Living the Dream in COVID-19


Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Last Summer, you may recall that I suddenly found myself trapped at home for 13 weeks with a broken ankle. And if you know me, you understand that this was actually a HUGE gift. As a dog walker who takes out two groups of six dogs for off-leash play daily, I’m generally exhausted at the end of each day, and making writing near-impossible. In fact, I’m lucky if I can even play Candy Crush while watching Bob’s Burgers endlessly at the end of a normal workday.

Facing 13 weeks of being mostly bedridden, I now had no excuse to procrastinate working on the novel I’d been attempting to write since late 2017. I’ll admit, the first three weeks of being bedridden were mostly wasted on watching TV, listening to podcasts and writing a few blog posts. But eventually, I got serious, got organized, got plotted, and wrote the majority of my latest novel (paranormal thriller, BTW) between late August and late October of 2019. The premise was strong, the characters were awesome and the plot eventually found a great pattern, once I cut out all the dragging-it-down stuff.

Then, in late October, I went back to work. The first month kicked my ass so seriously that I’d pretty much go to bed by ten or eleven. I basically went from 100 steps a day to 5,000 and then 9,000 steps a day. On top of that, there were SO MANY ERRANDS that needed to be run that I was quite useless by the time I got home. I did get to work on editing, but that work was mostly spent taking notes about all the crap I should change in the second draft rather than actually working on it.

In January and February, I did manage to get a fair amount of progress done on Draft 2, and when we took a short five-night holiday to a cabin on the Russian River, I really cooked on it. I made it almost to the very end before we left to come home, knowing full well that work was going to massively mess with my mojo.

We got home on Thursday, March 12.

Talk of Coronavirus was really ramping up while we were away, but all of that was a distant drama happening outside of our little woodsy vacation bubble. I’d check the news, and did worry sometimes about what the future held, but it wasn’t until the trip home that we realized the oh-shit implications. Lockdown in San Francisco seemed imminent. I’d come down with a bad head-cold just before my vacation, and while I doubted it was COVID-19, I knew it could conceivably be an easy version of it. I wanted to get tested, but friends who straight-up KNEW they had it could not get tested, so I knew it wasn’t going to happen for the vaguely curious.

I was supposed to start back up at work on March 16th, but instead, stayed home. I just felt so worried about potentially spreading whatever I had to someone whose system might not be able to handle it that I was up all night the night before. And by the time I finally woke up on Monday afternoon, I had a text from  a client telling me she’d have to cancel due to the shelter-in-place order. She wanted to take her dog with her to her parents’ home rather than be stuck alone in the City.

I squinted at my phone, confused. Shelter-in-place? I turned to the news, and realized that I was just ahead of my time, because work was cancelled for the immediate future.

I’m going to admit it: I was pretty thrilled. Firstly, I had no idea if I had a cold or something worse and did not want to spread it, least of all to my clients. Secondly, I already knew from the Summer of My Broken Ankle that I EXCELLED at staying home. I TOTALLY TRAINED FOR THIS! Thirdly, I knew I could finish editing Draft 2 and maybe even Draft 3 with the extra month or two of no work.

Cut to: Me, obsessively checking different news sources online for pretty much two weeks non-stop. Those first two weeks of lockdown were a haze of Tiger King, internet surfing, and considering booking a trip back to the Russian River. Also looking at a lot of distant real estate and daydreaming about moving far, far away from the maddening pandemic crowd.

Finally, though, I prepped for finishing Draft 2. For some reason, truly serious work was hard to do with my husband sitting right there, so I started getting to it after he’d gone to bed. I stayed up ridiculously late working heavily on Act 3 of my book, rewriting just about all of it and throwing out huge chunks of anti-climactic chatter.

Now, I am ONE SCENE away from being finished with Draft 2. This is a FAR CRY from being Actually Finished; Drafts 3 and 4 await and man, are they pushing at me to get on it! But the writing of this last scene is staring at me, and I’m running away, just as I did with Draft 1. I suspect that I don’t want it to be over because I love this book so much, even though I know damn well that it’s far from over, as Frank Stallone once sang (or his ghost singer did–whatever!.

So I’m here now, committing to finishing Draft 2 TONIGHT, and prepping notes for what I want to start doing with Draft 3 TOMORROW. You heard me: I’m creating SHORT-TERM GOALS, with an eye towards getting a draft worthy of being edited by a pro by early May.

I hate to sound like I’m finding a silver lining on the COVID-19 cloud that’s all about me, but you know what? I kind of am. I mean, I can’t think of a worse way to get this much time off short of setting myself or a loved one on fire, and I know there’s going to be ongoing adjustments in a post-quarantine world. But if you’re gonna be quarantined, you may as well find a project to work on, amirite?

I don’t think that simply wishing for more time off brought all of this on–I’m not that self-aggrandizing. For now, though, I’d better get back to work! Happy COVID project, everyone!



The Weekend in Silly Creature Movies!

Up first: 47 Meters Down: Uncaged!blind sharkQ: What’s scarier than a great white shark hunting unsuspecting divers?

A: A blind great white shark hunting unsuspecting divers… in a sunken ancient Mayan city. With CATACOMBS.

Okay, so the blind thing may not actually be as scary as it looks. But look at the picture! It’s creepy, amirite?? And it can find you even if you’re being really, really quiet. Or…wait, did I get that wrong? I’m not sure. Seriously, I’m still not sure!

Plot rundown: Odd-girl-out Mia (Sophie Nélisse) ditches a boring trip with her step-sister Sasha (Corinne Foxx) to go diving with Sasha’s bitchy friends Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone – Rocky’s daughter!) and Alexa (Brianne Tju). Where are they diving? At the recently-discovered underwater Mayan temple site Mia’s diver dad is excavating! Turns out, there’s a blind shark cruising around down there, though. I don’t know why this is scary, but it does kind of look like a zombie shark, so maybe that’s it?

What’s to Love about this film: The underwater city! It’s never named or explained, but all we need to know is that the father of the main character, Mia, is not just handling the underwater excavations, he’s also Chris, the DJ from Northern Exposure! Sadly, he pulls a Samuel L. Jackson/Deep Blue Sea about half-way in, womp-wommmmmp!

What’s to Hate about this film: The absolutely bonkers logic of just about everything that happens. First of all, why is Mia considered a loser? Since when are the beautiful blond girls the losers at school? They don’t even try to make her look like the geeky good girl they try to present her as. No glasses, even!

Next: If you were with a bunch of idiot teenaged girls looking for fun, would you really go diving in uncharted waters that are off-limits to the public to admire the beauty of a lost Mayan temple? Wouldn’t you rather go to the beach or on the Popular Kid Boat Trip that they ditch out on?

Third: I think there are some sort of communicators/speakers built into the full face-mask/breathing apparatus they all wear, which explains how they are hearing one another speak. But…when they locate one of Mia’s dad’s team members doing…underwater welding? That’s what it looked like. Anyway, he is fully submerged underwater, yet SOMEWHERE, SOMEHOW he has what can only be a waterproof boombox blaring some horrible ’90s tune THAT THEY CAN ALL HEAR. Yes, it’s muffled as hell. Because they are all UNDERWATER. There is absolutely no reason why anyone would attempt to listen to music underwater in this manner. FAIL.

Fourth, and worst of all: To make yet another shark release Sasha, Mia takes a FLARE GUN from above deck down into the water and shoots it at the shark, hitting it and thus saving Sasha from becoming a Shark Lunch Special. Here’s the problem…that absolutely cannot happen. Because water. There are such things as underwater flares, but she is clearly using a regular ol’ flare gun, which pretty much needs air to work. So again, MONUMENTAL FAIL.

Is it worth a $3 rental? Sure! Best if watched with friends, some booze, and a sense of humor.

Tune in tomorrow for the next movie we watched, Indigenous.

More Gimp Gear: The Cast Cover and the Leg Pillow!

So yeah, I know, this is really more of a continuation than an addition of new info. BUT hey, a post is a post, right?

I could probably do an entire post about the perils of taking a shower with a busted ankle. But instead, let’s just say that at the ortho’s office, it was made very clear that I should never, ever get my splint or cast wet. I’m not sure what would happen exactly, aside from losing its integrity and having to be redone, but I like to imagine that maybe it would turn into a gremlin? Or multiply into many useless splints?


“Ohhhh, whataworld!!!”


Okay, so my first shower involved a trashbag, a dishtowel and a rubber band, none of which really make a terrific cast guard (but it does sound like a great teaser for an episode of “Forensic Files”, doncha think?). So I ordered this cast cover from the magical Amazon site, and got one delivered pretty quickly. It’s just a thick plastic bag with a big band and a silicon seal that has an opening in it. A teeny, tiny opening that barely will fit around my leg normally, let alone my leg with a cast or a bandaged splint. But with Michael’s help, I got the damn thing on and managed to take shower number 2 with relative peace of mind.

No shower would even be possible without all the stuff that Leslie brought me the other day – shower stool, shower head attachment…but the suction cup handles that attach to the shower walls? They are not terribly reliable as far as staying put goes. So…instead, I’ve worked out a system of sitting my way into the bathtub, lame and bagged leg dangling out of the bath. It’s not a perfect system, and you still have to be super careful getting in and out and not using the crutches on slippery steamed tile floors. TILE FLOORS ARE WHAT GOT ME HERE. I’m not falling for that again (#dadjokeagain).

Okay, so the other piece of gear I purchased is this: a medical elevating pillow for my leg and cast. It is much better than the many pillows I was using before, in that the pillows tend to slide around and then scatter across the bed while I sleep. This thing pretty much just sits here, doing what it’s supposed to be doing – keeping my foot up.

I was trying to think of another movie/pop culture reference for the medical supportive pillow, but I can’t really think of anything, other than I’m surprised I have not seen ads for it on Investigation Discovery, which has about three long nighttime ads that it repeats ALL NIGHT LONG: Proactiv skin care, Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty skin care, and Life Alert, which tells me all I need to know about their viewership.

Okay, that’s it for now. But tune in tomorrow for other things I’m trying to keep busy with, such as binge-ing TV shows. Stranger Things 3, anyone?


Gimp Gear: My New Look for the Next 10 Weeks or So


My view for the next several weeks.

It was a Monday like any other…until it wasn’t.

I’m a dog walker, by the way. In case it hasn’t come up before. Twice a day, I take my muttley crew (see what I did there? #dadjoke) out to some wide open expanse where such things are legal, and let them run, play, and be goofy dogs off leash. This week was going to be light – only five dogs in each group, which is a nice way to ease back into things from a four-day weekend.

But while picking up Dog #4, I noticed two dudes in the lobby, polishing the shiny tile floors. There wasn’t really a dry walkway to the elevator, and I briefly contemplated taking the stairs instead. But alas, I walked instead, ALMOST slipping despite being careful. And in the elevator I thought, Hmmmm, perhaps I ought to harness the dog, as she’s a puller and I need to walk slowly on that slippery floor. Because my only prior experiences with slipping on floors has been that I slip, fall, and maybe hurt my back or ankle a little bit. It’s not like I’m going to really hurt anything, right?


Wrong! So I did not harness the dog, and she pulled me, and I not only slipped, but I EXTREME SLIPPED. Like, if slipping was an Olympic sport, I really gave this slip my all and brought home the gold for the US of A. I was bloody AIRBORNE.

And as I went down, I felt something go SNAP! in my ankle. Like a cord. It’s weird, but it didn’t hurt at first. Then it did, and there was SO MUCH SWEARING. The two dudes working on the floor thought it was my knee, and one of them was like, trying to pop it back in like it was dislocated. I’m a little disturbed at how ready he was to leap to this conclusion, but I said no, no, it’s my ankle.

They helped me stand up, and it felt weird and hurt but not like I thought a broken ankle might feel. Like, there was no bone sticking out or searing pain. But I think maybe the adrenaline your body releases to give you that boost you might need to get yourself out of danger may have been what made me think I’d be fine. Because once I got to the truck, I realized that I was screwed.

Several phone calls, texts, and returned dogs later, my husband and hero, Michael, and I arrived at Urgent Care, who promptly instructed us that they had a two-hour wait BUT if we wanted to go to the ER, the guy at the check-in desk suggested St. Mary’s, since it gets less traffic than CPMC or UCSF. THANK YOU SO MUCH, DUDE AT URGENT CARE! That was the best tip we got EVER. I seriously want to send him a bouquet of flowers for this, because he was so, so right.

St. Mary’s is a hidden gem. Okay, not really hidden per se, but it’s off the main ambulance route so unless someone specifically requests it, nobody goes there. Yet they are amazing! Nothing but nice from start to finish. A few hours later, I was released with a splint, a referral to an orthopedic doc, pain meds, and crutches PLUS a walker because I failed miserably at crutches (Round One) to start. Also, x-rays were taken and the PA advised that I should count on being out for 8 weeks, but that probably there would be no surgery needed.

Cut to later that night: in the midst of sending out a flurry of texts and emails in an attempt to NOT lose all my business forever, I hear from Leslie, a former client (the late Jackson’s mom!) and now-friend. She tells me she has GIMP GEAR from when she had to have knee surgery, and even brings it over to me THAT NIGHT, bless her heart, veins and her arteries.

Included: shower stool, shower nozzle attachment, an ice machine for icing sore bits (not needed yet, but hanging on to this), suction handles for inside of the shower, and most appreciated of all: CRUTCH PADS!

The crutch pads are really boss. In case you’ve never experienced crutches before, they’re harder than they look on TV or when other people use them. And more than anything, they really have a way of digging painfully into your armpits. But really, that serves as a reminder that you’re supposed to be using the hand grips for support. And honestly, once I adjusted the crutches and found the right height for both the lower part and the grips, they got a lot easier. Before, it felt like they were just a little too long, especially on carpeting, and I imagined I looked a little like the Cloverfield monster:

cloverfield crutch monster

“Grrrr! Maybe I don’t wanna smash all the buildings, ever think of that? Maybe I’m just really stupidly proportioned! RAH!”

No wonder that monster was cranky! SO AWKWARD.

At the orthopedic clinic the next day, my crutch pads were the envy of all the other patients.  I can’t blame them – I certainly wouldn’t have thought to look into their existence. You just don’t know how nice they are to have until your pits are aching from your awful crutches.

Anyway, I started to look into gear I would need, especially after the orthopedic doc told me to hold off on ruling out surgery (something about the other bone on the other side of the ankle being stressed and possibly damaged, which means it might heal wrong and blah blah blah we’ll know more Monday). And she added that I should plan on NOT driving or walking large groups of dogs for at least 10 weeks.

TEN WEEKS!?! But that’s another post, I think: COVERING MY WALKS FOR TEN WEEKS.

So it was off to Amazon for me to look up Cool Stuff I Need Now, like a cast cover for the shower (my splint is rather cast-like in many ways, only a bit lighter and less plaster-filled), and a proper elevation pillow for the right leg, which needs to be elevated above heart-level to aid in de-swellifying. Which is a word now.

I also am investing in more pajama pants because I cannot wear my Lazy Pants every single day for ten weeks, as comfy as they are.

So every day, in addition to the novel I’m working on, I’m going to try to get in the habit of blogging about The Adventures of Slick Corso, or: How Much Are People Willing to Hear About Being Temporarily Hobbled? A Social Experiment. ENJOY!


“Anybody want to read my blog? Anybody…?”

Step to My Mad (Survival) Skillz!

[Note: I’ll admit it. This is an older essay I wrote probably over five years ago. But hey, I still feel the same way, only I’ve seen WAY more of these shows than anyone should admit to. Perhaps I’ll do a Part Two someday.]

Remember when Survivor first hit the airwaves? It was as if every network executive suddenly was scrambling to hop on the reality TV train. Part of this may have something to do with the idea that they could get the network to pay for their vacations, but it wasn’t just Survivor-styled television that took off. Suddenly, reality TV became television. You couldn’t turn on the TV without ending up on Bad Girls ClubAmerican IdolRoad Rules or the unfortunate Rock of Love (Brett Michaels, have you no shame?). It was trash TV heaven.

Then, just when reality TV was about to die its just death in the court of public opinion, some douchebag at A&E dreamed up Intervention, suddenly lending a sleazy sort of class (like an heiress with a chancre sore) to the genre by creating a sub-genre. Yeah, that’s right — I call it the Somewhat Scripted Penny Dreadful. We, the viewers, get treated to a PAINFUL 60 minutes of someone who once had a mediocre existence and now clings tenuously to a totally miserable one. It could be anything from booze to meth to hoarding (which was so popular it got its own show, like Flo from Alice) to gambling to OCD that drags us down into the vicarious snake pit of their lives; it all ends in tears one way or another. Yet, somehow, these people have families and friends willing to humiliate themselves on national television, on the off chance that it might save their lives.

And that, my friends, is what I call true Television Genius. It’s the same sort of network brilliance that decided a WWII Nazi prison camp was a great idea for a sitcom, or that Americans would actually watch a show where amateur Christina Aguileras galore compete for a questionable prize. Shows like these should never have made it past the pitch…and yet they did. Not only that, but they each pulled in obscene amounts of viewers who actually went back week after week for more punishment.

Me? I prefer the old-school documentary true crime shows like Forensic FilesCold Case Files (featuring the dulcet narration of Bill Kurtis), and FBI Files. Why do I like these shows? Obviously, not for the high production value or excellent reenactments (in fact, the grainier and hammier the reenactment, the better). I like them mainly for two reasons: (1) to ponder what it is that makes people do bad/stupid/evil things, and (2) because the narrations cure my insomnia faster than warm milk. An extension of this is shows that simply rehash old news footage and add wacky noises, like World’s Wildest Police ChasesWorld’s Dumbest Criminals, Part 457 etc. This is just my version of crack. Don’t hate me, pity my ignorance.

Most recently, however, I’ve noticed a new trend in reality grit TV: I call it Survival TV. This trend hit it big with 2008’s newest entry from A&E (somebody gave that douchebag a promotion and a film school education) titled I Survived.

At last: a show that speaks to ME. I think it’s significant that just after Hurricane Katrina throws our post-9/11 psyche to the wolves, this show is pitched. Imagine the tough sell here: for the most part, this is just one person (okay, three people per episode) sitting against a black background, telling their true and gritty story. The only soundtrack is a very ominous, low tone (not tonestone). Sometimes, they’ll flash a picture of what we interpret to be the setting, artfully arranged and shot in an honestly creepy way. But it’s only creepy because we know that the story this woman is telling about that quaint-looking cottage is about her three days of terror with a lunatic. And I don’t need to tell you why that dusky shot of the woods is terrifying. Simple: it scares us because we supply the mental picture. Our storytellers are providing us with the story that comes alive with a disturbing clarity that a re-enactment could not possibly top. The stories for the most part are illustrations of how totally at the mercy of random moments and sheer luck we all are…and that the spoken word as story conveyor is not yet dead.

I meant to give a big critique of these shows when I started out, but I have to admit: this is the one survival show that takes us back to the days when we’d sit around the fire and trade ghost stories (yes, I mean summer camp, but also back before the days of the written word). Real, true storytelling can be very compelling, and congrats to the bold producers for sensing that we’re smart enough to paint our own pictures.

Is it also exploitative? Hell, yeah! But it’s as tasteful as exploitative gets. Apparently, many Americans enjoy a vicarious piercing of the veil that the tension in this show provides. But we know the hero survives because hello! It’s in the title.

Which brings us to Escaped, recently premiering on my new favorite channel, Investigation Discovery. I’m not going to say much, other than it’s like American Justice meets I Survived, only without the dramatic tension of I Survived. I guess you could say that it’s the poor man’s I Survived. I don’t mean to trash the show; they tell stories from the standpoint of survivors, but because of the nature of the title, it tends to mostly tell stories of women who escaped sex slavery. And while it’s made me much more disparaging of the porn business at its worst level, at no point am I on the edge of my chair wondering if the girls will get out of the basement in time. There’s a slightly lurid feel to watching this show; it’s something akin to how you feel watching a documentary on Jeffrey Dahmer. I mean, do we really need to hear this story again?

I think the biggest problem with Escaped (or Escaped!, as the network refers to it) is that for all its stories of human degradation and depravity, it lacks the heart that I Survived relies on for its backbone: the tale of the man who makes a wrong turn and ends up stuck in his car in a snowbank for a week, or the elderly couple attacked by a mountain lion. Man vs. Nature! And that’s where this show picks up:

I happened upon it while trying to lull myself to sleep one night, and ended up recording it to watch with my husband the next day. I Shouldn’t Be Alive is like I Survived with re-enactments; however, it focuses entirely on situations where man missteps in nature and realizes just how ill-prepared for a worst-case scenario he really is. It’s largely hit-or-miss; either you’re on the edge of your chair, or you hate the bickering jackasses who were stupid enough to try and sail across the Sea of Cortez on a freakin‘ catamaran… on a dare.

The episode that hooked me, though, was one where a father and son get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness when their raft flips into freezing cold water. They lose all their gear — food, camping equipment, and dry clothes — about 60 miles from the nearest town. BOOYEAH! With good actors for the re-enactment scenes, this one stands out in my mind as a Story With Heart *and* Tension.

But here’s the deal: you love them or you hate them. At least half the time, the surviving storytellers are testosterone-driven dicks who goad each other into ridiculous situations which they never would have ended up in had they paused to give it proper thought.

Then again, what on earth would we have to watch if they did?

Food for thought: Just how many categories and sub-categories of reality TV are there? Talk amongst yourselves, class — break into discussion groups and show me your comments.

If Anyone Asks, Say It’s a Seminar!

bible1When I opened my mailbox this evening, the word “BIBLE” leaped out at me from a flier shoved in the back of the box. I took it out and at first couldn’t decipher if this was a pro-Christian, anti-Christian, or worse, some white power meeting being slyly advertised.

I scanned all four pages quickly to try and determine what exactly this was, but things just got more confusing when I read this:

“Christians believed…The world was flat. The earth was the center of the univere. Is there something you believe that the Bible does not say?”

Ummm, sure. I believe lots of stuff that’s not in the Bible. Like, that Peanut Butter M&Ms pair well with just about anything and AMC’s The Walking Dead just plain isn’t interesting anymore. So….what point was trying to be made? Is the speaker saying that Christians were wrong about a lot of things? That’s no shocker. Or are they saying the Bible can clarify confusing topics like gravity and the shape of the earth? Well, I wondered, WTF does the Bible really say? Passing time on the elevator, I glanced at the bottom of the first page of the flier, which advertised that “this fascinating seminar” was coming to my area next week.

I don’t know about you, but when I see the words “Christian” and “seminar” in the same flier, I imagine those “parties” that Landmark (not the indie film distributing company — the OTHER Landmark) and Scientologists hold. You know, the kind where they don’t let you pee or eat for more than six hours and separate you from the now-hated friend who dragged you here? The kind where they try and get you to sign over all your worldly possessions and promise you guaranteed fame and success?

This made me wonder if the word “seminar” was supposed to lull my liberal left-coast brain into a false sense of security. “Seminar” means education, right? Secular education. Oh, wait… As I read on, I pick up that yeah, this is pretty Christian stuff, although the words “God” and “Christ” only pop up once in the whole pamphlet. But I am too distracted by the illustration on page 2 to really think about it.

AWWWWWWW YEAAAAAHHHHHH! Sweet! Sign me the hell up! So whatever the Bible really says, it apparently has something to do with sea monsters, bears with either scrolls or bones in their mouths, Aslan from Narnia, and a four-headed leopard. With wings. Maybe this is all in Revelations or something, but I grew up Catholic and I SWEAR I would remember Aslan being in the Bible. I mean, I know C.S. Lewis was Catholic and Aslan was a Christ figure and all, but…I digress.

Let me take a moment here to say: I mean no offense to Christians *in general*. I know many and in a sense, I guess I am one since I try to live by the Golden Rule. I especially don’t mean offense to the ones who live good, simple lives and help their communities in a sincere effort to help and learn. In particular, I am not wishing to offend the Christians who are contentedly NOT mailing fliers to me.

Page 3 socks it to us with the topics or rather, the “answers” that will be presented over a 4-day period (not sure if they let you go home in between seminars, but let’s assume they do):

It reads like a Biblical Cosmo cover. I expected to see “7 Ways to Tell if Your Man is on the Prowl” underneath “Evidence The Bible has not been Changed”. What does that even mean, anyway? Changed via bad translation, or conspiracy or aliens or something? Because that would explain a lot. Anyway, presented using words like “Evidence” and “Proof”, the implication is: And we’re totally not evangelical Christians. Srsly. Because would Evangelists have topics using these words? These must be scientific people if they are offering proof that the Bible is God’s word. **Disclaimer: “as Compared to Other Holy Books” may refer to that tattered copy of The Thorn Birds that’s still on your parents’ bookshelf**

At last, we come to the back cover, which recaps that this seminar is indeed a deal at Absolutely Free. But once again, I am distracted by the picture in the lower left-hand corner – yup, this is the sampling of whom this congregation welcomes: the ethnically diverse, heterosexual family (although the white folks have no kids – does this mean something??). Oh well, best not to over-analyze. But then, what would I do on a Thursday night?

But who is the Speaker at this seminar? It’s this guy:

It took some time on Google, but I found out he either is or was a pastor at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in San Francisco. It was kind of a let-down to realize that there was no big secret agenda going on – just a bunch of churchgoers. I did get a little excited (“Wow! I’m breaking a big story!) when I stumbled across a guy on Google with the same name (different spelling) who is a screaming revisionist and racist. You know, the kind of people who refer to Jewish people as “Zionists” and who are convinced that the Holocaust didn’t exist? Yeah, those guys. But as I said — different guy.

As I wrap this up, I’m feeling a little bad because technically, I live essentially a “Christian” life, albeit in the non-Jesus worshiping, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, Wiccan/pretty much agnostic sense. So who am I to make fun of Christians just for trying to win over a few new members to their SDA team?

I think it’s really more the brochure that I find offensive. It reminds me of political propaganda, no matter how pure and equality-loving the message is. Having an open meeting at your church? Then just say so. Don’t call it a seminar and use phrases that you hope will appeal to a non-believer in some ploy to trick them into showing up. Just invite us. Sure, it’ll be pretty quiet, but at least it’s an honest quiet.


Confessions of an Online RPG-er, Or Captured in the Amber of the Interwebz – Part 2

text rpg

Okay, so getting back to my very first RPG experience… In Part 1, I told you about how online text-based RPGs work, and that my first game ever was an ER RPG back in 2000. My memory of it was that I played enthusiastically for a while before eventually losing interest and inclination and exiting the game in early 2002. That was all I really remembered, apart from vague plotlines and my characters.

Until….Recently, I took two weeks off of work to get my shit in order. My husband and I were seriously considering  buying a house in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and selling my business. Basically – uprooting everything. I needed to give everything some serious thought and also try and get into some better writing habits for the new book I’m working on.

In looking through old writings, I found an ancient document with a few posts from the ER RPG – the very first game I played online. I honestly had not even THOUGHT of it for at least a decade. I remembered very little at first – not even what the game was named – but I remembered how it saved my sanity during a transitional period in my life by giving me something creative to obsess about. So I turned to my old stand-by for all things RPG – Yahoo Groups – and did a search for it. Two hours later, after shuffling through many, many dead groups, abandoned and now only posted on by purveyors of pornography – I FOUND IT. My heart was pounding, as I slowly began to remember the characters and other players whom I once knew by name and email address.

Lucky for me, it was unmoderated, so anyone could join and then read back posts. So I did…and did not come up for air for at least a week.

I selected October 2000 as a good place to start, locating the moment I joined and began playing. I found my first-ever post, which was stilted and decent enough, but not terribly interesting (just like most firsts). As I got the swing of things, though, the characters took over and I just let them drive, taking a back seat as first person narrator.

I didn’t know why at first, but I was ecstatic when I first starting reading through all these forgotten posts. It was sort of like going back in time as a fly on the wall at a really fun party you attended with your best pals twenty years ago. I couldn’t interact with any of these people anymore, but I could read the old posts.And read I did!

It wasn’t just looking back at my writing, either – it was looking back at the writing of an entire group of people who all got together when they could to write and play. Some of them lived as far away as the UK and Australia. Late 2000 was trapped in the amber of Yahoo Groups, and I devoured all the posts pertaining to my favorite characters and plotlines. I remembered now, reading through them – I remembered them all. Michelle (playing Kerry Weaver) and Vanessa (playing Carol Hathaway), the game moderators who always wrote their canon characters so perfectly that I could practically hear the actors and actresses portraying them speak their words; Shelley (playing Elizabeth Corday and Abby Lockhart), who really grew into her characters and gave them deeper backstories than we ever got to see on TV; Joni (Lucy Knight) and Barry (Peter Benton), who stayed perfectly in character but kept posts brief and didn’t really delve too deeply; and Cathy (John Carter), who was the game’s Mary Sue. Like most Mary Sues, she was a good writer but had only a tenuous grasp of the character aside from what she wanted him to be. She would be so hurt when our characters reacted IN CHARACTER to the insane things she had Carter do (he tried to kill himself multiple times and often ran from rooms in tears – clearly the most unstable doc in the ER and not fit for such a high-pressure job). But she did keep the game intensely active – I’ll at least give her that.

I, like many others, played two characters who were polar opposites in personality: Dr. Robert Romano, the talented asshole Chief of Surgery *and* Chief of Staff and Dr. Mark Greene, the quintessential nice guy ER attending doc. My not-so-secret favorite of the two was Romano, because (a) his thoughts and words were often hilarious and (b) I used him to vent my frustrations with real life idiots. What I could not say out loud, Romano had no problem saying. Just an example of Romano’s personality: on the show, he once remarked, “I’m beginning to think that ‘ER’ stands for ‘Everyone’s Retarded’.” Beyond that, though, I could also dig a bit deeper to see: was he really an asshole through and through, or was that just the persona he projected to get what he wanted/needed? (Spoiler Alert: A little bit of both. Kind of like Yours Truly.) And Mark Greene? He was fun to write, but in a totally different way. He’d shoot hoops with Doug Ross, he’d get in snowball fights at Christmastime during a slow moment outside the ER. He and Lizzie once got into a hilarious food fight in their kitchen when a whipped cream cannister misfired. And he was the guy all the characters went to with their problems. When Abby had problems with an abusive ex-husband, Mark looked out for her and listened to her. When Lizzie had to have emergency heart surgery, he was right there by her side. He was the angel to Romano’s devil. The devil is still more fun, though.

Characters aside, I’d forgotten a lot of the minutiae of early RPGs, such as our OOC (out-of-character) comments about things that were happening in real life at the time. If you wanted to make a comment as yourself and not the character, you’d put “OOC:” in the header or in brackets to avoid confusion. And as time went on, our OOCs divulged more and more. Many players were college students, and tended to post things like “OOC: Midterms next week, so I’ll be scarce” or “OOC: Going on Spring Break in Mexico”. And then there was me, who posted about my cat spilling water on my modem and that I would soon be selling her to gypsys. And in the days before emoticons, we used <g> instead of a smiley face.  So many <g>s! I think I might bring that one back.

We even had all the characters who worked in the ER take part in a Secret Santa, which is something no other game I’ve played in has done (mainly because the settings don’t really lend themselves to it). The RPG moderators set up a separate email account that you could email to enter your character in the Secret Santa, and they would  assign who your character was “buying” for. Naturally, Romano had zero interest in participating in such frivolity (he had way bigger fish to fry), but you can bet Mark Greene was up for it. You would write an anonymous scene in which your character’s present is delivered to the its recipient, outlining what the gift was. That scene would then post from the Secret Santa email address to keep it anonymous, but appear on the game. So gifts appeared for characters without giving away who the gifter was. Then, at the ER Christmas party (which started on December 23 for the players and went on for several days), each character guessed who had given them their gift.  I was in total suspense; I couldn’t tell from reading the posts which one I had written! Kerry Weaver, however, correctly guessed that Mark Greene was responsible for her gift (a black t-shirt with stark white lettering reading RESIDENTS BEWARE and a Relaxing Sounds of the Ocean CD). “Only an attending physician would be so bold!” she laughed in-scene. Meanwhile, Peter Benton had been Mark’s Secret Santa, gifting him a limited edition Chicago Bulls basketball (I guess surgeons make more money than attendings). So there was a comraderie among the players and their characters that carried over in these playful threads.


“Secret what? Kerry, I don’t have time for that crap!”

I began furiously cutting and pasting all these old posts into a Word document, knowing that one day, even the forgotten corpse of this game would vanish into the ether, along with everything else on Yahoo Groups and television. I’d found my old words, written with a confidence I’d lost long ago, and I didn’t want to lose them again. I’m too embarassed to confess how many hours of my vacation was spent doing this when I should have been working on my book. You know, the story that I haven’t written yet?

But like all good times, these too must come to an end. I first started feeling the tug of melancholy when I kept feeling the urge to respond to posts written 17 years ago. It would be pointless – there was nobody from the old group left to read them. They were all old email addresses, and for all we knew, even our on-screen names could have been made up. I wanted to reach through time and the internet and somehow reach them, if only to say, thanks for playing! How are you? Remember this? It was fun!

And then…the inevitable. My posts started to trail off somewhere in late July, 2001. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but looking back on the dates, I remembered that was around the time I was sort-of dating someone who was not as into being a couple as I was. Plus, I was having problems with a friend who was starting to spiral downwards with drug abuse. I’d resurface in the game every now and then for a quick but unfocused post, followed by an OOC comment of “Sorry so short – things are nuts right now!” It got much worse in August, when my roommate turned out to be a crackhead. I felt very unsafe in my own home and at a loss for how to get her out. I moved my cats out of the home and started couch-surfing at friends’ homes. Plus, the sort-of boyfriend was playing hot-and-cold with me. All of which makes for very distracted writing habits.

As I read the clues, I remembered everything that was happening in a visceral way that I hadn’t experienced in many years. I remembered the fear, the near-desperation for normalcy and love and acceptance. But on the game, there were no longer any posts. Romano would only make an appearance when tagged by another character, and he was far from his usual snappy self. I’d given Mark Greene away to another player since I didn’t want to leave Lizzie’s player stuck in the mud.

I could feel my stomach begin to knot up as Romano faded into the background, knowing what was coming in real life as we moved through late August and into early September 2001. I was filled with a weird sense of dread, as if I was watching the events of my life play out on a screen, unable to reach out and change any of it. I wanted my characters to come back and show me more, and ignore the terrors of real life. I wanted to read more of the fun instead of remembering the angst.

I spotted a very promising post I wrote on September 10, 2001. I had just returned to my home after my roommate got thrown in jail and I finally felt like it was safe. I worked on getting a stay-away order that I could serve her with while she was still in jail, and could sleep without worry, although not entirely without nightmares. Giddy with the prospect of a carefree future, I’d felt inspired and wrote a fun post.

Now-Me knew what the next day was, but I kept on reading, despite the deep-seated dread inside. The first few posts on September 11. 2001 were normal, as I guessed they’d gone up closer to midnight. Then, an OOC from Joni, our Lucy: “I just want to say I hope you’re all safe and that your families and loved ones are okay. Be safe!”

We all chimed in with OOC comments. Our overseas players let us know they were thinking of us in the States. Jaime, a player in New Jersey who worked in Fire-Rescue, wrote that he was headed out the next day to aid in rescue efforts at Ground Zero. We all wished him luck and thanked him and commiserated with him about the loss of his fellow firefighters. Reading back on it all now, I found myself tearing up. Was Jaime okay? Did he end up getting that lung disease that many of the 9/11 rescuers developed? Then Cathy/Carter posted the lyrics to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and I really did cry.

It’s hard to explain what exactly I was crying for. It wasn’t nostalgia, really. It was more like a visitation from the ghost of days gone by, complete with all accompanying trauma and emotional fallout. The stories in the game I was reading weren’t making me sad, but  in reading the dates on the page, the OOC comments and tracking my lack of participation, I was retracing the steps I took during difficult days.  I remembered everything: the neighbor bringing a paper American flag to put in my window. Work saying stay home. Worrying about my non-boyfriend whose plane had been grounded. Serving the stay-away order to my roommate in jail. Driving home from the jail in my disintegrating old VW Bug, the driver’s seat propped up only by a giant salad bowl I had bracing the back of it.Watching the tiny TV in my bedroom because I’d brought the living room TV to my non-boyfriend’s house so my crackhead roommate wouldn’t sell it. I remember fear. I remember uncertainty. I remember watching televised shots of endless walls plastered with pictures of the missing and the dead on that tiny TV screen. I remember heartache. I remember every. Little. Bit of it.

But until I remembered it and felt it again, I wouldn’t be able to move on and read the rest. I needed to know that things went on, even though I knew they did. I did read on, finding what I’d expected: not much else from my characters.  Other things in real life took precedence, and this would not be the last time a game would serve as marker in time for me. The Ghost of Games Gone By often takes me by the hand and reminds me of what has passed, if only to make me appreciate the present that much more.

After having processed all of this, I tried to listen to whatever it was Now-Me wanted to tell Then-Me so desperately: Wait! I wanted to tell her. Come back! Keep writing! It’s way better than worrying about bullshit. Keep writing! Show me more!

Then-Me looks back over her shoulder at Now-Me. “No,” she says.  “YOU keep writing.” And she’s right. It’s my turn now.

And it hit me: I have it all, right here and now. Do I really want to uproot it all with a move and put myself in massive debt for the rest of my life? Why would I want to change what I have? I have a husband I love with all my heart, who loves me and has my back no matter what. We live in a rent-controlled apartment in a beautiful city, and I have a thriving business. In fact, it’s doing so well and our rent is so cheap that I could probably take Fridays off from now on. So why not grab onto that? Enjoy what I have. Write. It’s my turn now.

So, thanks Then-Me. You had a message for me, and you delivered it. Godspeed.

Ah, well. I’ll always have my inner Dr. Romano, who still tries really hard to override me when I don’t say the snarky comments I want to say. Sometimes, he gets the better of me and blurts out something I shouldn’t, like the former client I called a douchebag or the time I flipped off the guy at the deli for saying something stupid. Most of the time, I let Dr. Greene do the talking, but Romano? He’s making all kinds of wise-cracks in the background. And when I’m not strong enough, he stands up and speaks for me.




Confessions of a an Online RPG-er, or How I Learned to Embrace My Inner Fangirl – Part 1


(Note: This post got lonnnng! So I’m breaking it up into 2 or maybe 3 parts. Godspeed!)

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I do not worship Satan. I do not play Dungeons & Dragons with the kids from Stranger Things on Friday nights (I would actually LOVE to but I could never figure out the rules on my own back in high school, and none of my friends were quite at my level of nerdiness…that I am aware of anyway). I don’t get so obsessed with plotlines and characters from fantasy movies that I feel the need to sacrifice unsuspecting strangers in ritualistic bloodbaths (see the part above about not worshipping Satan). In short, I’m not what most people imagine when they hear the phrase “role play gamer”.

But what I am – and what I have always been – is a writer. Ever since I was old enough to daydream, I much preferred the worlds I imagined to the one I was actually living in (which, incidentally, wasn’t bad – just ordinary). And when I figured out that I could write about these other realities in, say, every spare moment of my waking life not spent at school or watching TV, I did it, often with the enthusiasm I probably should have been applying to my schoolwork.

This love of imagined realities led to a tendency to really throw myself into whatever movie/tv show/book I was obsessing on, from childhood onwards. When I found a movie or show I liked, I would dedicate my heart and soul to finding out more about (a) the film and how it was made, (b) all the backstories I could get my pre-internet hands on, and (c) making up possible backstories in my head and occasionally, putting pen to paper in what can only be described as very early fanfic. And even though I loved doing it, some part of me was very aware that I SHOULD NEVER SHOW IT TO ANYONE or risk being forever labelled Dorkus Giganticus.

As time went on, I began to shift away from established characters, and began to write my own plots featuring characters I created, although many of them were certainly inspired by characters (and the actors who portrayed them) I’d seen in films or television shows. Hey, we all have our influences, right? None of what I’d written back then was remotely publishable – hey, I was a kid! – but it was practice and kept me entertained.

It was the Fall of 2000 when I first found out about online RPGs (which in this instance refers to Role Playing Games, not Rocket Propelled Grenades). Let me set the stage for you: I was in the process of breaking up with a live-in boyfriend who was just not a great match. I could not WAIT for him to move out, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. I worked the 3-10pm shift at a law office in downtown San Francisco as a word processor (remember those?) and this meant that I had a lot of mental downtime on my hands, and not too much money. So I spent a LOT of time watching reruns of a long-running medical drama which may or may not rhyme with “Me Far”. (What the hell – I’ll admit it. It was ER.) By 2000 standards, ER was action-packed and filled with diverse characters, medspeak, hospital politics and the occasional knife-wielding lunatic. In short, it was an excellent distraction from real life. So to keep myself from thinking too hard about anything, I watched this show, first-run and repeats, fairly obsessively for much of 2000. It kind of became part of my daily routine: get up, brew coffee, watch two or three episodes on TNT, go online, go to work. And when watching the first run episodes, I would immediately call my friend Sara (a fellow fan) to speculate wildly/commiserate about it. I’m still getting over Lucy Knight’s untimely demise.

And when I say “go online”, I’m talking about the Days of Dial-Up, when modems were external and you had to plug them into your home phone’s landline (remember landlines?) and be okay with no one being able to reach you by phone while you were logged into your shitty AOL account or whatever you were using. Netscape? Earthlink? Hotmail? Yeah. All of those.

I had already discovered fandoms on the internet, and one of the ER fanlists (remember fanlists?) posted about several online ER-based play-by-email roleplay game. Wait…what’s this, now? I could barely contain myself. You mean, I could take on the persona of one of my favorite characters and write their innermost thoughts, words and actions in a game? With other players playing their favorite characters? And we all take part in playing out plots that we made up? OH, SHIT YEAH.

I immediately subscribed to it via eGroups (later becoming Yahoo Groups) and began a journey which still continues to this day. The games have changed over the years, but the three that I’m still with have all been in play for over ten years. And they’re not all fan-based; some are worlds and plots that we’ve entirely created based on an agreed-upon premise (i.e., the apocalypse has happened – now what?). You create characters, choose avatars (basically, who would you choose to play this part in a movie), and begin interacting with other characters.

I should take a moment to clarify that there are many kinds of online RPGs. World of Warcraft is probably the one most people have heard of, but paid RPGs are different from play-by-email (PBEM) RPGs in the sense that PBEM RPGs are entirely based on text written by players, while visual RPGs tend to have animation and basic action directions. I’ve honestly never tried playing WoW, mainly because I am way more into words than playing out a visual battle. That’s just me, though – personal preference.

So, while it may make me a Dorkus Giganticus, I love my RPGs. I often skirt around the nerd angle by just calling them “writing games”, because that’s what they are, right? We either create an original character (OC) or take a “canon” character (a pre-existing character from whatever world you’re writing about), and try to write for that character, in-character (IC). And that’s the challenge: You don’t get to take a canon character and have them do what you would do, or even what you wish they would do. You have to stay IC. You must stay true to who they are in your writing, not just make them do what you’d like.

Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds, and makes for excellent writing exercise. I could tell you many a story about people who made strong, stoic canon characters into hysterical, injury-prone basket cases simply because they wanted to make the character be like THEM. Their characters would plow right into and through every other player’s plotlines. Incidentally, those sorts of players are called Mary Sues. I found a whole Wikipedia page on Mary Sues, which is aptly described as: “A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment.” IS IT EVER! And let me tell you, these players are DEATH to any RPG, just as any real-life drama queen will suck the life out of everyone around them. I once wrote up a Mary Sue Test for my games, with questions like “Does your character have a wild animal as a pet?” and “Are your character’s eyes an unusual color, such as violet or multi-colored.”  There’s a limit to how “special” a character can be, is what I’m saying. I wanted to make sure that potential Mary Sues are stopped at the border, before they can start crying from their cat-like violet eyes all over their pet wolf.

To Be Continued in Part 2….

In the Days Before the War When the First Bombs Fell

A Short Story by Diane Corsoorbit ceilingAuthor’s Note: This is a fictional short story I wrote 17 years ago. Inspired by true events, maybe, but really, what isn’t? So take it at face value, and don’t expect much.

Picking Through the Rubble, September, 2001:

It’s almost eight on that Sunday night in July before I finally pick up the phone and call my not-quite-boyfriend Patrick. He answers with his usual untroubled, “Hello?”

“It’s me,” I say. “I got back from Tammi’s wedding a little while ago.”

The joy in my voice must really carry. “You sound . . . less than enthused. Was it everything you hoped it would be, and more?”

“Oh… so much more,” I reply. I light a clove cigarette—it’s a special occasion, after all. It’s the beginning of the end of everything, even though I don’t know it yet. The first of so many bombs to fall has fallen. Next month, my roommate will start drinking heavily, and I will think this is the worst of her problems; this is before she gets tossed in the can and I find out about her crack addiction. And in a few months, Patrick will be stuck in Dallas, his plane grounded on September 11, 2001, and when I send a frantic e-mail to him, I’ll get a reassuring reply addressed to someone named Renee.

Lighting up my clove though, I don’t know any of this. Right now, this wedding seems like a big deal. I don’t know Big Deal from Adam.

* * *

Okay, unfair. I’ll back up.

We had all assumed that the worst thing that could happen would be Tammi would have too much to drink and maybe make an ass of herself. Looking back on this now, I see how foolish it was. What was I thinking? Was I imagining that Tammi would just get a little tipsy and become a frowzy, amusing bride who perhaps giggled too loudly, and maybe say something she shouldn’t, leaving the rest of us to suppress smiles, roll our eyes and pat her on the arm as we wished her well? This was Tammi, for crying out loud! Tammi Westerhaven, who never did anything without the maximum amount of drama and damage, and who always, always dragged at least one – preferably three or four – unwilling participants down into the sewage with her.

My pals and fellow music journalists, Victoria and Kay, headed for the bar immediately. They were younger than I but had been on the scene a lot longer, and I often felt like a tourist in that strange world of San Francisco Music Scenesters. I shrugged, took a drink and went along for the ride.

We certainly weren’t here to cover this sham of a wedding. Nope – we were here as guests of bride Tammi Westerhaven, former lead singer of the solid retro-sounding garage band, The Model Ts. I’d been in awe of her then, with her amazing long blond ’60s ’do and larger-than-life gutsy girl persona. In retrospect, I think she’d cast herself as the Original Manic Pixie. And that was part of the problem – who could live that lifestyle without doing major damage to your psyche?

As Tammi’s dependence on booze, prescribed Paxil and Xanax became heavier, we’d all started avoiding Tammi, because there was nothing any of us could really do for her anymore. Hoping to save ourselves, we’d all backed off over the past month.

What compelled us to show up? Some misguided sense of duty? Morbid curiosity? Looking around at the time, I saw that the only people who showed up to this event were either music scene freeloaders—curious onlookers who hadn’t spoken to her in months—or people like us: those who had once been her friends, and felt we ought to be there to help cover the body when the time came. Kay saw me looking around the room and pointed to one couple at a table who were reading the newspaper while they drank their champagne, as if they were just there for Sunday brunch. “I want a picture of that,” she commented wryly.

Naturally, Tammi had chosen everyone’s favorite bar – The Dresden Fire Pit – for the setting of her green-card wedding to her ex-boyfriend, Hansi, a German concert photographer with whom she still lived. He was like her sugar daddy, only without the sugar. She had a vested interest in him being able to stay in the country, and he had a vested interest in her.

The Dresden Fire Pit was located on a windy corner on San Francisco’s Market Street, with plate glass windows making up most of the walls. It was a summer’s day, but this didn’t change the fact that we were still in San Francisco, and even if it was nearing 1 p.m. in late July, it was cold, foggy, and windy as fuck. I wrapped my jacket closer around me and watched as Victoria began documenting the day with her digital camera. “For when the police arrive later!” she grinned.

That was when we all decided to check out the pornographic wedding cake.

I wondered what Patrick would think of this scene; it was times like this when I mentally referred to him as Professor Patrick the Anthropologist. He never came with me to any of these places, but seemed to enjoy hearing the details. I was mentally taking notes for him, ready to report back on Music Hipsters in their Natural Habitat.

As the Dresden Fire Pit was brought to some kind of inner order, a hush fell over the crowd and those who had decided to show up fell into their appropriate places along the sides of the room. I guessed that Elvis was in the building, so to speak.

In came Tammi.

She had pre-arranged for “The Girl Can’t Help It” to be played over the stereo system as her wedding march, and this was the one thing that was definitely appropriate. Tammi’s wedding dress was a black vinyl mini with matching black elbow-length vinyl gloves. She matched those with black fishnets and black go-go boots, with a blood-red feather boa. The coup de grace was the lime green bobbed-cut wig. She looked like a Dominatrix Christmas Tree.

Have you ever seen that Brady Bunch episode where Jan, unhappy with her self-perceived mediocrity, decides that she needs a new look, and purchases a brunette wig that looks like it belongs on a middle-aged mom? For her grand re-introduction at a party, she has her brother Peter introduce her as “The new Jan Brady!” and her confused friends simply laugh it off as a joke, thus making her humiliation total and complete. God help me, I could practically hear Peter Brady’s voice squeak out, “The new Tammi Westerhaven!”   I mean, the poor woman looked so scared, so nervous, yet so pleased to be in the spotlight, all at the same time! I wanted to go over and pat her hand, tell her it was okay, that she didn’t have to do it, that it didn’t matter, and why, why was she putting herself—and us, for fuck’s sake—through all this?

Now, it’s not that I’m opposed to unconventional weddings in vinyl and with dick-shaped wedding cakes. I’m not even opposed to green card weddings. If you’re willing and able, go for it. But a mentally unstable person should not be doing it, and further, they should not be doing it “for security”. Further still, she should not be blowing a wad of cash (probably Hansi’s) to make a spectacle of herself in front of a lot people who don’t give a shit but who show up so they can eat and drink on her dime. I mentally buckled myself in.

Smiling a jittery, uncertain smile, Tammi teetered in her go-go boots to the nearest friendly face—someone I didn’t know—and gave them a little hug as she walked past, repeating this for a few others as she worked her way towards Hansi and the minister in the back of the room. She finally got to me, and I stepped forward, giving her a hug. “Good luck,” I whispered, smiling lightly. “You look fabulous.” She looked happy and gratified, in a caged rabbit sort of way, before moving on.

It was, of course, one of those hey-it’s-a-bar-fer-Chrissakes non-denominational ceremonies that lasts maybe three minutes, during which the bartender politely refrained from serving drinks. I looked into the gaping maw of my empty glass, becoming increasingly aware of my growing desire for vodka madras number two.

Everyone cheered politely as Tammi gave Hansi a friendly peck on the cheek to seal their strange deal, and I found myself wondering if the German job market was really so awful, when the music started up again and Hansi announced that food was available, “So be sure for to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die, no? Or, get married.” Nobody needed to be asked twice.

“Tammi’s already kind of fucked up,” Victoria told me in a low voice. “She completely blew me off when I went to say congratulations. Know what she said? ‘I thought I wasn’t cool enough for your iceberg!’”

“Huh?” I ask, suddenly realizing I’d sucked down most of my second drink in about thirty seconds. “What, has she been composing that one all month?”

“Yeah, I know!” she hissed. “She’s the one who’s been acting like a crazy pillhead from Valley of the Dolls. Then she loosened up when I said I’d been swamped at work, you know the drill. Anyway, she said she took Paxil earlier at home, then some Xanax in the car. And now she’s going through the champagne. Look, for Christ’s sake, she can barely stand on her own.”

Why the hell couldn’t Tammi just take speed like a normal scenester diva so we’d know what to expect? Initially, I’d thought her unsteadiness was due to the high heels on the boots, but now I could see she was pretty fucked up. She’d needed something to calm her nerves, and now that she had the artificial confidence, she wanted to raise some Hell . . . and then some.

I could see the train wreck wobbling towards us all, but horrified, I was unable to either look away, or call for help. It was simply too late.

As the party progressed, so did Tammi’s slurred speech. At first, she had been fairly coherent. When I first went over to congratulate her, she said, “I’m glad you came. I thought you were mad at me.”

“No,” I said, feigning shock. I had been avoiding her, it was true, because of her strange behavior and constant bitching about our friends. The pill-popping didn’t help, either. “I was on vacation. I talked to you what, a month ago, about the wedding?” I hoped that sounded convincing. It sure sounded better than, No, I just didn’t want to get sucked into your whirling vortex of pain.

The dancing to ‘60s garage band classics continued for another half hour or so, until a clamoring sound at the bar distracted everyone. It was Tammi—she had taken the runway, and was wobbling her way along the bar. The bartender was speechless.

I was standing over by a window and looked around for Hansi. He was off drinking in a corner, still convincing himself that Tammi was beautiful, daring, and secretly in love with him. He looked proudly up at her and applauded her efforts, a sad-looking carnation wilting in his lapel.

Tammi looked down towards Hansi. She was dazed from the pills and the booze, which apparently were working together as a team to make her emotional, agitated, sleepy and unsteady all at once. This, incidentally, is great when you’re walking on a bar in heels. Of course, she lost her balance and fell. Luckily, a barstool broke her fall, but no one nearby came to her aid. Instead, they mostly just moved away. One dude even yelled out an enthusiastic “YEAH! WOOO!” What did the Hipster’s Guide have to say about this particular situation? Even Tammi tried to laugh at herself, along with the others, but still, no one helped her stand while she twisted around, wig sliding off, stumbling again and again as she tried and failed to get her heels and ankles to cooperate with the floor.

What was wrong with these people? If someone had been hit by a fucking car outside, would they stand around and point and laugh? Probably. I tossed my cigarette through the window and hurried over to help Tammi, even though my mind was screaming at me to keep running, run for the door and don’t look back. Her wig had all but fallen off by now and as her sweat caused her makeup to start running, she looked like an escapee from some Fellini killer clown movie.

“Here, let me help you fix that up.” I suspected that I had just wandered into a Nathaniel West novel, but continued anyway.

I sat Tammi down in a nearby chair and straightened out the wig, and in the process I realized as a knot tied up in my stomach that there was a funny substance drying in the wig. A funny, yet strangely familiar substance. A sticky clear yellowish substance with a copper smell which most women will recognize in about .04 seconds, especially if it’s drying on their friend’s face and wig. Suddenly, things went from kind of pathetic and sad to fucking freaky, as in get-me-some-drugs-and-a-dark-room freaky.

There is no real ladies’ room at the Dresden; there is one unisex bathroom. It has one toilet, so I knew we needed to be relatively quick about this. I rushed her in there, closed the lid on the toilet and set Tammi down, filling an empty glass with water from the sink. I silently handed the glass of water to Tammi to drink from, running the tainted strands of wig under the hot water, avoiding touching it at all costs. “Tammi, what the fuck, girl?” I asked softly, not really wanting to know, but needing to. I was a journalist, after all, and questions like these were expected of me.

“I don’t know,” Tammi sniffled, stray blonde hairs poking sadly from the net cap covering her bleach-blond hair. “That guy Jim from that band The Zodiacs and I were dancing—you saw, and I kind of followed him back here, and I grabbed him and asked him if he wanted me to, you know, do him.” Subtle little minx, I thought, but said nothing. She looked up at me then, wavering between crying and becoming defensive, a sniveling tactic she’d recently developed. Though the crowd out there was not exactly peopled with winners, myself included, the scene before me was beyond old. “I just love to do it, it’s something I want to do, you know?”

No, I really don’t get it, but okay. “Mmmm. Here, have some more water. You’re okay.” The wig was at least no longer a biohazard, so I moistened a paper towel and turned to clean crusty bits off of Tammi’s face. I wondered if anyone else noticed this before me. Kind of hard not to, but then what do you do? Point it out?

I couldn’t help but wonder why it was always me – me, in particular – that ended up in this role, giving the bathroom pep talk to the sad lush and “sort of” dating the Patricks of the world.

Tammi sighed. “And I just, I just started to cry. I don’t know what happened, but I just started to cry,” Tammi said, her sniffles escalating into sobs.

“Okay, okay. Here, drink this.” I handed her the water again, and while she was crying and trying to drink water at the same, I took advantage of the opportunity to clean off her face more thoroughly. My mind had all but shut down, repeating the mantra, does it get more awful than this? What I didn’t know then was: Yes. Yes, it does.

I knew not to preach, or give advice. Tammi was too fucked-up right then for it to matter, anyway. “Here, just have more water, and you’ll feel better. Just, no more champagne, okay?” I held out the ridiculous lime-green wig, now slick from the water on one part, but at least relatively jizz-free. I dig into the antibacterial soap and hot water, realizing I’d probably just exposed myself to someone else’s excretions. “Here, your wig’s okay. Do you want it back on, or do you want to give your real hair a shot?”

A strange calm settled over Tammi as stood before the mirror. It was like she was channeling Bette Davis or something. “The wig. My hair’s been under this cap all day and looks like shit.” Well, sure, I thought. Who wouldn’t choose jizz over hat-hair? Tammi pulled her wig on firm and straight. “Al, could you hand me my purse? I’d like to fix my make-up.” She sighed, and for just a second, the old Tammi that I met and knew and loved resurfaced. She gave me a sad look and a half-smile. “Man, I look like a goddam drag queen, don’t I?”

After that, I called myself a cab. They said it would be half an hour. This really is becoming a surrealist film, I thought. I’d call it No Escape.

Nearly half an hour later, I was beginning to kid myself that I might escape soon without further mishap. That is, until there was a commotion near the bathroom. I looked up from my smoking spot by the window, the spot upon which I had begun to sprout roots, and saw Victoria hurrying out of the alcove where the bathroom was, a hand cartoonishly held to her cheek. Kay and I pulled her aside and she stuttered, as if not knowing whether to laugh or yell, “I think the f-fucking bride just s-s-slapped me!” She removed her own hand from her face, and sure enough, there was the red smack-mark imprinted on her pale cheek.

I gave a low whistle. “Huh. Hostess gifts are getting kind of extreme these days.”

“What happened?” Kay asked. I wanted to tell her not to ask that question, that she would regret it, but it was too late.

Victoria began her story breathlessly. “I knocked on the bathroom door while she was in there—I mean, there’s a sign outside the door that says, ‘Knock Before Entering’, so I did. And I heard this voice from inside say, ‘Bitch, I’m the fucking bride, you knock one more time and I’ll kick your ass!’”

“You’re fucking kidding me,” sighed Kay.

Victoria shook her head. “No! And I thought, well, she’s kidding. Like I totally thought she was just kidding around—who talks like that for real, outside of The Jerry Springer Show?”

“So, I was joking around too, and I knocked again. So she flings the door open, comes out, and pops me one,” Victoria continued. She looked nervously over her shoulder.

I wanted to go home. But my roommate was on a downward spiral and now my home wasn’t even mine.

I wanted Patrick. But that was just not happening.

Fuck Me and My Actual Life.

My cab pulled up then. I left without bidding farewell and good luck to the beautiful bride, who had bolted herself back in the bathroom.

* * *

December 2001, the Ashes Washed Away:

So back in early October, I had my crack-addict roommate evicted. She was Part Three in the Horrible Stuff Saga that Tammi’s wedding kicked off, and man, did it ever take a long time to get rid of her. I did it by myself, too. Well, Patrick helped, in a friend sort of way. We stopped not-really-dating back in September, after he returned from Dallas, just after the Renee Incident of 9/11. Strangely, he’s been there for me now a hell of a lot more than he used to. I think it’s the clarity. He likes being my friend; I just wish he’d said that earlier. In any event, I’ve had the house to myself for nearly two months now, nearly insanity-free and without major catastrophes for a few months. I’m quite pleased.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt safe enough in my own home to leave the doors open, and let the music play loudly while I have a beer on the front porch. It used to be my favorite thing to do, long ago. When I first came home from a trip in October, I was too scared to do it. I would lock the doors behind me as soon as I got home, and even set the coat rack in front of the front door so I would hear if any crazy ex-roommates or drug addicted freaks tried to break in.

Now, I’m not afraid anymore. It’s just a process that happens slowly over time. For now, what I really want is to be on my porch despite the chill and have a beer and listen to Radiohead playing on the stereo. And as I sit here, I realize it’s awfully cloudy, the sky, but it feels good. And when it starts to rain, that feels good, too, and I don’t move, not a muscle. Because I’m afraid to scare away the feeling of new that’s coming over me. If I move during this process, I may have to start the whole thing over again, and that might just make me crazy. And the rain is confirming it all, making it real, proving that I am here.

So I sit there in the rain, drinking my beer and listening to the music. Eventually, my cigarette goes out because it really starts coming down. I mean, really pouring.

Doctor to little kid: There, there, that didn’t hurt so bad, did it?

Little kid: Are you fucking kidding me?!?

Okay, it sucked. It sucked a giant bag of dicks. In a few short months, one of my friends went batshit crazy at her Fisher-Price Pretend Wedding, my roommate spiraled into a world of drug abuse costing me almost a thousand dollars in damages and a significant portion of my peace of mind, and my not-really-a boyfriend decided he would rather just be my friend without telling me. And in the midst of all of it, four planes crashed into the east coast and changed the way we live forever.

But that’s okay. It’s all okay. Because one thing I have learned out here in the rain is that the ashes eventually wash away.


NAPA: Cliff Swallows and the Hard Times

So this weekend, one of my very best besties, Pam (AKA Adventure Pam) came up from LA to visit Michael and I, and we all headed to Napa for an overnight at the Meritage Resort and Spa, including a trip on the wine train. Pam hadn’t heard about the incident from a year or two back where a group of African-American women (a book club!) were kicked off the Napa Wine Train for allegedly being “too loud.” Absolute bullshit, right? So we told her about it just so she could share in our shame for patronizing it.

But a wine train is a wine train, and ride it I must.  #dontjudgeme  To make myself feel better, I did make a few jokes about how I was excited to go on the “white train” or just “the racist wine train”. Because you know…WINE.

So we got tickets for the Vista Dome Lunch which is about the nicest lunch you will ever have on a train travelling about ten miles an hour through wine country. They encourage you to kick things off with a mimosa before boarding, so we did. Then eventually it was time to board. You walk up a boarding ramp lined with cyclone fencing that has a shit ton of padlocks with people’s names scrawled on them. Apparently, these are all placed there by couples who are in love as a symbol of how trapped or locked into their lives they feel. Oh wait, that’s not right. Could it be they feel imprisoned by love? I know it’s intended to be romantic but honestly, nothing says “love” like a giant padlock.

So we get to our beautiful Vista Dome car, which is vintage and has a dome window for maximum viewing ability (as one might expect from the name). I made a joke about Trip to Bountiful because HOW CAN YOU NOT, and the rest is pretty hazy. Six drinks and four courses later, you roll back into the station, ready to check into the Meritage and take a nap, which we totally did.

Because this is who we are, we read every pamphlet in our room, including the note warning occupants about Cliff Swallows. Pam was reading it aloud to us and paused here, noting that this would be an awesome name for a gay porn star. And from there it was just pure hilarity, since Cliff Swallows is/are endangered and therefore allowed to build nests wherever he/they feel like…including on guests’ balconies. Apparently, Cliff Swallows is also a total slob because the hotel adds that should Cliff Swallows leave a lot of unwanted debris on the balcony, guests should feel free to notify Housekeeping, who will happily clean up after this presumably aging messy ex-porn star/endangered creature. I kept imagining a dude in a ratty bathrobe and cowboy boots smoking on the balcony and leaving crumpled up cans of MGD and American Spirits everywhere.

Listen, we are easily amused. But not by normal things, it seems. We headed to the Crush Lounge, which houses a bowling alley and pool tables as well as really outstanding bar food. We liked the food and the fireplace, and while I wanted to play pool, it was super loud and honestly, we just wanted to find a fire pit to sit near and talk. But all the fire pits were turned off! I think we probably could have turned one on and if not, we could have asked one of the really awesome and attentive staff to turn one on, but at that point, we were ready to call it a night.

The three of us watched a cool little sci-fi flick called “The Passengers” with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence about people travelling in suspended animation for 120 years to get to a new earth-type planet. Only one guy is woken up about 90 years too early and can’t go back to sleep, so he decides to totally ruin some hot smart chick’s life by waking her up, too. They fall in love, until she finds out he’s essentially killed her and then she’s mad and goes swimming in a really cool space pool a lot. Oh, and the British Wesley Snipes from 30 Rock is there playing a robot bartender. And later Laurence Fishburne wakes up, explains some shit, then dies. Bonus Unnecessarily Big Name Cameo by Andy Garcia as the ship’s captain, who is in like 10 seconds of this movie.  And not even a good ten seconds! It’s a ten seconds that makes you realize you just watched a movie with way too many plot holes and a stupid ending.

We slept really well despite the disappointing ending of the film, and awoke to the magic that is BRUNCH BUFFET! And it truly was magical. Trust me, I’ve been to a lot of mediocre buffets in my nearly 50 years of life, and this one was really amazing. Not only was there the usual breakfast fare, there were cheese blintzes, chicken and waffles, brioche french toast, more charcuterie and cheese than I have EVER witnessed in one place before, a sort of coat-rack thing with donuts hanging on it, and a Made-to-Order omelet bar. Oh, and mimosas for Pam! Coffee for me.

We checked out but stuck around because we had barely scratched the surface of what else was going on at the Meritage. We had a dip in the hot tub, then went to a wine tasting (after which I spent an embarassing amount of money on eight bottles of wine), then went to a coffee shop for a cuppa joe and then lunch back at the Crush Lounge.

I have to take a moment here to share this awesome book that Michael found. I still don’t know if he was buying it ironically but I don’t think it was. I think he sincerely needs cheering up sometimes and thinks this will help, gods bless his adorable heart.


Feeling desparate? Suicidal? THIS BOOK MAY HELP. Or not. Hard to tell. It’s full of pages that have abstract blotchy drawings on them with simple statements about how things will get better and life won’t always suck. It’s so simple, it’s genius. I honestly would have chosen a different title, such as “Please Don’t Kill Yourself” or “I Think You May Need Help”. But that’s just me.

From the little note at the bottom of the cover page, I think this book is assuming an awful lot about what’s going on in my life, but generally speaking, it IS a hard time to be a human being right now. And it’s nice to know that this book is here for me when I need it.  Interestingly, it was published in 2016, which as we all know was a real stinker of a year.

Anyway, that was our awesome visit with Pam/weekend getaway to Napa. I hope we can make this an annual thing and somehow not become alcoholics. I heart my Pammie. And remember – Don’t Kill Yourself, Because You Might Miss a Hilarious Blog Post.