Anyone else see the problem here?
Kelly O has a really good ghost story, from her excellent "Things I Remember About Detroit":
A Talking Cat
Move into a gorgeous brick brownstone called Phillips Manor—hardwood floors, fireplace, four bedrooms. My two roommates and I pay $110 apiece. The three of us are sitting and watching the huge Star Trek–looking TV I scored for $15 at the thrift store. All the remote controls are sitting in plain view on the coffee table. We're watching VH1. The channel changes itself to The New Dance Show—the local, low-budget version of Soul Train. This is the first of many times that the TV switches itself to another station. The radio randomly switches itself, too. And always to a black TV show or song. Seems to be a friendly ghost. Most definitely an African-American ghost. The only other thing living in that house, aside from the three of us, is my roommate's spooky black Persian cat. Always hiding somewhere. Can never pet it. Once, we can't find it for almost a week. My roommate leaves to make a "Lost Cat" flyer at Kinko's, thinking it somehow got outside. Boyfriend is sitting in the living room, and I'm at one end of the long hallway near the bathroom. The cat comes stumbling out of one of the bedrooms and just sits in the middle of the hallway, not moving, staring intently at me. I say, all sweet, "Kiiiii-teee, there you are!" The cat just stares. Then its mouth opens slightly and a very deep man's voice says, "Hello." With that, the cat walks back into the bedroom. Boyfriend says, "Who just said 'Hello'?" Not making this up. I scream and lock myself in the bathroom. For hours.
My friend Barry claims Tucson is an excellent spot for a non-bank-breaking wintertime-sun vacation. He says it's a college town with lots of live music to see, really good food to eat, and many saguaro cacti to look at/walk among/embrace. On the recommendation of Barry, flights have been booked; they become non-refundable at 6 p.m. today. Is Barry right?!
Hm. I had a delicious lunch just now. Sorting through email and doing some reading for a speech I have to write. Sitting in a lovely little cafe eating a lovely little pastry and looking forward to flying home tomorrow to the husband (who usually nixes pastries) and the kid (who doesn't think twice about demolishing pastries). So, yeah, I'm happy. I'll be happier when they sort out the Obamacare website issues and happiest when we come to our senses and enact a single payer health care system—the same kind of health care system those socialists have over in Israel and Vatican City. But I'm certainly happy enough at the moment for all practical purposes.
Thanks for asking, bumper sticker on the handrail of a bridge over the Chicago River!
1) One woman to another, upon noticing this sign in the Holborn station on the Piccadilly line...
2) On the telly: "55 percent want the government to warn immigrants to go back to where they are from."
3) The first thing that will strike an American observer of the Plebgate scandal is not the class issue (a Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell was accused of saying to police officers at the gate of 9 Downing Street: "Best you learn your fucking place. You don't run this fucking government ... You're fucking plebs.") but that a leading member of the right-wing party is an urban (rather than recreational) cyclist.
Last week, I took a slow road trip through Eastern Washington—the North Cascades highway, the Grand Coulee Dam (did you know about its laser light show?), the stark and rattlesnake-y rangeland of the Potholes, the Colville and
Yakima Yakama Reservations, half ghost/half living towns (undead towns?) where small businesses were still running out of 19th-century buildings, the scablands, Hanford, and beyond.
With apologies to Megan's series about the words the city says to her, here are some of the words the country said to me:
That tower you see above was built by the high-school students of the Sawhorse Revolution, a newish program teaches teenagers how to use tools and build things. Many of the Sawhorse students don't have access to shops and tools—sometimes because their families can't afford them; sometimes because their schools have cut arts, trades education, and other hands-on types of learning in their mad dash to "teach to the test"; sometimes just because they're girls and if there's a project to do at home, it's always done by the boys.
This summer, I went to Smoke Farm for Fortnight, the Sawhorse Revolution's summer program where a dozen or so students sleep in tents, get up early, build stuff, and forge a sense of community and camaraderie that only work—or some kind of shared ordeal—can provide. The majority of students were girls and the majority were students of color and there was some surprisingly frank (and spontaneous( dinner-table talk about race and gender. Plus lots of goofing around together.
During Fortnight, students also learn about where the materials they're working with come from (basically, rudimentary classes in economics and ecology), the physics of building, and Smoke Farm, the land they're building on. It's a remarkable program and doesn't feel at all like the cheesy, Pollyanna-ish experiences one might associate with the phrase "summer camp."
Sawhorse co-founder Adam Nishimura says they originally resolved not to have any cheesy camp songs or cheers, but they had to concede that battle—the students were chanting and singing, whether the counselors wanted them to or not. One of their favorites this summer, led by a tall and bearded counselor named Micah:
Are we here to have fun?
How do we play?
WAY! TOO! SERIOUSLY!
What do we do?
CHEAT TO WIN! CHEAT TO WIN! CHEAT TO WIN! CHEAT TO WIN!
If you want to support the program, Smoke Farm is hosting a Builders Dinner up at the property next Saturday. Tickets are $100 (it's a fundraiser, after all) but that includes dinner by chefs Tamara Murphy (Terra Plata) and Josh Hart (Spinasse), plus beer and wine, tours of the property, and more. Camping is encouraged.
Or, if you just want to donate a few bucks to the cause, you can do that over here. (Full disclosure: I have been involved with some Smoke Farm events, including a lecture series called the Symposium, but I'd never been to Fortnight until this summer.)
More Fortnight/Sawhorse photos are below the jump.
Since the demonstrations in Egypt in late June, I have been glued to Facebook. As an immigrant caught between homes, I selfishly hope for an Egypt I might be able to live in again one day, which is a flawed position to start with. The appeal of Facebook is that my friends—who come from different political views—share the news headlines and photos while annotating them with their opinions and experiences. (The news feed also comes entangled with pictures of dinner plates at Tom Douglas restaurants from my Seattle friends, together with posts about avant-garde American poetry and its factional disputes, all of which act as what can be described as postmodern flattening distraction.) Online, occasionally, I find myself playing interpreter between worldviews. When Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by the army on July 3, many of my progressive friends, along with Egyptians who were educated in the West, were unable to see anything but a coup—which is not exactly how I saw it. After all, what about the 22 million people in the streets demanding his removal? For many Americans, it's extremely hard to imagine that democracy is anything but election booths. But those 22 million people couldn't wait for another election cycle, and isn't it democratic to honor their will? At the very least, it can't easily be dismissed as nondemocratic.
Then, on August 14, the situation took a turn for the worse: Egyptian security forces dissolved two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins by force, killing hundreds of Morsi supporters. At that moment, I became an interpreter who's no longer sure how to interpret what I'm seeing.
There's ice in the urinal at Seattle's Ballet (urinal right), home of cheap (but good!) Asian food and pasty-faced Stranger staffers on lunch breaks. And there's ice in the urinals at the LA's Chateau Marmont (urinal left), home of pricey chow and famous-faced celebs on expense accounts.
So... ice in urinals: classy or trashy?
Charles was interviewed today, apparently by a horse cock.
I showed him the photo, and he said "Yeah, it looks like a horse cock."
On a fun side note, some of you may remember this isn't Charles' first encounter with equine lust.
If your answer is 'no' you chose wisely. If your answer is 'yes,' then go ahead and watch this video, because it seems like a fairly accurate representation. And I realize that Woody's heart is in the right place and all, but Woody, pal; it's real hard make poetry sound good. It's a regular fool's errand! Warning: May also cause flashbacks to getting stoned in your freshman dorm room.
Montana! Its legislature only meets once every other year, but this year it met and...
Privacy advocates, behold the Montana legislature and House Bill 603, a measure that requires the government to obtain a probable cause warrant before spying on you through your cell phone or laptop. HB 603 was signed into law this past spring, effectively making Montana the first state to have an anti-spy law long before anyone heard of Edward Snowden.
As the story notes, several other states are considering similar measures. One extremely large hitch: Montana's law doesn't attempt to restrict the federal government's spying, because the state would end up in court if it tried such a thing—and would probably lose.
My favorite offering in the Whitefish, Montana Pilot is "Police Calls," which this week features reports to local police of a four year old playing in an electric car ("The child was not driving very well and was approaching the highway"); a man who became "stressed out" and fired a 22-caliber rifle inside his house, with some shot hitting him in the face ("He told police he didn't think he was trying to kill himself"); and this:
There's no word on what police in Whitefish, Montana did with this tip from another state.
I spent the Fourth of July at an amazing parade in a tiny town in western Montana, where the floats roll a quarter mile down a dirt road and then turn around and come right back.
There was a reviewing stand held up by a tractor, a reading of the Declaration of Independence IN FULL, and some commentary on recent events:
Also, some social commentary:
Can someone explain why Ahmed Angel is suddenly planet? I am confused! Also, get a load of this guy. He paid a wizard $500 to make him invisible. Doesn't he know, being invisible doesn't make him planet?
It's really something else. It dominates Jefferson Square Park.
This just in from our man in Thailand (formerly known as "our man in Vietnam" and "our man in Myanmar"):
Wikipedia says that Thailand was briefly allied with the Axis powers during WWII—mostly because they were pissed at the French colonialists—but I don't think this is about that.
I don't know what this is about.
On this supremely gray day, I wish I could magically make it July, and make a run for the sun this weekend... More photos after the jump, and read more about my favorite Washington swimming hole right here.
Perhaps my favorite thing that happened yesterday at South by Southwest was when Stevie Nicks spent a good five minutes just recounting, in intricate detail, the major plot points of Joe Wright's film adaptation of Anna Karenina. This was in response to a question from Ann Powers, I think, about her songwriting inspiration and process, and was only one of many fascinating digressions in an hourlong afternoon interview that included a glimpse into her entry into Fleetwood Mac, the role of women in rock music (and her general outrage at a sense of modern-day setbacks for women), and negotiating the dynamics of taking breaks from a band to pursue a solo career. Other fun facts: she really loves Beauty and the Beast both the Jean Cocteau and television version) and always wanted/wants to be a witch for Halloween.
The other afternoon, I was in the parking lot of a boarded-up motel on Aurora at 41st taking notes about a Grrrl Army mural on prostitution ("Do what you wanna do just know that you're not...alone"). A shiny black Passat pulled into the lot and sat there. I realized the driver was waiting for me to come over.
I'm just curious. So here's a question for the non-sex workers out there: How many times has this happened to you? Has it ever flashed into your head that you could just get in the car? What crosses your mind?
Did some bored jerk add grapefruit to your breakfast order* in the middle of the night? That sucks. But your last hotel stay could've been a whole lot worse. You could've been brushing your teeth with the slowly liquifying remains of a missing Canadian tourist:
When a maintenance worker at L.A.'s Cecil Hotel opened the hotel's rooftop water tank to investigate low water pressure, he found something unexpected: a dead body. Investigators believe the remains of Elisa Lam had been inside the tank since January 31, when the 21-year-old was last seen. As police work to determine if her death was the result of foul play or "a very, very strange accident," the LA County Department of Public Health is investigating a more urgent matter: the potentially contaminated water, which hotel residents had, for several weeks, used to bathe in and brush their teeth.
Water from that particular tank was also used in the hotel's coffee shop and restaurant. So, um, yeah. The grapefruit isn't looking so bad now, is it?
* If you've already read Jacob Tomsky's Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, then you know how easy it is to get things you didn't order removed from your bill—and things you did order.
(Note: This song by Burmese hiphop artist Snare was in heavy rotation on our trip, especially by kids playing it on acoustic guitars in groups at night—electricity can be dicey around there, and the kids seem to love to sing, even when they're just walking down the street. So it might make an appropriate soundtrack to this post.)
On Christmas night, Bethany Jean Clement and I flew from Seattle to Thailand to get ourselves organized for our trip to Myanmar/Burma—we had to get lots of crisp $100 bills for changing (no ATMs for US cards), submit a slightly doctored work history for our visa (journalists are not welcome there), adjust to the time change, etc.
Because the country's military dictatorship has recently held elections and seems nominally interested in honoring their results (last time they had an election, many years ago, they were surprised by now many non-cronies got elected and threw the winners in jail), the National League for Democracy, the pro-reform party with Aung San Suu Kyi as its figurehead, recently called off its travel boycott to Myanmar/Burma.
We wouldn't have gone otherwise. But Suu Kyi has gone on record saying that individual travelers should go to Burma, meet the people, patronize independent businesses, and see what's going on. (Package tourists and staying in the country's few huge resorts and hotels are discouraged, since that money goes to the military cadres.)
First question: What to call the country?
I spent the last two weeks in Peru for Christmas break. I'm not going to bore you to death with a slideshow or a blow-by-blow account of what I did, but I do want to make a couple of recommendations.
* If you've ever wanted to take a trip to South America, I highly recommend the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. I was part of a group doing the standard hike—four days, three nights—and it kicked my ass, but I was glad I did it by the end of the trail. The tour group I traveled with was named Enigma, and I did the Classic Inca Trail package. It takes you along a trail of mostly stone steps to saddlebacks that are higher than Mount Rainier and swiftly descending staircases of 3000 steps that the guides refer to as the gringo killer. The landscapes varied tremendously over the three days, from gently rolling hills to scrubby mountain trails to lush jungle. (This hike was decidedly not roughing it; Enigma provided a team of porters who did the cooking, carried the equipment, and set up and took down the tents. Peru started cracking down on Inca Trail tourism around the turn of the century; you're required to have guides, and there are even laws insisting that the tour groups provide camping tables and chairs for their customers along the way. I think these laws are more for the good of the trail than the tourists; apparently, tourists just used to trash the trail when they were left to their own devices.) Machu Picchu itself was incredible and mysterious and weird and totally worth it. My group was there during the rainy season and so there were fewer tourist groups funneling through the city; my guide said that the crowds are so thick in July and August that you can barely move.
* If you're hiking the Inca Trail, or if you're even going to Cuzco, you'll want to take something to fight altitude sickness. I took Diamox the whole way through, but even then you'll want lots of coca tea and coca leaves for chewing; the high you get from coca leaves is not unlike a caffeine high, but it helps the oxygen circulate in a way that Diamox can't. (Coca leaf hard candy is a surprisingly good delivery system, too.)
* A person I know, who heard I was going to Peru for Christmas, informed me that she had been to Peru and her entire story was summed up in one sentence: "It's really dirty there."
Grant Cogswell's essay in this week's paper—about watching cockfights in Mexico in the middle of winter—begins:
My first night on the Oaxaca coast, the roosters kept me up till dawn. It is an urban myth—literally—of cartoons, cereal box packaging, and Dracula movies, that the male gallus gallus greets the sun with a sudden, singular cry. Truth is, they cry all the time. At midnight in Oaxaca in January, it is a wet 80 degrees. It is never cold here. The state of Oaxaca is where Mexico's belly sticks out into the Pacific, catching the deep, clean flow of open sea. You have never seen so many animals, so many fish. And this being Mexico, the nights are a storm of noise—the Catholic imperfectability of the world meaning no one ever yells to any person or animal to shut up. After midnight on the coast road southeast of Puerto Escondido, you can track the last lone pedestrians by the dogs going off like sensors and the roosters following, their humanlike screams propelled by their own tyrannical sperm count as if avatars through which the hard-ons in the boys' and bachelors' beds of Oaxaca were let sing. That sounds grandiose, but that's what I kept thinking about that winter, how the roosters' animal response vented what humans instead hold close or cook inside our minds into disorders that last long past when the people causing them are dead.
If what you need is a gigantic chocolate chip cookie trimmed with frosting and frosting-flowers and frosting-cornucopias and covered in autumnal sprinkles, they have that.