JULY 2005
Friday, July 29, 2005
Sea drunk. In the midst of everything going on this week, I forgot to write about our boat trip last Friday night. It was my grandma's 85th birthday, you may remember, and she wanted to take out her kids and grandkids to have dinner and cruise around Manhattan. We took the World Yacht, and it was really fun, even though the name of the boat is a little deceiving: it went around Manhattan, not the whole world. But look: here are my cousin Josh and my brother Randy having fun. Well, Randy looks like he's having fun, but Josh looks a little confused. They were both drinking quite a bit of Bud Light and smoking what Josh said were harmless cigars, and apparently these substances affected the boys in very different ways, even though they were both spawned from more or less the same gene pool. But anyway, it was good to see my aunts and uncle and cousins, and grandma was looking very well indeed.

The food on the boat was very good. Not outstanding, not mind-blowing, but tasty and high quality and well-presented. And there was a lot of it! We got a little cup of watermelon soup when we first sat down, which was fruity and minty and yummy. I'm not sure why we got it -- maybe a palate cleanser? Who knows. Then we got a plate of little appetizer-y fried and buttery things, which I've often heard called "savories" (like, the opposite of sweets): shumai, mini beefy tarts, scallops wrapped in bacon (at a table full of bacon-deprived Jews, you can imagine how quickly those were gobbled up), some chickeny thing, and some spinachy thing. And we got drinks, since it was open bar. We all ordered things like pina coladas and margaritas. My underage cousin got a virgin daiquiri. Grandma asked for a daiquiri, and the server asked if she wanted hers without alcohol too, and she was like, hell no, I'm 85 and I want some goddamn booze!

The dinner choices were similar to what you'd find at a nice bistro-type restaurant: fish, filet, and organic chicken, which I had. The desserts were pretty good too, especially the chocolate birthday cake that they brought out to my grandma. Holy crap, that was good birthday cake. It was better than the fancy chocolate pie-tart things they were offering everyone else who didn't have a birthday celebration. Some foreign guys a few tables over even remarked that the birthday cake looked good, and when we offered one of them the last piece, he came over and gave my grandma a kiss on the cheek! Eighty-five years old, and the woman can still get some action.

But what was really the best part of the night was seeing the sun go down on New York. The light over a big city at dusk is absolutely beautiful, and we were all tripping over one another trying to snap good pictures of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other known and not-so-known landmarks. The weather was hot, but it was breezy and perfect out on the water. Honestly, I would do this again, but I'd just do the cruise part and not pay for the dinner. I mean, the food was good, and you have to eat somewhere, but I think I would have rather been outside on the deck to see everything.

Anyway, it was fun, and it was a week ago already. So much has been going on this week, and tomorrow we move into our new home. (Our home! Where we sleep! Where we come...and play...with our toys.) The internet won't be hooked up in the new place until Thursday, so umm...updating will be tough. But I will tell you all about the move and other interesting things when I can get back online. Now I gotta go pack.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I'm not ignoring you. I promise. It's just that there's been some sad stuff going on lately that's been taking up most of my time and attention, and on top of that, we bought our house and now have to figure out how we're going to pack up and move everything in the next week or so. It has been hectic, and I am tired and sad and just a little worn out. Things will be back to normal soon, and you won't feel like I'm neglecting you. But for now, a solid eight hours of uninterrupted sleep sounds quite nice indeed. Now where did my bed go? Oh, right. It's in the bedroom. Right where I left it.

Monday, July 25, 2005
I am back, and was back early in fact, and things are happening and stuff needs to get done and I don't have much time, but here is a superfun factoid-y nugget for your brainstretching pleasure: The NPR affiliate in central Pennsylvania is WPSU, but when the Saturday afternoon announcer says the call letters, he pronounces it "dubbayoo-piss-yoo." Too many Tasty Kakes is my guess.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Lately it's seemed like I barely get settled in my own place before I get up and go somewhere else. Tomorrow, I'm off for NY for some quality family time. Whoa, didn't I just get back from Pittsburgh? Yes. Yes I did. That's my summer for you. But I am looking forward to this trip, because Grandma is throwing a big party for her 85th, and we're all invited. I mean, the family's invited. I'm eighty-flippin'-five, she said, and goddamit, I want a big goddamn party. Okay, she didn't exactly say it like that, although for all I know, she very well might have. She's 85 and she can say whatever the hell she wants. Anyway, for her birthday, she decided that she wanted to take her children and grandchildren on a dinner boat/yacht ride around Manhattan. At first I was like, we're going on the Circle Line? That's lame! But in fact, it's not the Circle Line: it's good food and open bar! (Open bar!) And it's kind of dress-up and fancy-like. So hopefully it will be a lovely evening.

And when we get back, I won't have time to settle back in, because we're moving in like a week! Normally, I hate moving: the confusion of seeing my entire life in boxes (and not necessarily organized boxes) is really disconcerting. But in a way, I'm kind of looking forward to this one. We have a great place to move into, and it's ours. I mean, we own it. Or the credit union owns it and we get to sign a stack of papers saying that we own it as long as we pay them back.

I have to go pack and go to sleep. We have a long drive tomorrow! Back next week. Possible updates? Yeah, maybe. Oh, and the hives have gone away. Stupid hives. I hate them so much.

Monday, July 18, 2005
It's Monday already! I tell you, this past weekend was a whirlwind of highway driving, conversations about mass production and oncology, and hormones in overdrive (and not in a good way). I left on Thursday for Pittsburgh and got to the downtown area in about six hours and without incident. But the directions I had to my hotel got all screwy after I exited the 279, so I drove around for an hour thinking, this is a small city, surely I can find a stupid Hilton. But surely, I could not, and then I realized that I didn't have the phone number for the hotel with me. I drove a few blocks outside of downtown so I could find a place to pull over and collect my thoughts. I called Paul and got the nationwide number for Hilton, then had them connect me with the Pittsburgh hotel, and then got directions from some guy at the front desk who assured me that I was only blocks away. He was right.

Finally I found the hotel and got hooked up with the right convention. The next day I drove out to northern West Virginia to see the folks at the Fiesta factory and take the tour. One of the guys on the tour was an oncology nurse, and we talked about how the cancer rate in this part of the country is unbelievably high, presumably due to all of the industry and hazardous chemicals used in said industry, although said industry probably never has and probably never will admit to causing anything bad, cancer or otherwise. And then the topic of our conversation was confirmed when, a few hours later, I found out that one of the security guards who was so nice to me when I was shooting my documentary and was even in it had recently died of a nasty and fast-acting brain tumor. That was awful, and apparently, not at all uncommon or even unexpected: lots of people in the Ohio River Valley get cancer, and from what I was told, more often than not, it shows up in the brain. So, feeling somewhat depressed and a little wary and somehow exposed, I caffeinated up and drove back home (another six hours) and ate dinner and passed out at some point, but I really don't know at what point, because I don't remember falling asleep.

And then I've been all PMS-like and stressed about money lately, which has caused me to 1. have an erratic appetite pattern in which I'll either be completely not hungry at all or completely ravenous; 2. feel violently cranky; and 3. break out in hives (not break out as in all over my body, or even all over my face, but just on the upper left side of my forehead, where I always get hives when I am stressed and which always begs the question, how do they know to always pop out there?). The good news is that the PMS and the stress are subsiding, which means the hives are starting to recede. Stupid hives. Why can't I just get stressed and eat a few bowls of ice cream like a normal person?

Thursday, July 14, 2005
So much hot sand. We went to the dune climb at Sleeping Bear. Most people climb up this main dune and then run, roll, or fall down. It's a lot of fun, and the dune is actually a lot bigger and steeper than it looks from the parking lot. But there are also a few hiking trails, including one to Lake Michigan, which is almost two miles from the top of this peak. There are all kinds of warnings when you enter the park about how this is a very strenuous walk, how you should know and admit to your own limits, how it will take sometimes four hours to do the round trip (and you have to do the round trip, because while there were some jokes about there being a McDonald's at the end by the lake, there's nothing and no one between the trailhead and Lake Michigan), how you should bring lots of water and high energy snacks and shoes to prevent foot burn, and so on. We saw all the warnings, and, with a backpack full of fruit snacks and dried cherries and two liters of water, we went.

Holy crap. They weren't kidding. Maybe it's because we started close to noon and the midday sun was really strong and made the sand hot, but it's probably because it takes a lot of energy to climb around in sand! Seriously, it's like walking through hot jam, and most of your energy is used to just keep your balance. The dunes went up and down and up and down, and from every top you could see the lake, and it looked like the lake was just down the next dune, but as soon as you got down, there was another huge one to climb. It made me think about the desert, and how people say the desert is all sand, but when I was in the desert last year, the ground was hard and cracked and looked a lot easier to walk through than the sugary loose sand here. It was really hot and we were sweating pretty badly, and after about 15 minutes I just stopped taking pictures and concentrated on not falling over. And the farther we went, the fewer people we saw on the trail, until finally (finally!) we made it to the lake. And we high-fived and woo-hooed and were generally pleased with our ability. The water was freezing, but it was good to know we could make it. Then we walked back and felt pretty good about ourselves.

Then when I got back home, I told a friend of mine about how we conquered the trail from Sleeping Bear to Lake Michigan, and how even though it was only around four miles, it was really hard and took us a long time (about three hours, not the four that they had warned us about). And then my friend, who is twice my age, mind you, asked if we walked along the lake a few miles to the ghost town down the road, and then took the road back to our car -- a ten-mile round trip. She said she did that not too long ago, and she said it like it was nothing. So now when we go back, we have a new challenge.

(P.S. Check out how dry the grass is in this picture! They've hardly had any rain this summer.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005
On Thursday and Friday nights, we camped at what is considered a rustic campground. I'm not exactly sure what makes a campground rustic, but I think it's the lack of showers or flush toilets. We had neither of these, although there were what they called vault toilets available. What does it mean when a toilet is a vault toilet? I think vault is a nice way of saying hole in the ground with a seat over it, because that's basically what they were.

Let me back up. In all truth, they weren't completely horrible, and according to Paul, the toilets were new within the past two years and were much much more gross the last time he was at this particular campground. They were okay, and actually better than I expected: they were on concrete slabs rather than just on the dirt ground, and there were some serious charcoal filters in the outhouse to mask just about all of the...umm...odor. So they didn't smell completely awful. And there was a note to close the lid after each use, presumably to prevent any sort of insect situation, and from what I could tell, people actually followed this rule. There was always toilet paper, and while there wasn't running water, there was a dispenser with that anti-bacterial hand goo stuff for germophobes like myself. The bottom of the hole was way way way down there, too, so it wasn't like you were sitting directly on top of everyone else's bodily waste. A small detail, but definitely an important one.

But what was gross about them was what I'll call the splatter factor. I'm not a big fan of looking at my own poop, let alone the poop of everyone else who's used a bathroom before me. Yes, the bottom of the hole was way way way down, but somehow (and I really don't know how), a lot of poop was stuck to the inside of the seat, which was a good two feet up off the hole in the concrete. Most of the time I was in there, all I could think of was how in the hell do you get it to land there? Apparently, a lot of people out there have really powerful colons. Either that, or I am not eating enough fruit.

The one truly gross bathroom incident came as the sun was going down on the second night, and I went to use the bathroom, and there was pee all over the seat. Either some chick was too tired/drunk/stupid/oblivious to lift the lid and didn't realize that she was peeing on the seat, or some tired/drunk/stupid/oblivious guy used the women's side of the two-sided outhouse (or didn't want to wait for the guy in the guy's side to finish up and just used the women's side instead) completely didn't pay attention, realized what he did, and figured some dumb chick would clean it up. Either way, it was big time gross.

After two days of this, I was really happy to use a real bathroom. In fact, when we went into town to walk or eat or do anything, I made sure I used a real restroom before we went back to the campsite. I liked the other parts of camping, but when we got to our friends' house on the third night, I was never so happy to flush a toilet. I would have been so miserable in Eighteenth Century England. Or any pre-Twentieth Century place, for that matter.

Monday, July 11, 2005
Okay. I am back from camping, and obviously I survived. It was actually kind of nice: sleeping outside, smelling the campfire, eating lava-hot toasted marshmallows. It was good. And our campground was right on Lake Michigan, so beach access was really easy. I even kind of enjoyed not having to shower, although after a long and hot hike on Friday (more on that tomorrow or the next day, perhaps), I felt so gross that I jumped into the frigid, hypothermia-inducing lake. And the campsite itself was a little rocky, but we had enough blankets on the bottom of the tent that it wasn't too bad.

We did have a little scare, though. On the second night of our two night campout (I agreed to two nights in a tent, one night in a friend's house), just as we were falling asleep, I heard the big plastic Sterilite tub with all of our stuff in it crash off the picnic table and to the ground. It woke me up, but Paul didn't seem to hear it. But then we heard it being knocked around. "Something's out there," I said. So he took the flashlight and sat up and looked out. "What is it?" I asked.

"I don't want to tell you," he answered.

Yeah, that wasn't going to fly. So I started guessing. A raccoon? On the way in, the ranger warned us that raccoons might try to get after our food. Nope, not a raccoon. A deer? No, not a deer. A bear? "Yeah, but it's a small one," he said. Oh crap.

I didn't feel very safe in the tent, no matter how small, tiny, or miniscule the bear right outside our tent was (and neither did Paul, really), so we took all of our pillows and blankets and slept in the car. That's right -- the car. My highly efficient but even-more-highly uncomfortable-to-sleep-in Civic. With the doors locked and the windows up and the parking brake on and the keys in the ignition -- just in case the evening played out in any one of the possible scenarios cooking up in our heads. None of them did, but it was a little jarring, to say the least.

Yeah, I'll go camping again. But those bathrooms are another matter. Ah, it's getting late. I'll get to those tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005
The latest installment in the increasingly infrequent series of interviews with myself:

So it's been a while.
That's not a question. This is an interview. You're supposed to ask me questions.

Sorry, sorry. Right. So how was your holiday weekend?
Aside from the biking incident, very nice. I did as little work as possible, spent lots of time at the beach, and enjoyed the eerily perfect weather. I even got to see some fireworks.

No traveling, then?
These are weak questions, my friend.

Yeesh. Do you have any travel plans, then?
Yes, actually, now that you ask, I do. Next Thursday, I am going to Pittsburgh for the night to hang with the Fiesta collector people. And a week after that, I am going to New York for my grandma's birthday. And a few weeks after that, I am going back to Mackinac Island for a few days. But first, I am going camping. We leave tomorrow.

I'm sorry. What?
What what? I am going camping. We leave tomorrow.

But you don't like camping.
Questions! Ask questions!

Oh, the games you play. Here's my question: Since when do you camp?
Thank you. Since never. I have never gone camping. The closest I have come is sleeping in a tent in various back yards. But we're going camping up in the northern part of Michigan for a few days.

May I ask why?
You may.

You're supposed to ask why.

Right, right. Why?
Because Paul likes camping, and because I am trying to be open-minded and try new things and stuff like that. If that means I have to go camping, I will go camping. I have promised to try it. It can't be so bad. Lots of people do it. And I like being outside, so this is just an extension of that. I think. Maybe I'll even like it.

But what if it rains?
I guess we'll get a little wet. I guess. The tent should keep us dry, right?

You're asking me? We don't camp, remember?
I know. But besides, the weather is supposed to be nice and dry, so I'm not going to waste time worrying about the possibility of getting wet.

What about the running water situation? What about the bathrooms?
Yeah, that's a tough one. I guess I won't shower for a few days. But there are pumps, so I think I can brush my teeth and wash up and stuff like that. As for bathrooms, well, it's just a few days. I can use an outhouse for a few days. People lived for thousands of years without running water, so I am banking on being able to do it for just a few days. Besides, if they're really bad, there are lots of public restrooms. Some are even decent.

But why would you want to sleep in a tent when there are dozens of hotels in the area?
Paul likes it. I'm trying. New things. Open mind. Etc. Besides, do you have any idea what a hotel room costs up there during the summer? It's shockingly high. Supply and demand in action, I suppose.

Well, have a lovely time, I guess. When will you be back?
Late on Sunday, I think. That sounds right.

I don't suppose you'll update the site while you're gone?
That's a weak question, but no, no updates. There's no running water, so I'm not counting on high-speed internet access.

Okay, then. We'll have to do this again soon.
Sure, but you really have to work on your interrogation skills. As the interviewee, I'm not supposed to remind you to ask questions.

What the hell is that supposed to mean?
I think you know.

Yeah, well, whatever. I'll be sleeping in a bed this weekend.
Umm, no you won't. You're me. We're going camping. Remember?

Oh. Yeah.

You the sucka.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005
On the bike trail on Saturday, we saw a couple stopped while he repaired the tire on his road bike. "Those road bike tired are so flimsy," Paul and I said. "The tires on mountain bikes are indestructible," we said. "I've had my bike for ten years and I've never gotten a flat," I said. "I've had mine thirteen," he said. "Our bikes rock," we said.

Then, in a page torn straight from the anxious book of If-the-Pitcher-Has-a-No-Hitter-Going-Don't-Talk-About-the-No-Hitter, the front tire on Paul's bike got a flat. We got stranded 16 miles from our car and 34 miles from home in a tourist-filled lake town on the Sunday of a huge holiday weekend. Sure we tried to go to the bike shop to get another tube. The bike shop was closed. Stupid mystical poetic justice-y swings of the universe.

Or maybe it was punishment for the blueberries we stole from a bush on a blueberry farm on the trail. We tasted only four, but still.

Friday, July 1, 2005
A fun link sent to me from Lisa B. from the RC (that's my fun, FOX-inspired way of referring to Rockland County, where I grew up): POSTSECRET. People send in postcards with their secrets on them. It's supposed to be anonymous, and secret-tellers are supposed to create an image to go along with the words. I like it. It's very Barbara Kruger, don't you think?

So anyway, I have been thinking about this for the past few days, and I thought about any secrets that I might have that I would want to share. I came up with one, but I don't think I'm going to send it in to this person (I mean, really), and besides, I have my own damn website. I can post my own damn secrets. So I will share this secret with you, my family and friends and maybe a few people I don't know, even though most of you have emailed and said hi at some point. Anyway, are you ready? Here it is.

I get massive phone anxiety. Not in answering the phone when it rings, or in calling my mom, or in calling anyone I'm fairly good friends with, or in calling like customer support or my insurance agent -- nothing like that. I get phone anxiety when I have to call people for work, specifically if I have to ask them to do something for me, like be interviewed (which as a freelance writer I have to do with some degree of regularity) or do a work-related favor that they'd probably be happy to do anyway. Sometimes it's really bad, and I have to do laps around my apartment and psych myself up to make phone calls, and I talk to myself and try out different voices and stuff like that. I remember at my PR job a few years back, I had to call all of these people to be on a tv program, and then sponsor us with free food and things like that, and I would put off these phone calls for weeks. Literally. I got all wound up over it, and finally I hired an intern (and unpaid, at that) with a really bubbly personality who loved to talk to anyone and everyone, and I had her make all of the phone calls, which she gladly, quickly, and unanxiously did. It was amazing.

Actually, I do have some phone anxiety when it comes to answering the phone. This has come about since I got a cell phone, which of course comes with caller ID. If it's someone I'm nervous about talking to, I kind of get the sweats a little bit when I see their number. It doesn't happen too often, but it comes up every once in a while.

So yeah: I have phone anxiety. That's my secret. And incidentally, if you've been expecting me to call you, and I haven't, this may have something to do with it. I'll email you all day long, but I'm not a phone person. In fact, this was recently told to me by the realtor we've been working with: "You like to get off the phone awful fast!" I guess I never thought about it (and really, this guy's helping us buy a house, not like my good buddy or anything), but now that I do think about it, yeah, I do like to say what I need to say and get off the phone. Maybe that's part of it too.

Also now that I'm thinking about it, maybe it would be fun to make a visual representation of my phone anxiety secret. Maybe I'll do that. Maybe.

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