Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas, Chickens!

You got Xanax!

What's that you say? You didn't ask Santa Claus for any tranquilizers? Oh, well, then those must be from mommy's list!

Yes, I went to the vet this week and purchased five tiny blue canine sedatives, on the VERY SLIGHT off-chance that we're asking too much of the little guy to sit quietly inside a small box for 10 consecutive hours.

Hoping the pills will fit inside the Mustang, along with two adults, the dog, the dog's house, the dog's staircase, the dog's bag, a pillow, two suitcases, a flat of waters, one backpack, one pillow, coats and blankets, a small fan, gifts for three families, one bag of beef jerky and a box of Red Vines.

And now Chickens, posing for you in his new holiday sweater with red scarf, would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. See you when we get back from our road trip!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whirlwind December

Boy, nothing like being linked to from a new blog (Hi, Gamy! Hi, Piccolo!) to light a fire under the ass. Especially since there's this gadget on her site that's equipped with a helpful public reminder of how lazy I have been about this. Yes, this post is being written solely so that gadget can suck it.

So it has been a pretty chaotic month. On Nov. 30, I peered ahead at the calendar and realized that due to various parties, programs, dinners, deadlines and shopping trips, there would be zero chance of squeezing in some exercise. And I can't very well head into Christmas break feeling like a fatass, not when I'm guaranteed to feel like one when it's over. So on Monday, Dec. 1, Sal and I began doing something crazy. Every weekday morning, we wake up at 5 a.m., and drive to the gym for a workout. Well, I get up at 5 a.m. to prepare breakfast and pour coffee, and only then will Sal get up, and I am perfectly OK with this because OMG, do you know Sal? If you do, then you know that getting out of bed in the middle of the night, in the pitch-black and freezing darkness, TO GO TO THE GYM, is nothing short of pure torture for him. Yesterday he came in from getting the newspaper, glared at me and said through gritted teeth "Did you know there are STARS AND A MOON OUT THERE?!"

Also this month, I ate grasshoppers. Grasshoppers! With little legs and little antennae, all piled up on each other in a little glass bowl. This was at a stylish new Oxacan restaurant in downtown San Jose called Mezcal, where the deep-fried bugs are served like pretzels. The owner was urging me proudly to try one, and even as I stared down at the little beasts, my heart began to beat faster and faster. I couldn't even fathom TOUCHING them, much less actually putting one in my mo- Oh god I can barely type that. OK, so first I had a beer, followed by a shot of Mezcal. Then I sat there at the bar and thought about a wonderful book I read this summer called "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper," a memoir about a woman named Fuchsia who traveled through China alone, talking her way into the kitchens of aristocrats and peasants alike to learn their recipes and culinary secrets. And every time I feel scared to eat something new, I think of Fuchsia and her wonderful food adventures, and I force myself to try just a little. Trying just a little is why I love sushi now, and red onions, and while grasshoppers won't be a snack I pack in my purse, the taste wasn't so bad. The hard part was actually putting my fingers on the bug, and raising it up to ... well, you know. And then I just closed my eyes and popped it in. Once it was in my mouth, it had the consistency of beef jerky. Sorta dry and fibrous. It tasted like salt and lime, and I chewed it up and swallowed it. Then I ate another, just to show who's boss.

We're getting ready to hit the road on Saturday, the big driving trip to New Mexico. Remember how awhile back I wrote about Chickens hating the car ride in his crate? Next we tried a booster seat, which worked better for about four minutes until I realized Chickens cannot lay down anywhere until he has spun around in a circle at least four times. Meaning the leash that tethered him to that seat would get all tangled up in his legs. BIG failure. So now we're back to the crate, which we have strapped securely into the seat with special belts. I plan to put his little bed inside, in the hope that he'll just curl up and go to sleep instead of barking and crying for 1,300 miles. EACH WAY.

The thought of Chickenbone being so anxious and miserable that long breaks my heart, so I am really, really, REALLY hoping that it will somehow click in his little pea brain that there's nothing to be afraid of in the car. That the vibration under his feet won't kill him, and that mom and dad are right there in the front seat having a jolly time, so maybe ol' Chickens can just settle down and enjoy the ride. And I have promised him that if he can do this, when we finally get to Clovis, he can eat my mom's cat.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The 10-dollar bill diet

I'm pleased to report that last week I hosted my first Thanksgiving Day dinner, and boy, did I hit it out of the park. And by that, I mean I didn't screw up ANYTHING. Here was our menu:

Salt-roasted turkey
From L.A. Times (so, so, so much easier than brine; tasty and moist, too)

Thanksgiving potatoes
From Skillet Chronicles (I'll never peel and chop potatoes again)

Foolproof gravy
From the Mercury News (contains white wine, mmm)

Cornbread sausage stuffing
From I don't know where, since this was made by Sal (who tossed in a handful of diced apple)

Baby salad greens with sweet-potato croutons
From N.Y. Times (easy and completely gorgeous)

Herbed dinner rolls
From Sunset Magazine (involved kneading and rising and everything!)

Cranberry sauce
From a can (since I do not care for cranberries, I didn't try too hard on this one, though next year I'm making a recipe my aunt swears by: mix a bag of fresh cranberries with one cup each of sugar and orange juice; bake for an hour at 350; stir in a few spoonfuls of Grand Mariner or other brandy before serving)

Green bean casserole
From my head, and some cans (made this with fresh beans a few years ago - it did not go well)

Apple pie
Another Sal dish (we also had pumpkin pie, brought by my mother-in-law)

I was most impressed by the salad, the apple pie and the rolls. And by the fact that everything finished cooking at the same time. And by the fact that I finally made a gravy that didn't suck. (Last Christmas I sprinkled a bunch of salt into the drippings before tasting, forgetting how I brined the bird for three days. Oopsie. Oh, and two Thanksgivings ago, I made golden-brown dinner rolls that were magazine-cover beautiful, so it was a real surprise how they'd break your teeth off.)

Also, Sal and I ran the Turkey Trot in downtown San Jose on Thanksgiving morning, and he beat me. Did you hear that? HE BEAT ME. For the first time ever. He also won his age category in the CEO/Celebrity Challenge. Even though I have run like a billion races (and never won anything) and he has done four. No, I'm proud of him, though. Especially since one year ago last week, we walked into our first Weight Watchers meeting together, determined to stop getting fatter all the time. And now he's 35 pounds lighter, so I'm guessing that helped him out. That, and maybe one of us stopped to help an old man who fell down on the race course. I demand my medal for winning the category of WHO IS A BETTER PERSON.

But it's ironic that we hit a weight-loss milestone this weekend, seeing as how I pretty much hogged out for four straight days. It was one of those stretches where you look up from your third slice of pie (in one morning) and try to remember the last time you felt actual hunger. The day before yesterday? Tuesday? You should have seen this leftovers sandwich I made, cracking open one of those herbed rolls and layering on turkey, potatoes and gravy, adding a sprinkle of cheddar before chowing down. I DARE you to ask if I was hungry when I built that bad boy.

Here's the scary part: In three weeks, we are heading to New Mexico, which is pretty much going to be a total eat-a-thon. For 1,266 miles and 10 days, we'll be living on fast food and New Mexican food, and diet sabotage is pretty unavoidable. So, to carve out a little bit of room to play, for the next three weeks I am putting myself on super-severe restrictions. I will only eat when I'm hungry, I will mostly eat decent things, and I will work out regularly. NO. BULLSHIT.

To get off to the right start, today I awoke at the terrifying hour of 5 a.m. and went to spin class. Then I vowed to my girlfriend that this month I will eat NOTHING from the table in the faculty break room. Not one cupcake, not one cookie, not a single crumb. I begged her to think of an unbearable consequence if I break my vow, and we cooked up a plan: If either of us sneaks any bites out of our break rooms, we have to mail the other person $10. Like, that very same day. This is the greatest idea ever. Wait, maybe you should get in on this, too. Like, if I know it's going to cost me $50, maybe I will not mindlessly stuff a piece of crappy old holiday fudge into my mouth. Who's in?

P.S. You can totally mail me $10 if you have a weak moment. I will use it to buy carrot sticks!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good ol' nature

This may very well be the strangest post I ever write. But OK, sometimes when I have trouble falling asleep at night, I try to mentally sweep myself away to someplace impossible. I imagine what neat things I might see, what strange discoveries I would make, and it stops my mind from racing with real-life stress or the next day's to-do list. Before I know it, I'm fast sleep. Like maybe I escape to the tippy-top of snow-capped Mount Everest, beneath a black and starry sky. It's barely cold at all, and in the moonlight I can see the pointy tops of neighboring mountains. Or maybe I zoom up to the Golden Gate Bridge, to a perch atop one of those towers, where I watch waves and fog swirl around below. Or perhaps I plunge to the most murky depths of the deepest part of the deep, dark ocean. I especially love this one because of the sheer mystery of it. I mean, what the hell is down there? It could be anything. Anything! And today I find out, it could even be this giant elbowed squid!

I am so enchanted by that video that I've watched it at least six times. It's just the most magnificent thing I've ever seen! I do hope this doesn't backfire and give me nightmares. Perhaps in my meditation-dream I'll have him fix me a cup of chamomile and hum a lullaby.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Birthday boy


The dry-erase board on our fridge is normally reserved for things like bills and grocery lists, but this morning we made room for a guilt trip. Look close to see the stream of tears.

See, today is Chickenbone's birthday. He is the big three. Last year we actually threw him a party. Invited my mother-in-law's three chihuahuas, Chief, Macho and Buster. Served them doggy cupcakes from a "bakery." Killed a pony keg. It was a kick.

This year? Nada. Maybe we're over it. OR MORE LIKELY, maybe we are tapped out after recently spending $60 on a padded booster seat so Chickens won't have to live in his crate of misery when we drive to New Mexico next month. Or perhaps we're still wincing at the $200 we're about to spend on four hours with a private trainer, who will hopefully help Chickens stop turning into a slobbering, snarling werewolf at the mere sight of another dog. But that's a story for another day, because I can't ruin Chickens' birthday with tales about how he is a bad boy. AND forgetting to buy a present.

OMG AN UPDATE! Sal just called. He was on his way out of PetSmart with a pig's ear, a cow's hoof, a frisbee, a can of doggy "cherries jubilee" and one of those long yellow dogs from the PetSmart commercials. I'm so relieved. Except for a sneaking suspicion that we'll be seeing that jubilee twice tonight, if you catch my drift.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wiseacre

Today a friend of mine was telling me comical stories from my old workplace about computer woes and the fits of rage that follow. And it reminded me of one of my favorite stories of all time, the first time I can remember laughing until I cried.

I was sitting in seventh-grade algebra class, and our teacher was handing back tests. One of my classmates was Pat Boyle, a pale boy who tried very hard to be the brooding, artistic type. Well, when Pat got his test back, he looked down at his grade and exploded. And I mean EXPLODED. He leaped out of his desk and tore his test in two. Threw his head back and howled "goddamn shit fuck" or something like that. Grabbed his desk and shoved it across the room. Threw a book. Kicked a chair. It went ON and ON and ON, while all of us, including the teacher, sat there watching, too stunned to even react. Finally, Pat slumps down in a chair, chest heaving, and stares down at the floor. And the awkward silence wasn't broken until my friend John Fritz leans over and asks cheerfully, "So, Pat, how'd you do?"

I fell in love with John Fritz immediately, a love that lasted well into high school. And I am fairly certain that today he must work in a newsroom.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleepyhead


This is what I saw when I opened my eyes on Sunday morning. I even reached over for my phone camera without moving my head, and I held it right up to my eye, so you can experience this EXACTLY as I did (though you'll just have to imagine the hot doggy breath blowing against your cheek). That's actually my pillow under that dog's head, and though you can't see it, the blankets are pulled up neatly over his shoulders.

After spending the whole night trying to wake me by poking his tongue into my nostrils, Chickens seems to know that only lethal levels of adorableness will save his life.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cheering up

I was feeling blue today, so in an attempt to shake it off, I went for a run. Here is what I saw:

- A display of autumn leaves so spectacular it took my breath away. In the middle of a green grove of trees stood one that had dropped a blanket of impossibly bright yellow leaves. It was as though a 100-gallon drum of yellow paint had spilled all over the ground. I stopped running to stare, and it was hard to believe my eyes.

- A man with a toddler in his arms, spinning around and around in a tire swing, their heads thrown back in laughter. He stopped when he heard someone coming. I wish he wouldn't have.

- A new skate facility with boys on tiny bikes and skateboards doing crazy circus tricks in the air.

- A surprise addition to a nearby park: an almost-finished fenced-in dog park with a separate area for small dogs, doggy drinking fountains, benches and trees.

- A rainbow across the stormy sky, the giant half-circle kind where you can see all seven colors.

I feel better now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My baby is a centerfold


All I can say about the above picture is, it's a good thing Chickens rarely flips through magazines. Because if he saw this he'd be totally pissed.

This month San Jose Magazine published a fun spread featuring local celebrities and their pets, and Chickenbone and his dad were invited to a photo shoot at the Fairmont in downtown San Jose. Now, anyone who has ever met Chickens in person, and perhaps even frequent readers of this web site, will take one look and know this photograph definitely does NOT capture his handsome side. I mean, look at that lolling tongue! Those goofy eyes! The ears pasted to the back of his head!

But still, I totally know this face -- this is the face of a dog whose wee little mind is being blown to bits by a bunch of new people paying attention to him. New smells and noises, new furniture to jump on and carpet to sprint across. This is a face that is going "YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!" Whereas the face I usually see when there's a camera around is "Please stop it with all of the clicking and the flashing, as some of us are trying to get some goddamn sleep."

Friday, October 24, 2008

The saddest dog in the world

This here is a picture of Chickenbone on his first road trip. And as you can see, he's positively thrilled about it.



Seriously, am I the only one who can see those sorrowful little eyebrows? ACTUAL puppy-dog eyes, which bore into my soul every time I turned around to check on him? Pooch, you are KILLING ME.

OK, a little background: This year my husband and I are going to spend Christmas with my family in New Mexico. And while we like PetSmart and how they serve dishes of doggie ice cream to "hotel" guests, I hate how the animals are forced to pee and poop in their cage. I know it gets cleaned up right away, but I also know dogs don't enjoy going to the bathroom where they also sleep and eat. CALL THEM CRAZY. Plus, they don't even get to go outside! Not one time! So rather than make Chickens go through that for five days (five days during CHRISTMAS for heaven's sake) we figured we'd just toss him into the back seat and take him along.

To prepare him for four full days in the car, we took a warm-up lap in September, an hourlong drive to Fort Funston in San Francisco (that's when I took the picture above). And last weekend we tried a four-hour trip to Santa Barbara. The verdict? Chickens and road trips are not exactly getting along.

I mean, it's not like he doesn't love the car. Car rides are his favorite. Trouble is, he likes to spend them staring gleefully out the window, with his back paws digging into my legs, front paws digging into my boobs, and his panting wet doggy lips two inches from my face. So for these trips, we put him in his crate, which gets him off my lap and will keep him from blasting through the windshield like a baseball if we're in an accident.

But in the crate, he is a very unhappy little guy. And he doesn't even have the spirit to get mad about it, which breaks my heart. He just becomes this quivering, mewling mess. He whines and weeps - there were ACTUAL TEARS! - and refuses to lay down and go to sleep. Also, you know how normal dogs often sit with their butts on the ground and their front legs extended? The "sit" position? Well, Chickens never sits like this at home, I think because of his weirdly-shaped torso and short toothpick legs. But on this trip, he sat up almost the entire time. He simply could not relax.

I'm not sure what we'll do now, I guess keep practicing and trying to get him comfortable with being back there. If we haven't figured it out by December, I suppose I could drug him. Seemed to work OK on Saturday, when he wouldn't stop barking at our favorite State Street pub. After I fed him a couple of scotch-covered ice cubes, he crawled inside my sweatshirt and went right to sleep. He also had a good time at the bed and breakfast, where we stayed in a cottage that had a fenced-in private courtyard. There were lots of gorgeous plants, flowers and bushes, as well as an enormous gnarled peppercorn tree, just like the one in our back yard. Here's Chickens meditating in the sun after his petrifying car ride:


And here he snoozing in the cottage. You can't see from the photo, but right next to that bed are his little doggie steps, which we brought so he can get up and down as he pleases. That's also his favorite blue blanket, and the little half-chewed rawhide burrito he likes to nibble on at night. So, see, Chickens? WE'RE NOT TERRIBLE PARENTS! So please stop looking at me like that!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

When the mind wanders at meetings

OK, get ready, you guys. Because you will never in your life hear a better idea than this.

So are you ever grossed out by greasy lipstick stains all over women's Starbucks lids? Like, uh, could you please stop frenching your latte? And it's not just other people -- I don't even want to drink my OWN beverage after I see my big ol' lip prints smeared all over the lid. It seems so unsanitary. So "not to alarm you, but there was just a human mouth here."

Well, Starbucks, why don't you just make PINK AND RED LIDS! That way women can slurp to their heart's content without being icked out. And people who aren't paying attention because it is their sixth meeting in five hours won't have to sit there staring at your waxy, germy mouthprint.

p.s. Ooh, special disease bonus! Do pink in October (breast cancer) and red in December (AIDS/HIV) and you'll "raise awareness" AND make the world a less unsightly place!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why more dudes should write cookbooks

These two recipes were given to me by male friends - one is in the middle of a bond-measure campaign, and the other only gets invited to parties if he swears to bring this dish. After the chuckles, make the food. Both dishes are certifiably to die for. 

p.s. Don't even THINK of wincing at the vegan thing, because goddammit, I'm from New Mexico. If I say this is good posole, it is.

Cee Dub’s Vegan Posole
(serves six, or one for a few settings, or two big dudes)

*2 cans of Juanita’s Mexican style white hominy, 29 oz.each
*2 cans diced green chilies, 4 oz. each
*Fake pork or similar – enough of your favorite. I tend to use around half as much meat as I use hominy, or thereabouts. Worthington’s “tasty bites” or veggies steaks are good, St. Yves shredded turkey is great, or simmer a big brick of tofu, chopped, in your favorite Mexican spices.
*Four or five cups of water
*Two or three veggie bullion cubes, or a dollop of “Better than Bullion” (my fave)
*Four or five cloves of fresh garlic, chopped
*One peeled and finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
*One glass of chardonnay (not optional)
*At least one tablespoon of New Mexican chile powder (Hatch, Nambe, Dixon, Chamayo if you can get it; www.thechileshop.com)
*Plenty of ground cumin, Mexican oregano – maybe half a tablespoon of each
*Half of one bunch of fresh cilantro, washed and chopped

In a large pot, cook the onion and chopped meat in a little oil until the onion is soft and the meat is browned a bit. Toss in the garlic for four minutes and six seconds.

In a large election, cast one (1) vote in favor of Measure A. Quickly add the resulting revenue to the construction of one (1) large hospital (public).

Add everything else into the big pot. Stir it up, little darling, cover and simmer low for 30 minutes.

Drink the glass of chardonnay.

After 30 minutes, examine. It should have enough liquid to be stew-like, but not quite soup-like. Add h20 if you need, remove the lid for 20 more minutes if you need. Taste it. Need more chile? Sure you do! More garlic? Why the hell not? Depending on the meat you used and the amount of bullion you spooned in, you may want salt. Add more chile too; this isn’t Quiet Riot.

Simmer some more, 30 minutes additional at least. Did you save any of that cilantro? Just before serving in small bowls, cool people sprinkle some on top and stir it in. Other cool people say they top with chopped purple cabbage, which sounds good though I’ve never done it. Serve with Sonny Rollins’s “The Bridge” or Burning Spear’s “Dry and Heavy”.

Kevin's Taters

CHOP THIS SHIT:
* You want about one supermarket plastic bag full (the kind you get from the roller in the produce aisle) of potatoes. I prefer the smaller yellow yukon potatoes over your typical brown baking potato. They take longer to cook, but have better flavor. Yeah, some real motha-fuckin' gourmet advice here! Also, you don't have to peel those potatoes if you don't want.
* Two yellow onions, medium to big.
* One of each: red pepper, yellow or orange pepper, green pepper
* New addition: one shallot. I keep hearing how much flavor they add. So, fuck it, give it a try. Might be a little too onion-y, so, use at your discretion.
* Two jalapeno peppers. Dice those fuckers up good and fine, and keep the seeds for heat. If you go the habanero route, just slice one and leave it sitting in the taters, so you can pull it out whole. I've never tried dicing one. It might kill someone.


PUT THE SHIT TOGETHER:
You need three pieces of aluminum foil. Lay them out like a flower, so you have three layers in the middle, and a fan all around.

Put the potatoes in first. Salt, pepper (tons), cayenne (just a bit, don't overdo it) and crushed red pepper (i love this shit). You want the taters to have a nice seasoning to them.

Add everything else in, and mix with your dirty, just-scratched-myself hands.

Cut two or three sticks of butter into halves, and spread them in the mixture, generally toward the top (so the butter melts onto everything below. Mmmm...).

Begin pulling up the leaves of your aluminum foil flower. Try not to spill, but make it as tight as possible. Add another two pieces of really long foil to tighten up the corners. DON'T RIP THE FOIL, DOUCHEBAG! THE BUTTER WILL LEAK OUT!

* Added bonus: Crisp up a shitload of bacon, and dice it. Add if you want to die.

Throw it on a hot-ass grill, but don't leave it over high heat for too long, or the bottom will burn. If you've got the gas grill, leave one side on high, the other on low, and put the taters over low once the sizzling begins.

After 40 minutes or so, begin burning your precious little fingers by opening the foil into a giant bowl. Start pulling taters out to taste their texture. Keep cooking them until you're happy with the texture. Could take 10 more minutes, could take 30. You never know.

Sprinkle on a shitload of cheese.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy birthday to me

In honor of the big three-two, my top childhood birthday memories:

1980, Age 4 - I'm on a huge Smurfs kick, so mom tells me she's going to order a Smurfette cake for my birthday party. Only she must not have spent a year of Saturday mornings with her butt planted two feet from the TV screen like I did. At the party, she gathers all the kids around the cake box and proudly lifts the lid. I gasp in horror. "Mom, what IS that?!" She looks puzzled. "What do you mean? THAT'S Smurfette!" Um, no, mom. ALL smurfs are blue. Not pink. Not even girl smurfs.

1982, Age 6 - While sitting in my desk doing schoolwork on a warm, sunny afternoon, I hear a faint thumping sound of music in the hallway. The music got louder as it grew closer, and then all of a sudden, Miss Piggy appears in the doorway of our classroom. THE Miss Piggy, with bouncing blonde curls, a boombox on her shoulder, and a clump of brightly colored balloons. She walks up to me, and I nearly wet my pants. First she leads the class in singing "Happy Birthday" to me, and then she produces a box of chocolates, which I get to hand out to all my classmates. As I walk home from school proudly holding my balloons, I see my mom, who surprised me by meeting me halfway down the block. I am so overcome with happiness that as I run toward her, I burst into tears.

1986, Age 10 - In the middle of the night I am awakened by rustling noises in my bedroom, along with some "shits" and "goddamns." I lift my head up and see two figures huddled at the foot of my bed. It's mom and dad, trying to set up my a new stereo so that I'll be surprised when I wake up the next morning. I pretend to go back to sleep, but I'm too excited and my heart is pounding. I listened to the whole thing. The next day I unwrap my first two cassette tapes: Janet Jackson's "Control" and Johnny Cash's "Man in Black," both of which I had specifically requested. Within a week, I had memorized every single word of "Nasty" and "A Boy Named Sue." That's right, folks - even back THEN I was this cool.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

School days

In honor of the work-work-work mentality that appears to have stolen away all my blogging time, I offer you three random tidbits about my new career in a high school:

1. Overheard at an assembly this week:

Teacher, to students: "Grass monkey? I mean, what the heck IS that? Whoever heard of a grass monkey?!"
Student: "No, it's BRASS monkey."
Teacher: "Really? Aw, geez. Well, uh ... guess I'm old."
Student, drawing heavy sigh: "Uh, yeah, it's from the EIGHTIES."

2. Hanging in the cafeteria above the microwave is a sign that reads "Do not use a napkin when heating cookie. We can catch a fire!" Every time I see it, I envision this little cartoon flame with arms and legs and a worried look on his face racing down a street, with an angry mob of high school girls chasing after him.

3. My school is Catholic, but I'm not, so I don't partake in communion during Mass. But I'm starting to feel somewhat obsessed about those little white wafers. Are they crisp, like saltines? Or more crumbly, like a Ritz? Maybe they're gummy and bland, or maybe they're seasoned and tasty? The aspiring foodie in me is dying to know.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Uncredited appearance


That right there on the TV, my friends, is your good buddy Chickenbone Jones. Nestled in the arms of some hot babe, because where else would you find a television star who was completely naked except for his fake-diamond-studded collar?

This was filmed back when Kathy Griffin and a camera crew from her reality show "My Life on the D-List" appeared at the Humane Society Silicon Valley's Fur Ball fundraiser. I tried to dodge the mob because I was sweaty, rumpled and covered in dog hair, but evidently the cameras couldn't resist getting a shot of our beastly little cur. Don't be fooled by that wide-eyed-angel gaze up there – last year at this party he growled at a three-legged dog, and this year he lunged at a dog with one eye. Yep, we got ourselves a real little philanthropist here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Let's catch up

There is so, so much going on lately. I mean, if you could read all the blog posts I've composed in my head the past couple of weeks, you'd wet your pants from laughing. They were HILARIOUS. Oh, and the photographs! OK, well, those actually do exist. Only they're inside my new BlackBerry, and evidently I'm not smart enough to figure out how to get them out of the BlackBerry and into my computer. And the "instruction manual" that came with it? Please. I got a more informative booklet with the four-button walkman-on-a-neckstrap I got when I was 10. For the first week I despised this thing. But I worked at it, tried to stay patient, and now I have settled into more of a mild disgust. Hoping that when I get it linked up to actual useful things, like Outlook e-mail and schedule at work, we'll live happily ever after.

But the pictures. So first off, I have some shots of Princess Leia hugging my husband. THE Princess Leia, who was at the San Jose Rep doing a one-woman show written by some broad named Carrie Fisher. She showed up at a pre-show reception and went around to all the tables saying hi to everyone. I thought she looked beautiful, though I was a little WTF? on her eye makeup. Royal blue eyeliner, bright and thick, sprinkled with glitter the size of diamonds. Later I realized that she isn't quite as freaky as all that, it was just stage makeup. I also realized this woman has created for herself a job where she sits around on stage in pajamas, telling stories and smoking cigarettes. So if she wanted diamonds in her eyes, she could probably make it happen.

I also have pictures from the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which I attended for the first time despite the fact that I have lived in the Bay Area for six years. To all of you who told me this is a stupid hillbilly event that isn't worth the drive or the effort, well, I would like to introduce you to my new best friend, crab fries. CRAB FRIES, YOU GUYS. Crunchy, golden, beer-battered garlic fries, topped with creamy aioli and a heap of shredded dungeness crab. I began to slobber just typing that sentence.

OK, I must interrupt myself and say that just now I went to Yelp to see if other people liked these greasy little babies, and yikes! People hated this festival?! I really can't understand that. The biggest complaints seem to be the heat (because Gilroy in July is normally so pleasant, right?); the traffic (one einstein whines about "bad traffic planning by the organizers;" mm-hmm, because there's so much with Highway 101 you can get creative with!); and the food (CRABFRIES-CRABFRIES-CRABFRIES.) Someone even complained about a lack of beer! I just don't know what is wrong in people's heads sometimes. The beer was icy cold and plentiful. The food was outstanding. In addition to the crab fries, we really enjoyed the buttery shrimp scampi with garlic bread, and the garlic sausage sandwich. We also tried the garlic ice cream, and Yelpers, I'll give you that one. Eww.

I wasn't the only one who didn't care for garlic ice cream. Emily West, an up-and-coming country music artist and also my very good pal, didn't like them, either. Emily was at the festival primarily to the hell out of a song called "Rocks in Your Shoes," which is her first Top 40 hit and a song I'm crazy about. It was so awesome to hear it live. And I'm telling you, this woman is adorable (if you can manage to be adorable while also being a 6-foot-tall blonde bombshell.)

At the end of her set (after she tried garlic ice cream onstage and declared it to be "awful") she came out to sign autographs. Now, normally I stay far away from celebrities of any kind. I love to gawk at them, but I don't want to talk to them because I know I'd say something stupid. Like "You are cool" or "I love you." But for some reason I had a little burst of courage with Emily, maybe because she toughed it out for our small crowd, in dust and wind and cruel heat. I liked her sense of humor. At one point she casually dropped some remark about her tour bus, and then she chuckled and whispered into the microphone, "Yeah, I don't have a tour bus." She also used her cell phone to take pictures of the crowd and some some self-portraits of her and her guitarist, the only other person on stage. Then she asked us to please become her MySpace friend. Awww-WUH!

So I got in line and when it was my turn to meet her, I told her that I really appreciated her coming all the way out to Gilroy. Then I said her song kicks so much ass. She laughed at that, and as I walked away I looked down at what she wrote on my program. "To Amy: You kick ass. Emily West." Emily, you are cool.

Finally, since we seem to have a bit of a celebrity theme going on in this post, I may as well tell you that someone you all know (hint: IT'S CHICKENBONE JONES!) attended a photo shoot with his dad this week. San Jose Magazine is doing a feature for their October edition about local celebrities and their pets. The photographer said Chickens was the most "energetic" dog they saw that day, which was probably putting it kindly, since Sal said he was sprinting around and around the hotel suite and wouldn't sit still because he was too busy trying to kiss everyone. On the plus side, he did not pee on any people or furnishings. Really, that should be their headline.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

NOOO! STOP IT WITH THE TOE STORIES!

So there are two stone steps leading up from my back yard to the patio, and yesterday afternoon I was walking up them while wearing flip-flops. And I tripped.

On my way down, in addition to banging knees and elbows and face on the cement, I sliced open the tippy-tip of my right big toe. The same toe that has, on its wrinkly exposed nail bed, half a new toenail. Which replaced the old purple toenail, which still had a black drill-hole from where the blood had to be drained after I dropped a 25-pound weight on it. The fall practically scraped the tip clean off in an almost perfect circle, though at the moment it is hanging on by a thread.

God, this thing is mutilated. Is it possible that my toe is cursed?! I am pretty sure that's exactly what is going on, and that it had nothing to do with the margaritas I was enjoying at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

There ain't no bugs in me!

Dear county health clinic,

You owe me tears. Lots and lots of tears.

Love,
Amy


Let's begin with the news: I don't have tuberculosis. Despite what I was told a few months ago, my body is perfectly free of deadly and infectious bacteria, and I have a stamped, signed immunization record to prove it.

See, I spent a lot of time thinking this through during my month between jobs, and I realized there's no way I could take that scary medication unless I honestly believed it would help me. I learned this lesson the hard way, with the whole lumbar-puncture extravaganza. Every fiber of my being knew that procedure was totally unnecessary. I knew I had food poisoning, not spinal meningitis. But I let that cranky ER doctor talk me into it, much to my great suffering and remorse. So with this TB problem, I was feeling really stubborn about just doing what I was told. Packing my body with crazy drugs. Risking damage to my organs, rearranging my life plans. NINE MONTHS WITHOUT VODKA.

Not helping matters was how the results of my test were determined with a ball-point pen. A ball-point freaking pen! OK, so in a TB test, they inject a little bit of something under your skin. Two days later, if your skin is all angry and red about it, that's bad. Well, my injection site ended up looking like a mosquito bite. So this doctor yanks a pen out of the desk drawer, draws four sloppy little marks on my skin and measures the distance between them. She explained that 10 or below is normal, 11-15 is questionable, and 16 or higher means you're toast. Well, I was an 11, and so I failed. According to the OFFICE SUPPLY.

Now, this won't be a very smooth segue, but try to go with it. Every now and then for as long as I can remember, I wake up in the middle of the night and see giant spiders dropping down from the ceiling onto my face. Spiders the size of your hands. I shriek and scramble off the bed (in a careful, horizontal fashion, so my face doesn't bang into the spiders) and cower in the corner of the room until the lights come on and I begin to wake up. It's sort of an interesting sleepwalk/nightmare combo. Well, I had one of these episodes Monday night, and I leaped out of bed in such an awkward manner that I aggravated the tendinitis in my right wrist. I've been dealing with this nagging pain for more than a year but never got it checked out because (a) despite what you might believe by reading this blog, I don't ACTIVELY seek out reasons to need medical care, and (b) it was usually just a mild annoyance. But when I was escaping the spider attack Monday night, something got really inflamed and the next day I could barely move my wrist. So I made an appointment with my doctor, and after we dealt with the wrist thing, I say, "Oh, and by the way. This TB thing. I kind of want another test, because I don't really trust that broad at the county clinic. That OK with you?" Sure thing. Five minutes later a nurse injects my arm, and then I leave.

And for the next 48 hours, my eyeballs are glued to the injection site, where there is no bump.

NO BUMP.

NOBUMP!NOBUMP!NOBUMP!

I practically bounded into his office today to get the test site checked. My doctor was as shocked as I was. Took one look at my arm and said, "Um, you don't have tuberculosis." I KNOW! I SO TOTALLY DO NOT HAVE TUBERCULOSIS! But I ask him, if the first one was positive, and this one was negative, how do we know which one was wrong? Do we need to do some sort of tuberculosis tiebreaker test? But he said that if I had the bacteria, there's no way it can "hide" from this test, so the first one has to be wrong. He thinks maybe the first doctor gave me too much of the chemical, or administered it improperly or in a bad site. I suspect recycled drug needles, but whatever, it doesn't matter now. What matters is this: Don't be cheap. I went to the county health clinic instead of my own doctor because I thought it would save me some money. Instead, for the bargain price of $20, I got myself bills for a chest X-ray and two or three additional office visits, plus some serious panic and anguish. The crazy part is that it feels SO good to be free of a disease I never had to begin with, I couldn't care about that stuff if I tried.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

So then we got arrested at this cockfight and...

No, just kidding. Cancun talk is over, at least until the next auction.

Started the new job last week, and so far it's going great, although there is a learning curve. For one thing, I learned that at a Catholic high school? If you see a "Sr." in front of someone's name, it does not mean "Señor." This notation perplexed me for two full days. I was like, "Man, how weird that a private girls school owes it all to a bunch of important Hispanic males?!?"

My new responsibilities have a whole lot in common with my old ones, in that I'll be doing a lot of writing, editing and organizing. Beyond that, well, it's a very happy place, and that's nothing like the newspaper, where layoffs have taken such a toll on the staff and readers. The proud and optimistic atmosphere of a school now feels almost unbelievable. When I arrived on my first day, the maintenance guys were still installing stuff in my office so I strolled around the campus and tried to get my bearings. I wandered past a beautiful blue swimming pool filled with splashing, laughing kids. Walked through the gym and admired the championship banners hanging on the walls as sunbeams streamed down onto the court. Then I stumble into a theater by following the voices of about 30 teenagers belting out, "The sun'll come ouuuuuut ... tomorrowwwww!" I practically suffocated myself on all that joy. (Man, I hate sounding like so wide-eyed and corny right now. But I spent 10 years in journalism, and even back in the good times, newsrooms were rough around the edges. Plus, I was usually in a sports department, which ain't exactly all cupcakes and balloons, you know? So you'll forgive a little wonderment at this strange foreign object that seems very much like a happy workplace.)

Now I have to go before I'm late for my nine-toenail pedicure. (Oh, I forgot to mention that. The seawater in Mexico was exactly what my big toe needed to finally let go of that disgusting purple nail. I made my husband take pictures for the blog -- and, boy, was he ever grateful for that opportunity -- but I'm so grossed out I don't think I can stare at that photo long enough to post it. But the good news is, there's a wee little toenail growing in its place. Come on, little guy! Come on outta there!)

Up next: How imaginary spiders helped me in my war against tuberculosis!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mexico: A postscript

Finally finished a slide show of photos from the trip. It's about seven minutes long, but the music is lovely! (Also, it was taking way too long to photoshop them out, so please just disregard the sunscreen-induced oil slicks on my face.)


Cancun 2008 from Amy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mexico, part 4: El fin de la semana


Good lord, is that the sun out there?! (What, someone having a little fun with a freshly-plucked Mayan heart?)

DAY 5:
After a morning spent in lounge chairs under a palapa on our private beach (read, doze, swim, doze, read, swim, doze ... bliss) we head out for a taste of this famed Cancun nightlife we keep hearing about. Only when we get to the club zone, we find that all of the really famous places require some sort of outrageous cover charge, some of which include an "open bar." But having been around this block a time or two (god, it's good to be in your 30s) we know those places will be filled with long lines of obnoxious kids and shitty booze. So we opt for a place called Terraza, an open-air cantina with good music and top-notch people-watching.

After an hour or so, this short, fat white dude comes up to us with a plastic bottle of red liquid. He is wearing a sombrero and a very large, very fake moustache, and he looks like he really hates his job. He grumpily offers to pour us a shot, which we decline. Half-hour later, a perky little senorita comes up with her red bottle. (This time, I notice "sex on the beach" written in sharpie on the masking tape around the bottle. Classy!) We say no again, but she is darned convincing. And by that I mean she poured a shot, tilted Sal's head back, and forced it down his throat. And then a second shot. Cackling wildly, she puts the glass down, places her hands on Sal's head and wobbles it around, and then she grabs his chest. And before I know it, she's attacking me! One shot, two shot, head shake, BOOBS! Both of her hands, grabbin' BOTH my boobs, and giving them a nice, firm jiggle! I do not stop giggling for a full 30 minutes.

Then it was onto Margaritaville for food, drink, and dancing to country music and rock 'n' roll. We stay out VERY LATE. Like, after midnight even.

DAY 6:
Those moonshi-- er, I mean "sex on the beach" shots might not have been the wisest call the night before our sea adventure. But hangovers are nothing a little salsa verde and omelets can't cure. (I mean, this is practically WHY Mexican food was invented!)

Today's tour consists of a half-hour journey to a sweet snorkeling spot, an hour in the water, then a half-hour back, and every couple gets their own little speedboat to drive. Let me assure you that driving a speedboat is petrifying. OK, so are you good at those race-car arcade games? Because I suck at them. I'm that driver who makes her way around the track (one whole time, if I'm lucky) by crashing into one rail, overcorrecting and crashing into the other, overcorrecting again and ... you see what I mean. Well, that's kind of what driving this boat is like, only a jumpy touch with the wheel is actually how you stay alive. Even if you keep the wheel straight as can be, the water is constantly wobbling you, so you have to be vigilant about balance and speed, which frankly are not my top talents, you know?




I never quite relax my white-knuckled grip on the wheel, but I do eventually get the hang of it. We careen through the big lagoon and tall tangles of mangroves, and we even spent a few minutes on the wide-open ocean. When we get to the snorkeling area, we tumble out of the boats and float around with about two bazillion fish. Plus brain coral and crabs and tall furry purple tentacles sticking up from the reef, like underwater cattails. It almost feels like flying, because you can see all the way to the ground and rock formations down there, and you just float right over them!

We complete this home run of a vacation day with dinner at the Ritz-Carlton's Club Grill. Now, as an aspiring foodie, I've had plenty of fine-dining experiences and more than my fair share of top-notch service. But this place, it blows the mind. They sprinkle rose petals on our table. Place my purse atop a tiny stool at my feet. Ten seconds after I part the curtain shears with my hand to see the view, our waiter is there tying them back so we could see everything. He even apologized that there wasn't a full ocean view. Yeah, dude! Like, why does your place suck so much?!

I don't even know what to say about the food, except that it was so wonderful we could barely speak. If you are a food dork like me and you read menus and cookbooks like they are actual literature, you will dig this:
  • We like to begin grand meals like this with champagne, and to our delight the chef also sends an amuse bouche of tuna carpaccio with capers and caviar.
  • Appetizer of foie gras and caramelized apple on toasted brioche, drizzled in Mexican chocolate oil.
  • Next Sal has the lobster soup with cream sauce, and I enjoy a mesclun salad with three pear textures (I believe they were caramelized, poached, and pureed in the dressing) with a lump of creamy goat cheese.
  • With this course we are also presented with a selection of warmed bread on a silver tray, and we tried three: apricot, rosemary-garlic and potato. Goat cheese butter and blue cheese butter are options, in addition to the regular stuff.
  • For his entree, Sal chose roasted duck with tequila honey sauce. There are four tender medallions placed atop sweet potato puree, plus a little drumstick planted into a tangle of caramelized onions. For me, roasted Chilean sea bass on a bed of paella, next to shrimps topped with garlic foam.
  • Grand Marnier souffle for dessert, with french press coffee and tiny fresh biscotti.
Friends, it was a meal for the ages. As we leave, our waiter presses into my hand a tiny blue box containing a housemade truffle, and then I seriously hug him. Hard.

DAY 7:
There's one final item on my wish list, and that is to eat someplace truly authentic. Someplace locals go. Deep in our tour guide, there are two lines devoted to a little place "off the beaten path," and if you want to go there, tell the bus driver and he'll drop you off near a "sandy path" that will take you to the restaurant. But we don't need a bus, right, because on the map, this place is next to a bridge that is just like two inches from our hotel! Imagine the luck!

But two inches = two miles, and the walk is grueling, in searing midday heat with no shade. Our clothes are drenched and stuck to our bodies as we plod along silently (OK, one of us was silent; sorry, hon!) for a good 45 minutes. The bottoms of my shoes grow smooshy because of the hot pavement. But finally after walking past lots of little guys like this...


... we get to the sandy path! Which leads to a short, nameless road, and after passing this sign...


... and crossing this bridge...


... we arrive at this secret jungle oasis!




There under the trees is a rustic little beachside restaurant, with a few plastic tables beneath some palapas. It's a bit shabby, with cases of empty beer bottles stacked under the counter and up against the walls of the tiny kitchen shack, but there's a cool breeze, lively music and great views of the mangroves and water. Tied to a pier are small blue rowboats they use to catch fish every morning, and we devour the fruits of those labors with fish tacos and shrimp quesadillas while we watch Mexican kids splashing around in the water. A perfect lunch that isn't even ruined by the scary bathroom with no toilet paper and seven or eight wasp nests affixed to the ceiling.

For our last evening in Cancun, we head back to the nightclub zone, buy some souvenirs, then settle in for drinks and dinner at the very cool (though poorly named) outdoor cantina Mextreme. Here we realize we can't be losers who went to Mexico and never once did a shot of tequila. Our amigo behind the bar helped us out with that. And we proved without a shred of doubt that drinking top-shelf tequila actually IMPROVES your Spanish language skills.


And now, friends, I've turned the last page of scribbles and lists in my travel journal, so we must be at the end. If you read all of this, and especially if you enjoyed it, someday you and I will do a nice shot of tequila, too.

Mexico, part 3: The deep end

Now comes the part where not only are there beers at breakfast, lunch and dinner -- now we're actually drinking them IN A MOVING VEHICLE!

DAY 4:
Who doesn't love a nice Mayan ruin? We sign up for a daylong excursion to Chichén Itzá, a large pre-Columbian archaeological site a couple hours from Cancun. The concierge tells us the trip includes lunch, plus "a sticky bun" for breakfast on the bus drive there. Because it wasn't even 10 a.m. when we left, we are surprised when this sticky bun is accompanied by cold Corona, poured into plastic cups and refilled with a smile as often as you please.


The drive to the site is fascinating. Always something to look at out the windows. Beautiful old thatch huts sit strangely alone in the middle of nowhere. Dark smoke rises from a couple of fires burning on the side of the road. We see log lean-tos, burned-out cars, women scrubbing laundry in buckets, stern-looking federales with machine guns, pigs and cows, and lots and lots of crosses and colorful virgin statues. My favorite part was an neat old village called Valladolid, which seemed like our most authentic glimpse of Mexico. I took these pictures from my seat on the bus:






Before we arrive at the ruins, we stop to visit a cenote, a natural underground pool. Much is made of Yucatán cenotes in brochures and tourist guides, but to me they seem a bit gross. In photos the water looks thick and green, almost putrid. Our concierge had suggested that we wear bathing suits in case we wanted to swim in the cenote, but I had pretty much decided that was not going to happen.

But when we arrive at the Ik Kil Eco-archaeological Park, I'm surprised that the cenote looks much prettier in real life. Very deep blue, and so clear you could see hundreds of fish darting around in the water. There's a big hole in the ceiling, so sunlight pours into the cave, and waterfalls stream down into the pool.


Turns out most folks are like me and have no intention of leaping into this thing. A tightly packed crowd of tourists watches from the ledge above while just a handful of people splash around in the water. But a very unusual thing happens as I stare down at the pool: I begin to feel a tiny bit brave. I wonder, just how cool WOULD it be if I could say I actually did this? Like, a little bit cool? Perhaps even a whole lot cool? And before I know it, I'm shucking off my clothes, shakily handing Sal my backpack, and then I'm standing on the ledge with all these jostling, noisy tourists and clicking cameras behind me. My heart is pounding.

The most difficult part is that there's no wading into a cenote. Can't even dip a toe, because the ledge is a good 6 or 8 feet above the water. The pool is 130 feet deep, so there's no easing your way in, no putting your feet down if you get tired. Basically, it's ALL the deep end.

So I push out of my mind thoughts of all those wiggly fish, and of how I will most definitely die today. And I leap. I close my eyes, pinch my nose, and cannonball myself down into the water. Don't know how deep I sink, but it's far enough that I'm in total darkness. As I kick my legs a faint cloud of light begins to appear above me, and it grows bigger and bigger, and then I'm at the surface. My pulse races as I float on my back and see the blue sky, and the vines coming down from the hole in the ceiling. I watch those tourists up on the ledge snap pictures, and water from the ceiling rains down on my face. It was THE BEST.


For about 90 seconds. Because then I paddle myself over to the rickety old wooden ladder and climb out. I jump in one more time, for good measure, and then I head for the showers and lunch, where we toast my bad-assness with mas cervezas.

Next it was on to the ruins, where we hear about Mayan human-sacrifice rituals. For instance, to please the sun god, the victim is laid atop a pyramid, arms and legs held down, while an executioner carves out the living heart and raises it to the sky. Then the corpse is rolled down the steps flayed, its bloody skin worn by a dancing priest. Gah!

The most impressive structure is El Castillo, a step pyramid with 91 steps on four sides. They don't let you climb it anymore because a few years ago someone fell off and died. But it's easier to marvel at the structure and imagine 11th-century living without a bunch of dumb sweaty tourists climbing all over it. The park also contains many beautiful carved stones and columns, temples, a ball court and another cenote. Only this one is where they used to dump chopped-off Mayan heads and stuff. We skip the swimming.

Time to go home, so we return to the bus and cool off with chilled wet washcloths and an open bar. "The Bucket List" plays on the TV while we try not to doze off.

The happy adventurers:



Monday, June 23, 2008

Mexico, part 2: Warming up

So having cracked open a fresh bottle of Sol (purchased last night at Mexican grocery store down the street) at 1 p.m. on a weekday afternoon, I now feel equipped to begin recapping the best of seven days and nights in lovely Mexico.


DAY ONE:
Gloomy, overcast weather welcomes us to Cancun. We also find out our hotel room doesn't have a balcony, and even more unthinkable, it has two double beds instead of a king. So we make arrangements to move into the Royal Beach Club, the VIP wing of the resort, where for the mere price of $60 more per day, we can enjoy a lavish daily breakfast buffet and happy hour with hors d'oeuvres. Oh, and a balcony, ocean view, king-sized bed, free gym access, and a private beach and pool area. We spend the next six days patting ourselves on the back.

DAY TWO:
Wanting to start out with something "easy," we board one of the teeth-rattling buses that zoom through the hotel zone and head downtown, where locals hang. Bus stops aren't marked, though, so naturally we get off too soon and must set off on foot toward the flea market. We survive three blocks of blistering heat before seeking shade at a dilapidated open-air restaurant with plastic tables and a Mexican soap opera blaring on the TV. But my lord, a cold beer never tasted so good. The bottles dripped chilly water all over our legs, and it wasn't the last time I'd appreciate this heat relief.


We head out again in search of food, ending up at a nice little cantina for more beers, steak tacos with housemade guacamole, and papas bravas drenched in a spicy red sauce. After lunch, I have my first (but, sadly, not last) unfortunate encounter with Mexican bathrooms.

First of all, many toilets here don't have seats. You must teeter on the thin porcelain rim, which seems super-icky if you are a girl, you know? So I decide to create a seat cover using toilet paper. I successfully place one strip. But while I'm straightening the second strip, the first one blows into the water. I lunge to grab it, and the second strip blows in, too. That's when I notice an oscillating fan mounted on the ceiling. Eff! So I start over with two new strips, only, a-ha! This time I'll outsmart the fan by holding the strips down with my hand until it goes the other direction, and then I'll whip around and sit down. Except while I wait, I am so still that a motion-sensor shuts off the lights. I panic. Bang the hell out of my shoulder trying to scramble out of the stall with, yes, my shorts around my ankles. Lights come back on. All right, screw the strips. I'll hover. So I assume the position, but fearing that my stillness will turn the lights off again, I begin waving my arms wildly above my head, an exercise I continued for the full three minutes it took for my poor freaked-out bladder to empty. After I tiredly stand up and drop the last wad of toilet paper into the water, I notice a sign that pleads "ABSOLUTELY NO PAPER IN THE TOILET!" I am deeply sorry, Mexico, for dropping like half a roll into that commode. And also for forgetting this rule 7 or 8 million more times.

We finally make it to the Mercado 28 flea market, and were entirely turned off by the high-pressure vendors. They all but drag you into their stores by the ear, and they yell at you if you walk away. Only high point is Sal negotiating a good price on a handsome Panama hat.


DAY THREE:
We take a ferry to Isla Mujeres, an easygoing little island full of colorful streets and friendly locals. It's easily our favorite part of Mexico. We spend most of the afternoon Miguel's Moonlite Bar, a shabby but comfortable tavern where VH1 Classic is playing on two TVs. We are served by Miguel himself, a delightful fellow who helps us practice our Spanish and supplies us with a dish of spicy red peanuts. And let me just say, four hours of laughing and drinking beers with my husband in Mexico, while speakers blare "Raspberry Beret," "Maneater" and "Red, Red Wine," is pretty much my definition of heaven.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mexico, part 1: "Dos Soles, por favor"

While my last post indicated that our summer vacation would look like white sands and blue waters, the truth is, it looked much more like this:


Not that I'm complaining. Gulping down copious amounts of icy Mexican beer is basically the only way to survive that kind of suffocating heat and humidity. And even if you down six bottles in one sitting? You sweat so much you won't get even a tiny buzz. TRUST ME, I TRIED. So I can only imagine that the muchas cervezas were replenishing much-needed bodily fluids, like a bubbly IV drip in a pretty glass bottle. So thank you, Sol beverage manufacturers, for saving my life in Mexico like 30 or 40 times.

So you'll recall that this is the trip I accidentally bought in March 2007. And I'm relieved to report it was worth every cent. It was the kind of vacation that had all the exact right amounts of adventure and terror, of luxury and relaxation.

But you have to get out of the hotel area. Aside from the beach -- which is of course big and breathtaking and everywhere you look -- the long strip of hotels is entirely disenchanting. For the first day and a half, I was like "Really? This is it?!" Our resort was definitely nice, but unlike the strip in Vegas, there's no real incentive (or even a sidewalk, for that matter) to hotel-hop if you want a change of scenery. Once you have visited your hotel's lobby bar, its restaurant, its beachside bar and again the lobby bar, you're kinda over it. So it wasn't until deep into Day 2 when we finally left the hotel zone that we really began to discover Mexico.

Before I get into all that, though, I need to tell you about the food. OK, I am not even making this up, over seven days and 21 meals, there wasn't a single disappointment to be found in the lot. Not one! I mean, you can't even leave town for a WEEKEND in the United States without at least one stinker of a restaurant experience. But on our trip, the worst thing I could complain about was the crab-mushroom dip at Margaritaville that ONLY didn't knock our socks off. It was merely fine. Everything else? Astounding.

I found that the Yucatán's most delicious foods are also the simplest. For instance, have you ever tasted a banana that was so mouthwatering, you actually closed your eyes while savoring it? We discovered these at our hotel's breakfast buffet. They were ugly on the outside, but the flesh was velvety and golden, like tropical candy. And evidently frijoles refritos taste a bit better than the cylindrical brown blob that slides out of a Rosarita Fat-Free Refried Beans can -- I have never had such thrilling beans in my life! Quesadillas on housemade tortillas ooze Mexican cheese and seasoned steak. Guacamole and avocados are so bright green it borders on absurd. Tacos overflow with chunks of fresh white fish, under a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of diced purple onion WHICH I ATE, PEOPLE. (Those who know me well understand that this is monumental, akin to asking a spider if he could please tickle me under the chin.)

The customer service was also astonishing. It didn't matter if you visited the grittiest hole-in-the-wall on the block (we did) or a five-star restaurant (did that, too), the service was the same: courteous, respectful and heartfelt. Servers, bartenders, hotel staff, they all want to know how they can help, how you're doing. And they seem genuinely thrilled when you tell them you're great. They clear dishes immediately, refill waters, bring beers and napkins and snacks, all with a smile. It's not just restaurants, either. Bus drivers pull over to pick you up, even if you're not at an official stop. In flea markets and other commercial areas, vendors sit in sweltering heat until you enter their store, at which point they race around turning on fans. Walk out, and the fans go off. Now, obviously tourism is the biggest thing going in a place like Cancun, so I know these people are just doing their jobs. But so's that gum-smacking broad in the Macy's shoe department, and when was the last time SHE was that helpful or kind?!

Coming next: A day-by-day rundown that will feature yours truly plunging into an underground lake, piloting a speedboat, and getting my boobs grabbed by a Mexican waitress!


Monday, June 9, 2008

Adios

So, if anybody needs me, I'll be here:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Unemployment: So far, so good

Boy, you would think that with ALLLLL this time on my hands, I would have had more time for blogging. But evidently if you take away my desk and my chair and my shackles with chains attached to cannonballs, the last thing I want to do is sit down at the computer. So here I am, with a sincere apology that I made you look at that dumb chihuahua movie trailer for so long. 

So I went to Bakersfield this week to see some girlfriends, one of three trips planned for my big month off. There are a lot of people who think Bakersfield is a worthless armpit of a cowtown, but those people can suck it. I lived there for three years, and in addition to having my very dear friends there, they also have a freaking Sonic, so like, who lives in the armpit now, huh? HUH? They also have my favorite pizza in the whole world, and also? At my favorite restaurant? The walls are covered in framed newspaper stories written by famous and talented journalists, and I HAVE A STORY HANGING ON THAT WALL. A story about the USA rugby team playing an exhibition against England at UCLA. If you ever go look at it, though, you don't really need to read the story too closely. I mean, you could just admire the byline. For instance.

Now I'm back, and I have been to a funeral, attended a meeting at my new school, and half-cleaned my house three times. I have also slept a lot, because not having a job is exhausting. Oh, and I gotta share this ... So, the whole TB thing. I will get into all that more later, because I have a strict rule that tuberculosis talk can wait just a goddamn minute while I go to Cancun. But this is funny. So, after they told me the test result, the helpful folks at the county health clinic thrust a bunch of papers into my hand and sent me on my way. I was sitting alone in my car when I first saw this cheerful diagram, which sent me into hysterics. I shoved it into the pocket of my car door and didn't find it again till just now. I think you will all agree with me when I say, WHAT THE FUCK.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Maybe we can sneak him in?

This movie trailer is causing quite a commotion in the Chickenbone Jones household today. Really, how could you go wrong with lyrics like "We're the real hot dogs, YO, HOLD THE BUN!"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Let's turn this bad boy around

I'm pleased to report that in an effort to make the universe stop being so mean, I have performed three selfless deeds, one of which was petrifying and therefore practically heroic.

First (and least scary) I nominated my friend Robyn's funny blog post for Five Star Friday. If you don't know what Five Star Friday is, that's sad for you. Because it's a collection of highly entertaining blog entries, posted (when? WHEN?) each Friday, and it's great reading if you're a short-timer who must pretend to be working for at least another half-hour before she can leave early in a respectable manner. The founder of Five Star Friday is none other than good ol' Schmutzie.

Then last night, because my husband was tied up in a meeting, I showed up 90 minutes early to Indiana Jones and held our place in the nerd line all by myself. New pet peeve: Dummies who show up to a movie premiere as big as Indy and then gawk and squeal and pretend to be horrified by the long lines. Pipe down and move it along, rookies.

Finally, this morning I spied a large daddy longlegs spider crawling near the baseboard in the kitchen. I might not have noticed if it weren't for Chickenbone trying earnestly to give it a kiss. I quickly grabbed a glass and placed it over the spider, who freaked out and started going that scary huffy-puffy thing daddy longlegs do when they're agitated. It wouldn't crawl into the glass, though, and I was afraid to move around too much for fear of accidentally crushing one of its wee legs. So there I was, squatting for like 10 minutes, tapping the glass, scootching it around, and swatting away the dog who wanted NOTHING MORE IN LIFE than to lick this spider. Eventually I reached over to the counter and grabbed a magazine, worked one of the pages under the rim, and coaxed the spider into the cup. Then I walked (calmly, but veryveryveryquickly) outside and set the lad free.

Turns out that old ladies in parking lots? WAY scarier than spiders.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Not stressed enough. Must have car accident.

So I had a bit of an auto mishap yesterday, which is cool, because lately I just can't get enough of feeling my nerves rattle around inside my skull.

It happened at Trader Joe's, in an area of the parking lot that is very poorly designed. So poorly designed, in fact, that upon parking there I thought, "Gosh, I really shouldn't park here. This spot! It is so poorly designed!"

Trouble is, there's no wiggle room when backing out of this particular row of spaces. So the moment you pooch out even a teeny bit, you are basically in the dead center of oncoming traffic. As I was backing out (slowly, and after having checked my mirrors AND craned my neck around to check both sides) I heard a crunch. There in my rear-view mirror was this older-model black Cherokee. And speaking as the most careful backer-outer you ever met, I can assure you that car was SO NOT THERE BEFORE. I think she was going too fast, and because of two big SUVs shielding my car from her view, neither of us saw the other coming.

The other driver, who looked like she could be somebody's very nice grandma, immediately hopped out of her car, mad as a hornet. She waved her finger at me and yelled that I'd pay for this. Then she hissed "Bitch!" and called 911 on her cell phone. Hmm, overreact much? The damage honestly wasn't bad. There were some scuff marks on the side of her car, while I definitely took the brunt of it, with big scratches and some chipped paint on my rear bumper. Making things even more chaotic, this broad left her vehicle right where it was, blocking all the traffic in that lane. So while she was throwing her tantrum, there was a steadily growing line of cars filled with honking, swearing drivers hollering at her to get out of the way, as the blazing midday sun beat down on everyone. It was AWESOME.

The woman calmed down after a cop came by and said, no, ma'am, there is nothing I can do about this, and also could you please move your shit out of this lane of traffic. After she parked her car, this lady (who kept repeating how she initially "wanted to kill" me) admitted it was a horrible parking lot and that we simply had no way of seeing each other. She called her daughter, who came down and agreed that we should probably just part ways and each take care of our own damage, as opposed to filing insurance claims. And so I went home and fixed myself a cocktail.

Later that afternoon, though, my brother convinced me to alert my insurance company anyhow, even if I don't plan to use my coverage. Because who knows if this woman is going to go home and decide she has whiplash or something. So I did, and poof! Now there is an accident claim, and my insurance company sent me a helpful e-mail saying that everything is most definitely my fault. And just now, the lady's insurance guy called me and wants to know what happened, so obviously my company called her company, and now she probably thinks I am a big, fat double-crosser!

I am having a hard time cheering up from all of this. My trusty "it could be worse" line is currently out of gas. Also, whenever I stop worrying about the car stuff, I revive my worry about the TB stuff. Oh, a neat update there is that the principal at the school where I'll work, who has been there for decades, said I'm just the second person she knows of to test positive for tuberculosis. In decades. WOE IS ME, LITTLE BLOG AUDIENCE. WOE IS ME.

Wait, I know -- maybe I should just quit my job and run off to Mexico! How's June sound? Cancun, you say? A vacation that includes the most patient husband in the world, plus lots and lots of tequila? Swell idea. Consider it done.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Must add blog label called "unfortunate medical updates"

I don't see a way to ease into this comfortably, so, uh, well, evidently I have been infected with tuberculosis. Earlier this week I went to the county clinic (had to get tested for my new job) and they injected a little something under the skin on my left forearm to see if my body would react. This morning I went back for the doctor to "read" the results, which were positive. Or, more accurately, they were a furrowed brow, a tilt of the head, and a "Hmm, this isn't good."

Now, I already went and had lung X-rays that confirm I do not have ACTIVE tuberculosis. So I'm not contagious, I feel fine, and I can still go work at a school. This just means I have been exposed. But, there is dormant bacteria snoozing somewhere in my body, and my doctor is urging me to take a nine-month course of powerful medication to kill it. During those nine months, I can neither drink alcohol nor get pregnant. Which is unfortunate, since in the coming year I was definitely planning on doing at least one of those, if not switching to the other. If you catch my drift. Also, the medication could do serious damage to my nerves or my liver. Fun!

OK, look, I know it could be worse, and lots of people suffer lots of things that, you know, actually make them feel quite ill. But right now I just feel really super pissed off. I have VERY SERIOUS PROBLEMS with the idea of taking my perfectly healthy body and putting it through such suffering for such a long period of time. But my doctor also said that if/when my immune system ever starts to decline, that's when little sleeping TB monsters can wake up and start chomping on my lungs. And if that happens when I'm older, I'm basically screwed, since they don't give this medication to older folks. So that's why I should do the crazy treatment now, when I am -- according to medical standards, at least -- "young."

What I love, though, is how not only can they NOT guarantee that the treatment will work, THEY CAN'T EVEN GUARANTEE I HAVE THE BACTERIA. They just think I PROBABLY do. And that the treatment SHOULD work. And then I was like "So, what if I do the whole treatment, and get through the whole nine months, and then I accidentally walk past someone who coughs the TB germs back in my face? Will I just get it AGAIN?" The doctor nods. In theory, he says, yes. You could. Greeeeeeat. Perfect.

I'm mad. Super mad. And also frightened. I told my aunt, who was all "Stop crying! Don't be upset! We just need to do research! We need to find some answers!" And I'm like, dude, googling "tuberculosis" will SO not get me anywhere. There will only be more confusion, more scary words and scenarios, more questions with no answers. OK, just now I actually did a search on "tuberculosis" to see if I was right, and sure enough I got through about three paragraphs of the wikipedia entry before I squinched my eyes shut, clapped my hands over my ears, and started yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!"

OK, so what to do next. Well, in my family, when things like this happen, we turn to our good friend, the sense of humor. Sal has already started referring to me as "Consumption Junction." And I have decided to make my disease more hip by referring to it as "vintage." Oh, I also made up this joke:

Knock-knock.
(Who's there?)
TB.
(TB who?)
TB OR NOT TB, THAT IS THE QUESTION!

See, things are gonna be just FINE.