india has a transformation in mind for each of us. our dear traveling companion, A, underwent such gastrointestinal tribulation that she's back in the states with an ongoing inability to excrete in a manner of her choosing (overcorrection means that she now shits like a rabbit, poor thing). joe has either bronchitis or pneumonia—we're not quite sure, as the x-ray machine was down at the doctor's office—and is home with antibiotics, trying to shake the infamous grey air (a combination of car emissions, industrial pollution, and seasonal stubble burning after crops were harvested) we breathed for a week and change with antibiotics and recorded soccer matches. by comparison i got off easy: i've lost my talent for sleeping and become a reluctant lark. in delhi i clocked an average of three or four hours of rest at a stretch, and while i made up for some of that when we headed south to goa, the sunrise and i became and are still awkward new pals. there i greeted the day with squabbling parakeets and tentative monkeys; here the cats are sure it's already time for me to feed them. probably it is always time for me to feed them.

i should have been the one negotiating with bathrooms in a sari with henna-covered hands, since i have a childish fascination with tap water. our guide books made casual drinking sound like eating pomegranate seeds in the underworld, but listen, fancy hotels and restaurants quite literally had more to lose than i did if i went down with delhi belly: apocalyptic diarrhea is bad, but trip advisor is forever. if someone swears up and down that their water is filtered, by god, i'll believe them. I LOVE ICE.*

i probably should be with joe on the couch as well, since pneumonia is one of my lungs' favorite tricks (i had it twice while i worked for the ladymag). after a few hours on our delhi hotel's rooftop i felt an old, familiar knife in my chest, the one that settled there when i'd play soccer games in southern california in the bad old days of los angeles smog in the '80s.

no, sleep's the thing. i've had a lot of time for reading: i just started n.k. jemisin's dreamblood series, a weird cycle to slip into when one's ability to conk out is compromised.** this weekend i styled frantically for a couple of DIY stories i'm turning in this week; i run a few miles as the sun rises. i wandered into the bird hospital on my second day home, early for the first time in four years, to tire myself out with grunt work. i imagine all three of us will return to ourselves sooner or later? india should linger, i think, both psychically—a post for another sleepless morning—and physically. i held my hands just so as joe photographed them for my DIY shoot so that their fading henna, still visible two weeks after our friends' wedding, was out of sight. i wanted it to sneak in, really, but i am trying to work on my timing. stories needn't tumble over each other all at once.

*a guy sitting next to me on the flight from delhi down to goa rejected a bottle of water from our flight attendant because it was "too cold." i should have taken it.

**In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.


when we decided to go to rome this fall, i dove into a search for local tattoo artists. i found a glorious one almost immediately, but it was clear that her style would make my back look funky: the blackwork i have is woodcut-inspired, ill-suited to share space with goddesses. i settled into following her on instagram and figured that would be it.

my beloved—yes, beloved—ladymag announced that it would be departing from print a few weeks ago. i sat with that news for a long time, and it hurt much more than i imagined it would; publishing has made me tremble for more than a decade now, but motherfucker, i thought the old girl would survive. i was its research chief for a long time, so i used to field the calls that had nowhere else to go: could you tell some more stories, the elderly readers said, i don't know where to go for stories anymore. my ladymag was no longer the one that published prestige fiction decades ago, but it remained, in These Modern Times, one that gave women a place to convene.

i stayed up for a long time and thought about that, and about a departing editor-in-chief's comment about how what she would carry with her from our office was the sound of women laughing. the sun started clawing its way over long island, and i wrote a note to the artist who was too intricate for me: hey, i have the good fortune to be in rome next week and, while i imagine you have no time, might you be able to tattoo a moth on my wrist? so many things happen to our bodies that we can't control, and fuck it, i wanted a beautiful insect on me. i wanted gorgeous vermin, i wanted to feel like myself. her first note came back the next morning, so i decoupaged a google image printout on my arm. three days later, just before we saw the magic flute for my birthday, she said she had time for me later in the week; a two-day job had taken her just one day.

joe dislikes tattoos—unfortunate, given that i had two when we met and have acquired several more in the decades we've been together—and told me, you don't have to go through with this if you don't want it. at that point we had been in rome for nearly a week, and a hummingbird hawk moth had visited our terrace's flowers for five nights. it's been three weeks, now, and the antennae peek out of my sleeve every day.


yesterday i swallowed the third of my four live typhoid caplets for our trip to india next weekend. i have developed a sort of affection for the weakened bacteria i've been consuming: it feels unfair, this bolstering of my immune system with little microbes that can't fight back. i am not interested in illness as a memento, though i have accepted scars and the detritus of fair-to-middling infections, but i find in the hour between ingestion and a meal that i have tender feelings for my monocellular fellow-travelers. we saw california-based friends for drinks and snacks this evening and i found myself wondering if the little guys were getting what they needed. do you want mashed potatoes? how about macaroni and cheese? joe warns me that my habit of drinking tap water as i please will not fly when we are in delhi and goa, and i know he is right. i hit the drugstore like a ton of bricks the other day, and i have blister packs to address any if not all modern conditions (election angst? let me dig, i feel that i have a scorching antibiotic for that).

i have spent more on fripperies for my dear friends' overseas wedding than i did for my own—to be fair, i bought my dress for the latter at the mall—and i am looking forward to being a semi-granny at the sangeet, and the mehndi, and the final ceremony.*

on infection, i have been surprisingly conservative about the tattoo i acquired in rome a few weeks ago. it is the first one i can see, you see, as it is on my wrist (the others are all on my spine), and i am experiencing the healing process in a heretofore-unplumbed way. he swelled a bit in the first few days and i sent a panicked note to my artist—i've abandoned my boy!—but i have settled into acceptance. the cilia on his antennae might not have survived the jazz club in rome, or the colosseum and the palatine hill, or the fact that i sleep with my left hand beneath my pillow and write with it as if someone on the other side of the world might need to feel my pen's pressure in order to keep going, but this old body might need to acknowledge wear and tear, and that my choices leave marks. jeremy dennis—not his name, not necessarily, but the names my artist and joe gave him—might be the product of his experiences.

i don't want to make too much of the fact that my latest tattoo artist was my first female tattoo artist, but i would be lying if i said the experience didn't feel different. no previous artist has asked me to be sure to have a proper meal before my appointment, or to bring something to drink while i was being tattooed. we spoke for our three hours together about freelancing, and companion animals, and bodily autonomy, and i think we meant it when we hugged as we parted.

*i apparently kept reaching for golden girls-esque wedding outfits. THAT IS FOR AN AUNTIE, the shopkeeper said. YOU ARE YOUNG. i disagree, but i bought a crop top, god help me.

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?


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.