Spellbound! Lawton Estate’s Witchiest Week

In classic haunting stories you may note that there’s always an uptick of ghostly upheaval when a household goes through a huge transition. So, I ascribe  most of  of what transpired the months of July/August 2013,   the fact that Nikolas,  the Worst-Roommate-Ever  was FINALLY THANK THE LORT  MOVING OUT.
Listen.
Nikolas didn’t start off being the worlds shittiest roommate. He seemed like a good, albeit socially awkward kid at first.  (Literally a kid-he was only 21). He had a long Kenny G. ponytail, listened to Enya and baked muffins. He was quiet, and he always paid his bills. (Or, at least his parents did)-What the heck more can you ask for in a roommate?
Anyway, over the course of the next few years, Nikolas began his great transformation—from  new-age  mama’s boy, to a gym queen almost four times his former size. The bigger he got, the more of a dickweed he grew into.  He stopped listening to Enya, and started to listen to tweaker top 20. He cut his Kenny G. hair. He stopped baking muffins and ate nothing but fish, whey shakes,  and lean meats. All of these things might be tolerable if he still kept up with his house chores, but apparently he decided somewhere along the line  that messes were for his mama (i.e. me) to pick up. No matter how many times I asked, begged, or nagged, he just sighed and said “I’m sorry. I’m just really really busy.”
Nikolas’s tenure as worlds-worst-housemate also coincided with a particularly dark time or me personally—I’d come home from my shitty job every day, and find empty tuna cans thrown in the sink…An open  gallon of whey powder carelessly left on the counter. Empty plastic bags which once held frozen salmon, now floating in a few cups of scummy tap water. Those days our kitchen always smelled like fisherman’s wharf on a rare warm day. Those days I’d come home and weep, for I knew if I didn’t clean it up, it would not get cleaned up ever, and then the bugs and spiders would descend upon our house.
I’m ashamed to admit, there  were days that were so dark, the only thing that cheered me up was daydreaming about Nikoolas accidentally dying of mercury poisoning. My bad vibes eventually grew strong enough that  I believe they  became sort of a dark entity of their own.  Could this entity be powerful enough, to say, cause a bottle of olive oil to explode on a shelf? Perhaps. Could it possess the body of our elderly neighbor Jim, and cause him to drive into our house? It’s hard to say. All I can be certain of is, as soon as I decided to kick Nikolas out once and for all, things around our place started getting witchy.
First thing that happened—perhaps the harbinger of the witchy times to come–was,  I saw a dead rooster hanging from the stop sign in front of my house.  Know what’s the weirdest moment of finding a dead rooster hanging from the stop sign up the street from you? The moment when you’re like “holy shit. that looks like a dead rooster. but it can’t be! oh yes it is. well, if it is, it can’t be real! But why would someone just hang a toy rooster from a stop sign, are you high? No, I’m on my way to work. Not high at all. OH GOD IT’S A REAL DEAD ROOSTER.” 
witchy2
Then, there was that eerie visit from our next door neighbor Jim. Now, I am not at all a fan of Jim. He’s cranky, rakes his sidewalk obsessively, and hates our godforsaken bohemian house full of art and merriment.  He also hates our ugly yard, and  seems to be preoccupied with our landlady’s butthole, because he’s often talked  about how “she’s tight as a drum” and that’s why she’s too cheap to hire a gardener. (All the while making the universal symbol for “tight butthole” with his hand and making me look at it).
witchy3

Look at it.

Anyway, Jim stopped by that particular  afternoon, in a surprising effort of goodwill– to bring an earring of mine that he found in his driveway.
“Thanks Jim,” I said.
“Hey, don’t mention it.” he said, and then lingered in our doorway, giving me a once-over. “You lose weight?”
“I don’t know, Jim,” I said, starting to feel icky. “But thank you for bringing me my earring. I really appreciate that.”
“Sure, sure, sure. You know, you’ve always been a…… really great neighbor” he said in a way that made my stomach cold.
I closed the door, silently retched, and got on the horn with a friend.
“JIM’S LOST HIS MARBLES OFFICIALLY,” I said. “HE CALLED ME A NICE NEIGHBOR.”
“What’s wrong with you, you ARE a nice neighbor,” said my friend.
“That’s not the point. The point is….THE WAY HE SAID IT. I’m telling you, he’s gonna do something weird.”
My friends laughed at me then, but It wasn’t but a few weeks after this strange encounter that Jim—for reasons nobody will ever know—started his truck one morning, hit the gas and sharply accelerated, and then drove over right our fence and into our house, knocking out our gas for a few days and leaving a gaping hole under the front stairs.
Fortunately, nobody was harmed. And, I  have to admit, it was a nice distraction to come home from work, and instead of cleaning up the chum and tuna cans  from our kitchen sink, stare at the giant hole in our yard instead. As I looked through the chasm, our ice-cream man zipped by, playing “Deck the Halls.” Did I mention it was July?
witchy1
Nobody will ever know the true reason  why Jim drove through our house. His old lady told us “He was on his way to a dentist appointment.” Dig this: apparently, after he crashed into our house, he simply drove away from the scene of the crime, to the dentist! (Must have been one painful cavity).
A few weeks later, we had a little party on the patio to celebrate  arrival of the new roommates—Nikolas was moving out (THANK THE LORT JESUS!!), and Poppy  was ready to move in to his old room.  When we came inside to bring the dishes back, we discovered that a jumbo-size bottle of olive oil had exploded on Poppy’s shelf, and was raining down on the floor.
“Weird,” said Poppy, examining the bottle. “It’s like someone came in, and  just sliced the top off the bottle.”
After this, we had an unholy invasion of house flies–a story which I covered extensively in an old post from my food blog.
The last creepy thing to happen was when I decided to replace the rusty towel rack in the back bathroom with a shiny new towel rack. When I did this, I noticed something really weird about the towel rack. On each side, there was human hair wound around the bar. Not assorted hair, but specific hair.Wound around the bar intentionally, about one inch on each side, and a quarter inch thick.  Long, brown and curly hair.  Hair that looked a lot like Kenny G.
After getting all of my gross-out feelings exorcised,   I pinged my former roommate P, who’d  lived in the house the  year before (and left because she couldn’t stand Nikolas) and asked her if she ever noticed strange hair segments on the towel bar in the back bathroom.
“Oh, yeah. The hair. I used to just cut those off when I lived there.”
“Cut….those…off?”
This did not sit well with me at all. No. For her answer implies that whatever ritualistic hair-winding was going on, it happened repeatedly. Enough for her to have to cut it off –repeatedly.  For days, I tried to erase image of Nikolas pulling out strands of his Kenny G ponytail (which he obviously saved, and kept under his pillow when he had it cut), and wrapping them in mystical spirals around the towel rack. I remembered all those time he said he was “Just Too busy” to clean up his messes. Now I know what he was so busy doing.
Everything in the house settled down after Nikolas moved out.  And nothing particularly spooky happened again, until I decided to start gardening in the back yard. Then I dug up all kinds of unholy things.
Stay tuned!
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Freaky Stories about my House and former Roommates

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As someone who frequents cemeteries for fun, and has a vibrant collection of skulls at home, PLUS  three drawers full of costumes, I enjoy the fact that— at least once a year, my macabre interests are not only tolerable, but celebrated! This year, however, I haven’t gotten into the spirit of Halloween, due to the real life  horror film  that is THE 2016 ELECTION. How can we tear ourselves away? It’s so ghastly, how can we not?
Well, a few weeks ago, there were reports that #repealthe19th  was the top trending hashtag on Twitter. The 19th amendment is, of course, a woman’s right to vote.  IS THIS REAL LIFE? ARE THERE ACTUALLY GROUPS OF PEOPLE (INCLUDING WOMEN) WHO THINK WOMEN SHOULD NOT VOTE??!!
Susan B. Anthony wept. And then I did. (Repeat X 1000)

I knew at this point, I needed to save my soul or lose my sense of humor forever. So, I decided to substitute any and all articles about the election, with reading spooky halloween  ghost stories–chief among them, Jezebel’s Scary Story Contest. (Highly recommend) Turns out, these stories were juuuuuuust the tonic to soothe my suffering suffragette-lovin soul. Demonic possessions. Spirit visits. Alien encounters. ESP.

Reading all of these stories got me to thinking about my own experiences with the supernatural. Which, I have to admit,  are pretty much nilch–despite my early-in-life forays into the occult.  However, since I’ve moved to Rockridge Oakland I’ve collected an armful of decidedly freaky stories about my neighborhood, neighbors, and former roommates, that I’d like to share with you now, as my halloween treat  to you.

So, put down that election article, and gather around the old rotting pumpkin, because I’ll have THREE very special stories to share with you, over the next few days.

Here’s # 1!

 

David the Gnat 
Okay, we were  all super desperate when we chose David (name changed)  to live with us down in unit B. Our first choice roommate fell through at the last minute, and David seemed, at the very least, quiet and polite. He was a poet from New England, studying at the art school nearby and seemed like he’d just hang out mostly in his room, composing sonnets or staring deeply into the night.
Well, the day he moved in coincided magically with the day I discovered nobody had taken out the compost in weeks. IN those days, our compost lived under the sink, behind a cupboard which nobody ever remembered to check.   When I opened the cupboard doors, an apocalyptic swarm of fruit flies flew out and engulfed me.
“Holy fuck!” I shouted, running out the door with the compost pail like it was on fire.
Well, guess who I ran into while running out the door with the compost? Our new roommate David, with a boxful of shit in his arms.
“Hey, David! Welcome, welcome. Sorry in advance, there’s a few fruit flies in the kitchen, but I’m going to put out some traps and they should be gone in a few days.”
The look on his face.  Like someone just peed bud light on his grave.
Anyway, I emptied the compost, went back in the house, and began to pour apple-cider vinegar into a bunch of  little bowls, followed by a few drops of dish detergent.
David walked into the kitchen where I was pouring the vinegar. He looked at me without smiling, and said “Why are there bugs?”
“Heh, heh.  Wellll…because we forgot to take out the compost. By accident! Been a busy week. But don’t worry. I’ve got these traps I’m making.”
“What are the traps?” He said, squinting at my bowls of vinegar.
“Oh, a mixture of vinegar, and dish detergent. You put a little tinfoil over top and poke a hole. they fall right in, and never come out. Gets em every time!”
He shook his head at me, like I had just declared the earth was flat,  sighed and said “okay,” and went to his room.
The next day, I got an email from David
 _________________________________________________________________
To: leenashirlee@yahoo.com
Subject: Bugs
Arlene,
 
The bugs are really freaking me out. I’m going to do some cleaning in the kitchen today. Where are the cleaning products kept?
___________________________________________________________
To: Dbrownstein@hotmail.com
Great! Thanks for taking the initiative. The cleaning products are under the sink. 
__________________________________________________________
That night,  I came home from work, and found that:
1. all of my fruit fly traps had been dumped out.
2. Instead,  everything in the kitchen was wrapped up in plastic grocery  bags. (This was when they were still legal in California). That is to say….everything in our fruit bowl (which makes sense) was bagged up, bags of sugar, spices, butter…But then, I saw a handful of utensils—- in a plastic bag! Some bowls! And good god…Bottles of cleaning product, Jesus Christ-Clorox Wipes??  AND EVEN OTHER PLASTIC BAGS WERE WRAPPED IN PLASTIC BAGS.
Trembling, I went searching for the cats, envisioning a scenario where I would find them also  wrapped in plastic, David  hunched over them, wiping some sweat from his brow, and smiling for the first time in his life:
“It took awhile but I got all them nasty buggity bugs. I even got the  two big furry queens. Those were hard to catch, howdy!”
“Oh god, DAVID THOSE ARE THE CATS.”
Anyway. You know how, like…When you are freaked out by something, it keeps coming back? Well, after David moved in, our house seemed  unusually susceptible to critters. We had crazy spiders for awhile. An invasion of ants. And one morning, there was a giant banana slug on our floor, about three feet from David’s room.
Just saying. Sometimes, what you put out  into the universe comes back on six legs….
____________________________________________________________
David:  Murdering us in our sleep 
So, David lived with us for about 4 very tense and  bug-infested months. His mood never improved. He never smiled, nor showed any desire to make friendly with the rest of the house. As far as I could tell,  his life consisted of breaking in to the nearby high school track field to go running, going to poetry readings, and then holing up in his room. His presence made me deeply uneasy. Maybe it was the fact that, when he spoke, he made very piercing, and direct eye contact. Maybe it was because he looked at me like he wanted to kill me  in a gruesome way every time I spoke to him. He never said anything unkind. It was all in his eyes.
Anyway, one day I was hanging out in the kitchen with our other roommate Gary.  David came in, stared at us for a moment, and then proceeded to make a sandwich and then slammed the door to his room.
“Sometimes,” whispered Gary,  pointing to David’s room,   “I’m scared he’ll murder me in my sleep.”
“Oh my god!!” I whispershouted to Gary. “I have had the EXACT SAME FEAR SINCE HE MOVED IN and wrapped our whole kitchen in plastic bags. That was some unholy shit. ”
I thought it was just me. But the truth is, for months, whenever I was home alone with David in the house, I would lock myself in. I hadn’t shared any this with Gary lest it sound like I was being a damsel in distress, or overly-paranoid.  I wasn’t sure if I was comforted or even more disturbed by learning that Gary too, feared for his life in David’s cold saucer eyes. Or if it made it worse.
Suffice it to say, I was fucking stoked when Gary finally broke his lease and said he was going to move out.
YES!!!
But before he did, he left a few final gifts for the house.
 _________________________________________________________________
The Mysterious Smell 
Subject: Moving out.
Arlene, 
 
Let me know if I can help with anything to make the move-out process easier. I can help you search for roommates too, if that helps. 
 
Cheers, 
David 
 _________________________________________________________________
From: Arlene
Subject: RE: Moving out
Hi David, 
 
That’s thoughtful of you. All I ask is that your room be clean when we show it. I’ll give you at least 24 hours notice before we have someone over to see it. 
_________________________________________________________________
The first person to view the room was a sweet German exchange student, let’s call her Greta. “Oh my, it’s like a crooked little castle in here,” she said, admiring our feng-shui-fucked living room.
“Yes, that is for sure a way to see it,” I said, giving her a thumbs up.
“Yass, yass  it is.”
“Well, let me show you the room.”
When I opened the door to  David’s  room, I cringed. There was a foul smell emanating from somewhere.  Not the smell of human remains buried in the walls , but a turd. It wasn’t even that stale beer-fart smell like some dude’s room have. I deduced that there must be a fresh crapload hidden somewhere in the room.
“Well, so that’s the room,” I said, hastily shutting the door, and ushering Greta into our kitchen, where I lit an incense candle, and tried uselessly to extol on our fine amount of pantry space. But she looked deflated, and politely excused herself after my spiel was over.  She left her cup of tea mostly full on the table.
“Run Greta,” I said silently to her, after she left. “Achtung! Get as far from this godforsaken place as you can. And when you get there, bleach yourself twice and pray for your soul.” 
_______________________________________________________________
The Curse of David 
So, this really weird chick named Amy moved in to David’s turdsmelly room after he moved out.   When she came to my house for the roommate interview, David was actually hanging around the kitchen, and they bonded over poetry. (Note: The turd must have been cleaned up by then).
Anyway, Amy was weird, but only a sub letter staying for a month. I think she had body dysmorphia because one time she asked me I thought  if her pantyhose made her look “fat.” She also frequently ate entire blocks of cheese.
Well, fast forward a month. I’m taking the last BART home from getting loaded in San Francisco. It’s like, midnight or something, and I’m feeling butthurt about some boy or other, and just wanna get home and bury my face in a cat, when what do I see? A couple going at it skinnemax style on the corner of Lawton/College. Jesus, get a room! I thought. Do you have to publicly declare your lust right now? Have you no respect for others who might be stumbling home heartbroken? 
“C’mon now. Don’t be all down on love, lady. Don’t get all bitter ” I said to myself. “Some day, it will be you getting fisted in the street. And you will not give one shit about some bitter passerby. YOU WILL REJOICE”
I HAD THIS ACTUAL DIALOGUE GOING ON IN MY BRAIN WHEN SUDDENLY
“Hey, Arlene!”
It was Amy, my pantyhose roommate! IT WAS AMY  was the one boning down on the street with—
————-OH CHRIST— DAVID!!!
“Hey, Arlene,” he said, and ACTUALLY SMILED. It made my guts leak.
“Yeah, we were just at a poetry reading,” said Amy, walking hand in hand down the sidewalk with David, while I toddled along trying to act normal when my soul was screaming NOOOOOO NOOOOO NOOOOOOO’
Here I thought I’d never have to see creepy old  David again, and he’s coming  back to our house with Amy. Going back into his old room, to either bone, or mutilate her and inhabit her corpse for halloween, or shit in her closet.  I almost wanted to tell her “Did you know David is a turd hoarder?” but I didn’t. I’m polite, see.
Instead, when we all got back to the house, I locked my door, and turned on some music so I wouldn’t have to hear whatever was happening in the other room. I hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t find Amy wrapped in a giant plastic bag come morning.
THE END.
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The New Rockridge Safeway Freaks Me Out

My lucky stars have blessed me with many, many things: fetching good looks, irascible wit, jumbo-sized jugs, and a tendency to have fun wherever I am. In addition to these things, I’ve also been blessed with an immune system that rivals that of the toxic avenger. (Although that may have less to do with lucky stars, and more to do with the fact that I ate tons of dirt, braunschweiger, and boogers as a kid).

Suffice it to say, when I DO get sick (approximately once every 18 months) , it always comes as a total surprise, and leaves me both physically challenged, and mentally fucked. I AM AN ANGRY SICK PERSON.

Consider this scene, of my last illness: a 24 hour projectile vomiting stomach flu that hit me two days after Christmas 2014, while home in Minnesota, for the holidays:

img8

So, two weeks ago, I was minding my own business when SUDDENLY I SNEEZED 20 TIMES IN  A ROW.

“Wow, that’s weird,” I said, steadying myself.  “Hmm. Guess it’s nothing.”

From there, everything went exponentially downhill. More sneezing. Congestion. Headache. Confusion!   I had to leave work early. When I got home, I blew my nose about a thousand times, and then I mixed up a hearty dose of my HEALING BREW

Ingredients for ARLENE’S HEALING BREW:

Hot water

Lemon Juice (from real lemons) (slice lemons and put in brew) (eat them if you dare!)

Cayenne (pinch)

Turmeric  (pinch)

Splash of whiskey (optional)

Then I set myself up for an evening of binge watching Netflix. Except, I was so congested, and achy, that I couldn’t really focus on movies, or TV shows. Or anything!   Comic books?  Magazines? Ditto.  Podcasts? No way hosay.  So, I spent the evening staring up at the ceiling,  groaning, cursing, and listening to the pus wooshing around my skull.

I’M AN ANGRY SICK.

Next day I still felt shitty, but I had to drag my ass to get some more lemons for additional batches healing brew, and the closest store was the New Safeway in Rockridge which just opened a few weeks ago.

If you live anywhere near me, you’ll note that construction has been going on for a long loNNNNNNNNNNNng time at the 51st/Broadway shopping center.  I heard rumors that the new Safeway would be magnificent BUT I HAD NO IDEA IT WOULD BE A GLORIFIED GRAVY PALACE OF CONFUSION. I mean, make-your-own burrito stand?  Rotisserie Row?  A whole aisle just for kombucha? Organic tampon bar?  It’s almost as if….. the ashes of the old Safeway were sprinkled with uranium, and UP SPROUTED A  MUTANT GROCERY MOUTHBEAST  which spent one evening  guzzling down other stores,  and assuming their identities.    The new Safeway could easily be  Sprouts, Grocery Outlet, Whole Foods, or Berkeley Bowl, depending on which aisle you’re standing in. Fresh hell, indeed.

After about an hour of walking around and groaning like a mildly tranquilized bear,  swatting away offers of samples,  I finally found my way to the produce aisle, and packed my basket full of healing lemons, and a ginger root. And then I saw it. GOOD CHRIST…IS IT….NO….IT CAN’T BE….TURMERIC ROOT??? (Add “Any Asian market anywhere” to the list of stores swallowed by the uranium mouthbeast on its rampage)

“Aw shit yeah, I’ll boil this turmeric root with some ginger, and KILL THIS DISEASE ONCE AND FOR ALL.”

I hastily made my way to the check-out counter.

“Hiiii, how do you like the new Safeway?” said the check-out clerk.

“It totally freaks me out!” I said. “In a good way, I guess.”

“Hmm, what’s this?” she said, pulling out the turmeric root.

“Oh, it’s turmeric root!  I’m gonna take it home, and boil it to kill off my head cold.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” she said, flipping through her produce chart.

“Ooh, turmeric is great,” said the lady behind me. “I can’t believe they have it here!”

“Me neither! But this place seems to  have everything you could ever dream of,” I  said to her.  I then told her the recipe for my healing brew, and exclaimed “Now I can add TURMERIC ROOT to it, instead of turmeric powder.”

“I’m sorry, how do you spell it?” asked the clerk.

“What? Oh. T-U-R-M-E-R-I-C. Turmeric.” I said.

“Hmm. I Just….can’t..find it.”

At this point, management had to be called in, to examine the strange root. Nobody could find it anywhere on their list, nor identify it as anything else, and yet I kept insisting it must be there.  I could see the people at the back of the line, shaking their heads at me for being special needs. Managers flipping through alternate produce lists. Nothing.

“Well, maybe it hasn’t been added to the list yet?” I offered. “It is an unusual little root. But it’s turmeric alright.”

“That stuff has magical properties,” said the lady in line. “Just love it.”

“Tell you what,” whispered the clerk.  “Just take it.”

And so, I did. As I hoisted my bag o’lemons on my shoulder, the lady in line behind me said “I’m gonna go back and get some of that—I’ve had the same dumb cold for weeks.”

“Kill it!” I shouted over my shoulder. “KILL! IT!”

When I got home, I laid out all my ingredients, and prepared to make another batch of healing brew.

Everything went according to plan, except for one small detail.  When I cut the turmeric root, I discovered, it wasn’t actually turmeric at all BUT A FUCKING  GOLDEN BEET. DID YOU KNOW THEY MADE BEETS IN THAT COLOR???

Here is a picture of Turmeric Root:

tumeric-root

Here is a picture of a golden beet.

golden-beet

Note that they don’t really look very similar at all. But imagine your  head throbbing with bile and that you are also tweaking on Sudafed, and hopefully you can see how I would make this mistake. What was interesting about it, was I had everyone in that grocery line (except for the people at the end, who had no idea what was going on, only that I was holding up the line) BELIEVING MY ILLUSION WAS REAL.  Which made me conclude that, as long as you express your illusions forcefully and with conviction and  also believe in  them yourself, you can get stuff for free!

IN OTHER WORDS I WAS DONALD TRUMP FOR 1 MINUTE, AND IT WAS AWESOME!

“Believe me, that’s turmeric alright. Swear by the stuff. People say that stuff is great too.”

“Uhh…We can’t—“

“T-U-R-M-E-R-I-C”

“I’m sorry Mr. Trump.”

“Where’s your manager? Let me talk to the guy in charge. No offense, sweetie, but you look like you’re new here.”

“Here. Just take it.” 

…..

You’ll be happy to know that I did in fact, fully lick the head cold and lived to laugh another day.  And even though I don’t understand the point of beets that are golden in color, I ate my stupid beet with butter, and know what? It tasted like a beet.

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We did the wrong things while tubing on the Sacramento River so you don’t have to.

 

My friends and I have been talking about taking a river  tubing adventure for a good portion of the year now. After a monster-email thread of about 5000 messages,  we finally executed a plan! And now that we’ve done it, we’ve learned all the things you should, and shouldn’t do before going tubing on the Sacramento river. Listen here:

DON’T BRING YOUR TUBES WITH YOU.  Especially if you’re all planning on drinking and have no designated driver. Best bet is  to find a place to rent tubes. (Scotty’s is  apparently where it’s at) This will spare you the embarrassment of  having the concierge at the hotel blow up your jumbo fighter donut in the lobby while you and your friends hang out in your swim suits, floppy hats, 1,000 layers of sunscreen, staring at all of the hotel guests like golems.

SPEAKING OF DRINKING. You can’t take glass bottles with you on the Sacramento river, so bring cans, or hide your booze in a tumbler. Or just don’t get caught.   As soon as we got to our launch site, the river cops were there to meet us, and our 12 pack of bottled craft beer,  with disdain. Sadly, we  emptied out our precious life-giving water bottles, and filled them with beer. (hey, life is about the tough choices).

CHICO CITY CAB ROCKS! As we stood outside our hotel, with a case of beer, three fully inflated tubes, two plastic bags full of towels, bungee cords, snacks, and generally  looking like the understudy cast of a community production of Gilligans Island, we wondered if our cab driver would be down to tote our amateur-asses to the tubing launch site.  Not only did he NOT  grumble, he seemed downright enthusiastic to help us out. “No problem, I got some bungees in the back, it’s all good!” Turns out, he was THE BEST CAB DRIVER EVER. Like, sent from cabby heaven. He spent the entire ride regaling us with  adventure stories, tubing info,  and discussions of the many  hats he wears (when he picked us up, he was wearing a tropical print baseball hat)  (He also has plans to get a very tiny mushroom tattoo, on the inside of one of his toes one day.)   Note: We called the same cab company to pick us up, hoping we’d get a chance to tell our favorite cabbie our tubing adventure story, but it was a different dude on the way back. (who was also really rad, but more reserved) I HAD SUSPICIONS however, THAT THE SECOND CAB DRIVER WAS THE SAME GUY  but just in a different, more subdued hat because they looked exactly the same.  ACTUALLY….if I may start a conspiracy theory….after we went out for pizza later, and were waited on by a guy who looked suspiciously like both Chico City cabbies,  I was convinced that THERE IS ONLY ONE GUY actively working the service industry in Chico. That guy. He wears all the hats, and does all the jobs. Everyone else just hangs out and  gets tan.

DON’T TIE YOUR TUBES TOGETHER unless you’ve got something sharp to cut yourself free with, in case you get caught on some sticks or  something.

DON’T BRING YOUR CELLPHONE TUBING.  Even if you’ve got it in a ziplock bag, inside of another plastic bag that’s attached to one of your friends tubes.   Water is a tricky beast, and  it will find a way in. As a result of my sheer stupidity, my phone screen now  looks like a Rorschach test, and Siri has WOKE THE FUCK UP. She now pops up at random times throughout the day to ask how she can help.

DON’T CHUG BEERS IN THE PARK IN FRONT OF THE RIVER COPS.  They will tell you that it’s bad.

PEEING IN THE RIVER is really enjoyable. Try it sometime.

IF YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND WHO CAN’T SWIM you definitely want to hook their tube  to someone who can. (or reconsider tubing as a group bonding activity)   What happened with our party of four is….. three of us floated out into the current like swans, and Amy’s boyfriend Dakin (who was also hooked to our inflatable cooler) WHO CAN’T SWIM lagged so far behind that we totally lost him and spent about  45 minutes wondering if he was still alive. “I see a glimmer of something on the water…but it might just be water sparkles.”  “Wait, wait….there he is! No, that’s a rock.”   We finally flagged down the river cops and told them our friend is lost, and maybe not alive anymore.

“He’s out there by himself and he can’t swim?” they asked.  “That’s just…stupid” they said, shaking their heads. Probably they deal with this shit every single day.  Drunk kids, dumbasses, bongwater, and exploded tubes.

Fortunately, they found him, still alive, a little shaken, and  the three of us watched as they drove him back to land on the speed boat. Then we relaxed and realized we were all really stoned and that part of the trip was golden and sparkly.

IF YOU’RE A WHITE DUDE  AND WEARING A WHITE SHIP CAPTAINS HAT WITH GOLD TRIM,  chances are, the river cops will NOT find your cannabis treats even though they are only 10 feet away in full sight in a tupperware.

Man, I  wish we had pictures of our adventure. It’s why I brought my phone out on the water after all. All I have to offer is this picture, of Breanne, riding in the cab back to the hotel, cradling her inflatable donut.

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Cheese & Taxidermy (Part 1)

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The Ladybug Dance

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Never yell “Go Straight!” In the middle of Dyke March

Here’s a lesson for you all:
Never yell “go straight”  in the middle of Dyke March in San Francisco .
Even if that’s what your friend Christine told you to say.
Not out of protest, or even a dare.  But because the group you drank champagne with  in the park with all day, is  now  headed out to find a place to eat.  Except, the change of venue is also  happening at THE EXACT MOMENT  Dyke March is starting, and suddenly, everyone from your group  is getting swept up in the parade and colliding with people carrying drums, protest signs, glitter, and rainbows.

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I am good at following directions. And I’m loud.

 

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Unfortunately,  James and Audra, who I was yelling to, who  were in my line of vision  only 2 seconds ago HAVE SUDDENLY  DISAPPEARED. And I realized then, the implications of the words  I just shouted, and the context of where I shouted these words.  And that I was suddenly  alone with about 15 people shooting stink rays at me.

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Sometimes, trying to explain things is way worse than letting things go. But it didn’t stop me from trying!

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If I had stayed a second longer, I might have been disemboweled and buried in glitter. Fortunately, Christine found me RIGHT ON TIME.

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Let this be a lesson to you kids!

 

 

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American Moments: Hotties, Hotdogs and Freaks

Last 4th of July, I took my first trip to New York City! And there, I had the best 4th of July celebration of my life. (Psst.If you want to read my New York Travel Blog from last year, it’s right here!)

Because of this, 4th of July has never been a holiday I go out of my way to celebrate. But yesterday I learned, there is one place in the united states that was born and bred to host the best 4th of July celebration in the country: Coney Island, New York.  For only there can you fully embrace everything America does best: Hotdogs, Hotties, and Freaks.

We started off at the side show, which featured sword swallowing, fire eating, shoving nails into noses, the Sam, Stretchy Man of the West, Messy the three-footed Hasid, and Orangina the citrus queen:

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After the side show, we sallied forth for hotdogs. Have I mentioned that NYC is teeming with hot dogs AND  attractive people? And that in the summer, these attractive people walk around in very little clothing? Not only was everyone attractive, but nobody seemed puke wasted, bro-ey, rapey, or trying to light their beer farts on fire–which is partly why I try to avoid 4th of July celebrations in general. The kids were festive, but well behaved. Adults were chill. And for an amusement park dense with people, this was beyond impressive-after all, this is New York, isn’t everyone supposed to be rude here? Why is everyone smiling at me? (Likely because my boobs were hanging out of my onesie)

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At one point, my friend Messy said “I wonder where all the white people go for the 4th?” I then realized we pale ones were in the minority here at Coney Island. It was the first time that had ever happened to me, and I gotta say,  it was rad.

We walked around the boardwalk. Messy wanted to play the squirt gun game, and so we stopped to do that.  The man running the game appeared to be either intensely intoxicated or had such a severe speech impediment, that nobody who was lined up to play had any idea what was going on, or when the game would begin.

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After the squirty game, we visited Zoltar the magical gypsy, who delivered a life-inspiring message from the astral planes:

“The crystal gazer has wonderful things in store for you. A dear one will return from a long trip and your whole life will be different. Your patience is about to be rewarded. Despair not, I say for your days of despair will soon be over. Your calm spirit, and good sense will see you through all emergencies.

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We watched the fireworks from the beach. Afterward, I said “Man, this is the best 4th of July party ever. The only thing that would make this night even more perfect, after circus freaks, hotdogs and hotties,  is a spontaneous dance party” -fortunately, the gods of Zoltar delivered exactly that!!  As we were walking back to the subway, two women were dancing up the street to a salsa groove, and we joined them.

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It was the best 4th of July ever!  Yay America!

I’m so digging the everything about Here.

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American Moments: Texas Rose

 

Hella America!!!!  Step right up, we have it all here. Mountain ranges, oceans, lakes, bears, moose, amber waves of grain, and about 350,000 people named Amber. But I would never in a million years call myself patriotic. At least not in the flag-waving sense of the word. America as an idea though,  is mighty nice: Land of the free, home of the brave, and justice for all!!! ( Except for  anyone who is not pale-skinned, wealthy, or the owner of a penis, of course.) But, see…When we brought our asses to this country, it was a mostly-peaceful green place of birds and fish leaping happily in streams. Then, us immigrants  said “Hey, this place kinda sucks. I hate all these stupid trees. Too peaceful. Hey, I know, Let’s chop down the trees, kill all the brown people who seem to really like it here, and put up a bunch of strip malls!  Lane Bryant outlet? Quiznos? Hooters?   Yolo, let’s do this brah. Don’t forget,  we can always  import more brown people from Africa, if we run out of natives to abuse!!!   Chinese people too. The Chinese people work hard, and  can build our railroads while we watch the superbowl and shoot at the gay neighbors during commercial breaks.  Hey, it’s cool. Jesus would totally  green-light all of this!”

Ahem.

Suffice it to say, I find it  hard to  get all  gobsmacked for a  country which generally  does a pretty shitty job of taking care of its own most marginalized people.  Therefore I don’t participate in blind patriotism.  However, I have had a few distinct moments where my heart has swelled up in its husk, and I’ve said  “God bless america bitches! This is what the land of the free is all about!”

And so, as we creep up on our Day of Independence, I’d like to share a few heart-warming  True American stories with you. The first:

Texas Rose Country Dancing  @ Lake Merritt Dance Center

About a year ago, I was convinced to try Irish dancing at the Starry Plough. I assumed it would be something like Riverdance. Spirited jigs, leprechaun kicks, and other such solo moves. However, I soon learned that Irish folk Dancing  is a deeply terrifying,  partner-intensive  clusterfuck dance  of epic proportions. That said, I had a blast!  Furthermore, I will never go again. I’m so spatially challenged  that  spent the entire evening screaming, and clutching wildly at people like I was drowning in a kiddie pool.

And so, it was with great  trepidation that I agreed to join my friends at the Texas Rose Country Dancing. Would it be a repeat of Irish Dancing? Would I end up taking down a slew of cowboys? Stepping on the toes of someone named Earl, who then  breaks a bottle over my head and calls me a salty goddamn dog? What other country-western stereotype disasters could I dream up?

What a relief to learn Country dancing  out to be not only fun, but a perfect fit for me! I didn’t fall down, or scream once.   In addition to providing an excellent tutorial on how to two-step and line dance, our instructor dispensed sage wisdom about leading and following, that could be applied to all things. “The leader drives,” explained the instructor. “The follower looks over the leader’s shoulder,  and allows themselves to be led. When the two work together, it’s a harmonious movement of one organism.” (Or something like that). Brilliant! I thought. If only we could all live this way!

I danced ALOT that night.   I got spun around,  twirled,   and booty bumped.  I worked up a fine and joyful sweat. However, my favorite part of the evening was when I rested  on the sidelines tossing back a cold water, and watching all of the couples glide past me  as the music twanged. The venue hosts a regular queer line-dancing night, and many of the people there that evening were of  the same crowd.  There were people of every shape, size,  sexual orientation and ethnicity. All genders and ages were represented. There were no prescribed man/woman roles.  Women danced with women. Men danced with men. Men danced with women, women danced with men.  Some wore fluffy dresses, others wore flannel, and others just  wore regular street clothes.  It didn’t matter! Nobody gave a fuck!  Everyone was just having a good time to some good old American country music. (Yes, folks. I love me  some classic country!)  And that’s when my patriotic feelings began to rise up in me, like a 4th of July parade.    “This….this is AMERICA,” I said to my friend James, as I fought back a few tears. “This is the TRUE spirit of america. Don’t you think? All these people? All types  just….dancing together?”

“Yes,” he said. “I get what you’re saying.”

I don’t know what America means to you. But to me, the diversity and openness of an event like this, says everything good about America. Despite the current potential  threat of our nation being governed by an orange rodeo clown, it’s these little  things that keep my spirits up and faith in humanity restored. It’s these moments that make me proud to live in one of the most eclectic and colorful urban areas of the world.

Here’s a little video of a performance from that evening! These people are cute as hell. Enjoy.

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Dad’s Crab Dinner

 

On Valentines Day, 1994, my dad called us from work to tell us he  got a job promotion.

“Hell yeah, we’re going to celebrate tonight!” shouted my mom, as she hung up the phone. My sister and I cheered, because we knew what “celebrate” probably meant: A Fancy Seafood Dinner

My family was a low-budget household. We ate lots of hamburger helper.  Tuna  toast. Things from boxes, spruced up with canned vegetables (fresh produce was both  costly, and not terribly abundant during  icy Minnesota winters). Aside from fish sticks, seafood was  a rare luxury, and reserved for straight-A report cards, birthdays, and the occasional harrowing doctor’s visit.

We all assumed we’d be going to Red Lobster that night to celebrate the big promotion, but my dad surprised us by coming home with an armful of Alaskan king crab legs instead.

“These were on sale at Rainbow!” said my dad. “We’ll eat like Alaskan kings tonight!”

After swallowing our collective disappointment knowing that Red Lobster was no longer a possibility, my mom brought out a giant kettle, filled it with water, and snapped open a tube of Pillsbury biscuits. My dad popped some champagne, lit some candles for atmosphere, and put on his favorite Moody Blues CD. It was party time.

In the midst of the meal production, the phone rang.

“Skjerly residence, this is big bad Randy speaking.” said my dad.  By this time, he was about three glasses of champagne into the evening’s festivities. “Greetings Gregg. Why yes,  my eldest daughter is here. Do you wish to speak with her? Hold please.”

My dad looked at me, and flicked his tongue twice. This was The Signal to indicate my boyfriend Gregg* (name changed to protect privacy)  was calling. Why did he do this? Because he was certain that Gregg was some sort of lizard creature.

“His teeth are too small, and his gums are too big” my dad said, after meeting Gregg for the first time.  “And his eyes are too far apart. Never trust anyone with their eyes too far apart because they’re criminals.”

I took the phone. Gregg informed me he was getting off work early and wanted to hang out. Though I’d been excited to finally celebrate Valentine’s day proper-style with an actual boyfriend (my first one!) Gregg had already given me a long speech about how stupid and commercial Valentine’s day is and how he doesn’t recognize it as a holiday. (Note: This didn’t stop me from writing him a sappy poem for him that I planned to share as soon as I saw him again.)

I told Gregg we were celebrating my dad’s job promotion, and that he was welcome to join us for crab dinner if he wanted. Though Gregg was a vegetarian, he accepted the invitation, and said he’d just eat the side dishes. Cool.

So, there we all were, sitting around the table: Me, my mom, my little sister Laura, my dad, and Gregg. Laura, who wasn’t a fan of crab, took the job of cracking the crab legs for us. She’d grab some crab, crush it with a nutcracker, and throw  it to whoever was next up for a bite. Sometimes she’d make the crab legs dance first. Sometimes she’d open and close the claws menacingly.

“Isn’t it kind of weird that crabs are sea spiders and we eat them?” I said, dipping my crab leg into a bowl of hot garlic butter, and sucking down the sweet meat inside.

“Ooooh, I’m a big sea spidah! Don’t eat me madam!” my sister shouted, in the voice of Sebastian the Crab from the movie Little Mermaid.

Everyone was having such  a  festive time that nobody noticed Gregg was no longer nibbling at his biscuits, and  his skin was starting to turn gray.  When my sister accidentally hit him in the face with a crab claw while pitching to my dad, Gregg cleared his throat and asked, in a small creaky voice, if he might be excused.

We all stared at him, baffled. Nobody in the history of our family dinners had ever formally asked to be excused from the table.  We always just roll up, plow our plates, and leave the table belching whenever we’re done.

“Suuuure,” said my dad.

Gregg disappeared, presumably to the bathroom. My dad flicked his tongue twice at me.

“Daaaaad!” I shouted through clenched teeth. “Stop it!”

After about 10 minutes, Gregg had not returned to the table.

“Do you think he’s dead?” asked my Dad, with the a hint of a hopeful look.

“Err….Maybe I should go look for him,” I said.

I searched around for Gregg. He wasn’t in the bathroom. He wasn’t in the backyard. Had he gone home? Then I heard it. A strange noise in the basement. It sounded almost like someone was rolling something. A wagon? A rolling pin? Marbles?

I ventured southward, and  there I  found Gregg in the vegetable bin, rocking back and forth on his skateboard and groaning.

“What’s wrong Gregg,  are you sick?” I asked, reaching out my hand to him.

At first he said nothing, just kept rocking. Finally, he said. “The crab….The cracking…It…reminded me of…of…oohhhhhhhh….so….awful….”

I thought perhaps he had a traumatic childhood crab memory that had surfaced over dinner.  Was he attacked by a crab on a trip to Florida perhaps? Did he eat some bad seafood once and get food poisoning? Or, was it the noise itself…”The cracking.” Lighting? Baseball bats? So many things can make a cracking sound.

“It’s okay, you can tell me,” I said, stroking his damp hair.

“Oh god. The cracking reminded me of….of the Jews in Schindler’s List”

A week earlier, we had  seen the movie Schindler’s List. Like most people in the theater that evening,  were both moved to tears. Gregg, in particular,  was so moved by the film that he fell into a 48 hour funk, which included sour naps and rumination about the evils of humanity. However, it seemed we’d moved on with our lives since then.

But….how?” I asked.  I was genuinely perplexed at the connection between crab legs and Jews. No doubt, the Nazis inflicted terrible atrocities on Jews, and many other people during the holocaust. Unspeakable horrors, each one worse than the next. But, to my knowledge, there weren’t any Nazis who boiled the legs of Jews, and ate them with garlic butter. I mean, the Nazis were a sick bunch, but….cannibalism?

“You don’t…..get it,” he said, shooting me a patronizing look.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and continued to stroke his head. And then, I remembered something! The Valentines Poem I had written for him, folded up in my pocket.  I figured this would surely cheer him up.

“Hey, I know you don’t like Valentine’s day, but I wrote you a little poem anyway,” I said, fishing out the piece of paper from my jeans. It was decorated with vampire hearts because we were goths. I handed it to him.

“My love for you is  a midnight sun.

A hot thing, shining through darkness.

I was lost, but you’ll find me all the time,

I was scattered, but you brang me home.

Now I’m not so totally alone,

And now, I must  bid adieu.

All I have to say is  Gregg I love you.”

He looked at it for a long long time. My face got hot. Why was he so quiet?

“Well….?” I asked, expecting him to leap into my arms.

“Please……don’t ever do anything like this again,” he said, frowning at me.

“Oh,” I said, “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, whatever, it’s just…it’s embarrassing….”

I felt like I wanted to die. The pound of crab meat in my belly started churning. I put the poem on top of some canned peas, and fought back tears.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

I can’t remember what happened right after that. Probably we kissed and made up.  What I do remember is coming home from school  the next day and finding the Valentines’ poem on my bed. From 20 feet away, I could see that there was a note attached to it, in my dad’s loopy wild red-pen scrawl. (Note: my dad is a writer, and former English teacher)

“Bean. Nice poem you wrote there! Lovely images with the midnight sun. But be careful of mixing verb tenses.”

It didn’t take the sting away from Gregg’s episode at the crab leg dinner, but I felt validated by my dad’s note–especially because I was a wannabe writer, and emulated him in every way. Though Valentine’s Day is sorta ruined for since that incident, I would still sit down and crack some crab with my dad any day, because he makes everything fun.

Happy Father’s day, Dad!

 

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