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?


given how frequently we travel, it's more than a little surprising that saturday night's was our first-ever eleventh-hour flight-cancellation adventure. we'd been playing chicken with jetblue since friday night, when we got news of the nor'easter's effect on new york city: it wasn't really chicken, though, as all of the weekend's flights back home from the dominican republic were sold out. if we'd tried to book something else, we'd have gotten home on...who even knows? i'm flying out to california in two days. we had fancy tickets for the brooklyn museum's david bowie is show yesterday. our ride from the northern coast down to santo domingo was long gone, and even if guaguas ferried folks cross-country and through the mountains after midnight on the weekend—even though i grew up fixated on romancing the stone and dream of sharing a bus with a shitload of chickens one day (chickens are the theme of this travel hiccup, apparently)—trying to get back to our friends' place would pretty clearly have been a terrible idea.

the heroes and rogues of our little version of the hunger games revealed themselves pretty early. a tall, projectile-sweating guy with a silent-film-villain moustache and a brooks brothers polo started ranting in the afternoon bag drop line when a staffer asked him the same questions he'd eventually have to answer on the immigration form in his hand. "what is my OCCUPATION? where do i LIVE? this is a VIOLATION!" his sprinklerhead rotated over to us. "how do YOU feel about the thousand and one questions?" i offered a limp bouquet of shrugs. "i OWN a HOUSE HERE!" his father spat, because of course he was staying at his dad's house. the woman behind me wept quietly; she'd come back to bury her mother and would be fired from the job she was due to start on monday if she didn't get to new york.

the airline dispensed fibs and distractions every hour or so: the pilot has some paperwork he didn't fill out, here are sixteen-dollar vouchers for the restaurant which must not be used for booze, half of you can board and the other half can come along in a moment, just you wait. at midnight my phone informed me that the flight was no more, and the plane egested its passengers. we all galloped down to the baggage claim, past passport control—stamped out of the dominican republic hours earlier, we were in no country at all for the night—and back in line to fight for nonexistent empty seats on other flights. joe and i shrugged at each other and wandered off into the remaining darkness.


Italian fathers, farmers, and country veterinarians repeated these processes for over two hundred years, the curtain of secrecy drawn more closely in some provinces than in others. But the sin of unnecessary dismemberment was punishable by excommunication everywhere, so the altered boys all came to choir ready with excuses. It was most fashionable for gelded choirs to blame their injuries on swan bites or, in [18th-century soprano Carlo Broschi, known only as] Farinelli's case, a horse-kick to the groin. In the 1750s, every last one of the soprani in the Sistine Chapel was an alleged victim of a wild pig attack.

(from "hey big spender," in elena passarello's let me clear my throat)
we had what we called a swanami at the wildlife hospital this winter; at one point five mute swans jostled for space in reception, in the waterfowl room, in the pool. it was a bit like having five pantomime horses in white turtlenecks knocking around the center; swans are always something else in disguise. "i love him," R once said as a massive swan nipped at her arm. "he's such a bastard." i've racked up a few swan bites in my time, but i wouldn't feel comfortable saying they were capable of making off with something important, greek myth and my limited understanding of historical pants aside. then again, what do i know? last week i didn't realize i had warm pigeon shit on the end of my nose until i looked down and saw its vapour trail on my scrubs.


my dear german journalist friend V disappeared for several months last fall after hip surgery, and i was afraid to write her while she was recuperating at home; i feared she'd say she wasn't coming back to volunteer at ye olde charity bookstore cafe again at all. "you were afraid i was dead!" she cried in her fantastic accent.* that isn't even a little bit true; V will outlive us all. she will be back visiting friends in the british virgin islands (where, as you may recall, she once opened a cinema and discovered a serious local demand for kung fu movies) when joe and i are visiting our friends in the dominican republic. we both love swimming but have yet to do it together, so i told her i think we need to swim to each other from our respective islands. you know, diana nyad it up out there. it will work.

she came over to give me a hug as she was leaving the store this evening—only the second or third i've gotten from her, i think—and looked uncharacteristically misty as she said that she wanted to say goodbye before we parted for a month. i grew suspicious and ground my strands of german DNA against each other like a boy scout starting a fire: I WILL BE EXPECTING YOU IN THE SEA.

*i told her today that a new volunteer had observed that everyone has exciting accents on our shift (in addition to V we have a few brits, a new zealander, and a belgian), and she looked crestfallen. "i thought i didn't have an accent," she said. "i start out one way in the morning and then i get tired, i get more german as the day goes on." maybe we all do, i said.


And what a vertigo she must have created for the trapped and the crippled who saw her escaping. This stocky dove, this fist with wings, tamping down the contaminated air in her ascent, pushing away all that was lost and clearing a space for all that is home. A pigeon in the air, lifting out of the trench, is a gray flag of possibility, a final opportunity for the doomed to pull their heads up. A pigeon in war is a chance to keep imagining.

Then a shell exploded underneath her, killing five men and sending the shocked bird to the ground. And that descent is the last recorded remembrance of the 77th's last pigeon by any lasting member of the Lost Battalion. Perhaps they all turned away because they couldn't stand to watch further, and this is why no 77th saw the moment when she relaunched her body—one eye just gone and one leg hanging by a tendon, tin tube still affixed. Nobody saw her wobble in the air toward Mobile Message Unit #9, twenty-five miles southwest, picking up speed as she flew. And since nobody saw her, no 77th doughboy could possibly imagine what was going to happen next.

(from "war pigs," in elena passarello's fucking extraordinary animals strike curious poses)
true story. cher ami's message:


cher ami delivered a total of 12 messages in the american sector at verdun during world war one.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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 reykjav√≠k). 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.


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?"