this blog began to exist ten years ago today. i lived on the top floor of a hundred-year-old triplex built on san francisco bedrock; joe and i could watch the fog roll across russian hill from our little living room, and we could hear the cable car rattle and ring down hyde street as we lay in bed at night. my hair was bright red, unless it was magenta or black; i had four more piercings, and a pale crater where i'd mashed out a cigarette on the back of my hand. i worked at the SPCA and would hide newborn kittens in the pharmacy with me; being tucked in a box with a surgical glove full of warm water was better than being put to sleep, at least for a little while. the coffee-colored fur around jude's amputation had just grown back. the world trade center would be attacked in less than two weeks, and my parents' divorce would be finalized at christmas.

the unspoken rules of blogging were pretty simple: be honest and humane. don't let anyone buy you. say things no one else can say. the internet communities of those days would be as shocked by their descendents as twenty-two-year-old lauren would be by your narrator, perhaps, but i remember those rules, and at my best i follow them all.

thank you for being here with me.


hurricane bread

we had a lot of cheese at our disposal by the time we battened down the hatches for the storm on friday night. cheese is not the sort of thing one should stockpile for an emergency, what with its tendency to throw fits in the absence of refrigeration; i admit i was cultivating a scenario in which the power went out and our eating large quantities of cheese was the responsible thing to do. judge if you must.

by saturday afternoon our relationship with crackers had become strained, but we could hardly plan to bake in the morning; while it was entirely possible that our oven would be fine and safe to use on sunday, a risen dough that goes unbaked is a dough i can't face. enter the easy little bread recipe from 101 cookbooks: about 15 minutes of prep (including five to ten in which you're just waiting for your yeast to bloom), a 30-minute rise, and 35-40 minutes in the oven. the most exotic ingredient is "runny honey" (we used a rather firm sunflower honey and were just fine). our poor storm-stuffy apartment smelled as if jehovah himself were in the kitchen baking bread. within two hours we had the ultimate ploughman's lunch on our table (is there a jar of branston pickle among your disaster supplies? fix that, as soon as you can) and were watching youtube clips from the freddie mercury tribute concert at wembley, as one does. take this recipe for a spin; you won't be sorry.

08.27.11: on irene, from nyc {updated throughout the storm, at least in theory}

11:19 i've packed up apartment tent, drained the tub, and released our plants back into the wild. it's probably time to get started on fan letters to the folks who offered to put us up if worse came to worst (though irene has been losing steam for the past few days, we were convinced on thursday that we'd be evacuated from the building over the weekend; i very nearly cried with relief when friends told us that of course we could stay with them).

09:54 back from surveying the city from our roof. a news crew is now filming our trees.

09:28 the poor old gentlemen.

our trees, 9 am

09:07 williamsburg is just visible across the river.

williamsburg bridge, brooklyn

08:17 the weather channel reports that irene is still a "low-end" hurricane with winds of about 75 mph; "it's gotten kind of elongated and fucked up," joe notes. 125,000 people in the tri-state area (including several thousand in each of the five boroughs) are without power, but we're going strong.

08:00 the sea wall on the east river has been breached down by wall street, but it seems to be holding up here. someone just crossed the overpass between us and the park on foot.

07:53 we woke to screaming winds at about three this morning; another band of rain has moved in, and joe says the eye wall is coming at us from the southeast (it's a darker grey in the sky). the fdr seems to be under a few feet of water.


23:54 administrative note: if we lose power, i'll continue to update via twitter (the most recent tweet appears on this page at right). i will also try to convince joe to have a flashlight party.

23:43 abc news is reporting that con ed could cut power to lower manhattan, as salt can collect on cables; the housing authority, in turn, might shut down elevators in high rises (in public housing, not private buildings).

23:24 out on the balcony the air is soft and warm, the windblown rain like confetti in your face; it's not unpleasant. the current in the east river is picking up speed.

22:30 @twintermute (my friend stewart, in boston): "fenway letting people in for free, so we cabbed over. so empty you can hear the drummer guys out on lansdowne." traffic on the fdr hasn't disappeared altogether, but it's lighter than i've ever seen it, and mostly city vehicles.

21:30 took a farewell bath and left the tub full of water (in case we need it to flush the toilet). truth be told, the idea of going without bathing saddens me more than the idea of going without flushing; i'd be showering right now if i could figure out how to waterproof the laptop. it's an interesting reversal of my concerns as a girl scout camp counselor years ago, when i could deal with showering once a week but fixated on "real" toilets after getting trapped in a port-a-potty with a nest of earwigs (concealed in the tp roll).

19:27 the staten island ferry will run for another two and a half hours, which is very much in character, if a bit baffling. with bus service suspended and a terminus deep in the evacuation zone, who will be riding those ferries? an suv loitering on fdr drive (that is, on the border of zone A) was just hastened along by a police cruiser; we could hear the loudspeaker barking.

18:49 am baking icelandic-chocolate-and-walnut cookies. what the news reports won't tell you: child-free hurricane area residents end up with terror-food babies.

18:01 on a phoner with the huffington post this afternoon, "must-read" scientist-slash-weather-blogger jeff masters said, "I'm not too worried about the wind. But the big damage will be from the storm surge and fresh water flooding. That is going to be the big worry." flooding i don't mind; we're just across the street from the east river, sure, but our building's ground floor is full of wet vacs, water pumps, and sand bags. i've been eyeing the neighbors' balconies and thinking about airborne projectiles, as we seem to be the only people on the lower east side who brought our stuff indoors (thanks, guys). i don't actually want to find and throttle the guy with the potted japanese maple on the terrace next door.

16:48 our plants and chairs are in from the balcony, our extra-breakable stuff (joe's speakers, a lamp, a decanter and glasses) are tucked in the closet, and our little stockpiles of batteries, water, and emergency supplies are in easy reach. as we can't completely avoid the windows (which are in every room), it gives me great pleasure to announce the return of apartment tent.

apartment tent: the re-debut

15:20 my friend lauren (in durham, NC) tells us to be prepared to lose power; she's been having off-and-on surges since last night, and "now it's just off." FEMA reports that 500,000 people are without power in north carolina now, up from 250,000 just two hours ago, and it's expected to get worse as the storm moves up the coast. our building has a generator for the lobby; we, in turn, have three flashlights and several thousand stinky candles.

14:56 @MCSnugz (our friend sarah): "So Fresh Direct did that thing where they cancelled our order and we had to fight the Brooklyn hordes for 10 bottles of Smart Water." the hoarding started early in midtown manhattan: when i headed out for a late lunch at about two yesterday afternoon, C and D batteries were long gone. i found an overlooked stash at a bodega near columbus circle; joe informed me that 2-packs like the ones i scored were going for $15 on the upper east side. (i did not buy them all.)

14:36 our building's exercise room is as lively as i've ever seen it: every machine was enthusiastically occupied, and katrina and the waves (a bold choice, local radio station) blared out of the sound system. televisions tuned to the local news informed us that new jersey governor chris christie is still livid ("get the hell off the beach in asbury park and get out"). it suits him.

13:10 just got my first hurricane-related commercial email, courtesy of fredflare.com - "EVERYBODY WAS TALKING ABOUT IRENE BUT SHE WASN'T ONE TO GOSSIP. STAY CUTE & SAFE THIS WKND. XOXO" - and as far as i can tell, the irene in question is a striped cardigan. in other news, raising a hand and saying "stay safe" every time i walk away from someone has started making me feel like the pope. i don't know how that works.

12:52 back from our last trip to the grocery store. it's calmed down since last night, when a small mob gathered around a woman with something like seventeen items in the fifteen-items-or-fewer aisle. plenty of water, but the bread was long gone. here comes the rain.

12:12 we've decided to stay in the apartment (on the border between evacuation zones A and B); while we're on the 18th floor, our building management maintains that our windows can handle 75 mph winds and gusts of 80-95 mph. local news reports that many zone A residents are ignoring the city's evacuation order. staying behind is foolish and dangerous, bloomberg says. a guy on a sea-doo just passed us, heading up the east river.

A time to go home!--
And a child's dirty shift billows upward out of an alley,
A cat runs from the wind as we do,
Between the whitening trees, up Santa Lucia,
Where the heavy door unlocks,
And our breath comes more easy--
Then a crack of thunder, and the black rain runs over us, over
The flat-roofed houses, coming down in gusts, beating
The walls, the slatted windows, driving
The last watcher indoors, moving the cardplayers closer
To their cards, their anisette.

(theodore roethke, from "the storm")

1: how long have you lived in new york now?
2: eight years. i guess i can't really call myself a californian any more.
1: i mean, your rap allegiance has totally changed.
2: 2pac just doesn't sound the same.
1: and snoop, i mean...
2: with katy perry. god.



SURVIVOR: anna karenina (leo tolstoy)*
CHALLENGER: wonder boys (michael chabon)

i won't pretend to have started reading wonder boys with anything like neutrality. the flawed-but-glorious film version (c. 2000, with michael douglas, tobey maguire, and robert downey, jr.) has a special place in my heart for being one of the first things both joe and i found riotously funny; i worried that the book couldn't possibly be as pleasurable as the movie had been. could the errol flynn conversation work twice?

wonder boys (1995) is michael chabon's second novel, written when he was a slightly larger fetus than he was when he wrote the mysteries of pittsburgh (which was pleasant enough, as i recall, though the only bit of it which really stuck with me was that the main character's love interest was called phlox).** it's a novel about grady tripp, a skirt-chasing, pot-smoking old author who hits the bar and the road with james leer, one of his writing students, as their university is consumed for the weekend by wordfest, a series of self-congratulatory lectures and parties for writers-, publishers-, and agents-to-be. here's a get-together at grady's place, left empty (except for his sexpot student boarder, hannah) after his wife learns of his affair with the dean's wife and leaves him:
On the sofa behind them a pair of my students, young writers of the Angry School who pierced their lips and favored iron-buckled storm-trooper footwear, had welded themselves into a kind of impromptu David Smith. On the stairs leading up to my bedroom sat three New York agents, better dressed and less drunk than the writers, exchanging among themselves delicate constructions of confidentiality and disinformation. And there were so many Pittsburgh poets in my hallway that if, at that instant, a meteorite had come smashing through my roof, there would never have been another stanza written about rusting fathers and impotent steelworks and the Bessemer converter of love.
this inside-baseball, writer-on-writers stuff could be terrifically annoying, but chabon marbles his wordfest with broad veins of absurdity; some of the more ridiculous conversations reminded me of twin peaks, or twin peaks if david lynch had decided to think about The Great American Novel instead of, you know, The Owls.***

more on that sexpot student boarder (played in the film by a pre-scientology katie holmes): as another reader notes, chabon does a decent job of steering clear of writing what garland grey at tiger beatdown calls a fond memories of vagina novel.**** this could of course simply be because he isn't yet a nasty old man, but i like to think that it's because hannah has some substance; she's fond of grady, but he's been overcooking his latest novel (wonder boys, and it's actually about a couple of guys named wonder) for a long time, and she knows it. happily, we never have to deal with the tragedy of a physical relationship between them.*****

we do have to deal with a physical relationship between the ass of a man named vernon hardapple and the hood of grady's galaxie after an ill-advised night at a local dive; for reasons i don't completely understand, the ass-denting scene gave and continues to give me great joy. it functions a bit like one of shakespeare's scenes for the groundlings: chabon layers his more serious observations about writers and their art between these marvelous little set pieces.
"Chaos," he said, rolling his window down, breathing it in like the smell of cut grass or the ocean. He shook his head admiringly. "What a mess."

"No kidding," I said, looking down at the pathetic remnant of Wonder Boys in my lap. I ought to have been pounding on the dashboard, I thought, and eulogizing sweet chaos, the opposite and the inhibitor of death, and stating, for the record, that Vernon Hardapple's breath had carried an anise whiff of Italian sausage and a rusty tang of beer. Ever since the day, nearly twenty-five years before, that I'd first fallen under the spell of Jack Kerouac and his free-form Arthurian hobo jazz, with all its dangerous softheartedness and poor punctuation, I had always, consciously and by some unthinking reflex of my heart, taken it as an article of faith that escapades like the rescue of James Leer from his Sewickley Heights dungeon, or the retrieval of the missing jacket, were intrinsically good: good for the production of literature, good for barroom conversation, good for the soul. Chaos! I ought to have been gulping it down the way Knut Hamsun, perched atop a locomotive as it hurtled across the American heartland, swallowed a thousand miles of icy air in a successful attempt to rid his body of tubercules. I ought to have been welcoming the bright angel of disorder into my life like the prickling flow of blood into a limb that had fallen asleep.
grady doesn't actually live in the absurd moments his agent (the first speaker above) and i love so well; he has a rakish side, but he's domesticated and he knows it.
On a day when my work hasn't gone well, I like to spend a couple of hours behind The Alibi's dented steel bar, and you can find me there on Tuesday nights after the advanced workshop lets out. You can look for the half-blind minotaur with the corduroy sport coat and the battered horsehair briefcase, at the far end of the bar by the jukebox, holding on to a mug of Iron City cut, for the sake of his health, with thin, sweet lemonade.
chabon would have a hell of a time spinning four novels out of him, as john updike did with harry angstrom - but i almost wish he would. fiction needs that kind of guy.

VICTOR: i'd really like to throw this one to chabon, but i think the beast from the east still has some fight in him. anna karenina continues, though i threw my knickers at wonder boys.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you read or seen wonder boys? if both, what'd you think of the casting?

02 "phlox" as a hot-girl name: inspired or questionable?

03 is it less annoying when a young male novelist writes about an old male novelist than it is when an old male novelist writes about an old male novelist?

04 if you found yourself full of tubercules, what cure would you take?

05 have you ever had a briefcase?

06 with what do you cut your beer?

*previous battle here.

**he was 25 when he published pittsburgh and 32 for wonder boys.

***to be clear, i am by no means suggesting lynch should have thought about The Great American Novel. i love The Owls, though they scare the crap out of me.

****“I am a writer in the twilight of my years, bored with life and my sexual powers. Oh, wait: pussy." see amis, martin; marquez, gabriel garcia; roth, philip; rushdie, salman; updike, john, &c.

*****while grady lacks self-control, he never goes so far off the rails that we stop liking him. almost all of chabon's central characters here, now that i think about it, are quite likeable.

08.05.11 {on deep-fried kool-aid}

deep fried kool aid: it begins

deep-fried kool-aid, cont'd.

My questions are two: How? Why?

A: how: as one would make doughnut holes or falafel, according to most of the recipes i've seen. jumble several tablespoons of kool-aid powder with sugar, flour, and fat, then chuck little scoops of the resulting batter in a deep fryer, probably in an off-putting trailer.

why [the orange county fair, suppliers of our batch]: because it's there, as sir edmund hillary* put it. why [me, the eater of our batch]: because it is bitter, and because it is my heart. also vegetarianism really problematizes neophilia: when i can eat mysterious food, i almost always do.

does fried kool aid pair well with kool aid?

A: the inventors say yes; my guess would be no. i'd pair it with seltzer or a dry cider to offset the banshee sweetness.

what does it taste like?

A: like a feral churro raised by sweet tarts, and i mean that as a compliment; good texture and a moist crumb with a pleasantly unnerving citric finish. i dislike bland pastries and am extremely fond of dentally catastrophic fruit flavors, so i found them interesting, which is not to say that i'd face down more than one ever again, probably. i have my pride.

how does frying affect color? Can you make shapes (like pancakes)?

A: it browns it out a bit [fig. 2]; think falafel, or the exterior of a red velvet cake. i think a pancake presentation probably wouldn't be as successful; the dough needs to stay fairly moist to dignify the one-note flavor of the kool-aid crystals.

did you make joe eat one?

A: yes.

do your nails always look like that?

A: unless i'm in a wedding party.

how long did it take the east village to start selling a vegan version of deep-fried kool-aid?

A: three weeks.

*or, as george notes, george mallory put it (unless his quote was massaged). in other news, hillary described everest's summit as "a beautiful, symmetrical snow cone."


my sister (baby jo) and brother-in-law (chris) are as fond of movies and cemeteries as we are, bless their dark filmgoers' hearts, so our conversations about our upcoming stay at their place in los angeles were mostly a competition to see who could be most enthusiastic about rolling out for cinespia, a decade-old summer screening series at hollywood forever (a favorite final resting place for the famous and dead - valentino, douglas fairbanks, and the like).

cemetery picnickers start lining up around around six on saturday evenings, and they don't wait to make it through the gate: tables and chairs sprouted like mushrooms on the lawn at the side of the road. everyone had the same roll-up gnome-table; i'm guessing it came from the silver lake trader joe's, as we ourselves had (both in a temporal and metaphysical sense). perhaps a tenth of the crowd had had pizza delivered to them at the cemetery, while jo brought the russ and daughters caviar dish i gave chris last christmas. "you could bring candles," i said. "bitch," said she, "please."

brother B's cinespia table cloth
{brother b's handmade cinespia table cloth}

we turned out for it happened one night, frank capra's 1934 screwball road trip movie with clark gable and claudette colbert. a deejay played assorted indie rock (and a lot of amy winehouse) as we staked out spaces on the vast lawn in front of the mausoleum/screen and reassembled our alternapicnics. folks queued for the voyage-dans-la-lune-ish photo booth; a placid cat wore a harness at the end of a leash. just before the movie started, one of the organizers came out to tell us that the deejay and his family had just moved to los angeles from northern ireland, and it was his (the deejay's) young daughter's birthday; the birthday girl came out as well, whispering that she was very nervous and didn't want the microphone, and we sang for her. the organizer asked her if she had anything to say. "bacon," she replied.

it happened one night
{gable, colbert, mausoleum}

dew settled on our legs and shoulders as the moon rose.

cinespia still life
{clementines, votives}

we made short work of our wine and sake and tunneled under jo and chris's four thousand blankets (quilts handmade by jo, naturally). when the movie was over, i tucked in my arms and rolled over them both, the suckers.

leaving the cemetery, cont'd.
{leaving the cemetery}

where are your saturdays in the cemetery in the summer with my sister, new york? please try harder.


cloud atlas


we were in california last week; it was pretty harrowing, as i think our loved ones were trying to weigh us down with food to prevent us from leaving. more on that when i've had a chance to regain my bearings; for now, please enjoy these cloud-related images from the westward plane. (i love my german camera, chapter 7: when it realizes i'm taking aerial photos, it reminds me to TURN OFF THE CAMERA DURING THE TAKEOFF AND LANDING. FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS OF CABIN ATTENDANT.)