10.16.18 {in italy}

roma! it's just before seven, and the lip of morning light beneath the cloud cover is a shade that is only for sophia loren. i sealed my fate when i said we were not traveling in the direction of my proclivities, sort of: no matter when i turn in, i pop up at, say, four to consume weird quantities of gorgonzola (Night Cheese has become a thing, we've expanded the lyrics). we aren't due at the vatican until half past two, but i hoped i might catch an early dawn glimpse of the hawk moth that visits our rooftop garden at dusk each evening. his proboscis is so impressive and his darting-and-hovering so precise that i was sure we were seeing the world's tiniest hummingbird, but he is merely a comely example of convergent evolution, it seems. the internet tells me that on d-day in normandy, the armada saw a swarm of his fellows flying across the english channel, and they're considered a good omen. he certainly augured a glorious night of opera on saturday. opera! the things we begin to love as our beards grow long.

we visited the cats that live in the ruins where caesar was murdered across the river. they are trapped and spayed or neutered when they first materialize among the columns, and the littler and more adoptable ones are brought inside to meet potential guardians (not americans or canadians, alas, for the sanctuary staff are wary of countries with a lot of kill shelters). many others are free to roam the archaeological site and bask like the turkish cats i met in ephesus a few years ago. an australian reporter on that press trip with me would scream in terror each time a calico arranged herself beneath our cafe table to make eyes at her kebab. still no sign of the black cat our host mentioned, one who lives with neighbors and likes to visit the folks at our place. ("he has a collar and is friendly. do not hurt him?") i have night cheese for you, black cat! so much night cheese to give!

gulls and those devastatingly handsome eurasian magpies one meets in cities like this one perch on the television aerials that sprout like century plants and queen anne's lace from the rooftops around st. peter's basilica, and they seem to have a long-standing beef with the church bells next door. it's understandable, really: the bells don't seem to announce anything in particular, so their calls don't sound especially clever. i think of the "flirtatious starling" mozart met in vienna a few centuries ago that sang him a variation on the piano concerto he had been whistling (no. 17 in g major)—one he preferred to his own version, they say, and he held a funeral for it when it died three years later (he did not arrange a funeral for his father). a tame starling lived at my bird hospital for a few months before relocating to a sanctuary upstate and developed the charming/unnerving habit of trying to clean our teeth as we tried to clean his recovery room. it could be that i will never develop a winter cold again, as i suppose i swapped spit with every bird lover on the upper west over those months, or i might start eating meal worms? insects are the future of protein, they say, but i tend to give meal worms to chickens. when chapulines turn up in oaxacan food i make joe eat them. he will fare better in the end times than i will, i suspect, though i am better at making myself understood in languages i don't speak. i have chapulines for you, ragtag bands of survivors! so many chapulines to give!


if i fly to try and settle in a time zone appropriate to my waking and sleeping hours, i am flying in the wrong direction, again: we leave on thursday for a little over a week in rome, and i watched the sun break over the east river yesterday morning before turning in. the missus's city office is closed for the holiday, as it always is, and he is asleep; i am hustling through the last assignments i need to file before heading to the airport, as i always do. the rule is that i can take breaks if i like, but i have to run. i have been doing a lot of running, in front of the news, which has been unpleasant.

on friday i took a train up to the local magic shop to buy materials for an open-source trump-binding spell. the woman at the counter explained that tarot cards were like a phone book, with numbers for The Other Side, rather than active components. two glossy black cats were draped on the glass in front of her, and i stroked them as i chose between decks. "look at those poor cats, they are so overstimulated and stressed out," an older woman whispered to her companion. "i know, i know." he murmured.


when i was in elementary school, my mom hired a guy to come to our house and take photos of me and my sisters. for christmas, probably? generic family portraits, maybe? i don't remember the occasion; i do remember how frustrated he was with me when i wouldn't smile to his satisfaction. (i have never been able to beam plausibly on command, for loved ones or anyone else, and i hate being instructed to try. it shows.)

his "look at the dolly, make a pretty face at me!" banter got more and more ragged as the shoot went on, and i imagine we were all relieved when the session came to an end. the conclusion seemed especially satisfying for him, as i still remember the look on his face as he and my mother sat at the dining room table to talk over payment and her order. i was standing behind them, leaning against a console next to our sofa, when he tipped his chair back until he was crushing my fingers with it. i gasped and looked up at him—and he was glinting back at me, with a nasty, thoroughly unfeigned fuck you, sullen little girl smile. i decided not to give him the satisfaction of an expression then, either, and clenched my jaw until he leaned forward and i could walk away.

i think about that guy when social media serves me photographs of women i care about—intelligent, fascinating, accomplished women—posed like barker's beauties in thirty-year-old episodes of the price is right. you know the pose: shoulders back, head down, turned just so, jaunty foot forward, insouciant hand on a hip. on casual nights out, on vacations, celebrating milestones: there they are, ready to show me a chrysler. knowing one's camera angles is a thing, and i get that—i mean, i worked at a women's magazine for a decade—but i see those photos and miss spontaneous, kinetic joy. i miss albums of photos that don't look like flipbooks: here is the pose at a restaurant, here is the pose at a beach, here is the pose at a ceremony. i think, someone is making her do that, and i wonder how that old sadist tricked so many of us into internalizing him.

that's my angle, anyway.


three semi-inflated RIVER RAT inner tubes hung over the edge of the railing at the south tahoe thrift store i re-found after telling my friends i'd meet them back in sacramento. a handwritten sign on the door implored me to support local charities and warned that non-customers who wanted to use the bathroom would be charged a quarter. i piled three cotton-ish aloha shirts on the counter and asked the woman behind it if her weekend was going well so far.

"i was ready for it," she said. "the doctors finally figured out what was wrong with my foot, and what they could do about it." i thought that was wonderful. "yes, but i was wearing this" (she heaved an orthopedic boot a few feet in the air) "when i woke up to a bear in my kitchen last night. my three chihuahuas—the littlest is four pounds, it's a mother and a daddy and their baby—wanted to go for him, and i didn't know what to do. turns out their noise was enough to scare him away once he'd finished all of my chocolate-covered pretzels, and he went back out the window he broke—after grabbing a bunch of ritz crackers."

i told her i'd been hoping to see a bear all weekend—i wish i'd known. "i called the police and they showed up with a big shotgun, but they told me that it was full of rubber bullets and i shouldn't worry. 'he'll be back, though,' they said. 'he knows you have the good stuff.' are you from around here, honey?" once, i said, but i came from new york city to captain a relay race up in truckee. i was ready for a weekend, too.

"my husband and i went out to syracuse once and i almost had a panic attack. i hear that...you don't have cars." it's true, i said, i spend weeks on foot.


the dirty dozen, FIFA edition {some of the places joe and i have watched world cup matches this june and july}

jw marriott chicago (chicago, IL). the first of the hotels in last month's Circle of Life saga had talking elevators that sounded like judi dench and interminable hallways that reminded me of the overlook, all of which i found impossibly charming. our room and television were large, the air conditioning was robust, and it was a fine place to recover from the heat wave and reflect on our friends' nuptials while yelling at soccer players.

replay andersonville (chicago, IL). the smugness i felt after filing the first of my on-the-road freelance assignments quickly gave way to humiliation when i failed to acquit myself honorably with replay's free(!) arcade games (why don't you love me as i love you, midwestern galaga?). no matter. a single triumph is still a triumph.

the robey (chicago, IL). a hoteltonight hero that came through for us when o'hare made it clear that we weren't flying out of chicago for at least another 24 hours, the robey upgraded our room and provided us with a pot of coffee to pair with our first game of the morning on tuesday. bless the robey.

links taproom (chicago, IL). my second on-the-road freelance-assignment filing found us at a mostly-empty but very friendly sportstravaganza in wicker park, where i wore a tee shirt joe ran out to purchase at the bookstore we'd visited in search of a vintage copy of 1984 the previous afternoon (since o'hare had flown our luggage to california, despite our pleas). an empty pub is actually a pretty good place to work, assuming you can find a table that doesn't wiggle (and i did!). also, there's soccer. coffeehouses are for suckers.

sonesta silicon valley (san jose, CA). after another five-hour barrage of delays at o'hare, we were permitted to fly to northern california, where it was far too late for us to drive to my sister and brother-in-law's treehouse on the coast. we drove instead through a series of office parks and had a second spur-of-the-moment hotel date, this time at a comfortingly unrenovated retreat for pilots? (i resisted the urge to tackle the gaggle of them checking in the next morning and demand to know one had broken our spirits in chicago 12-72 hours ago.) while much of the valley looks suspiciously like pop-up ads or holograms projected from smartphones, sonesta looked to me like a slightly more corporate version of stanford sierra camp, and i slept (and watched television) like a rock there.

royal pacific motor inn (san francisco, CA). our old favorite (a wonderful japantown hotel with a toy machine in the lobby) is now part of an upscale chain that has standardized it and might now require actual organs from its guests, so we settled on a lodge that, like the one we found on long island for the night of this spring's broken social scene concert, was somewhat disappointingly non-murder-y. its television was small and old, but since we spent the majority of our time in the city with my other sister and her family and had just been introduced to the wonderful world of collecting and trading panini stickers, it was just fine (mostly i was excited about having room on our bed to muster our new two-dimensional squads). it was also very gratifying to be adhering to parts of our schedule that we'd planned more than 12 hours in advance—that two-day stay was edenic. parking was free! free!

nickies bar (san francisco, CA). i was excited about seeing our first game with my sister and her baby at mad dog in the fog, a haight spot that's captivated my imagination since college—i would pass it on the bus once every few months (the walk plus train ride plus walk plus bus ride to haight-ashbury from my place took like two hours each way, so i didn't do it very often, and i was underage, so i couldn't get in anyway). mad dog in the fog has a strict NO BABIES policy (the nerve!), though, so we holed up at nickies a few blocks away and had a fine old time. our server there came over to admire our infant, which was a good call on her part, for he is awfully admirable. and super huge! probably he won't even get carded circa the next world cup. she was in a remarkably good mood for someone who'd been tackling sports fans since eight in the morning, that server. we left a generous tip.

san francisco athletic club (san francisco, CA). hats off to the cavernous SFAC for having a huge corner booth at which my sister's actual baby and my and joe's soccer-sticker-album baby had plenty of room to spread out and do our thing. screens were massive, memorabilia was old-school and charming, and i'd have happily eaten lunch there if we hadn't been en route to the mission for a last-minute taqueria pancho villa pilgrimage. (my burrito was not as exquisite as i'd been hoping it would be, but my god, pancho villa still beats new york burritos hollow.)

olde sonoma public house (sonoma, CA). i've been to many a bar that offers take-out menus from local spots and lets you call something in, but i have never had a server from a neighboring restaurant roll up to my table with dishes and silverware. you astonish, sonoma! we and the bartenders then turned out to be the only germany supporters in a strip-mall watering hole full of swedish soccer enthusiasts; you astonish again, sonoma! i learned that day that i bellow when germany scores, and that one should always order more quesadillas than one believes one needs. also my cousins are shorter than i thought they were (we had a family reunion later that afternoon).

dog house pub (st. john, USVI). there was a minor sports-related freakout in cruz bay last tuesday when it became clear that the FOX affiliate out of puerto rico (which had supposedly aired every other world cup match) decided to show valkyrie instead, which conspiracy theorists insisted was somehow germany's revenge after getting knocked out of the tournament? i was unaware that telemundo was an option (and was unable to work the TV in my suite back at the resort anyway), so i wandered down to the marina and found a place where someone had managed to direct the english team's wonky live stream from his smartphone to a bar's television. i probably should have been napping instead of sweltering with a bunch of colombia supporters, but i did meet and have a lovely conversation with a woman who'd come down with FEMA to help with long-term economic recovery on the islands. look, ma! i networked!

videology bar & cinema (brooklyn, NY). i had yet another story to file before i could join joe back in videology's super-boss screening room the day after i returned from st. john, so i spent the first half of the game formatting jpegs while listening to brazilians and belgians scream and groan. i can't listen to music while i work, but that was surprisingly okay. you definitely shouldn't go see the final there on sunday, though—it's a terrible place (okay, it's the best place, but keep that to yourself.)

barleycorn (new york, ny). we'd intended to head back to videology, and i'd woken up extra-early to file two stories so i could head to videology without a laptop, but a surprise meeting meant joe had to stay downtown. "do you remember that place where we met that couple at the bar and they shared their pizza with us?" he asked. "we could go there, they have the game." (it took me a while to figure out which place he meant, actually—strangers like to give us stuff.). i have questions: who are these suited dudes who can roll into a bar at two in the afternoon and not work there? they did not have laptops. are world cup matches the new three-martini lunches? they were definitely england fans, though, and they were pretty bummed. we decided that luka modrić is an elf; he looks like he has access to special, extra-nutritious travel wafers. i am proud to say that we have collected every last sticker for his team.

*i often refer to our little cat as mad dog in the fog.


it was fitting, perhaps, that my first press trip in a few years popped up after this summer's Circle of Life Tour (chicago for a friend's wedding and visiting my college roommate and her newborn son, then on to california to meet my sister's newborn son and attend a family reunion). i seem to have reached an age at which bystanders need to talk about my age, and...okay? i mentioned that i was going to rome for my fortieth birthday this fall and a new friend on said press trip gave me the "oh, you don't look it!" that i gave a friend a few years ago on a hike in hawaii; i now get that that sentiment is always weird. a few days later i climbed up to a sports bar for the england-colombia world cup match and a twentyish guy rolled up to me with a glinting grill: "you're a cute Mature Woman," said he. a day or two later i was assured that i was still voluptuous. which is all fine, i am okay with the fact that i have a face and a body that are visible to others despite my efforts to sidle through life like an eel, but i'm realizing that i love the existence i've had at my bird hospital and my bookstore. while it's clear that i'm older than the film students helping me shelve books and that one weird guy who kept working into every conversation that he was born in 1996 (that's your calling card? really?) and that V was born several decades before i was, i guess i thought we were all...ageless and kind of formless? that because i assume most of my acquaintances are like me, they assume i'm like them?

i've been talking to my dear friend L about this—a friend who's gotten things like, "she's pretty sexy for an old lady!"—and would like to say that i've come up with a graceful response to the faux spit-takes about my age, but man, that shit is weird. i spent this week hearing nineties alt-rock at various resort-adjacent spots and thinking about how those same pool decks spun golden oldies a generation ago—who doesn't want to hear their high-school hits when they're on their long-earned vacation?—and realizing that, son of a bitch, i'm old. it's fine, this is how the world ends, but i thought i had more time.

i shared my flight home from st. thomas with a couple of paralytically privileged kids who were en route to the hamptons for the night; she might or might not have been his girlfriend, but he was definitely her project, as he lurched into our seats and spent four hours curling into her lap, ordering cups of water in triplicate, and puking them back into his seat. at one point he sat with a demitasse of bile on his tray for like half an hour, and she glinted up at me, apologetically: thank you so much, i'm so sorry. i have been sixteen, and you will be forty, and i told the angry folks across the aisle that i withstood you because i don't fancy airport jail but in truth i don't want to have outgrown understanding you.


today i granted my first interview to a foreign journalist: my friend and fellow bookstore volunteer V asked if she could chat with me for her spanish class, for which participants must quiz and profile people. it's a very competitive class, she said, and she thought she had a real ace in the hole with the story of me and my wild animals; she asked if i could send her a few of my photos of ben bird, of randy the opossum, of the hospital lobby teeming with ambulatory waterfowl. "one of my classmates told the story of a wild night of dancing when she was in cuba in the '80s," V said. "she and her girlfriends just hit the floor with a group of men they met, then exhausted themselves, waved to their partners, and headed back to their tables. someone turned to her: you knew that was fidel castro, right?" godspeed, V.


we have an especially small canada gosling at the wildlife hospital who can't mix with the other young waterfowl (or even the chickens), try as he would; he's come near to being pecked to death or swallowed whole more times than i can count (looking at you, gulls). he was sequestered with the juvenile squirrels in reception when i was around last week, and he was down in the basement with us today―bad news, as far as i'm concerned, as it is remarkably easy to mistake a little bird for a patch of floor.* an hour before i left for the afternoon, A released two juvenile crows from the darkened operating room they'd been sharing with an opossum―they needed the fly time we'd been giving the pigeons, and dog toys (fantastic corvids!), and a chance to mess up the pharmacy. mostly they wanted to give the laundry corner an edward gorey soundtrack, and the little gosling, how he wanted to imprint on those teen crows―each time one paused on the floor he'd spatter over to join its black train. you know that they'll kill you if you keep that up, right? everything is rejection to an orphaned gosling; why wouldn't you try to shoot the moon?

i would like to stay up for news of #mprraccoon this evening, but election nights and wildlife rehab have taught me that most things end badly. but why wouldn't you try to shoot the moon? there's cat food aplenty on the roof, exquisite one. give 'em hell.

*ben the cardinal, my best bird, broke his shoulder a few years ago when he mistook a staffer's shoelaces for worms and she in turn mistook him for a patch of floor. his woes have accumulated since then and i should probably talk about how he is doing now, but that is the sort of thing i write and delete late at night. he is dying, okay? he is dying.


My favourite song to play live is 'Temptation'. It's one of New Order's oldest songs, dating back to 1981, yet over the years it's evolved and developed ontsage into the stomping, thunderous nine-minute behemoth we play today as the climax of our live set.

We recorded it in London at a studio near the Post Office Tower on a day when it was snowing heavily. While I was recording the vocal Rob [Gretton] snuck into the studio and stuck a snowball down the back of my shirt. You can hear that on the long version of the song: all the whooping and shouting is the result of Rob's handful of snow going down my back, which is a wonderful memory to hear on the record but, even so, I think 'Temptation' is a much more powerful live song than it could ever be in the studio. It's neither our most famous song nor our most commercially successful, yet it draws people in and has become the pinnacle of the entire set. There's something about the repetition and the motion it involves, the simplicity of the structure and the words that make 'Temptation' a very spiritual song for me. I don't think I can explain why, there's just a tangible sense when I'm singing it that makes it feel to me like a prayer.

(bernard sumner, from chapter and verse [new order, joy division and me])




Found these among the photos and letters that Grandma and Grandpa had saved. Lovely note!

Love and hugs,
20 aug 1999.

dear grandpa,

i know that i'm probably way too old to talk about things like favourite family members, but i wanted to tell you that for me it has always been you. i love you very much, and i am proud to be your granddaughter.


ps: i regret that you couldn't come to england while i was studying in oxford; i hope that i can join you if you visit britain again someday. it will, in my mind, always be associated with your stories.
on 20 aug 2006, joe and i walked our wedding guests from the garden at our old house to our favorite oxford pub. i handed over the pound coins grandpa had given me when it became clear that he would die before we were married. you need to buy yourself a pint from me, he said.


i pride myself on being a really fucking solid volunteer. whether i'm shepherding indie-indie movie types to their festival sheaths, keeping a guy with the methadone nods awake as i ring up a masticated infinite jest, or mopping swan shit out of a stainless-steel cage—i am your man.

the way in which i support the folks at the wildlife hospital is especially important to me because they are so clearly what i wish i could be. i introduced myself to a girl young enough to be my daughter there a couple of months ago and asked her if she was a vet in training. "since birth, practically," she said. same here, if i had a backbone, if i could dissect or euthanize anything. all i wanted as a little girl was to be a veterinarian—my sister agreed, at age six or so, to be my receptionist—and i knew so, so early that it would never happen. i covered my parents' station wagon with snot one christmas when we passed on an ugly tree; no one would take it home, and its death was meaningless, meaningless. middle-school biology classes were non-starters. i could be a blue helmet, or something.

my friend and her daughter came to visit the hospital today, and i spent a half hour walking them through our treatment rooms, offering up iridescent pigeons for petting, apologizing for poop, so much poop on the floor. i offered to clean the whole isolation ward after they'd left because i knew we had been in everyone's way and i want to continue to be a really fucking solid volunteer, and because i was grateful to the staffers for giving me room to introduce my people to what i love. isohelpful for cleaning the iso room. after an hour of just staggering efficiency, i swept birdseed from beneath the chambers i'd disinfected, and my broom caught something. it caught on a big old glue trap, a glue trap full of mouse. not a dead mouse, his tail hogarth's line of beauty, a mouse that had yet to pull his body apart to attempt to get away from the organ-mangling glue trap, which is what mice do and what glue traps do. i pulled the trap from the broom as i walked into the lobby. WILL SOMEONE DROWN THIS MOUSE. my favorite hospital staffer has the name i would give a child, if i had a child. "you mean, will we—" YES.

when i was small and my mother found live gophers in snap traps in our yard, she'd drown them, trap and all, in a bucket. my five-dollar pet mouse, esmerelda, became a cauliflower whose tumors bumped against the wheel in her cage, and i asked her to take her to the vet to put her to sleep, and she did.

i busied myself for half an hour before confronting my favorite, who asked me to join her on the stairs and told me that Mouse Park—our collective dream of catching pests and releasing them, surreptitiously, away from the center—had never really worked on a grand scale. she told me that the contagions associated with the mice killed our birds—i knew that, i know that—and that the mice eluded the humane traps, and the (comparatively humane) snap traps.

a rehabber, P, sedated the mouse in the glue trap and euthanized him; that is the YES, that was the only YES. that is the YES for half of our patients, be they raptors or possums or, almost, the one rat we splinted and released a few years ago. i loved and love my hospital because they dignify creatures that many people abhor, and i have also cut up a frozen mouse for little kestrels we've rehabbed, and—
When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds—just
seeing him there—with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking through the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
---I am going to be unappeased at the opossum's death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevys passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

(gerald stern, behaving like a jew)


the dirty dozen {twelve things i brought home from a week with family in northern california}

01 three sets of baby teeth
02 a handmade quilt with a smattering of blood stains
03 three frozen burritos
04 mushroom jerky*
05 a jay feather
06 a wooden feather
07 a lighthouse passport
08 like seventeen oyster shells
09 frankenstein in baghdad (h/t @ point reyes books)
10 signs preceding the end of the world (ditto)
11 a bunch of berlin's hair
12 renewed appreciation for mark knopfler

*not as toothsome as far west fungi's, but legit.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what do you pick up when you're away from home?

02 what should i do with these teeth? (i have two sets of wisdom teeth, too.)

03 what if we just forgot about term limits in california?