01.11.18

our old friend austin, a fellow member of joe's darts team when we lived in hell's kitchen long ago and the earth was flat, spent a not-insignificant portion of the fall on jeopardy! (and being televised for being on jeopardy! in his inimitable way), and i decided to troll him for mispronouncing "sherbet" and missing a question by making and instagramming a cocktail, as one does. that left me with a surprisingly large tub of cheap rainbow sherbet, which hunched in the freezer for a month or two until i decided i needed to start eating a spoonful of it once each day for the rest of my life, or something.

if you'd asked me about my associations with sherbet prior to that first day, i'd have told you that i used to order a scoop of coffee ice cream topped with a scoop of rainbow sherbet every now and again as a child, because the combination was surprisingly good and because i enjoy making people uncomfortable with seemingly-gross orders (see also: steamed orange juice at starbucks). after that first spoonful i can tell you that it actually plucks me out of adulthood in new york city, whirls me across the country and three decades, and deposits me at the dining room table at my grandparents' condominium in los angeles, where my grandmother's mysterious cold lunches always, always ended with a plateful of puddling rainbow sherbet. served with forks, maybe? i could be conflating that part with when we euthanized our three-legged cat in 2009 and were so distraught that we ended up at a shitty pub near lincoln center—if you ever find yourself in the position of having to kill someone you love, be sure that the next place you go is somewhere you'll never need to go again—where i ate cinnamon ice cream with a fork. i'm not sure.

my grandmother spent formative years in new york city, remains obsessed with new york city, and in moving here in my mid-twenties i had something in common with her for what i think was/is the first time in our lives. most of what i say is clearly of no interest to her—i say that without resentment, as i imagine certain kinds of grandchildren are uninteresting to certain kinds of grandparents—but she loves hearing and talking about the city, and i have sent her postcards and letters full of cartographic pornography over the years. block by block, the theaters and libraries we visit, the landmarks we pass (she lives, somehow, for news of grant's tomb), the coordinates of our various offices. i sometimes wish we could talk about the undiscovered country between our new york cities, what it was like for her to leave her young family as a middle-aged woman and to come back to it as her ex- and future husband's date to their daughter's wedding (for example), but we were never and will never be close enough for that. all she will say, what she says constantly now that she is in her upper nineties, is that she didn't want to have any more children.

she's also moving to the memory ward at her nursing home; sometimes she believes she's on a ship, and sometimes she sees her long-grown sons asleep in her room. i haven't sent her any of my city in a while, and it's likely that she wouldn't recognize it if i did. i don't believe anything i needed to tell or hear from her, or that she needed to tell or hear from me, has gone unsaid, but i find myself barefoot in the kitchen with this freezer-burned sherbet and wonder who we might have been, had we been other people.

01.08.18

i woke up with the wisps of an imagined former office in my head. this is a regular thing: once every few months i dream up a version of the publishing world in which i return, usually as a freelancer, to my old magazine. the genial but distant boss who never followed up on raises for me was still there. my third editor in chief, the one who came in as a steely-eyed executive editor who bullied me into semi-factual cover lines and was pared away when corporate decisions maimed several of the women's-title mastheads this past fall—like polar bears that eat only seal blubber when food is plentiful—was still there. it's always at least a bit awkward; while i'm back in these scenarios, i'm always still formerly laid off. awakening, i'm never sorry that my job melted from beneath me, but my subconscious imagines rejection anyway. it loves to gnaw on old rejections.

i was never entirely sure if the way i handled my research department squared with the way other chiefs handled theirs, since i had exactly one senior editor walk me through my entry-level job and i spent my entire career rising through the same book. i saw other chiefs' guidelines, attended a few seminars with folks from other publishers, and sat through several of our in-house legal team's presentations on fact checking, but—especially as the team turned over and the women i'd known as a newbie dematerialized—i began to suspect that some, maybe many of the rules i'd inherited from my mentor were arbitrary. was it possible that we only needed to save physical files for three years' worth of issues because the sleek bank of file cabinets between editorial and the ad sales team...could fit physical files for three years' worth of issues? we used each manila folder twice; when i'd remove and discard the oldest files to make room for the ones i'd just created, i'd turn each one inside out, sharpie through the article title and date on the other side of the tab, and use it again. i still remember the pang i felt when my mentor's handwriting disappeared from the cabinet completely, when each folder was me and me, again.

i realized this morning that it's been more than three years since i packed up my cubicle and hit the pavement; even if some of the stories i'd assigned out for checking were bumped to future issues, there's a good chance that i've worked my way out of the cabinet as well. that i am a little sorry about, if we're being honest. my handwriting is probably as stylized as it is because i care more about being seen than i care, most of the time, to admit.

01.02.18

2018: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

i asked the maintenance office to unclog our tub.
i ate a bunch of peanuts and threw the shells on the floor.
i packed some chocolate babka for my brother-in-law to take uptown.
i woke up, set my alarm to go off an hour later, and went back to sleep.
i threw away joe's socks.
i ran the dishwasher.
i watered our cacti.
i filed a story.

12.28.17

when you look down at the invalid pigeon curled against your chest and realize her white head is pink because you kissed it.

12.05.17

i roped joe into a facebook meme the other night.

WITHOUT prompting, ask your significant other these questions and write EXACTLY what they say.

1: What is something I always say?
2: Circa 2012, "lovely!"

1: What makes me happy?
2: Candy, sleeping.

1: What makes me cry?
2: Tigers.

1: How tall am I?
2: Five seven.

1: What's my favorite thing to do?
2: Candy, sleeping.

1: What do I do when you're not around?
2: Candy, sleeping.

1: If I become famous, what will it be for?
2: The Great American Novel.

1: What makes you proud of me?
2: That you struck out on your own, and are doing your own thing, and are putting yourself out there.

1: What is my favorite food?
2: Candy, sleeping. No, lentils.

1: What is my favorite restaurant?
2: Mission Chinese, interestingly, because you will not get Chinese food anywhere else.

1: What is my favorite place to visit?
2: Iceland.

1: If I could go anywhere, where would it be?
2: Antarctica.

1: How do I annoy you?
2: Questions.

1: What is my favorite movie?
2: Labyrinth.

1: Who is my celebrity crush?
2: I don't know. Just put who it is.

1: You get a phone call that I am in trouble, who am I with?
2: Your mother.

11.19.17

so we were in norway and iceland for two weeks. it was stupendous, even though i now seem unable to sleep past nine! (on a sunday. so gross.) many, many things fell by the wayside before we left, as i was determined to finish and file my early-november work before we left two thursdays ago (i failed at that, too: i filed an essay from oslo and three pieces from reykjavík). i haven't been to see ben at the wild bird fund since early october, which is the longest i've gone without seeing him since we went on our cross-country road trip in the summer of 2015. as when we were in milan and berlin at this time last year, i took my coffee in a mountain-print onesie each morning as i read about the shitty things americans do to each other. speaking of, we'll be at our place for thanksgiving again this year: our local family will be dining with my stepbrother, who works for donald trump in the white house (i doubt i'll ever see him again; i can't imagine being interested in seeing him again). this is more than fine with me—we didn't pursue other plans this year, as i like having a quiet night alone with joe, and we're bringing leftovers to our friends' place in brooklyn for a friday-afternoon gathering.

birds and bookstores to tend, a thanksgiving lasagna to assemble, the second half of the month's assignments to address before plunging into the hyperspace of the late-holiday season. hair to purple. a dragon to sew up for my little niece (don't tell her). part of me wishes we could have seen the northern lights one more time, but i am glad to have swathes of cat shimmering around my head once more. you are my horrora borealis, steve.

10.03.17

one of the wildlife hospital staffers asked me if i'd been using my name tag to sign in at their new tablet kiosk in the basement treatment room. i haven't, i said, though that would give them a formal record of my tardiness, and that would be something. "well i guess since you're at the highest level of training already, your hours don't really matter. although maybe you should wear the tag in case new people don't know what you...are?" "in case they can't see the waves of power rolling out from my body?" "...yes?"

09.19.17

the dirty dozen {notes from my hometown police blotter, as reported by the oc register*}

Suspicious person in a vehicle. 12:08 p.m. The caller reported an elderly man in a Toyota Camry, driving slowly in the neighborhood and possibly casing.
Disturbance. 8:17 a.m. The caller reported two male transients dumpster diving.
Vandalism report. 6:37 p.m. Caller reported someone keyed her car.
Keep the peace. 2:00 p.m. Caller said her neighbor below was yelling at her when she was walking.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 12:40 p.m. The caller reported two men walking inside and out of the business without buying anything.
Disturbance. 10:01 p.m. The caller reported kids using laser pointers.
Citizen assist. 8:47 a.m. The caller said a house owner hired the caller and other workers and is denying them any bathroom breaks.
Disturbance. 12:58 p.m. The caller reported a man asking for his money back after he ate a bad sandwich. The caller said the man told her, he was going to get his mom and come back to kill her.
Citizen assist. 10:56 p.m. Caller said she has an emergency with her TV.
Assist outside agency. 2:03 p.m. The caller reported a large bee hive with swarming bees on a city tree.
Disturbance. 1:58 p.m. The caller said a woman pushed him and told him to get out.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 5:20 p.m. The caller reported a man sitting on the corner and talking on a phone. The caller didn’t like him in the neighborhood.


*previous installment here.

09.15.17

What we build not only reflects but determines who we are and who we'll be. 'A city is an attempt at a kind of collective immortality,' wrote Marshall Berman in an essay on urban ruin; 'we die, but we hope our city's forms and structures will live on'. The opposite is true in the suburbs. They have no history and don't think about the future; very little there is built to last. Posterity is irrelevant to a civilisation living in an ongoing, never-ending present, with as much care for the future or sense of the past as a child. In his classic 1961 study The City in History, Lewis Mumford describes the naivety of the suburbs, which sustain in their inhabitants 'a childish view of the world', a false impression of security, if not an outright political apathy. Terrible things happen elsewhere, but never here, not now, not to us. It's the most natural paternal instinct to want to give your children a better childhood than your own; but the generation of city dwellers who invented the suburbs blew past 'better' in their pursuit of an impossible social isolation. It is as if they were trying to give not only their children but themselves the childhood they never had. The suburbs present the world to their children as if padded in felt, as if life were something gradually accumulated through commercial transaction, store by store. Often American literature and films about the suburbs feature children and adults alike losing their innocence, surprised, unprepared, for how terrible life can be: The Virgin Suicides, American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Weeds — all of these ask not only 'is this all there is?' but 'is there really that, too?'

(lauren elkin, from flâneuse: women walk the city in paris, new york, tokyo, venice, and london)
elkin's take on the suburbs (she grew up on long island) is a savage one, but it tracks with what i remember and how i talk about orange county in the '80s and '90s (and even how i talk about going to college in a suburb*): it was a very conservative and homogeneous place to be, i would never want to live there again, but it was a safe place to grow up, and i know that my parents chose our unremarkable** stucco house in our unremarkable neighborhood because it meant that my sisters and i could eventually go to the very good, exceptional, local public high school. i also felt like a freak until i got to college, and i think sometimes about what i would do now with all the hours i spent in, say, church-related youth groups because i wanted friends.

*i didn't have a car or even a bike in college, incidentally; my bikes were stolen so quickly that i decided the universe wanted me to be a pedestrian. i started taking long late-night walks around campus when i was a freshman and crawled all over the school for four years, but those nights were nothing like the ones i'd later spend in san francisco and new york. those are other stories, though.

**architecturally speaking, that is. the roof was fantastic for climbing and there were so many places for lizards to hide.

09.12.17

the dirty dozen {twelve things i learned in tonight's squirrel-care class}*

01 "talking to them is OK, because they will eventually turn on you."
02 squirrels born in the fall aren't as healthy as squirrels born in the spring.
03 in the last stage of weaning, squirrels eat pumpkin mash (lab block dust, baby cereal, and puréed pumpkin—NOT PUMPKIN PIE FILLING).
04 "someone gave a squirrel pumpkin pie filling by accident once. he was really excited, but it didn't go well."
05 squirrels like to sleep in makeshift polarfleece hammocks.** "of course they drag all of their crap into their hammocks."
06 ADR in a veterinary chart = Ain't Doin' Right.
07 squirrels should not have KMR (kitten milk replacement), which has too much protein and will give them terrible diarrhea.
08 squirrels should have squirrel formula (fox valley), which is much better but can still make their hair fall out if you don't wipe their faces and arms after they nurse.
09 "is the squirrel nervous? try a burrito."
10 you can help a nursing squirrel that's aspirated milk blow its nose by covering its face with a tissue, putting your mouth to said tissue, and inhaling.
11 if maggots are crawling out of a squirrel's ears or eyes, you have to put it to sleep.
12 one turd is not enough.

*do not use these points to care for squirrels! call your friendly local wildlife rehabber.

**i knew that part.

09.10.17

And Autobiography is a lot of a bit much — nearly 500 pages, with tiny margins and no index. So instead of flipping around looking for "Boorer, Boz" or "busses, double-decker" or "Bowie, David, argument over fruit-salad buffet in 1992 with," you have to jump in. There are great moments everywhere, including that breakfast with Bowie. "David quietly tells me, 'You know, I've had so much sex and drugs I can't believe I'm still alive,' and I loudly tell him, 'You know, I've had so LITTLE sex and drugs I can't believe I'm still alive.'"

(rob sheffield, from "morrissey's autobiography: the dream is gone but the book is real")

08.25.17

at the end of a long night a few christmases ago, my baby sister told me that she and my brother-in-law were going to start trying to have a child. i told her in no uncertain terms that this was a terrible idea, for the earth with humans as its miserable stewards had a few decades left at best. it was a monstrous thing to say, and joe reminded me, as he always does, that i sound crazy when i talk like that. i apologized many times, though i haven't really forgiven myself for receiving their news that way.

erin, the friend who introduced me to the wild bird fund years ago, told me about her long island conservation and education group's offshore, overnight whalewatching trips—she'd be on the second one of the summer, and i'd have a chance to meet her in person—and i suddenly and desperately needed to go. i mucked around on the group's website for a while and then just called to ask about coming along. i got the society's president, artie, who'd been watching the comey hearing all afternoon, as i had. "it's nice...to be talking about whales right now," he said.

i packed up the sleeping bag i'd bought for my first ragnar last fall, wrapped an oversized plush peep in a pillow case, and filled a duffel bag with tank tops, pajamas(?), trail mix, candy. a bunch of sunscreen and prescription seasickness patches, per my stepfather's instructions. erin, as magical in person as she's been on the internets all these years, collected me from the platform at montauk and drove me to a grocery store, where i added a five-gallon jug of water, a couple of dutch rolls, vegetarian sushi(?), and a bunch of bananas* to my rations. we were to leave montauk at six to reach martha's vineyard by midnight, where we'd drop off a handful of commuters and pick up a few more watchers, then spend the night chugging out to the great south channel. our boat's hold was full of navy bunks, but it was traditional to drag one's mattress out to the deck, she said. it sounded like the rime of the ancient mariner to me, and i thought of the halloween in college when paul hung an albatross made of packing tape around his neck.

the perseid meteor shower was at its peak that first night, and spots on the top deck went fast—except for the raised ones, the big crates full of life preservers, so i flopped my dusty cot mattress down on one of those. it thrummed and rocked as the wind streamed over us, and i felt like an infant marsupial nestled against its mother. i was unconscious long before we reached martha's vineyard.

i woke up at dawn, soaked with dew, just as dolphins began to embroider the surface beside the boat. soon pelagic birds gathered on the water for bait fish, like truffle flies, and then—

joe and i went whalewatching in iceland a few years ago, at the end of the season when most of the humpbacks had migrated far from that part of the north atlantic. we saw a single juvenile, a straggler, at a distance, and our local guide's joy eclipsed any disappointment i might have felt at the ocean's stinginess. i was thoroughly unprepared for the great south channel, where the waters receded from the humpbacks' barnacled snouts, dozens of them, like fog rolling down a mountain range. a whale surfaced perpendicular to our boat with a great briny bellow, presented us with its ageless back, and dove beneath our feet. i sobbed.

i have been sprouting an avocado pit in a little sake cup on top of our cookbooks for the last several weeks. joe scoffs: we'll have avocados of our own in something like 12 years, he says. i once asked my sister what she would give up if forced to choose between avocados and the feeling of swimming in the ocean and being taken up by a wave just before it breaks. you're getting me where i live with this one, she replied. i would like for her son to have my avocados.


*"you brought bananas on this boat?" the captain said as we played cards in the galley. "seriously?" i did a bit of research when i got home: bananas bring the worst kind of luck on a fishing boat. no banana muffins, banana republic clothing, banana boat sunscreen.