August 28, 2009

The Girl Whose Heart Was Beating Fast

She stopped me outside the cafe, next to the newspaper vending machine. “Excuse me, could you feel my heartbeat?”

She was small and dark-haired and wore a white T-shirt with the name of a local Protestant high school in red. The thick makeup on her cheeks was criscrossed with fine cracks: she was first learning how to use it. Her height made her look even younger.

“It’s beating really fast,” she said. “I just smoked, and I’m scared I’m going to have a heart attack and die. Could you tell me what you think? Should I go to the hospital?”

“No, don’t go to the hospital,” I said. I lay my palm on a carefully selected spot above her breast. Her heartbeat was quite fast. I made sure to look in her eyes and smile seriously. “You’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know why I picked you.” (I was the only person around.) “You looked like you might understand. Have you ever done it?”

“Sure. This happens to people sometimes. It happened to me a few times. Don’t worry, you won’t get sick and die. I promise. Would you like to go inside and sit down, have some water or something?”

“No, my friend’s in there, he’ll be coming out soon…”

He was a tall, light-haired kid in a different style T-shirt from the same school.

“”She’s a little scared,” I told him.

“I know,” he said, and walked away with her. I didn’t hear whether they spoke.

I wished I’d had the chance to sit down and talk with her. To emphasize what a mistake it would be to go to the hospital, how they would call her parents and maybe give her a psychiatric diagnosis—God knows how that would end up.

Feeling her heartbeat, I’d felt the anxiety of being the father of a daughter, having to negotiate around sexuality, to worry about the survival of her innocence. Why did you approach a strange middle-aged man, I wanted to ask her? What if he’d been the wrong kind? Don’t put yourself at people’s mercy.

She was worried about the survival of her innocence too, and approaching me was her way of testing it.

I wished I could tell her all the things that would protect her and her boyfriend, like telling him how to care for a frightened girl, but there was something I wished more. I wished I could join them on their adventures, I wished I were sixteen and learning everything they were about to learn. What they knew least was: how they’d feel looking back.

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August 23, 2009

Hey, people, I've got two new freelance projects starting tomorrow, so I'm going to take a couple of days off from blogging. I'll try to be back here by Thursday, maybe Friday.


Why Be a Poet?

Poets have an average of 11 lifetime sex partners, while accountants have an average of 3.

Source: Psychology Today, Oct. 2009, p. 45


August 21, 2009

men, men, men!

1. I’m reading a suspense novel whose front cover is a photo of a naked young male. I’m afraid someone will see.

2. Which reminds me, I want to rent Brokeback Mountain – but only for Heath Ledger’s performance, you understand.

3. I read an article somewhere about the show Mad Men, in which the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, talked about having to compromise on casting. In the case of one important role, after much painful discussion they decided to go with “the beautiful one” rather than the better actor. I leaped to the conclusion that “the beautiful one” was a woman, undoubtedly either January Jones or Christina Hendricks, but now I think it was Jon Hamm, who plays the lead role, Don Draper. They can't possibly have hired him for his acting.

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August 20, 2009

Slumming: An Epiphany

On the surface it couldn’t look more promising: a restaurant counter at the back of a Chinese grocery. I eat at a little card table with a view of the store shelves: cardboard boxes of round fried gluten, dried noodle, board bean thread; shelf displays of soup mixes with a week’s worth of sodium per serving; ginger and maltose candy; white bread buns filled with guava paste; bags of taro-flavored shrimp chips dyed bright purple. Surely the much-maligned western diet has it over this.

The daily specials are written in Chinese and English on a whiteboard, in smudged black marker. Duck tongues, pork innards… Ever the moderate, I order squid with ground pork.

I take my number tag, 44, to my table, and every time the manager emerges with a tray and shouts a number it sounds, in his accent, like “Forty-four!” An urn behind the counter offers free tea; I do not partake. A fiftyish Mexican man –- immigrant? parolee? -- buses the tables.

When my food arrives, the manager doesn’t shout “Forty-four!” He signals to me with a quiet smile, making allowances for my race. Hm, the pork is sliced, not ground, but this isn’t the kind of place where you send a dish back. The squid? It’s glossy, translucent pink and crunchy-hard. The chef has avoided the danger of overcooking. It probably skidded around in the wok for all of thirty seconds before he flipped it onto the plate. I try a few pieces, then push the rest to the side –- very well, let them think I’m a squeamish Yank! It’s the first time in my life I haven’t liked squid. But the tentacles are long and thick; maybe it’s really octopus.

I finish the pork, sliced garlic, and snow peas, and the tiny bowl of rice. Then I close my eyes and imagine how this dish would have tasted if not for the romantic appeal of the downscale ambience. A watery tan sauce; plain, insipid pork strips. I’d rather have had the standardized, sugar-zapped kung pao chicken of some middle-class palace with gold lions at the door, or the clichéd shrimp and lobster sauce of my childhood’s “Chinese-American” restaurants.

Back outside in the strip mall, I look in at a Cajun place of similar class: long rows of white clothless tables with unmatched chairs, some of them lawn chairs. In the window there’s a favorable review from a guidebook, and inside there’s one person eating, or perhaps just keeping the staff company.

On the evidence of the Chinese place, I’m not going to go here either. I’m going to get home and pour a large helping of fresh blueberries over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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August 18, 2009

"Time to relax, rewind, and remodel the brain."

Chronically stressed rats lose their behavioral plasticity -- their adaptability and cunning -- and fall back upon ineffective rote responses. The change occurs at the neural level: "regions associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation had bloomed."

The rats succumbed to the rat race.

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist who is also a first-rate writer, says, "we're lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren't working. Our response is usually to do it five times more, instead of thinking, maybe it's time to try something new."

But genuine hope arrives fast: "with only four weeks’ vacation in a supportive setting free of bullies and Tasers, the formerly stressed rats looked just like the controls, able to innovate, discriminate and lay off the bar." (The bar they press to get a food pellet.)

“The brain is a very resilient and plastic organ....Dendrites and synapses retract and reform, and reversible remodeling can occur throughout life.”

And too many pellets can make you fat.

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August 17, 2009

red arc, the kind of crap I’ll eat, stakeout at RLC's

1. Watering the grass in full sunlight: the afterimage of the green hose makes a red arc across the lawn.

2. What to do with leftover rice: dump leftover cold white rice into a soup bowl. Sprinkle generously with soy sauce and vinegar, and moderately with sesame oil. Drain a can of sardines, with skin and bones on, and place the fish on top of the rice in a lovely stripe or spoke pattern. Garnish with thin-sliced scallion and red or black pepper. Guaranteed to make people say, “Ew, get that away from me!”

3. At about five this afternoon a police cruiser parked in front of my house, and stayed there an hour. The cop remained in the driver’s seat the whole time. About halfway through, two local women walked up and chatted pleasantly with him for a few minutes. Then they walked on. I was inside listening to music and generally puttering about. At six I put on my gym clothes, got a bottle of water, and opened the front door. The police car was gone; I never got the chance to ask the cop what was up.

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August 16, 2009

yellow lawn, raisin challah French toast, boulder to birmingham

1. The lawn is just as it should be at this time of year: drought-yellow, scattered with curled brown leaves of hackberry and rose. I pour it a deep long drink, and the grass laps up the water like a dog at its bowl.

2. Without even stopping to shower, before the kids wake up, I make myself raisin challah French toast.

3. I want to slow my body rhythms, ease off from the endless self-interruption, the food-gobbling, the ever-up-and-down chore-running. Well, at least my earworms are at a slower tempo:

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August 14, 2009

That Big Rockin Chair Won't Go Nowhere

John doesn't have a Music Friday post today, not yet anyway, and I wanted to do one in any case.

I've been thinking about mortality lately -- "What, because of a kidney stone?" Well, yes, it was the first time I ever rode in an ambulance and the first time I ever had general anesthesia. A couple of days later I heard the song "Rockin Chair" on one of my Pandora stations, and its been singing in my head ever since.

The version I heard was a dignified, moving homage by Death Cab for Cutie on the tribute album Endless Highway.

And here's the real thing:

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August 09, 2009

fabulosity, the softest thing in the world, male vanity

1. Kimora, CEO of Phat Fashions and star of the reality show Life in the Fab Lane on the E! network: “The showroom must live up to my standard of fabulosity.”

2. Overheard in a wine bar: “This shirt’s made of bamboo, it’s the softest thing in the world, check it out.”

3. Graffito on a men’s room chalkboard: “Why don’t the guys get a vanity?”

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August 07, 2009

gravel, gravestones, blue p

1. A turning dump truck has dropped a spray of gravel over the road, like fragments of a kidney stone vaporized by a laser.

2. Small gray and brown tombstones cover the cemetery field, like fragments of a kidney stone vaporized by a laser.

3. This is the first time I've ever seen blue pee.* It's cute!

*a normal side effect of Uretron

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August 06, 2009

The Cab at the Door

Hey, I'm leaving in about two minutes to get my kidney stone vaporized by a laser. Talk to you in a day or so...inshallah.


August 05, 2009

"Come See the Undercover Police!"

A curb sign in a grubby neighborhood says, “Undercover Police Area.” I fail to understand: if you want them to be hidden, why announce they’re here? Is this some politically correct fair-play idea, that you can’t arrest criminals without a warning?

Okay, so the purpose is to stop people from committing crimes in the first place, and then the undercover cops won’t have to reveal themselves and the street will remain safe.

But if that’s the purpose, why not put a uniformed cop on the street? That would have a stronger deterrent effect. However, there’s no such thing as a beat cop anymore; it’s an institution from the dim archaic past; the physical and political structure of the modern city makes it almost inconceivable.

So what you have is a cop who can’t visibly safeguard the community. The message is, “We’re not here to answer your distress calls, to break up your fights or report your stolen bicycles; we’re only here to send you to jail.”

I wonder why poor people and minorities distrust the police.

The only useful reason I can think of for putting up that sign would be if there were no undercover cops present. The sign would have a deterrent effect without involving any use of manpower, and undercover cops could be stationed in places without signs. But that would be laughably easy to see through, and in a month or so the sign would just be a waste of metal.


August 03, 2009

Supercool Wedding

Ann and Meade's.

Congratulations and love to two extraordinary people who are creating a beautiful love story as we watch. May the inspiration of your wedding day carry through to every day of a long life together.


The Pants Detector

Sears cashier, as I put two pairs of jeans on the counter: “You’re buying pants?”


Seizing the advantage as she touches the pants: “You found some?”

“Yes.” Is she toying with me? Or is she asking: “Did you find those pants, or did they find you? Can one ever truly say one has found something? Was it not always here? Is there a Finder, is there anything to find, was there ever anything to lose?”

In the fluorescent-lit navel of a sparsely traveled store sits the existential gatekeeper, waiting, waiting, for the seeker who will present his offering and answer the perilous questions.

At least she didn’t ask, “So you’re starting to need Relaxed Fit?”

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August 02, 2009

photo credit, I’m trying, no such word

1. Agent 95 is stunningly insouciant about his photo credit on the Althouse blog. With an ironic yelp, he rushes back to the video screen to play Fallout 3.

2. In Fallout 3, a game about a postnuclear world of radiation poisoning and machine-gun marauders, a chirpy, Midwest-accented female black-marketeer gives advice to the player: “Try not to die!”

3. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary Unabridged does not have an entry for “unflappable.” This discovery throws me into an uproar.

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