Sunday, December 31, 2006

Alice Bag Bags and Happy New Year!

As you know, I have developed a serious craft addiction over the past year. Because I had no prior experience and no sewing ability when I began, it's been a voyage of discovery and exciting in the way new endeavors always are for me. This month, I've been extra busy creating several projects for friends. I'm glad that some people have already received theirs and have written to let me know they've opened the packages, because I've been waiting to post photos of the projects on my blog. I can't find all the photos right now, so here are just a couple of them, My friend Angie starting calling the tote bag I made for her, her "Alice Bag Bag." Hmm...

Here's the rhinestone and polka dot safety pin purse I created from bits of recycled items: an old tee shirt, a belt and some scraps of fabric. I'm very inspired by the crafter's ethic of recycling and rescuing cast off garments. It's similar to what we used to do with our homemade punk fashions back in the 1970's. A big part of the fun is giving a castoff object brand new life in a new creation.

And here's a purse I created using Dawn Wirth's Masque photos of John Denny and Tomata du Plenty:

I had a lot of fun making these, even though I was learning as I went along and I made as many mistakes as humanly possible.

With 2006 coming to an end, it's nice to look back at this year's journey. I moved to a new state, met some new people, explored new places, learned to sew, took up crafting and adopted a dog.

I'm glad I tried so many new things and I look forward to next year's adventures. For the first time in several years, I feel like I'm taking one of those great road trips where I'm not sure where I'm heading, but I'm eager to go off the main highway and take the unmarked trails.

Best wishes to you for an exciting New Year that takes you off the main highway. I'd like to leave you with a couple of New Year's Eve superstitions that my mother passed along to me: Wear red underwear tonight, it will bring you good luck in the coming year. At the stroke of midnight, begin feeding your loved one (or yourself) 12 grapes, one at a time. You will get one wish for each grape (one for each month) you can swallow in 60 seconds. Don't be too greedy or you might choke on a grape!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Goldfish and The Unexpected Gift

Christmas has come and gone and it seems like every year, someone in our family gets at least one Goldfish... but I probably need to explain what the term, "Goldfish," means around my house. As my husband tells it, many years ago his uncle gave his mother a real goldfish for her birthday. It just so happened that he had been coveting this same goldfish for weeks and had been repeatedly denied his request to have it as a pet, so when Mom's birthday rolled around, guess what she got? Ever since then, my husband's family has named any gift you purchase for someone close to you because you secretly want it for yourself a "Goldfish."

This year, the Goldfish in our house happens to be a PS2 game called Guitar Hero 2. Ostensibly purchased by my husband for our 12 year old daughter because it was supposed to be "a great game for kids," it allows the player to indulge in their wildest rock fantasies, playing lead along with Kiss, Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath. Imagine a cross between Dance Dance Revolution and air guitar and you pretty much have it. It's addictive and it's one PS2 game that's definitely approved by this Mom!

We had another Goldfish this year, only this one was unexpected and practically came against my better judgement. My daughter wrote a very convincing letter to Santa about how much she wanted a puppy. The letter was so convincing that even an old Scrooge like me, who avoids the pet shop and considers herself a people person, not an animal person, had to give in.

My husband and I had known that our daughter wanted a pet for years, but truthfully we thought she was too young to care for it herself. My husband works long hours and I was just too busy to add another responsibility to my day. My daughter has matured over the years and I no longer have a day job, so things are very different for us now.

Based upon the sincerity of the letter ("I promise to be diligent and take care of it,") Santa gave us the green light. He instructed us to adopt a rescue shelter animal. We started our search on the internet and at the library, looking for the type of dog that would fit into our lifestyle. We drove all over town looking for the perfect pup, but we could not find it. It’s funny how things never work out the way you plan them. The last place we looked was the pet store nearest our house where they happened to be hosting an adoption fair. We were on our way to a birthday party and just as we were walking out of the pet shop, we spotted a crate with a cute little golden pup wagging her tail at us. We took her out for a test walk and fell in love with her. She was so sweet and loving that we decided right on the spot that this was the puppy to adopt. We brought her home later that day.

My daughter named the dog Cinnamon. We took her up to Prescott to catch a little Christmas snow. I made a doggie sweater for her out of an old sweater sleeve, and she’s been helping us burn off all the tamales we’ve been eating.

She does require a lot of attention. It’s almost like having another baby. She steals our shoes and chews them up if we don’t watch her, but we watch The Dog Whisperer and try to learn from Cesar Millan and my friend Jula, who is a dog whisperer in her own right. We give her plenty of exercise, which is good for us because it’s easy to get lazy and fat in the winter when all I want to do is curl up by the fireplace with tamales, egg nog or hot rum toddies, and of course all the sweets that go along with the season: pumpkin bread, pan dulce, peppermint bark. It’s a good thing I’m learning to sew because at this rate, I’ll have to sew myself a whole new extra large wardrobe.

We think Cinnamon is a Golden Retriever/Labrador mix. That’s what it says on her adoption papers, but when you get a rescue pup, I don’t think you can be too sure. The one thing that is for certain is that this little pup has forced us all to go out on walks together everyday and has helped our family bond together as a tight pack. My daughter says she's the best Christmas gift ever and my husband and I agree that this addition to our family has been a gift to us all.

Here's hoping your Holidays are filled with unexpected gifts and happy surprises.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Too Many Tamales

Greg and I have been looking for a good place to buy tamales ever since November. At the time, we had gone to California to visit Greg’s family for Thanksgiving. We made plans to drive up to East L.A. to pick up some of my favorite tamales from La Indiana. I grew up on those. In fact, instead of formula my mom would just stick some rajas tamales in the blender for me and I was good to go. Unfortunately, we tried to do too many things the last time we drove through L.A. and at the last moment had to strike the tamal run from our schedule. Ever since then we seem to have become obsessed with finding a good tamaleria out here in Phoenix.

Let me back up here. The problem with finding a good tamal is that my family and I have recently gone vegetarian. All the wonderful tamal places that people have recommended to us make the usual red chile, green chile and dulce varieties, but no one seems to have the coveted, vegetarian rajas con queso type. So we DIY-ed it. We bought 5 lbs of masa (corn meal paste), a package of hojas (dried corn husks), some Anaheim chiles, pepper jack, cheddar and roasted corn and made our own non-traditional weirdo tamales; three types in fact, green chile rajas with onions and tomatoes, and pepper jack and roasted corn (frozen from Trader Joe's) with cheddar cheese. After we made those two batches, we discovered that we still had masa left over, so we took some of my homemade frijoles con queso and combined them with some roasted red peppers and made another batch. We ended up with several dozen grrrmet tamales. They came out pretty good. But we made too many.

With apologies to Gary Soto and Ed Martinez.

I’d always had this inexplicable fear of making tamales. My mom used to say it was hard and time consuming and so we never questioned her because she bought us La Indiana tamales. Now that those aren’t available, I’ve figured out that making tamales is time-consuming, but not difficult at all. All you do is soak the hojas (leaves) for about and hour until they’re clean and soft, spread your masa (you can buy it preparada which comes ready to go but contains lard, or you can make it yourself with Masa Harina), then you prepare your choice of filling. My tip is to cook everything that goes into the filling before stuffing your tamales, that way you just wait for the masa to firm up without worrying about whether the filling is fully cooked. We steamed ours in a double boiler for about an hour per batch.

I guess the tricky thing - if there is a tricky thing - is to spread the masa onto the leaves evenly and not to make your layers too thick so that the masa will cook quickly and evenly. After stuffing your tamales, you fold them like you would a burrito with the ends folded under, then stand them up in the top part of the steamer, but don’t let them touch the water or they’ll dissolve and you’ll have a gross tamale soup.

Finally, while you’re at the market may I suggest that you pick up a bottle of Rompope (Mexican eggnog.)

It contains a little booze, but you can add some spiced dark rum to it and sip it while you’re waiting for the tamales to cook.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Copper Queens, Synchronized Viejitas, and a Geriatric Bacchanal

Yes, it’s true...we’ll take advantage of any special occasion and use it as an excuse for a little out of town getaway. We recently celebrated my daughter’s birthday in Bisbee, Arizona, a cute little bohemian hamlet about an hour southeast of Tucson. Bisbee is quirky in much the same way as Jerome, AZ - a town which I've written about previously. Like Jerome, Bisbee was once a booming mine town (The Copper Queen) that nearly became extinct and is currently enjoying a major comeback, though some longtime residents would say it’s being gentrified.

Downtown Bisbee.

It’s a good thing that hippies went around taking over these old run down ghost towns and transforming them into artist colonies. Although I did my share of hippie bashing when I was a punk, I’ve got to confess that there are many values that punks and hippies share. Building a Peace Wall in Minuteman country is simultaneously punk in its defiance and hippie in its lovey-doveyness.

Peace Wall, Bisbee, photo credit SliceO'

Bisbee Hippie, photo credit Fano Quiriego.

Bisbee is an off-kilter, slightly seedy, edgy, funky place. We made the mistake of staying near the historic Brewery Gulch, which lived up to its name and got very loud about midnight. If you want a good night’s sleep in Bisbee, stay a bit off the main drag, there are lots of really cute and cool inns. On the way out of town, we drove through Lowell and took these pictures. They should give you an idea of how the entire Bisbee area is really frozen in time.

Lowell, Arizona.

Just southwest of Tucson is the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation of San Xavier del Bac, where my husband insisted we stop to check out the Mission and its legendary fry bread. If you’re thinking of that sugary, sticky stuff you get at Knott’s Berry Farm, think again. This Indian fry bread is closer to a chimichanga. It’s a fried flour tortilla, but light and crispy like puff pastry. Slathered with homemade refried beans, gooey cheese and topped with salsa, they were INCREDIBLE. I am drooling on the keyboard just thinking of them. We stood together in the desert courtyard of the Mission with the chilly wind blowing the scent of pine wood smoke around us and we devoured them. It was an Arizona moment to remember.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, photo credit: Jim Frazier.

On the way out of the Mission, we took this photo of the local cemetary:

Mission San Xavier del Bac cemetary.

Closer to home, my family’s exploration of our new home state of Arizona continues. This past weekend, we took in two very different Christmas celebrations in the Phoenix area. The first was a free Christmas lights event hosted by the city of Glendale, which is a suburb to the west of Phoenix and nothing like the Glendale in Southern California. Downtown Glendale, AZ has a quaint little historic district with lots of renovated houses from the turn of the last century, many of which have been turned into specialty shops. They were all decked out for the holidays. Unlike many Olde Tyme places, Glendale works its heritage without limiting itself to peddling antiques. There is a little something for everyone. Horse drawn carriages pulled visitors up and down the streets and the park in the center of town was filled with families enjoying the sights, sounds and - yum - flavors. We gave in to the green corn tamales and chocolate dipped cheesecake and enjoyed the synchronized square/line dancing of a group of seasoned ladies, endearingly named the Hot Boots because they all wore white cowboy boots. Their press release states that “they perform at various nursing homes in the area.” Maybe Punkoustica can open for them on their next gig. We watched them from above the outdoor amphitheater and could really appreciate the kaleidoscopic effect of their routine. It made me remember that I want to take up square dancing when I get old. I'd better start soon!

And speaking of old age...on Sunday, we went to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden to check out the Noches de las Luminarias festival, an annual event with paid admission. My husband had read that it was a wonderful event with the gardens decked out in Christmas lights, “Exquisite Dining” and entertainment. Bah, humbug. It was a geriatric bacchanal, with all the wild fun that implies. Not to be ageist, I consider myself an old person, but let’s just say that the event was mostly attended by people who enjoy strolling (many with walkers) while sipping fancy wine from plastic cups and listening to mellow music. Really... mellow... music. The musicians were so-so, at least the ones I endured. They made as many mistakes as rock musicians, but with none of the showmanship or sense of humor. It made me long for the square dancing ladies from the previous night. Those viejitas were on! They did not make any mistakes and yet did not take themselves very seriously. If I were Busby Berkeley, I’d be all over that. Most importantly, they looked like they were having a blast.

I guess I’m just more of a down home type at heart. I’ll take Indian fry bread and high stepping old ladies over gourmet grazing and mellow minstrels any day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

La Epoca de Oro Part 2, My Favorites

Someone asked me for a list of my favorite films from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema (La Epoca de Oro) so I've assembled a small list of some the movies that quickly came to mind. Here they are, in no particular order:

Films starring Pedro Infante

Pedro Infante is one of my favorite movie stars. I could create an entire list of favorites just using his films. He's a legendary actor and singer who died tragically in his prime and has practically become a saint in Mexico. His movies are often tragicomic and more often than not, he gets a song or two to sing because, well...he's Pedro Infante! My favorite movies of his include:
La Oveja Negra - Directed by Ismael Rodriquez, co-starring Fernando Soler.
Escuela de Vagabundos - Directed by Rogelio Gonzalez.
Tizoc -Directed by Ismael Rodriguez, co-starring Maria Felix.
Nosotros los Pobres - directed by Ismael Rodriguez.
A.T.M. - A Toda Maquina - directed by Ismael Rodriguez (and co-starring Luis Aguilar).

Los Tres Huastecos - directed by Ismael Rodriguez, Pedro plays three very different brothers to great comic effect.
Los Tres Garcia - directed by Ismael Rodriquez...again!
Dos Tipos de Cuidado - directed by (surprise) Ismael Rodriguez and co-starring Jorge Negrete.

Other Movies

Si Adelita Se Fuera Con Otro - Directed by Chano Urueta, starring Jorge Negrete with Gloria Marin.

Simon del Desierto
- Directed by Luis Bunuel, Sylvia Pinal plays the devil incarnate as a sexy schoolgirl.

Viridiana - Luis Bunuel again directs Sylvia Pinal, this time playing a nun.

Maria Candelaria - Directed by Emilio Fernandez, starring Dolores del Rio and Pedro Armendariz. Cinematography by the great Gabriel Figueroa.

Salon Mexico
- Also directed by Emilio Fernandez, starring Marga Lopez.

- Directed by Roberto Galvodon, starring Ignacio Lopez Tarso. Macario meets God, The Devil and Death in the perfect Dia de los Muertos movie. You will understand the Mexican fascination with death after seeing this film.

Rio Escondido - Directed by Emilio Fernandez, starring the stunning Maria Felix. This is one of her best performances.

Susana - Carne y Demonio,
directed by Luis Bunuel, starring Rosita Quintana and Fernando Soler. Rosita Quintana is a bad, bad girl.

El Bruto
, directed by Luis Bunuel, starring Pedro Armendariz and Katy Jurado.

This list just skims the surface. There are dozens of other movies worth checking out, including the Mexican version of the 1931 Dracula, filmed at night using the same sets as the Tod Browning version but with a very different mood and pace than the American version. Los Olvidados by Bunuel is so famous that I didn't include it and it should be easy to rent. I didn't include any Mexican wrestling movies (even though I like them too) because they're not from the Golden Age, strictly speaking. I also did not include any Tin Tan, Resortes or Cantinflas films. I like a few of their movies but I find them in the same vein as the Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello. It's not my cup of tea. I much prefer the comedy of Viruta and Capulina.

Most of these films I haven't seen since I was a little kid, but I think they will hold up well.
Palomitas anyone?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

La Epoca de Oro

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m driving back to Phoenix from California, where we spent the holiday with my in-laws. I wanted to share a few thoughts and memories about some videos I recently found on You Tube.

The Million Dollar Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles.

I grew up watching movies from the golden age of Mexican cinema (La Epoca de Oro), peppered with a few Spanish and Argentinian films. Even though my family wasn’t rich, my parents were big movie fans and we went to the cinema on a regular basis. They knew the theatre schedules for noches de dos por uno (two for one night) and we made the rounds between the Million Dollar, the Alameda, the Monterrey, the California and the Unique (my parents pronounced it “eunuch”). My mother and I would go as one pair and my father would stand outside the theatre until he found another solo moviegoer, then he would offer to split the cost of a ticket to save as much as possible. Once inside, it seemed that my mother’s purse would transform into Felix The Cat’s bottomless bag of tricks as she would produce cans of soda, refried bean sandwiches and/or burritos, Fritos and chewy, by-the-pound bin candy. Occasionally, we would splurge on the variedades movie show at the Million Dollar where, for the price of admission you would get two movies, a cartoon plus a variety show between movies which might feature jugglers, magicians, comedians, dancers, puppeteers…I guess you would call it vaudeville. Vendors would come up and down the aisles, selling ice cream and candy.

Pedro Armendariz and Dolores del Rio in Las Abandonadas.

When the house lights went down, I was in the company of the likes of Pedro Infante, Libertad Lamarque, Jorge Negrete, Silvia Pinal, Sarita Montiel, Pedro Armendariz, to name just a few of the greats of Spanish language cinema. I realize now that I’m much more familiar with the great actors and actresses of the Mexican/Spanish cinema than I am with American cinema. I didn’t become familiar with Spencer Tracy or Katherine Hepburn until I was an adult, so I have enjoyed catching up on my film history with Turner Classic Network.

Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of telling you that I found some videos on You Tube which took me back to my childhood. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll be missing part of the fun of these clips but they’re worth checking out anyway. Not all of these clips are from the Golden Age and most of the movies from that age were not musicals, but I've chosen clips with songs because music is a universal language. You’ll notice some are a little more modern, but they are also from my childhood and among my favorites, so I’ve included them.

Love from the Flying J!

If you can't see the flash object below, please click on this link to check out "Mis Favoritas."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

That Fertile Feeling

I just came across a box of video tapes we had packed away during our move from L.A. One of the tapes had a copy of a short movie from the 1980's featuring my old friends and Cholita co-conspirators, Vaginal Davis and Fertile LaToyah Jackson. The movie is called "That Fertile Feeling" and I hope Vaginal and Fertile won't mind, but I had my husband upload it to YouTube. As you can see from the video, my copy was starting to deteriorate after 20 years. Hopefully, it will find new life and maybe live forever on the web. People on the other side of the planet will be scratching their heads, wondering what the word "eleventuplets" means.

I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day - Happy Birthday To Me

It was kind of bewildering pulling up to my local polling place in Scottsdale today. The cars in the lot were covered with bumper stickers reading “Stop PETA” and “Bush/Cheney.” I’ve known for quite awhile that I stick out like a sore thumb in Phoenix with my homemade dresses and odd fashion sense. Someone came up to me just last week and said to me “you definitely don’t dress like you’re from Phoenix.” I took that as a compliment. Although I feel at home in the Sonoran Desert, I can’t help but feel different in an area that is as homogenous and conservative as Scottsdale/North Phoenix. After all, this is the first place I’ve ever seen someone wearing a t-shirt with the face of Ronald Reagan superimposed on the iconic image of Che Guevara.

This summer I met a couple of my MySpace friends for lunch. I had never seen them in person and as you probably know, people on MySpace don’t always look like their pictures, so I was concerned that I wouldn’t recognize them in a crowd. I had nothing to worry about. My two young friends stood out like exotic, colorfully plumed birds in a room full of gray sparrows. Just looking at them put a smile on my face. I was struck by the colors, patterns, creativity and originality of their appearance, an outward manifestation of their ideas and personalities. I had taken that look for granted when I lived in L.A. and to my surprise I realized that I’d missed it. I guess that’s part of what appeals to me about sewing my own dresses. What I wear is a unique reflection of my personality and background. Wait…does this have anything to do with the election? I guess I just want to paint a picture for you of the extent of the conformity by which I’m surrounded.

I often feel that I live in an ocean of sameness, so my family and I do a lot of traveling to different parts of the state. A couple of weekends ago, I visited Prescott and went to what I thought was an art/yard sale in the backyard of the Catalyst Infoshop, a volunteer run workshop, bookstore and gathering place. They had recently hosted a punk show to benefit Food, Not Bombs. The day I was there, I met some local artists who were bartering and selling their creations and a young man who was giving clothing away to anyone who needed it. The little “arts district” in Prescott had such a good vibe to it that I was shocked to learn that this workshop had been the target of an FBI raid (the owner was arrested and subsequently died in federal custody). It seems sad that in the current climate of fear, such a small group of artists and activists can’t express dissent without the government shutting them down.

Yesterday, my daughter’s sixth grade class staged a mock election. One of the propositions on the Arizona ballot this year is a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It’s yet another attempt to prevent the legal recognition of same sex unions and put them on a “lesser” level than heterosexual unions. My daughter and her friend (who moved here from New York) were the only two students who voted against this proposition. I was so proud of her, even though going against the grain will probably not endear her to her peers.

I started writing this blog entry in the late afternoon, but because it is my birthday my husband and daughter insisted on taking me out to dinner so I put the writing on hold. On the way to the restaurant my daughter asked me about how I’d voted. I told her that I was sure I’d voted for everything that would be defeated. I’m used to being disappointed on Election Day. In the past, pretty much every candidate and proposition I voted for could be counted on to lose. It’s 9 pm in Arizona and this year, it looks like things may turn out a little different for once. CNN is projecting Democratic control of the House, which means we might have our first ever female Speaker. Wow! What a great birthday present…happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Ghost Story

This past weekend, we went up to Prescott again (maybe I should just move there). My husband wanted to check out their annual Ghost Walk. I didn’t quite know what to expect because I’ve been to some really cool ghost tours in different cities (Boston and Santa Barbara) and some fairly hokey ones (San Diego). I have to recommend Prescott’s because it featured reenacted scenes from Arizona’s ghostly past. The walk is led by guides who take you to different locations. At each location you meet a ghost who tells you his or her story and the circumstances of his/her death. It was very entertaining and you got free hot cider and cookies at the end of the walk. I was scalded by an imbecile who couldn’t hang on to her cider, but that’s another story.

Someone just wrote in asking whether I’ve ever had any paranormal experiences and I have to confess that I have had some eerie experiences. I hesitate to label them as paranormal because I’m not really sure I understand what was happening. I’ve had many of these experiences throughout my life. Most of the time it’s just an uncomfortable feeling that there is unusual energy present in a place - for example, check out San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado. It feels like someone else’s emotions are being superimposed on yours and for no good reason you can be walking along in a perfectly good mood and suddenly feel a wave of overwhelming sadness or rage engulf you. I find the feeling oppressive and I try to avoid places with really negative energy - for example, the Jerome Grand Hotel in Jerome, AZ. At least, that is how my eerie feelings work.

Another “paranormal” experience has less to do with feelings and more to do with unexplained occurrences. When my family and I first moved into our old house in L.A., weird things kept happening. Lights would turn on or off as you were walking away from them; footsteps could be heard upstairs when nobody was up there. Anyway, I started to write about my experiences when I realized that my husband had already written about them several years ago. Below is his account of our old home in Los Angeles. The names have been changed out of respect for the dearly departed.

We moved into the tidy, two-story house in the hills overlooking downtown Los Angeles in June. Drawn to the rustic canyon neighborhood by one of the best schools in the area, we purchased the thirty year old wooden structure from a German couple who were supposedly the original owners. They had raised their two sons in the home and now that the youngest was in college, they no longer needed the extra space.

We were amazed and delighted at the immaculate condition of the house, with its freshly painted walls and cream carpets. In truth, the house was so spotless and white that it felt a bit sterile and uncomfortable and we were afraid to make any changes that might disturb the fragile equilibrium of the space. Our furniture and belongings were duly placed in the rooms, but they had the appearance of objects which had been temporarily dropped off by some errant mover who would momentarily return to pick them up and take them on to their proper home. The house took on an air of intransigence and seemed to regard us as squatters who had somehow managed to steal a set of keys.

We heard the footsteps the first night.

As we sat downstairs in the living room watching television, the distinct sound of someone walking across the master bedroom upstairs was accompanied by what could only be described as a change in air pressure, like a large volume of air had been sucked out of the room. My wife and I exchanged nervous glances, silent affirmation that we had both heard the footfalls, though neither of us wanted to think that our brand new home might be haunted.

As I said before, the house was impeccably maintained with what could best be described as a peculiarly German sense of cleanliness and order. It had been designed and outfitted over the years, ostensibly guided by the maxim, “A place for everything, everything in its place.” This way of thinking was completely foreign to us, as we had been living in a much smaller house, too small for a growing family with a small child and her attendant closet full of toys. Our previous house had been cramped and cluttered with stacks of books, CDs and unopened mail. This new house seemed to have little tolerance for such sloppiness and loudly expressed its disapproval.

Things began to move of their own accord. Items disappeared from their last known location and reappeared later in an entirely different part of the house. One afternoon, as my wife passed by the downstairs bathroom, she observed a hand towel flop back down into the hanging position, as if some unseen guest had just finished drying their hands. Stopping and backing up to verify what she had only glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, she observed the towel still slightly swaying back and forth. The downstairs bedroom, which doubled as the office, was also the scene of inexplicable occurrences. In particular, the slide out mouse tray on the computer table seemed to appeal to the spirit, as it would mysteriously pull itself out during the night while we slept.

About a month after moving in, we decided to hang a large painting on one of the living room walls in an attempt to add color to the lifeless room. My wife called me at work the following afternoon to ask me why I had taken the painting down and left it laying face down in the middle of the living room floor, a full ten feet from the wall where it had been hanging that morning. Since I had not touched the painting and no windows were left open to provide a gust a wind that might have knocked the canvas down, we were at a loss to explain it.

“Do you think the house is trying to tell us that we have bad taste in art?” my wife gamely suggested. It was at this point we began to imagine that a presence somehow connected with the house was causing these phenomena in an effort to assert its ownership. This presence could be felt as a pair of watchful eyes whenever one of us alone in some isolated part of the house, particularly in the upstairs master bedroom or below the house in the laundry room. A small, hinged door led from this laundry room to the crawlspace underneath the house, from which the packed earth had been sufficiently excavated to enable a hunched over adult to move about, aided by a light fixture which had been efficiently wired from an outlet in the laundry room. This crawlspace was ingeniously equipped with wooden shelves which we quickly filled with boxes, awaiting unpacking.

Each new guest to our house who happened to visit at night would invariably ask, “You know your house is haunted, don’t you?” Shadowy figures darted around corners, appeared as reflections in mirrors, teased and provoked our peripheral vision. It became increasingly difficult to find a babysitter willing to stay late at night.

One evening, my wife and I were in bed and had just turned off the reading lamps when suddenly, the television in our bedroom turned on. “I thought you were sleepy,” she said, somewhat perturbed.

“I didn’t turn it on.” I replied.

We searched the room in the flickering light emanating from the television set and saw that the remote control was sitting, untouched, on my wife’s bedside table.

“Give me that remote!” I snapped and flicked the TV set off. Darkness cloaked the room for a moment or two, then out of the darkness, a sound of the TV being turned on and the whining rush of electricity as the screen glowed back to life. The sound on the television set began to get louder and louder; the green volume bars on the screen flashed higher and higher, measuring our increasing terror. Throwing on the light, I leapt out of bed and unplugged the TV from the wall.

“There. If it comes on again, we’re getting the hell out of here.”

I reasoned that the television must have had a short in the power board, affecting the volume control and, since it remained quiet, we were able get some sleep.

The next afternoon, my wife called me from her cell phone, her voice crackling with anger and anxiety. “Did you leave the upstairs television on before you left the house this morning?” she demanded.

I assured her that I had not. In fact, the set should still have been unplugged from the night before. She said that she had just come home to find the television blaring away at full volume and she was not going to set foot in “that house” until I got home and when was I leaving work anyway?

One night in late July, my wife and daughter had gone out to the grocery store and I was alone, reading in bed, while the downstairs portion of the house was dark and quiet. I suddenly became conscious of another presence in the house, the way a person knows when someone else is looking at them without actually seeing their eyes. I also felt that I could pinpoint this presence’s location as somewhere on the staircase leading from the entryway up to the master bedroom, where I lay. From the bed, I could only see the top landing of the stairs. At any second, I fully expected to see the head of someone I did not know appear above the half-wall as they climbed the stairs.

Then the entryway light came on. This could only be accomplished by flicking the single switch found on the inside wall, next to the entry door, and is typically the first switch one would throw upon entering the house. Yet no one had come through the front door.
“Hellooo?” I said in a nervous, joking voice, knowing full well that no living person was downstairs. The entry way light turned off in response. Now, I was truly shaken and I decided it would be best not to venture downstairs until my wife and daughter arrived as reinforcements.

The next day, I floated the possibility of trying to communicate with this spirit via a Ouija board or a seance. To this suggestion, my wife simply replied, “Are you out of your mind?”

We discussed what we knew of the history of the house, but were unable to come to grips with the identity of the ghost, since we knew that the couple from whom we had bought the house, the Linders, had moved into the house in 1970, a year after it was built. They had raised their boys and then decided to move away after almost thirty years in the hills of Los Angeles. Clearly, they had loved the house. But was the affection and sense of attachment that a living person held for their home strong enough to break off a piece of that person’s soul and leave it behind? Or could there have been another, someone as yet unknown to us? If the Linders hadn’t moved in until 1970, who had lived in the house the previous year?

I tried to drive these thoughts from my mind by whistling aloud as I opened the half door to the crawlspace later that night. I dreaded going down there now, but found it unavoidable whenever we needed some seldom used item that had been packed away. Stooping over to avoid hitting my head on the wooden beams which bore the weight of the house, I squinted in the semi-darkness as I scanned the labels on the boxes. Something moved in the shadows underneath the front part of the house, where the light could not reach - a skunk or perhaps a rat? The air grew thick and musty with the smell of unsettled earth. Looking down at the packed dirt floor, I silently wondered, “What secrets are buried here, beneath the floorboards of this house? Who are you and what do want to tell us?” Dust swirled and formed shapes, then quickly dissolved into thousands of shimmering motes fading in the light.

My answer came in the mail that same week. A bill from the county tax assessor’s office, addressed to the Estate of Mrs. Effie Goldman, who had once lived at our address and who owed the County of Los Angeles a significant amount of taxes due to a recent reassessment of her property value. “This is it! This must be her!” My wife said excitedly. “I can’t believe the county is sending a deceased person a tax bill. They must be getting desperate.” We now had a name for the unseen presence, but no explanation as to why she remained in the house.

Every summer, our neighborhood throws a block party, a chance for the newcomers to meet and talk with the old timers who remember what the area was like many years ago. As discreetly as possible, we asked the few neighbors we already knew about the Linders and whether anything strange had ever happened in their house. Most of the people were close to our own ages and knew little beyond the fact that the Linders were considered old-timers, having lived in the same house for thirty years and were the most normal family you could imagine. We were eventually directed to the table of a graying, kindly looking man named Bill, who smiled warmly at us as we approached.

“Well, hello! You’re the nice couple who moved into the Linders’ place, right?” Bill motioned for us to have a seat. “So, how are you liking your new home?”

“It’s great, they sure kept the place up.”

“Oh yes, they were always out working on the yard or fixing some part of the house. Very hard-working people, the Linders.”

“Bill,” I said, “this is going to sound like a strange question, but...did anyone ever die in that house while the Linders were there?”

“My heavens, no!” Bill chuckled. “Why, do you have yourselves a ghost?”

My wife and I smiled wanly at each other.

“Well, there’s more than a few of them up here, I should think. Folks up here have gotten a little passionate, you might say, from time to time.” Bill smiled to himself and seemed to be looking off towards some distant memory.

I asked him if he was living in the area when the house was built.

“Yes, I’ve been living here for nearly sixty years now, came here after the war. The neighborhood’s changed quite a bit over the years, you know. It’s nice to see so many young families, such as yourselves, moving in again. You know, they used to call this hillside the “Swish Alps” because there were so many of us living up here at one time,” Bill mused.

He continued, “The house you’re living in was built by a young man who was an engineer, he also wanted to be an architect. He designed and built that house himself in 1968, as a gift to his wife. They were newlyweds and this was going to be their first home together. Goldman was their name, I think. Anyway, they lived there only a short time, maybe a year. After what happened, he couldn’t live there anymore and he sold it to the Linders. We never heard what became of him after he moved away. Some say he moved out of the state, but he never built another house after that one.”

We pressed Bill for more details about Mrs. Goldman and the architect’s story, but he politely refused to say anymore. And so we pieced together the rest of the story for ourselves. The house had been built as a gift for a new bride, but a tragic, untimely death kept her from enjoying it. No wonder her spirit felt entitled to stay on and keep an eye on things. It was her house, after all.

Gradually, we felt comfortable enough to make changes in the house. A fresh coat of vibrant color on one wall of the living room, a minor kitchen remodel, and over time the strange manifestations seemed to occur less frequently, or perhaps it was just that we became accustomed to them. Visitors to our home still remark about the sounds of footsteps upstairs or mention feeling a woman’s presence in the upstairs bathroom, but we reply that it is just Effie keeping an eye on things. She shares her home with us, this house which belongs to her.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Annie Get Your Glue Gun

I drove my friend Angie to the airport today. I had been anticipating and preparing for her arrival for weeks and now here I was, saying goodbye to her. As soon as she had her time off from work secured we started discussing the many crafty projects that we would tackle together.

Angie is a postal worker, a bassist, a photographer and she knows her way around a sewing machine so we started the week off armed with one pattern and some vintage fabric. Angie and I bravely tried to decipher the confusing directions for the trendy Duro Dress.

What a nightmare! Neither of us had any luck with the pattern. Angie’s dress made her look like a Russian peasant ready to go out drinking with Rasputin and my dress landed in the trash can after I somehow ended up with a quilted waistband which made me look like the Michelin Man.

Since my husband was out of town, Angie, my daughter and I watched some girly themed movies. We started with the sappy, but oh-so-beautiful and entertaining Memoirs of a Geisha, followed by our old favorite Kamikaze Girls and climaxing with the classic Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill.

We took a little break from sewing to do some touristy stuff and shake off the bad experience. A visit to Prescott was in order and we hit my favorite thrift store and had lunch and some Liquid Amber at the Prescott Brewing Company. A young artist at a nearby table found us ravishing and sketched our portraits on a Magna-Doodle. Then we meandered around the town, searching for the Holy Grail - Angie needed to buy a Native American coffee mug for one of her friends but couldn’t seem to find the right one, so we went into every little shop in town but the perfect mug was not to be found.

The little day trip refreshed us and we were ready to start a new project. Next on the launch pad was a trouser skirt that Angie wanted to try to reconstruct. We hit the local Goodwill on 50% off day and got some men’s trousers. We ripped the seams out and I let Angie start her skirt first, since she seemed to have a clearer idea of what the finished product would look like. She ended up with the crotch jutting out in the back of her skirt like a tail.

Frustrated, I decided that what we needed to do was offer some libations to the Sewing Gods, who were obviously none too pleased with us. I suggested Pina Coladas but Angie, who is diabetic, said they were too sweet and countered with Melon Balls. I responded that earlier in the evening she’d already gone into a Zombie-like trance better known as an insulin reaction. She had to keep her blood sugar up. So we got the fixin's for both drinks. Dang if that wasn’t all we needed! I pulled out my duct tape and started tearing away furiously. But Angie was still feeling a little despondent. The Russian peasant dress and the trouser tail skirt had just about taken the wind out of her sails and she was all but ready to pull out her Balalaika and sing the blues.

After the first Pina Colada and a glimpse of how my purse was shaping up she decided to go for it. Never one to copy someone else’s project, Angie reached for a pie plate and made a circular duct tape purse. By the time the blender was empty, we were well on our way to success.

Later that night, while sipping Melon Balls and crank calling friends, we posed our one and only completed project for a photo. Angie would be going home the next day and we had only finished one of our many ambitious projects. We made plans to get together again on a regular basis with projects to share. We thought of starting a crafting group (or a band) called Annie Get Your Glue Gun (it’s funny after some Melon Balls). We talked about including some of our other talented friends and learning from and teaching each other. We dreamed about a retreat where a small group of artists, musicians, crafters, and bartenders go off on a vacation together to create and collaborate. We talked and laughed and felt renewed. Friendship, it’s a good thing : )

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Confessions Of An Ex-Cutter

Recently, a good friend confided to me that she was worried about her daughter. The young girl had started cutting herself and my friend was worried that she was suicidal. I wondered why my friend had chosen me to give her advice. How could she know that I’d once been a cutter myself? It’s been years since my cutting days, but the feelings of shame and embarrassment that coincided with slicing up my arms quickly resurfaced, like a secret that hadn’t been buried quite deep enough.

I quickly did an inventory of my feelings at the time of those events and I told my friend that her daughter was probably not suicidal, but I decided against giving her any advice because I was afraid of suggesting the wrong thing and perhaps causing harm instead of helping. I guess I also found it difficult to believe that someone else could have motives that were similar to mine. I must have a pretty big ego because I really thought that my feelings and my circumstances were unique. I had no idea that cutting had become such a popular activity.

For me, it started back when I was still a teenage punk, living at the Canterbury. I remember those times as good times. I was in a popular band and I was living in a crazy, fun, exciting place. I was far away from my mother and father and the domestic violence that I’d wanted to escape for so long, but for some reason, I felt numb and insignificant. I was drinking on a regular basis in those days and occasionally ingested whatever recreational drug was offered to me. I didn’t buy the drugs, so I never felt like I had a drug problem. I did have a drinking habit. I hesitate to call it an addiction, because I could go without drinking for days at a time, but I found it much more appealing to stay drunk.

I kept myself in check. I did not want to be drug or alcohol dependent. I’d grown up in East L.A. and I had my first “7&7” when I was still in elementary school, so I was no innocent. At Stevenson Jr. High and Garfield HS, I’d been around more drugs than were ever present at the Canterbury or at the Masque. In Jr. High, I’d chosen service as an elective and I’d worked in the nurse’s office and seen kids who OD’d and were taken by ambulance to the hospital. After their suspensions, they’d usually have to stop by the nurse’s office before being readmitted to school. I’d talked to some of these girls while they were waiting to see the nurse. I’d listen to their stories of how they’d had their stomachs pumped. Imagining a plastic tube being forced down my esophagus helped to keep me in line. The point I’m trying to make is that my self inflicted injuries had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.

I remember Craig Lee pulling me aside one night after seeing my arms. He was like a caring older brother. He was worried that my hurting myself was a prelude to suicide. I assured him that suicide was not what I was after. In fact, I never used razors to cut myself. I always cut with sharp objects which could cause abrasions or lacerations but not deep incisions. Things with jagged edges, broken bottles, scissors, needles, pins, metal can tops, anything that could draw blood was attractive. What I was after was pain.

Pain helped me stay in touch with my own humanity. I was going through a period in my life when I felt connected to everything in a cold, almost sterile way that’s difficult for me to put into words. At the same time, I felt disconnected from humanity. I felt emotionally and spiritually numb. It’s difficult to express this feeling of belonging and yet feeling that you are in a void, a feeling of being everything and nothing at the same time. The overwhelming numbness I felt was terrifying. It made me feel detached, cold, and not human. The more I felt part of something larger, the more I felt as if I was in danger of losing myself as an individual. The only way I can describe the sensation of cutting my arms and watching the warm blood trickle from the wounds is that it made me feel alive because the pain I felt was singularly mine.

For me, cutting was not a cry for help. I did not want others to interfere, to feel sorry for me or to wrongly assume that I wanted to kill myself. It may seem strange, but one of the reasons I was feeling insignificant and detached was because my understanding of my place in the universe was changing. My beliefs, my values, all the things I thought I knew for certain were being challenged. I was on my own, doing whatever I wanted, reading whatever I wanted, talking to people from different backgrounds with different ideas, actively seeking answers and passively allowing answers to reveal themselves to me.

I rigorously questioned everything I believed. I even had a strange experience which I hesitate to tell you, for fear that you’ll think me completely crazy, but which I must tell you because it scared me so badly. I was talking to Shannon, my old Canterbury roommate. She was seated across from me and I was lying on the sofa. As I watched and listened to her, I started to feel as though her voice was just a hum. I felt my body become rigid and then I felt myself floating up to the ceiling. I looked down and had an overhead view of Shannon talking to me (or my body), lying there on the sofa and I was so scared that I don’t know how I did it, but I wished or willed myself back into the body on the sofa. Maybe I fell asleep and dreamed the whole thing, but it was like no dream I’d ever had and whether it was a dream or not doesn’t really matter, because it changed me forever.

I had left my little cocoon far behind. I was flying, yet part of me wanted to remain anchored firmly to earth, to self, to the familiar. It’s much easier to change gears intellectually than spiritually. Deep spiritual change shakes you to the core. If the particles of matter that make up this thing I call “me” are the same as those that make up everything else, then the personal sensation of pain which only I feel, the drawing of my blood somehow helped make that reality personal. I was in touch with my corporeal self through pain and it grounded me.

I think that the so-called experts who study this sort of thing would probably denigrate my experience by saying that I was suffering from depression and didn’t know how to express it, or that my cutting was a cry for help. After all these years, I think I have a pretty clear perspective on what I was going through. My cutting was personal and private. It was not a cry for help and not indicative of a desire to commit suicide. I was not depressed, although there was a sense of loss that accompanied growth and change.

I eventually stopped cutting my arms. The scars faded after a few years. Had the subject not been brought up by my friend, I would have been quite content to keep the whole thing to myself but they say confession is good for the soul (there’s my old Catholic upbringing.) Having said all of this, I must tell you that I know nothing about why other people cut; I only know why I did it. I write this now in hopes that sharing what I went through may help someone out there who is cutting or who has a loved one who is cutting.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Summer Reading List

Well, summer is all but over and I feel like I got a nice bit of recreational reading done.

I used to be a regular visitor at the Books Are Good Food MySpace page. It was about as close as I’ve ever been to joining a book club. I love reading and discussing books but I think I’m a pretty whimsical book selector and I find it difficult to rely on the recommendations of others. I usually judge a book by its cover; the art, the title, the author, the quotes by reviewers, celebrities or members of the author’s immediate family give me a little taste of what’s in store behind the covers. Sometimes, I get my book home from the bookstore or library and I start devouring it only to be interrupted by real life. If real life’s interruption extends beyond a day or two, I tend to lose interest in the book. If I haven’t finished it in a week, I probably won’t finish it at all. Anyway, I’m just not good book club material.

This summer I was lucky. I found some good stuff on my own and I had some friends send me some good stuff too. Some of it is old and available at the local library, some new and may require a bit of effort to locate. Here’s the stuff I enjoyed:

The Devil Of Nanking

Mo Hayder. Heart-wrenching history wrapped up in a really good story.

Prisoner of X.

Written by Allan MacDonell, punk rock alumnus who used to write for Slash. Fun to read and packed with salacious details. Allan's writing has that seedy Bukowski charm.

Punk Rock Los Angeles

This book was recently sent to me by the author, Louis Jacinto, who kindly agreed to allow me to share a few photos from it. I especially enjoyed this book because it has pictures of Nervous Gender, the Alleycats and the early Go-Go’s with Margot. Here are a few shots.

Conversations with the Fat Girl

Liza Palmer. This story takes place in Pasadena and it made me miss the Eastside.

Cat’s Eye

Margaret Atwood delivers another great book.


Sandra Cisneros. This one was an interrupted read. I cheated on this one and listened to the author’s audiobook version of it and I’m glad I did because her delivery made me enjoy it even more.

Running with Scissors

Augusten Burroughs. I looked for this one in the fiction section, only to discover that it was a biography. Shock. Life really is weirder than fiction.

Pre-summer and noteworthy:

Hardcore Zen

Brad Warner. Who knew punk rock could be spiritually enlightening?

Girl Trouble

Christopher McDougall. This is just a breathless, juicy, tabloid style account of the Gloria Trevi scandal. Fun reading!

Other Recommendations:

Buddha – Graphic Novel series by Osamu Tezuka

This multi-volume series retelling of the life of Buddha is beautifully written and drawn by the Godfather of Manga.

Hino Horror Series by Hideshi Hino

Arguably at the opposite end of the spectrum from Tezuka, but no less beautiful in their tales of the grotesque and macabre.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Will The Real Decider Please Stand Up?

An anonymous person wrote in on my last blog and brought up FDR’s imprisonment of Japanese Americans at Manzanar during WWII. I’m not certain if the person was trying to draw comparisons between the treatment of those who were held at Manzanar and the treatment of suspected terrorists under the Bush Administration or if they were saying that in times of war, extraordinary circumstances make it necessary to suspend due process and civil liberties. I’ll do my best to explain my position.

First of all, thanks for writing and bringing up the comparison with Manzanar. I do hold FDR in high regard for many reasons, but Manzanar is not one of them. In fact, I believe that Manzanar is still widely regarded as a dark stain upon the history of our country, a time when we let our irrational fears get the better of us, much like the Salem witch trials, and perhaps as we’re doing now. I have never heard or read any convincing arguments that imprisoning Japanese Americans in relocation camps during WWII aided in winning that war or yielded any intelligence that helped us win the war. When we speak of Manzanar, we usually speak of it shamefully. So, yes, I would say that FDR lost the thread there, if not the plot.

We should be able to learn from history and not repeat the same mistakes. Do we really want to be apologizing for our actions a few years down the line as we’ve had to do in the case of Manzanar?

There is no one party nor single leader who has all the right answers. Hopefully, we are able to distinguish their good ideas from their bad ones. We can’t afford the luxury of voting someone into public service and then letting them take the wheel while we go bake a batch of cookies. We’ve got to keep one eye on the cookies and the other on the White House. Like any boss who expects her employees to do a good job, we need to let them know that we’re watching them. In a true democracy, the people are the deciders and they decide what is best.

Tonight, I saw a video on YouTube that made me feel hopeful, hopeful that we are not the complacent, apathetic nation many feared we had become. Maybe it’s just the eternal optimist in me, but I sense that change is in the air. I’m starting to hear more dissenting voices in the mainstream media, more questioning of authority - even from those who were formerly supporters of the administration. Perhaps my optimism is unfounded, but I feel compelled to clutch at these threads of hope because there has been so little of it for the past six years.

Here’s the video. I think there is a little ember that needs to be fanned here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Kids In A Candy Store

One of the things I miss most about Los Angeles is the many small ethnic communities that give that city a true cosmopolitan feel. Whether it’s finding a Bollywood DVD in Artesia, tracking down the latest issues of Kera and Gothic Lolita Bible at Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo, enjoying fresh pan dulce and champurrado at a panaderia in East L.A. or just sampling the many exciting cuisines that are available throughout the city, Los Angeles always makes you feel like you’re in touch with the whole world.

Here in Phoenix, things are a little more homogenous and it takes some extra effort to track down those kinds of things, so you can imagine my delight at finding a well-stocked Asian market. I always feel like a little kid in a candy store when I find some Japanese treats and I was about to write a blog entry about it, but my 11 year old daughter beat me to it. Since she actually IS a little kid in a candy store, I thought she captured the mood better than I possibly could. Here is her own blog entry from her Myspace page. Her nom de plume is Sir Isaac Mutant and she writes to us from 18th century Versailles:

Asiana Seizure ahead!!!!!!!!!(madison read please)

"Yesterday, we went to the Asiana marketplace in Glendale, Arizona. It’s a little shop of wonders, my opinion. The place is chock-a-block full of the cutest and strangest food!!! The aisles are stocked with stuff you can’t even imagine. When I was there, I got a vegetarian sushi roll, just with rice and seaweed. I ate it, and I didn’t know WHAT to do with the super sharp spear thing it was speared on, which my dad had stabbed me with a moment earlier. “Ouch!” I said, and I mean it, it was really sharp! I had gotten a little puncture wound on my hand, and dad chuckled and said, “Ahh, you need a little pain in your life. It gives you character.” GRR! Then I saw this cute gas mask (yes gas mask) with Hello Kitty on it! Of course, I added it to the cart at once. We also got some portable tissue for mom. Then we headed to the snack aisles! That was just about every aisle. Mom had a little bag of “Cheese rings” in her cart. It had a picture of a superhero girl, like, beaming out three cheese rings. They look like Cheetos meets Funyions. Mum, mm! Then we got some things that look like Koala Yummies. (For those of you not familiar with this, it’s about to be explained.) They look like, um, cookie bread on the outside, but with melted chocolate in the inside! We also were going to get this thing called a “Sakura Strawberry Cake” because it was like a pink cake, but then dad pointed out that it was photo-shopped pink from the “Sakura Chocolate Cake” and wasn’t really at all pink. We got an assortment of delightful goodies, which you should be able to soon see on my mom’s blog at , so hang tight.

(Here's the booty she's talking about.)

And if you’re reading this, Madison, you’ll be getting the “BIG SURPRIZE” in a matter of days. Shush, don’t tell anyone what it is!

(SRK <33333!!!)

Heehaw! Then we got this cute thing called White Rabbit Candies, which looks like the chewiest candy besides licorice. I didn’t get Ramune, sadly, but I did get this cute strawberry-flavored drink that’s in the shape of a Panda! The bottle is decorated for Halloween, unlike last time I got it! I bet its Halloween flavored. We got another thing called Milky, which will also be showing up on, but wow! We got a lot of stuff! After that, we headed out to Bookman’s. However, we got a flat tire and had to stop at a gas station where we ate Del Taco till the cows came home, the cows just came HOME! As you guessed, the Discount Tire Co. Just closed, so yeah, we were stuck there for a while. At least I got some food! Right when we got home, I went stir crazy (or should I say loco here? Yea.) And it was quite a night! Well, that’s all I can remember! See you next time!"

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Price of Security

I watched a show last night on the Discovery Channel called “The Price of Security,” a documentary hosted by Ted Koppel which was followed by a live “town hall” discussion of some of the thought-provoking issues it raised. First of all, I have to say that I think Ted Koppel did a pretty amazing job. The program informed, angered and gave hope to people like me who sometimes feel that our politics and ideology are too far left of center to be part of the national consciousness. It was strange to find myself in agreement with some of the opinions voiced at the town hall meeting by people who I would consider conservatives. It just goes to show that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge others because they are coming from a different perspective. In the end, we may actually agree that there is a problem even if we don’t agree about the solution, or more specifically in this case, that there is a solution which has become a problem.

But let me back up for those of you who didn’t watch the special last night. In the documentary, Koppel traces the events following the attacks on 9/11 which resulted in a declaration of war against terrorism rather than war against a specific state (an ambiguous proposition) and the subsequent curtailment of civil liberties in an effort to aid in the gathering of intelligence in fighting that war.

Koppel then takes us on a tour of the detention center at Guantanamo where suspected terrorists or enemy combatants are held. When the interrogation techniques at Guantanamo came under fire for human rights abuses a few years ago, the C.I.A. simply stepped in and set up secret overseas detention centers, so-called Black Sites, to interrogate suspects outside of the U.S. using more “effective techniques” than U.S. law would allow.

I don’t know why, but I was shocked. After visiting Salem, MA just a few weeks ago I found it too easy to draw parallels between the way the accused witches and anyone suspected of being a terrorist were treated. The coffin cells, isolation, suspension, even the ducking (we call the process “waterboarding”) were straight out of the witch trials.

C.I.A. proposes new, improved interrogation method.

The argument has been made that the right to due process does not apply to suspected terrorists, especially since most detainees are not U.S. citizens. Furthermore, not even the guidelines described in the Third Geneva Convention which relates to the humanitarian treatment of prisoners can protect these suspected, yet untried detainees from witch-hunt style torture meant to extract confessions which will likely have all the validity that the testimony of the Salem witch trials produced.

I am not trying to say that these detainees are innocent. I’m more concerned with the question of who the fuck are we as a country? Who are we that we can pull people off the street and not even tell them what they’re accused of, without the right to face their accuser? Who are we that we can detain people indefinitely, subject them to sleep deprivation, waterboarding, hooding, psychological humiliation, and physical pain? Who are we that we allow our leaders to set themselves above the laws that we as a democracy chose to best serve our goals and ideals? It is up to us to demand that our leaders respect the principles of democracy, even when we are engaged in the defense of those same principles.

Isn’t it incredible that the President is just now attempting to get Congress to vote on a proposed law which would allow what he euphemistically calls “rough tactics,” but which in fact amounts to torture of suspected enemies? And just who are these enemies? What makes them suspect? Is it their religion, their color, the things they say, who their friends are? Someone I know has kids who planned to participate in a peaceful anti-war demonstration in California last week. It was shut down by local police who claimed that it was on a government list of terrorist organizations.

The hypocrisy of declaring a war against "fascism" and then using fascist tactics to fight it seems to be lost on our administration. All they seem to be able to talk about is how fucking scared they are and how scared we all should be. Maybe they should consider the words of an earlier President who once calmed a frightened nation with the phrase “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Oh, I know FDR wasn’t perfect and I understand that presidents need to exert some extra control during wartime, but shouldn’t there be guidelines in place even for that? We can’t just say 'anything goes' in our effort to facilitate secrecy and dispatch. Not to go quote crazy, but remember the one about “absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Down South of The Border

Last weekend my family and I made a little border run, heading South to Mexico. The border is only about 3 hours south of Phoenix, so we drove down to Tucson (one of my favorite towns) and stayed overnight, then set off early the next morning. We crossed over at Nogales, which is quite easily done by parking your car on the U.S. side and simply walking across, or in our case, running. Oh yeah, and I made the dress I'm wearing for the border run.

Once in Nogales, Mexico, I hit the jackpot and found exactly what I was hoping for: a fabric store carrying a big selection of brightly colored Mexican oilcloth for a fraction of the cost I would have to pay in the U.S. I'm probably the only person who will drive 3 hours to save $50, but I guess I get that from my mother, who would regularly drive to three different markets and spend $20 in gas to save $10 dollars in groceries - at least that's what it seemed like to me when I was young. Now that I'm older I find myself doing the same things, only I drive to two regular markets, two health food stores, I hit Trader Joe's and then I round it all off with periodic visits to Costco. I save absolutely nothing on groceries. Speaking of my Mom, my husband just retrieved one of my favorite portraits of her from our storage unit in L.A. Here it is:

We're almost to the end of the monsoons out here in the desert. I never knew there was a monsoon period in the Arizona desert but there is, and the rain, thunder and lightning get pretty furious. You start thinking of lightning in a whole different way when you and a few saguaro are the tallest things around. If you like dramatic weather, Arizona is the place you oughta be. On the way back to Phoenix, we passed by Picacho Peak as the sun was setting and a big summer thunderstorm was developing. Greg was driving and snapped these shots from our moving car:

Once we got home, I got to work right away and sewed a little pink handbag, using some of the floral designs from the oilcloth. Here's the finished bag:

After whetting my appetite with the pink purse, I decided to see if I could keep my lucky streak going. I hit the thrift stores this morning and it was half-off day! I scored on a bunch of bags full of ribbons, zippers, buttons, elastic and other gaudy items that I plan to work into my projects. My mom would be proud.

I think I'm getting better at cooking and sewing, but it seems that just as I start getting better at one thing there is something else I want to try, and of course, I have my own 3 step method for learning anything new:

Step 1: Suck at it.
Step 2: Freak out, wondering if I can do it the right way.
Step 3: Get all punk rock about it and just dive in.

My daughter is becoming a little PETA militant and has been asking me to help her stencil PETA slogans on her backpack and tee shirts.
I've never done any stenciling, but I love mommy and me craft projects (just ask my oldest daughter).

Maddie shows off the dress and bag combo that I "forced" her to make. She complained the whole time that the skirt was WAY too long.

So we're going to try it. I guess we can just xerox the stencil onto acetate and then cut the letters out with an exacto knife. I wonder how hard it will be to cut out the chickie. I wonder if we should spray or roll on the paint. I wish those damn La Mano guys were around to give me some tips! I'll see if I can find some advice on Craftster, and if anyone out there has any stenciling tips please send them my way.
Obviously, I am on step two.


P.S. Sunday, 7pm. After reading Matt "Max"'s suggestions, we got out the acetate and fabric paint and we did it! Yipee!! Thank you, Max!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Another Night Without Sleep

I’ve always had trouble sleeping. Although I get tired and am quick to doze off, staying asleep is another matter. Last year I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which means that I stop breathing several times during the night for no discernable reason and I (hopefully) wake up, gasping for air. I’m literally suffocating while I sleep and it makes it tough to get a good night’s rest.

My husband finally got me to go see a doctor since he was getting tired of having to wake me every time he would hear me stop breathing. After going to the Kaiser sleep lab and undergoing various tests, I was prescribed a Cpap machine.

It’s quite a little contraption. You attach a nose and mouthpiece over your face with straps around your head and a chin strap keeps you from breathing through your mouth. When you turn it on, the machine regulates the flow of air to keep your nasal passages open through the night, forcing you to breathe. It’s restrictive enough to be bondage gear but it’s just not sexy, unless you have a fetish for scuba gear or elephants.

It’s not so much that I mind the little elephant trunk or having to plug in the machine every night but the darn thing kept leaving welts on my face. I either had to tighten the elastic strap so much that I got a headache and a big red imprint of the mask all around my nose and mouth or, if I loosened it, the air blew up into my eyes and all over my face. So the Cpap machine got phased out.

Back when I was touring with Stay At Home Bomb, my bandmates became aware of my sleeping issues. They didn't seem to be as worried about my gasping for breath as they were about my snoring. I blame it on my mom, who passed this endearing little genetic trait onto me. My mom used to snore like a lioness and now her little cub is all grown up and does the same. My bandmates used to demand that I wear nasal strips called Breathe Right.

They must have been designed by an architect because it would take a sophisticated builder's mind to invent something that turns a little strip of tape over the bridge of my nose into a powerful device that can make my nostrils flare out like an angry bull's. Cosmetic considerations aside, the Breathe Right strips seemed to help keep me from snoring so I wore them. Anyway, because the strips help with the snoring and because the snoring seems to precede the sleep apnea, I’m left with an unfortunate choice: either look like a bull with my nostrils flared out by the strips or look like an elephant with my trunk attached. Maybe I should take a poll. Which looks cuter in pajamas, a bull or an elephant?

Sometimes it's not the breathing problems that keep me awake, sometimes I stay up because I’m thinking about my next craft project or a new song, or bills I have to pay, or I’m busy figuring out how to adjust a sewing pattern and I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking about all these things at 3:00 in the morning. And sometimes I just stay up writing senseless blog entries.