens twice in one week.

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That Which We Cannot Have

Yeah. So there’s patience in all this, and non-attachment. This could be a real downer, but it’s actually a good experience to have if you consider all of life to be one great spiritual journey–which you do, because I already told you that you’re 30 and life is different now. (Sleeping more, ankles, etc.) And when life chucks you some curve balls, you almost feel grateful for the chance to practice catching them. (You also feel very self-conscious now about using Feel-Good phrases like that, but let’s not kid anyone–in twenty years you’ll be the old hippie handing out dreamcatchers on Halloween, so you might as well OWN IT now.)

I also just read The Hobbit for the first time, and am working on Lord of the Rings, and it’s blowing my mind that I didn’t read these books when I was a kid. Because didn’t you see me, skulking around in my parents’ backyard with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, dragging a Radio Flyer full of canned goods and flashlights, muttering to myself about Going on a Pilgrimage? That kid would have loved the shit out of Tolkien.

 

 

 

Everything is Okay

as long as the poodle is comfy.

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Facepalms & Fried Chicken

This afternoon, I slipped out of my office to grab something for lunch. Since I work on a university campus, the closest place for grub is the student union, which features a mixed-bag food-court, including a few fast-food establishments and a salad bar (my preference). I was surprised to see an unusually long line trailing from the food court, wrapping around the hallway. A peek into the cafeteria clarified the situation: these folks were all waiting to buy a sandwich at Chick-fil-A.

Unless you live in a yurt, you have probably heard about the Chick-fil-A stuff in the news. I’ll summarize: the place is run by a self-described Christian who donates a good chunk of its profits to religious groups that work to to ban gay marriage and keep gay people off of anti-discrimination protection lists (you heard that right—millions of dollars to make sure it stays illegal to love and legal to hate).

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Many Americans bravely faced heartburn & diarrhea today in order to prevent gays from getting married.

After this (old) news hit the media this week, lots of shit hit the proverbial fan: inevitable anti-Chick protests ensued (including mayors who want the restaurant to GTFO of their respective cities), the restaurant’s genius PR team tried to win back support by allegedly creating fake Facebook pages and spinning up lies about Jim Henson, and conservative Mike Huckabee got incensed enough about the protests to declare today “Show Your Support for All of the Above Day.”

This last bit I learned from the cashier at the union’s convenience store. I had to buy a pre-packaged deli sandwich because the chicken people had flooded the food court, and as the cashier—a twenty-something college student—was ringing me up, I asked her if she knew what was going on.

“Mike Huckabee declared today a day of support for the business,” she said, and immediately her face turned red, her voice took on an odd tremble. She was either completely against the idea, or fiercely protective of it—I couldn’t tell—and I could see that part of her unease came from the fact that she didn’t know how I was going to react. Was I for Chick-fil-A or against it? Did I support marriage equality or was I homophobic? Which news media outlet was I getting all my information from? A twist of anxiety filled the air between us, a potential fire that could manifest as either rage or loyalty if either one of us chose to ignite it.

We didn’t. I got my change. We wished each other a good afternoon. I took my sandwich and left without ever figuring out whether we were supposed to be friends or enemies. Sometimes it’s just not that clear what we’re supposed to do.

***

To be fair, Chick-fil-A released a statement that said it respects all customers, “regardless of sexual orientation,” but that seems to be a bit of a back-pedaling stretch, given its history of incorporating anti-gay propaganda into children’s meals and funneling money to groups that try to “cure” homosexuality but tout AIDS as God’s inevitable plan.

And it’s misguided to think that the people who came out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day aren’t making an anti-gay statement, that they’re simply identifying themselves as aligned with the principals of Christianity. You can support the institution of Christianity without standing in a fast-food line. You know how? Be fucking nice. Toss a neighbor a real smile sometime. The great part is that none of this will diminish you; rather, you will flourish, and so will everyone around you.

This is what I saw today: approximately 70 people standing in line for a fast-food restaurant, all willing to sacrifice their own personal time (the average wait for a sandwich appeared to be about 20 minutes), money ($6.50 for a meal + $9 to park in the garage), and physical health (obesity, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes), just so that I cannot marry my partner.

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