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I’ve often heard it said that “there is no such thing as a communist Igbo”, a reference to our intense mercantile culture. Somewhat like stereotype of Lebanese, we’ve tended to structure our very existence around what we can sell, and in this 419 age, sometimes what we can con out of others. Ok, before I get an earful, of course that’s just in reference to a handful of petty thug “areaboy” “yahoozees.”

Sometimes in my disgust for the roaring Supercapitalism that exploded out of Reaganomics, and Clinton’s deregulation of capital markets, I’ve taken comfort in the adage about my birthright to capitalism. They got be the ones fucking it up because my market gods (led by the Goddess Ahiajioku) don’t make no mistakes. And yes, my market gods had about enough, and all you have to to is check the news for the overdue actuarial apocalypse. The derivatives deluge. Head for the arks! Or never mind, it’s not really that bad.

The public radio show Marketplace put out a call for poems with an economic theme for April (so-called “National Poetry Month”). But as April winds up, 6 months deep into the implosion of global capital, the one poem seems painfully obvious. It’s well enough known, but I believe it’s  never been well enough understood.

“Canto XLV” (“With Usura”) — Ezra Pound

Thin Places

By Erika Rae

Memoir

There is a crack underneath my fireplace, where the intake vent meets the hardwood floor. It is too small for most things, but perhaps large enough for a mouse to squeeze through if it is very determined. Tonight, however, something about this crack gets to me. Makes me dizzy. Above, the glow from the fireplace hot on my face; below the crack leading to the depths within my house. Leading perhaps down to the foundation. Maybe beyond.

I wonder what could be down there. Large rodents, maybe. Nick Belardes’ Mothman, probably. I stare at the crack half expecting long, dark fingers to flit through and make a quick probe. Nudge a dust bunny or two on their way to my soul. On their way to finger other thin places in my life.

The sad state of my bank account.

The unpublished books sitting on my bookcase.

The condition of my closet.

How I think my eyebrows would look like Susan Boyle’s, left unchecked.

Like most of the thin places in my life, I am not overly concerned–except for those moments when I am left alone in the dark to ruminate. Moments like these. En momentos así.

Like that time in junior high when I demanded to know why a certain boy was in the girls’ bathroom—only to find out from his own lips that he…was a she.

Like that time I attempted to steal a Coca-Cola bottle and got busted by an angry, French shopkeeper.

Like that time I lied to a friend about something I shouldn’t have.

Like that time I lied to a friend…

These thin places live in parts of me where I don’t have to confront them much. They fit neatly around the curves of my organs where they don’t bother me unless perhaps I lie on them the wrong way or eat something funny. I occasionally mistake them for indigestion or the start of a cold. Medication sometimes helps.

The problem with thin places is that, like all small fissures, there is great potential for the smallest earthquake to break them wide open into something bigger. Something wide and gaping. Something for which the word “maw” could be used. Because of this it sometimes becomes necessary to seek out relatively calm ground—ground which is not prone to bumps and jolts. Avoid amusement park rides and flashing red lights.

Some thin places involve things I didn’t do – but rather things that were done to me, intentionally or otherwise.

The turning away of friends.

Harsh, unjustified words of family in the heat of the moment.

The death of my father.

These types of involuntary fractures wear closer to the surface where I can examine them with more frequency. They exist as a testament to the times I’ve been wronged, and are for some reason easier to face than the times where I’ve done wrong. I can pull them out as a neat distraction from the self-inflicted splits in my being. These are the cracks I feed. The doting on pain cracks. The snacking on cracker cracks. The self-righteous cracks. Not like the other cracks.

But still…cracks.

The orange dance of the flames distracts me and I find myself falling deeper inward, just as I catch a glimpse of those long, Giacometti fingers feeling their way across the floor toward my wool covered toes.

Perhaps a glass of wine would help.

Driving across the country always feels like freedom. Music blasting, singing at the top of your lungs to songs you would never begin to admit you have on your iPod, and single-handedly keeping Starbucks in business as the plains of Eastern Oregon and Idaho blur together out the car window at 105 MPH. A good road trip is never hard to find. Every time I take to the open road, I realize I don’t do it enough. It’s the idea of the unknown, new beginnings, adventure, and of course, my unfounded fear of serial killers that keep my foot firmly planted on that gas pedal.

Stories and media tell us that the Pacific Northwest is the favored stomping ground of serial killers. So, were I a logical human being, it would be clear that the apex of my terror, for this road trip, should be in Oregon. The sense of impending doom lay waiting in the thick, lush ground cover and moss. The humidity aiding nature and speeding up decomposition, leading to my untimely outcome. But, no. Not me. Utah is the state that makes my skin crawl. I’ll admit it, I have an irrational fear of Utah. Moreover, I have an irrational fear of serial killers in Utah.

On my latest adventure, I had made it not only through Idaho (which smelled like a port-o-potty vulgarly punctuated by neon beer pong ads), but had also covered a solid portion of the Grand Master Flash anthology, pocket dogs resting soundly in the backseat, night falling around me… A success story in the making. So, you can imagine my horror when I see the sign, flashing its distasteful orange message at me with a sneer: I-80 closed.

This means I have to reroute myself. I can’t drive through Wyoming and continue on into Colorado. I have to drive through the state of Utah.  This wouldn’t be so incredibly bad, but I have no GPS; I also have no sense of direction. Under normal circumstances, my inability to discern my right from left is comical, something that gives everyone a good chuckle, myself included. This time however, I’m alone, in Utah; I’ve gotten off on one of those no-man’s land exits in search of a gas station with wireless internet (or a map, do they still make those paper things?).

For the record, I also have a bizarre fear of Wyoming–it has less to do with having my arms chewed off by some glass-eyed polygamists and more to do with being abducted by rodeo clowns. The latter, for some reason, feels like a much healthier, safer option; I see the result as something that would end up in the pages of Penthouse Forum as opposed to an A&E or History Channel Special titled “The Girl Used as Mulch for Community Garden to Feed Underprivileged Developmentally Disabled Inner City Youth in Mormon Sustainability Project.”

After eighteen hours on the road, I realize there is no way in hell I’m going to get out of the state of Utah before I have to sleep. It’s 1 a.m. I’m exhausted. My eyes are dry and feel like they’re bulging out of my head. My body vibrates from the road, or the coffee, I’m not sure which. I pull into a motel, check in, get the pocket dogs situated in the room and fall into bed. There, I lay awake, waiting to be hacked into tiny bits by some toothless yokel in Green River and served as scrapple to unsuspecting travelers for breakfast. I know this line of thought is getting me nowhere and instead decide to think about what I’m sure every person thinks about while trying to fall asleep under these conditions.

Midget Porn.

I’m enthralled by Midgets, I have always wanted one to live with me, in the small space underneath my stairs. I’d make him, or her, a cute little nest akin to Jeannie’s bottle with a fancy, albeit small, chandelier and furniture from the children’s section. I’m even more intrigued by Midget Porn, which is odd because, as I lay there thinking about it, I realize I have never seen any. It is, however, something that I manage to work into conversations, and I think, is always a fun dinner party topic. As I wait for the serial killers to bust down my door and slice me to death with Post-It’s, I grab my laptop and start surfing. I can see the headline now: “Woman Abducted from Green River Hotel While Surfing Midget Porn.” My mom will be so proud.

Even my sister has seen little people porn. She and her boyfriend were having a date night, the kids had been dispersed to friends houses for the evening. Apparently, some of the neighbors got wind of this, and as a gag, left a bag full of Midget Porn, or Dwarf Porn as she refers to it, on her doorstep. Rang the doorbell and just ran off. As she tells me this I laugh, never revealing my secret desire to ask her what she did with said porn.

As Doug Stanhope says, “Midget porn is the comic relief porn you look at after you’ve just jacked off to something really uncomfortable.” You have to understand: I’ve never really thought about Midget Porn as particularly arousing (and yes, I do read Playboy for the articles, thank you very much… Doesn’t everyone?), but as more of a curiosity, like Supercross or The Polyphonic Spree. I like to think of myself as worldly, in my own special way, a countercultural anthropologist, if you will.

I finally get some of what I imagine to be quality midget porn on the laptop, or as quality as you can get without relinquishing your credit card information. Much like all things in life you think you love or desire so much that it hurts, until you get them in your possession: deep fried Twinkies, a pet pony, Jake Ryan. You realize, sadly, you should have left well enough alone. That the romantic mythology is so much better.

With tired eyes I watch a man enter a hotel room, wheeling his suitcase behind him. He opens his luggage and out pops an abbreviated woman with hair the size of her person and yellow as Big Bird, rigged out in cheap lingerie. I laugh audibly at the squished little lady and worry a bit since the majority of him is of regular stature. I have to cover my eyes as he places her on the bed. Those truncated little legs in garters are way more than my highway addled mind can bear. I can’t take it. Those puffy little fuckers creep me out. There I sit, in my underwear and wife-beater, on a scratchy bedspread in a cheap motel room in Bum-fuck Utah. With my eyes pressed closed, covered by my hands, I have to wonder: did I watch The Wizard of Oz and Under the Rainbow too many times as a child? Maybe spending all those Thanksgiving Holidays watching the movie Freaks is to blame.

I snap my laptop shut, lay down under the cardboard cleverly disguising itself as sheets, and as I close my eyes I see my suitcase glaring at me from across the room. I try to drift off to sleep before a scantily clad, pint sized serial killer pops out of my suitcase of doom and takes me away.

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Of course, it took more than Robbi’s job offers to bring Johanna and me out here to the marijuana farm. Should I write about this part in any sort of detail? Will I be defying my own vow to keep such things relegated to the realm of “backdrop?” Should I discuss how, in 2006, I found myself living in my parents’ house in suburban Chicago for the first time since I was seventeen, this time with Johanna in tow, due to my mom’s diagnosis? How, after having lived in Alaska, Italy, Key West, New Mexico, Arizona, and a failed attempt in Vermont, that reentering Buffalo Grove, Illinois gave me the alcoholic shakes, the soothing drink to quell them being the swallowed desire to flee to some distant mountaintop, some beach bungalow, some bomb shelter in which I could grow, with impunity, a wizard’s beard beneath which to hide? Oh shit, oh shit. This is one of those stories, isn’t it? No. No. It’s just the establishment of context, right? I can’t say “backdrop,” and not give the stage-curtain a color, right? Right?

Also: I did not change the names of the places I lived. Those are accurate, as is the Buffalo Grove admission, which I’m still a little leery about. I’ve tried for most of my life to shuck that place, for better or for worse. But, hell, I played enough Four Square and Running Bases, and chased enough fieldmice, and ate enough bad food in that town that I shouldn’t fear claiming a small ownership.

Of course, this descent (for Johanna) and re-descent (for me) into B.G. crept into us like nausea with a remarkable intensity, and then, for the most part, kept quiet. We were Haleakalā, Mount Edgecumbe, Chato Volcano, and Paulet Island: dormant. (Keeping this list short was a labor—the desire to include Mount Bachelor, Mount Elephant, and Pelican Butte, was fierce, but I didn’t necessarily want you picturing bachelors, elephants, or pelicans, but, well, it seems I’ve now fucked this up. Oh well. As the gay rabbi who bar mitzvah’d me used to say to his congregation in times of Judaic woe, …and let us all say: Son of a bitch).

At the crest of my mother’s therapy, when she was (as she was so often then) sleeping, my father, never one for overt emotion, called me into his bathroom—the chamber in which he sat for hours staunching the… No. I’m gonna spare you that. I will tell you though that it was in that bathroom, after a shower, that I discovered on the blue padded laundry hamper, centrally-located in my father’s stack of subscribed-to Playboy magazines, the December 1984 issue that featured Karen Velez, who was single-handedly responsible for my later shunning of breast implants, and who forever changed the way I used and reacted to the word pendulous.

Walking quickly, I passed the walls lined with his Howdy Doody and Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia, what my mother would call, “his childhood cemetery.” He was standing next to the toilet, hair less curly than it used to be, new totem pole tattoo clinging bright to his left shoulder, staring into the blue wastebasket, shaking his head. Few sights are more pathetic than one’s father, nervous beyond reason, standing next to a toilet. Karen Velez, and the flightiness by which I defined myself up to that point, were long gone, hopefully commingling in the bottom of the same mid-Eighties dumpster. I had to slow down. I had to look. Like at a car accident on the highway. Inside, I saw a mound of her brown hair, enough it seemed to cover the floor of a barber shop, one that over-compensated by including a (misleading) superlative in its title: Supercuts. Fantastic Sam’s. Like I’m one to talk about over-compensation. I can’t seem to keep my damn mouth shut about this, breaking promises, contracts. I might as well commit here, include some remembered dialogue, milk the cow.

“Why do you want to show me this?” I asked him, my throat reacting as it would have to a sliver of black peppercorn.

He snorted softly. He looked confused.

“I think you should share in this,” he said.

****

Many times, Johanna and I delved into understandable selfishness, lamenting our loss of sanctuary, our rhythms, this wet cloak clinging to our skins, stirring our hearts to a perpetual flutter. Let me rephrase: we were pissed off. Distraught, sure, but pissed. We were solitude fetishists. A quiet evening at home, just the two of us, was our autoerotic asphyxiation, a bad late night action movie (see: Tier One: anything by Lorenzo Lamas, Brian Bosworth, or Dolph Lundgren (save for “Rocky IV”); Tier Two: anything by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Eric Roberts; Tier Three: anything by Schwarzenegger, 1970-1988; Tier Four: anything by Schwarzenegger, 1989-2003 (with the exception of the—heavy on the quotation marks—“comedies,” “Junior,” for example); Tier Five: “Rocky IV”), our silk stocking. For you aficionados: This list is heavily abridged. And the logician in me wants to qualify: Order of tiers inversely proportional to alcoholic drinks consumed. The realist in me wants to counter: Order of tiers, interchangeable. These were films that Johanna initially dismissed as “a load of shit,” but by month two, she was just as addicted as I.

Many times we would go for midnight walks to the neighborhood park—the site of my first tornado slide, little league baseball games, after-school fights, the place where I lost my third tooth, falling from the tire swing, the place where I tried, and succeeded at, eating a woodchip—and sit on the swing-set, sometimes silent, sometimes raging with the urge to flee. Part of me wants to say something about the stars here—a specific constellation even (Andromeda, my favorite—it has something to do with the sea monster)—but I’m gonna pull back.

We would complain about the way the city lights dampened the night sky, about the ever-listening ears of the neighbors, likely descendants of the Original Yenta. We would talk about how my mother would surely heal, overusing the words strong and pull through, and about the many options that lie ahead for us, which looked then, when I closed my eyes, like an endless chain of yellow center highway lines, the lane separators, some even-more-scary version of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” trailer. On that swing-set, in that park, we approached each option with equal disinterest. Then, we would go back to the house, undress in my old bedroom, and listen to my parents cough half the night. Am I really going to write about this shit in any sort of detail? Hell, no.

****

About eight months later, when it looked as if all may turn out well with my mom, my wife and I, lost and insane with the thirst for solitude and a measure of cleansing, received Robbi’s phone call and decided to take these seasonal jobs. Then, we had no idea about the Residents’ Camp and communal meals, and tent livin’, and strange showers in which we felt compelled to wear our rubber shoes for fear of contracting all things fungal… No, at the time, after a stint in Midwestern realism and all of its spiritual bratwurst, California seemed to us the physical manifestation of a cosmic high-colonic. And Robbi had worked for Lady Wanda before, so we were welcomed with hefty open arms, without much interrogation.

****

Johanna and I often talk of Chicago during our pre-dinner walks, but we don’t tonight. We’re too hungry. For the season, Lady Wanda has set up a white canvas carnival tent on the east side of her substantial house, under which three meals a day are served. From the fields, Johanna looks longingly toward the tent’s three white peaks as if they were as snow-covered and as insurmountable at the Himalayas. Sometimes, when we’re craving meat, they are. After a day of massage, when she’s hungry, Johanna can get irrationally poetic about food.

“I hope they shoe-horn some lamb into that vegetable mass tonight,” she growls.

Meals on Weckman Farm are typically vegetarian, but, I must admit, wonderfully prepared. Alex, Emily, and Antonio are the three full-time chefs under Lady Wanda’s employ, and just so you don’t invest too much in them, they will not be major players in this tale. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to describe them, though. And later on, I may even tell a story or two about them. It depends on how I’m feeling, benevolent or smart-ass; both moods likely disingenuous and forced for the sake of the narrative. (Insert your favorite proper noun that includes the word, liar, here. I’ll choose, “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar”). But for now, consider Alex and Emily pseudo-hippie wallpaper, and Antonio a bookshelf-bound and balloon-cheeked bust of Buddha. Sorry for all the B-word there. I get lost sometimes…

Alex and Emily, a married couple in their upper-twenties, are culinary school graduates who cut their teeth at a pair of well-known Napa Valley restaurants (he as a sous chef, she as a pastry chef), before finding their way to Weckman Farm. They both wear cat’s-eye glasses and beads in their hair and have a flair for breakfasts. This morning we had sea-palm (a local seaweed) quiche with caramelized onion and feta cheese. I tried to like it, and eventually did. Johanna, not the world’s biggest fan of ocean-born green stuff, bitched. She decorated the edges of her plate with these lovely little blobs of rejected magnesium.

Antonio, a fifty-year old man from Veracruz, Mexico with a robust fifty-year-old paunch, is theirsous chef, trained in his mother’s restaurant, perfecting such dishes as last night’s dinner ofenchiladas suizas stuffed with roasted mushroom and topped with a tomatillo cream sauce. Though meatless, we both adored it, and, if I remember correctly, Johanna may have clapped once.

Their kitchen is housed in a large blue-roofed shed in Lady Wanda’s backyard and includes four ranges, an indoor grill, a chest freezer, a commercial mixer and a walk-in refrigerator. Johanna speculates that not a single piece of this equipment has ever had the luxury of housing so much as a sliver of lamb.

“I think they fear real protein,” she whines, enumerating the oft-repeated list of the exotic meats she enjoyed as a girl growing up in Northern Sweden. As always, as if for emphasis, or to subvert the cute and the Christmas-y, she ends her rant with, “…reindeer!” (Not true, but it was a similar beast, and I couldn’t resist the holiday reference).

I reach for her hand again as we watch Alex, Emily, and Antonio carry plastic-wrapped aluminum food bins from the rear of the house to the picnic benches under the tent. We can hear Antonio grumbling to his chefs de cuisine, “If you two don’t stop French-kissing when you’re supposed to be shucking corn, we’re going to be here all night.” He rockets a string of what must be the most marvelously obscene Spanish I’ve ever heard, yanking the plastic wrap from the food. This, it must be admitted, happened nightly, though I confess I was occasionally turned-on by their public displays of affection. I’m a voyeur. Johanna’s fully aware of this. Sue me.

Johanna’s hand, which hasn’t lost any of its oil from a day of rubbing people, squeezes mine. The aromas of something entirely vegetal float from the tent, infiltrate the breeze, and strike my wife with a leafy disappointment. She sighs the sigh of a woman who is having something green (again!) for dinner; who is living outside for a season in a Coleman Cimarron tent—a Coleman Cimarron amid sixty others in the Residents’ Camp. This is not necessarily what we had in mind when chanting the word “sanctuary!” on that swing-set back in Chicago.

The Residents’ Camp sits like a shantytown village on the opposite end of the property from Lady Wanda’s house. Unless the weather turns to rain, or becomes the California version of cold, it’s uncommon to see a male crewmember wearing a shirt in the Residents’ Camp. The few women who make up Lady Wanda’s crew have been known to forgo the occasional shirt as well. Johanna and I are probably the Camp’s most clothed crewmembers, though we do feast our eyes on the only meat—some more well-done than others—served here at Weckman.

For a shantytown, amenities abound. Or, if not amenities, an amenity. Lady Wanda has constructed a pair of shower sheds in the Camp, replete with hot water. They are a pot farm version of clean, which is to say, dirty, and, as I said, Johanna and I don our rubber sandals with enthusiasm. When we first arrived at Weckman Farm, one shed was for the boys, the other for the girls. As the season progressed, things became a bit more co-ed. The curtains are mercifully (again: depending on who you ask) opaque. I’m thinking of Charlie the Mechanic here.

“The world’s goin’ to shit,” Lady Wanda says to the crew after the workday, “but I run my generator on vegetable oil. Enjoy your showers!”

Lady Wanda is a self-proclaimed permaculturalist. I’m not sure that word exists east of the Continental Divide. Oh: Well. Pardon my presumptuousness—I just found out that the permaculture movement began in the 1970s in Australia. I mean, like, literally ten seconds ago. The word, in print, tends to keep company with the word synergy, and who am I to deprive it of its life partner? Anyhow: praise Wikipedia.

As such a permaculturist, she has, in Weckman Farm, attempted to create a self-sufficient mini-society that avoids dependence on the many amenities of industry. She sings the financial praises of her role as ecologically- inclined businesswoman. Her vegetable oil powered generator costs her forty cents per gallon.

For a first-time Picker, this self-sufficiency can carry with it the side-effects of claustrophobia and stench. Every crewmember who arrives by car is instructed to park in an open grassy lot on a spur road off the main gravel drag that leads to Weckman Farm. We have access to our vehicles only in cases of emergency. Often, I picture our reddish Kia Spectra, lying dormant, collecting the spoiled smells of our abandoned road snacks. I think we may have ditched a half-turkey salad sandwich beneath the front passenger seat, due to Johanna’s distaste for the celery brunoise suspended in it. At night, in the tent, I would often think of this sandwich, and bugs, and become anxious and unable to sleep. Look, I’m a suburban Chicago Jew at base. What can I tell you?

Lady Wanda collects lists of her crew’s favorite products. She then sends a team of faceless shoppers into the nearest small town (not very near) to gather these items. She labels the resulting paper bags with our names in black magic marker, so we can have access to our Vidal Sassoons, our AquaFreshes, and our SpeedSticks without ever having to leave the premises. If we must send out mail, Lady Wanda collects it and has another faceless messenger truck it to the local (not very local) post office every three days. She even pays our postage. This way, a Picker has very little to do but work; this contained, sustainable world a constant fluctuation between field, food tent, and the Residents’ Camp.

The Residents’ Camp faces Lady Wanda’s mansion as if at the opposing heads of a medieval table, we workers constantly facing the nighttime queenly stare of her lit upstairs windows—a royal and intimidating job interview. The atmosphere in the Camp is surprisingly courteous, many of the workers putting away their acoustic guitars, jimbe drums, and laptop stereos early into the night. After all, many of us are working longer hours than an investment banker.

Johanna and I walk from the pungent crops to the warm mouth of the food tent. The sun has nearly dipped out of sight, only its red scalp hanging on the horizon above the rows. The air is heavy and without definitive season. It can be January or June. It can only be California.


Janeane Garofalo is almost 45 years old and wants you to know, “I don’t give a shit. I’ve mellowed.” We’re seated in one of L.A.’s most popular vegetarian restaurants, but I can’t give its location lest it becomes less popular. Nevertheless, Garofalo seems at ease with the diners trying to figure out just who she is, but she has an answer for that. “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” she says. Why? “Because I don’t believe in having pets, but beyond that, it was a slam at me, a typical role. I was the dog. And the only reason the guy fell in love with me was my personality. Yeah, right. That’s a bunch of fucking bullshit. Never happens. You see me with Brad Pitt? No, I’m eating with an unknown writer and watching people trying to remember having watched The Truth About Cats and Dogs. And to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”

I seem to be carrying on the family tradition of tool-wielding women, albeit reluctantly.  My mother has long been gifted every Christmas with an addition to her tool set and although I am all for self-sufficiency and stepping outside traditional roles, the call of the tool belt never quite reached me.  It is, however, being forced upon me these days as drippy faucets and non-functional washing machines pervade my world and I have now come to know the inside of the Bauhaus the way I used to know Sephora.

My sister is one of The Order.  She practically came out of the womb with a penknife in her hand ready to jump into home improvement at a moment’s notice.  She is one of those people with spatial relation skills.  You know the type; organized closets, a place for everything, and everything in its place.  She knows what all the gadgets in her toolbox are called and more, how to use them.  I don’t think she relies on her superintendent for much of anything since it’s just oh, so much easier to do it herself.  I, on the other hand, know intimate family details about my New York super.  He was a staple in my life. I can’t tell you how much I miss him.

Since moving to Germany, I have learned that a super here isn’t really the apartment renter’s best friend.  You don’t tip them and they don’t fix minor problems.  Okay, if the ceiling falls in they’ll come but anything up to that you’re on your own.  In addition, a common clause in a lease states that the renter is responsible for some kind of home improvement after three years of inhabitance.  This makes no sense to me at all.  I pay you money to live in the place that you own.  You pocket it and pay a maintenance dude to sweep the hallway once a week.  And after three years, I am supposed remodel the kitchen?  Are you high?  If I wanted to that, I would have bought a house; hence the convenience of renting.  How did that get missed over here?

A few years back my father gifted me and my sister with lady’s tool kits.  They came in pink, plastic cases and have pink hand grips.  This, from the enlightened man that gave his wife a chainsaw for their anniversary.  Regardless, the pink tool kit sits in my New York apartment closet gathering dust, which, until now, was exactly where I thought it belonged.  Sadly, however, I find myself of late with a wrench in my right hand and some sort of plumbing in my left.  I am now able to name all the tools in that box and bemoaning the fact that they aren’t here.  Only a few short months ago I couldn’t have told you what a washer was.  Now I can tell you what aisle they’re in and how many sizes are available.  I miss high heels and eyeliner but in this new city, I need a socket wrench more often. I find that extremely disturbing.

Annoyingly, the other most prominent trait of the McGrath women is to make lemonade out of lemons.  We can be awfully perky at times.  In this instance I’ve followed in my mother’s footsteps one more time and decided to call this a “learning experience.”  That sounds nice, doesn’t it?  But I always like to dress for the occasion, so I find myself pushing back the urge to don overalls and head to the salon for a mullet make-over.  I need my pink tools to keep my sense of femininity about this, damn it!  Dad was right about that.  Does Manolo Blahnik do steel-toed work boots?  God, I hope so.

“I’ve already told you: the only way to a woman’s heart is along the path of torment. I know none other as sure.” —Marquis de Sade

Stop shaking your head. Gimme a chance to explain…

Long distance relationships open like pop-up books. Her pop-up book is in Manhattan.

I like stealing stuff—if I like you. I case every woman who catches my eye trying to see what they’re hiding.

You can’t give your phone number without giving something of yourself. Every little hair on a woman, even the peach fuzz, is a fuse.

I watch some guys staring at their girls like kids staring at a candy store window. Which gets me wondering–––along with the girl in most cases–––is he making that sweet expression at her or to himself in the reflection? So the girl looks over at me and sees the crowbar in my eyes. I can’t hide it.

But every time it feels the same when it clicks with somebody. I pick the lock and break into their life and instead of trying to steal everything, I end up wanting to move in.

I’m in full-on burglary-mode when all of a sudden I find myself liking the way you crookedly hang that painting, the way your bookshelves lean, that you’re a pack-rat for every letter an ex sent you and you’re amused I burned everything I had with my first kiss, that you kept a lock of your hair from when you were six and now your hair’s a different color, how you had a street portrait artist embellish your likeness when you were going through an ugly phase and everybody pretended you were really that pretty, you were entirely frigid with one boy and put out on the first date with another and you don’t know why the difference, that I thought my first girl was the one until we popped each others cherry and I knew she wasn’t and told her so, that you want a dad and your cute little boy at the same time out of a husband—oh yeah—and the guy you’d risk all that for to cheat with, you want to have your blueprints for the rest of your life approved of, you want your history to be a rumor that you spread, you want me to cast my net at you swinging over and over and never get more than half your butterflies, you want to be my private petting zoo, you want me to pry you down from your ivory tower over the intercom, I want a muse who fucks like a whore, you want to be able to hurt me and build me up, you want me to trudge through your sewers and step out onto your penthouse balconies, you want to take your top down in conversation and have my breeze run through your hair, I want you to kiss the stretch marks and cellulite on my brain, you want me to contemplate every guy who ever wanted to get into your pants, you want jealousy, you want me to be loyal but only because you’re amused that I’m a born serial-cheater, you want the church of your heart to have the choir on fire and neither of us willing to piss on them, I want you as a cookie jar, you want to get our plans on wheels, you want somebody with no plans, you want Monopoly on weeknights and Risk on weekends, you want somebody who can fuck people up but also listen, your personal angelic caveman with a daunting reading list, you want me to be fucked-up but lucid, you want our kid as the final jury on us, I’m not sure you really do, you want relativity here and there but stuff that comparison can’t touch other places, you want love letters and suicide notes and me to pretend with a straight face like I know what the fucking difference is, you want your melody to feel like a symphony, I want my note to feel like a melody, you want me to wonder how many inches it takes to reach your heart, I want you with telescopes and microscopes and a club and a cave and no viable heat source but me, you want me to accept that Brinny can still fall in love 10,000 times but it doesn’t have to be with 10,000 different girls it can just be with me, over and over, like some karma on spin cycle and no tag-backs, and we can be off-key, and every soliloquy can be one long stutter, and why the hell am I inventorying all this shit, oh yeah I’m nervous about Thanksgiving, I just mean… my garbage and maladjusted apparatus wasn’t flammable until I met you, be my pyromaniac and I’ll be your kleptomaniac, we’ll get the hang of it, epileptic embrace, be each other’s Rosetta Stone, here, this is a piece of chipped paint off my Davega Bicycle, we can be cigarette train wrecks in each others ashtray, you can sign letters in lowercase so I’ll imagine you on your knees and try to map out more ways to sweep you off your feet, now you’re making me a little nervous for not having wiped this thing’s nose, and I better stop cause everything else’ll feel like drinking from a bent straw but yeah, do we have a deal?

Life is funny. I mean, just when you think that you’ll never get a newborn Kenyan cow named after you, WHAM!, you hear the sweet pitter patter of little hooves. As I type this, Rob the Cow (who, by the way, is quite the looker) is happily grazing in the Kenyan village of Sauri (population: 4,214 cows and nearly that many people). When I first met the future Rob, he was approximately three hours old, just a newborn, naked and nameless. We were introduced to one another towards the end of the two-week African safari that I took with my wife Julie and her parents.

You’re probably wondering, “How the heck did you get a cow named after him?!? Are you, like, a Cow Whisperer or something?” The answer to the second question is NO. Believe it or not, I’m not even that good with animals. This probably stems from the fact that, before this trip, the only time I’d encountered wild animals was while riding The Jungle Cruise at Disney World (oh, and diving away from an angry stampede of senior citizens en route to the General Tso tray at the all-you-can-eat China King buffet in Ft. Lauderdale). Soooo when Julie asked me if I wanted to go to Kenya with her family, naturally I was excited. And not just because her parents were paying.

Julie’s parents are soil scientists whose jobs require them to live in Kenya about six months of the year. This qualifies them as official Kenyan residents, which is a pretty big deal because, in addition to receiving junk mail (“You might already be a winner! Return this card and win a free cow!”), they get to participate in the traditional Kenyan Welcoming Ceremony where each new resident, upon receiving their pair of complimentary running sneakers, is asked to recite the Kenyan Creed. I’m paraphrasing: “I vow to face each day with strength and bravery, taking on all challenges, laughing in the face of danger, doing my best to seek out dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations, under strict accordance with the Fear Nothing Principle.”

The Fear Nothing Principle, as explained by The Idiot’s Guide to Avoid Getting Eaten by a Lion, has only one rule: fear nothing. Allow me to clarify. Nothing, in this case, includes everything that might worry someone (me) who’s traveling to Africa for the first time (again, me). My father-in-law, who has lived in Kenya for over fifteen years and is the only man I know that has caught a shark WITH HIS BARE HANDS, then placed it (still alive) into a household bathtub, is diehard follower of the Fear Nothing Principle. That’s bad news for me.

You see, when it comes to things like disease, infection, and wild animals that could remove all the flesh from my body in 0.2 seconds, I prefer to follow the somewhat safer, yet no doubt less manly, Fear Everything Principle. Sure, I understand this mindset might make some men feel weenie-like, but personally, I’ve grown pretty accustomed to the Fear Everything Principle over the years—really ever since 1988 when I became the talk of Camp Coleman for being “the kid who got the funky purplish rash over his entire body from playing in the woods and had to spend three weeks quarantined in an empty cabin that smelled like socks and warm cheese.”

So there you have it. A Fear Nothinger and a Fear Everythinger going on a safari to deepest, darkest Africa. Man, this has TV magic written all over it! So if you’re a TV exec looking for your next ratings hit, I’ve got just the thing for you! It’s called “Nothing to Fear but Everything” (it’s a working title) and it follows the wacky adventures of a modern-day odd couple as they trek through the jungles of Africa. It’s your classic fish out of water story meets Cinderella story meets swashbuckling blockbuster meets any other popular cliché that would help get the show on the air. And best of all, it’s based on real life so the scripts practically write themselves! For example, here’s an unedited transcript of an actual phone call I had with my father-in-law prior to the trip. As you’ll see, like any good sitcom, hijinks ensued.

ME: How many different travel vaccines do I need?
HIM: Why would you need vaccines?
ME: What about Malaria pills? Don’t I need those?
HIM: What for?
ME: What happens if we’re viciously attacked by a pride of hungry lions?
HIM: There’s nothing to worry about as long as you have your running shoes. And a change of underwear.

But don’t get me wrong; it’s not that my father-in-law didn’t care about my fears. He just didn’t think there was anything to be afraid of! Take our first day in Kenya, for example. When our jeep’s engine overheated and we were stranded on the side on the highway—and by “highway” I mean “dirt path in the middle of nowhere with nothing around us but 50,000 acres of dust and rocks”—he simply shouted out: “Everything’s fine; I’ve got it all under control!” Now keep in mind that he had to shout if he wanted us to hear him over the sizzle of the radiator and the hissing from the snake that was just five feet from my door. Seriously.

But despite this being a situation that some (read: sane) people would find to be unnerving, both my in-laws remained true to the principle and, amazingly, feared nothing. Impressive? Yes. But the real test was still to come. About four days later, in fact, when we traveled to Masai Mara, the wondrous savannah that Disney animators visited to collect research for “The Lion King,” a film that, looking back, was mostly accurate detail-wise, but quite frankly, we spent a few days in the savannah and I didn’t hear ANY animals singing. Not a one.

So we’re in Masai Mara on our fifth or ninth day of safari (it’s hard to keep track when you’re dehydrated), and everyone is actively playing the “spotting game.” This is where you spend several hours driving around the savannah in a jeep, trying to spot animals by peering through binoculars, which incidentally is something that I’ve neverbeen able to do very well because when I look through the eyepieces, all I ever wind up seeing are my eyelashes. My in-laws, on the other hand, are exceptionally skilled at spotting which is great for them because they’re also avid bird watchers, a hobby that involves squinting through binoculars, seemingly staring at nothing for long periods at a time, then saying things like: “Is that a blue-chested fartwallop?” “No, I think it’s the pepper-speckled hasselhoffer.”

I tried hard to be good at spotting, I really did, but unfortunately I just couldn’t contribute much to the game.

“Oh, oh! I’ve found an elephant,” I’d shout with pride.

“That’s a tree,” my in-laws would say in unison.

As you can see, spotting is a true measure of one’s patience, visual scanning techniques, and most importantly, the ability to tell the difference between a living, breathing animal and a stump of wood. Thankfully though, every once in a while, you get tipped off on where to look for animals. The rule of thumb is that if you’re driving around and spot a parked jeep filled with people, chances are, these folks have stopped because they’ve found something good. Or a lion has eaten their tires. Either way, it’s a National Geographic moment.

And that’s what happened to us. My mother-in-law (again, an expert spotter) saw a jeep in the distance and sprung into action. “Drive over there! Fast!” she yelled with the trademark enthusiasm of a Fear Nothinger. “I bet it’s something good!”

“I hope it’s dangerous!” my father-in-law yelled back, licking his lips in anticipation.

We sped ahead, racing through the grass at record speeds with almost-but-not-quite as much concern for safety as a city cab driver. When we got closer, we noticed there was something beside the parked jeep: another jeep. And there was another jeep beside it. And another. Turned out there were eleven jeeps in total, all filled with people, arranged side by side in a semi-circle. Whatever these people were looking at, it HAD to be good.

We pulled up alongside the other jeeps and I couldn’t believe what I saw: a pride of five lions gorging on the carcass of a buffalo. Right there. Less than 30 feet from us. It was surreal to observe these awesome creatures in their natural habitat. We watched for several minutes, staring in awe as the lions devoured the buffalo. The scene was so amazing that I (momentarily) ignored my Fear Everything instincts and instead, reveled in the excitement of the moment. And that’s when I noticed all the other jeeps had turned off their engines while ours was still roaring away—a definite safari no-no. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed this glaring violation of safari etiquette. At that moment, mama lion looked up from her feast and let out a mighty roar. Directed right at us.

Now when placed in a situation like this, there’s two clear choices one can make: stay or leave. Actually, there’s a third choice, but “wet your pants” would require way too much coordination under this kind of pressure. Clearly, a Fear Everythinger, valuing their limbs over a good photo op, would choose to leave, which leads you to assume that a Fear Nothinger would stay, right? Right? Not my in-laws. No; THEY decided on a fourth option: to drive closer to the lions.

Hold up. For dramatic purposes, that needs to be repeated.

There was (Percussionist begins banging on drum) a pride of five lions (drumming gets louder and faster) feasting on a buffalo right in front of us (drumming is super fast and crazy loud) and WE DROVE CLOSER!!! (Big finale: drums, cymbals, horror movie scream, chicken squawking, et al.)

It turned out that driving closer was a very, very, very bad move. All five of the lions stopped eating to stare at the insolent fools who had the audacity to interrupt their buffalo banquet. Hell, even the other people, all of whom were professional Fear Nothingers (you could tell because their pants were completely dry), were shocked at this display of stupidi…er bravery.

So there we were. And there were the lions. With less than ten feet between us. Course my in-laws were in Fear Nothing heaven, enjoying every second of this. Meanwhile in the backseat, I was enjoying it as well, much in the way I enjoy getting a tooth pulled.

“Turn off the engine so we can hear them chewing,” my mother-in-law suggested.

“Wow, look at the size of those teeth!” my father-in-law said as he turned off the car. “Betcha those babies could tear right through human bone!”

“Can we get any closer?” asked a familiar voice. Noooo, it couldn’t be! Surely it wasn’t! I looked in the direction of the voice and saw…my wife! What?!? Did my wife Julie, a tried and true Fear Everythinger, seriously just ask if we could drive closer to the lions? This coming from a woman who slipcovers public toilets with four rolls of Charmin before sitting down? What was going on here?!?

I thought I knew my wife pretty well. But the gentle woman I married was suddenly several continents away from the wild-eyed adventurer sitting beside me. Julie had gone from a Fear Everythinger to a Fear Nothinger in less time than it takes me to clean the lint from my belly button. I was shocked. Especially when she climbed into the front seat of the jeep, joining her parents for the traditional Fear Nothinger snack (beef jerky) and a classic Fear Nothinger discussion that involved questions like “Do you’d think the papa lion would mind if we pet his mane?” and “How long do you think it’d take one of these bad boys to digest a human body?”

I was feeling lightheaded, which probably had as much to do with the stench of Slim Jims filling the air as it did with my shock of Julie going over to the ‘dark side.’ Meanwhile, the lions had yet to return to their feast. Something about our presence (maybe it was the smell of fear from the backseat) had fascinated them and they were too distracted to eat. SO distracted, in fact, that they abandoned the carcass lying in front of them and starting walking towards us.

“Hey look,” my father-in-law said as he turned off the car. “That one’s licking its lips!”

All five lions were now directly in front of the jeep, staring at us through the windshield and drooling. After taking a moment to survey the situation, I knew we were in trouble, and not just because the mama lion was tying a napkin around her neck and setting out the good china. We were in trouble because the jeep was parked, the cameras were out, and the lion-human staring contest was entering the second quarter. Clearly, my wife and in-laws had no intentions of leaving anytime soon.

“What do you suppose the big one’s thinking?” my mother-in-law called to me in the backseat.

“Mmphmwmb,” I said. (Though I had lost the ability to produce intelligible speech, I was still quite capable of whimpering.)

I didn’t know how much more of this I could take and yet, my in-laws and wife were only getting started. I knew it would take some amazing, miraculous act of a higher power to persuade my father-in-law to drive away.

“I gotta pee,” my father-in-law announced. “Let’s get out of here.”

And with that, my father-in-law went to start the jeep. But nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. The battery was “dead” as in “gone” as in “finished” as in “holy crap, we’re gonna be lion kibble!” Now you won’t believe what happened next, mainly because it’s pretty unbelievable, but ‘believability’ never stopped Jerry Springer from reporting a story, and it won’t stop me! Besides, I promised myself that if we ever made it out of this situation with all limbs intact, I’d write about it. So here goes.

It was at that moment, that exact moment, that the lions, all five lions, began, get ready, to circle the jeep!

(Percussionist throws his drumsticks in the air, screams like a eight-year-old girl, and runs away.)

Let’s recap: we’re stuck in Masai Mara with a dead car battery and a pride of five lions circling our car. It was anyone’s guess as to what would happen next. Would my father-in-law continue to laugh in the face of danger? Would my mother-in-law, expert spotter, notice the two vultures flying in circles above our jeep? Would Julie ever return to being the person I married (“There’s a bug 400 feet away! Kill it! Kill it!”)? Would I ever resume a normal breathing pattern?

All jokes aside, this was very bad. C’mon, LIONS CIRCLING THE JEEP?!? Surely, THIS would be grounds for a Fear Nothinger to cry out “Principles Schminciples!” and start Fearing! Think again. Amazingly, my father-in-law remained calm and tried to reassure us (“I’ve got it all under control”) while my mother-in-law attempted to get our minds off the situation with some light conversation (“Look in that tree! Is that a black-billed sniffle sniveler?”). Even Julie kept her cool and showed a familiar softer side (“I think we could cut back on the Charmin”).

Amazing. Here’s a situation that would send Crocodile Dundee back to his trailer for a Scotch and Dasani and yet my insanely brave family members continued to fear nothing. I was impressed. And I wasn’t the only one. The lions also seemed impressed, or just bored, because they walked away from the jeep and returned to their buffalo buffet. And then, another miracle happened: my father-in-law turned the key and the jeep came back to life.

“Now wasn’t that fun,” my father-in-law asked as we drove away from the lions and back to the lodge.

I’m happy to report that was the last lion encounter we had in Kenya. In fact, the wildlife we saw thereafter was an assortment of giraffe, monkeys, zebras and other animals that, while exotic and beautiful, don’t send your pulse shooting to triple digits. No question about it, these animals were much more my speed. Like Rob the Cow, for example, which brings me back to the matter of how one goes about getting a cow named after them.

Truth is, it’s all who you know. The villagers in Sauri are extremely grateful to my in-laws for the countless resources (food, electricity, Coca-Cola) they’ve introduced to the village. And rather than giving a Hallmark card, the villagers show their appreciation by naming animals after you and your loved ones. So, long story short, the villagers named the cow “Rob” out of gratitude to my in-laws for their hard work, assistance, and for passing on valuable knowledge about soil science. Plus, they know better than to tick off the guy who caught a shark with his bare hands.

My garden taunted me all winter long. And that’s a long time in Maine. For several weeks, the snow was so high that the small wrought-iron fences that give the garden some sort of organization and form were completely invisible. I couldn’t wait until spring to dig my hands into the soil again.

My husband always corrects me when I call the area behind our house a “garden.” “It’s a yard,” he says, and I think he is wrong. A yard, to me, is some sort of vast expanse of grass, maybe some bushes and hedges. Perhaps a flower bed.  I am sure that there is a dictionary definition that would clear all this up, but frankly, I am just not that interested in the terminology.

What we have is a garden.

What we have is an unruly, wild, mossy wildlife area. In the fall when we moved in, the entire garden was shaded from a couple of huge trees and a forest of smaller ones. There are mysterious and as of yet unidentified bushes of various sizes growing out of a stone wall that keeps our house from falling into the brook. Because we also have a brook.  The lower half of the garden is a favorite of the neighborhood kids. There is some sort of a bamboo growing along the brook that’s great for forts, paintball fights and for hunting down frogs and helicopter-sized dragonflies.

I have to admit that I had some romantic notions about gardening when we bought the house. The shade, the seclusion made it all seem very cozy. As I was getting acquainted with the garden I found all sorts of cute surprises – a garden gnome, a bird feeder, a couple of stepping stones, little frog statuettes and a stone turtle. Lovely, right?

The one freaky discovery I had was a cross nailed to one of the trees. It’s a small, ornate cross and it’s positioned where a larger limb must have been cut off. Maybe lighting hit there? Who knows? And even though I am not a cross-type girl, you just don’t remove something like that. What if that’s the only little piece of protection that’s keeping our house intact?

But back to the garden… So, those romantic notions of gardening quickly disappeared as the leaves fell from the trees. All 97 million of them. Pretty soon, gardening became nothing more than leaf management. Sure, they were yellow, and red, and rusty, and orange, and crunchy, and had that amazing fall-leaf smell. But I was knee-deep in them, with no end in sight.

The first snow was a relief. By spring, all of those leaves on the ground will become good, nutritious compost for the soil, I thought.

Not so. Spring leaf management is similar to fall leaf management. The only difference is that there are juicy, fat worms between the layers of wet leaves, along with more unidentified sprigs of life – bright green, cheery, hopeful.

While in the fall I was happy to let things take their natural course in the garden, the spring is making me nervous. I am responsible for this living, breathing piece of land behind my house. I should know what it needs, right? Trimming? More water? Less water? Sun? Shade? Should I just let it be?

Landscapers have come and gone, shaking their heads, making me feel like a bad parent for not forking over large sums of money and also for not doing it all on my own. I feel like the working mother of a piece of land.

I am looking out at the garden as I write this. The sloping terrace with its hidden steps, the curve of the brook, the lone pine tree – I still find it all very soothing. So I go outside from time to time to check things out. I rake some leaves. Pick up a couple of broken branches. Sweep the dirt off the stepping stones. I’ll buy some pansies this week and fill the planters on the garage and in our windows.

Slowly, leaf by leaf, the garden and I come to an understanding. I do the best I can. She will keep the leaves on the trees as long as possible next fall. I will hire the weird Italian man with the scar to do a bit of cleanup. She will make sure that the hibiscus bush produces golf ball-sized blooms.

It will all work out.  

It’s strange, but as an immature male who is learning another language, I’ve never really thought a lot about swearing in Korean… I know a few words, but not many, and I’m not even sure if the ones I know are real, or if people are just screwing with me and telling me fake words. Mostly, I learn bad words through my friend, Brian, who in turn learns them from the Korean players on his football team. So when I do learn a word, it’s never written down or put entirely in context, and I’m left to wonder whether the pronunciation is lost, like in Chinese Whispers…

I’ve never owned a Korean dictionary, either, because I use two textbooks when I learn (Korean Made Easy andFirst Step in Korean). Consequently, my grasp of grammar is decent enough, whereas my vocabulary sucks. The people who help me learn are generally co-workers, and random people I meet when out and about. Not many of them talk about genitals or excrement.

My parents’ big beige White Westinghouse stocked with foodstuffs
New and old, foreign and domestic, healthy and hedonic
From the adjustable top rack to the stay-crisp drawers and even the interior door shelving

People have been wanting a place where they can go to read the Twitter novel “Small Places” without clicking through the reverse order on its Twitter page site. Right away, this post is for “Small Places” readers and new fans, and people who want to discuss literary innovation, because here, they will get 14 chapters (of the 25 posted), and a whopping 358 tweets of the nearly 600 posted.

You’re twelve years old. A month has passed since your Korean Air flight landed in lovely Newark Airport. Your sixteen-year-old sister is miserable. Your mother isn’t exactly happy, either. You just met your father for the first time, and although he’s nice enough, he might be, well – how can you put this delicately – a loser.

You can’t speak English, but that doesn’t stop you from working at East Meets West, your father’s gift shop in a strip mall, where there are not only customers to wait on but neighboring stores to visit. Everything is new. Nothing is the same.

Welcome to the wonderful world of David Kim.

That’s the premise of my novel, Everything Asian, which is being published today. I’m looking at the folder that contains the first draft of the first chapter (which turned out to be a much later chapter in revisions), and to give you an idea of the age of this thing, the file is in WordPerfect 5.1 format. It is dated 9/14/1997.

And now, here’s a little excerpt. You can read the first chapter in its entirety on my website.

I am pleased to find that the whole newborn baby system seems, at least so far (nearly 3 weeks in), to be a bit more functional than the late-pregnancy situation.

First of all, there is the sleep deprivation. I know what you are thinking: but surely this is a flaw, is it not? Well listen: there is a reason why cults use sleep deprivation to break down a recruit’s defenses and win her over to their side. On three hours of sleep, I’m of use to my baby and only to my baby. Conversation is difficult; following an article in the newspaper near impossible. But dozy breastfeeding, diaper-changing, and cuddling? That’s suddenly just my speed.

Of course, this works because of the relative simplicity of the newborn. In addition to being abnormally adorable, my baby’s interests include eating, sleeping, pooping, and the occasional being-rocked-and-sung-to. When she cries, chances are it’s because of one of these four desires. My husband likened it to the beginning levels of a video game (he is in the industry, and so he should know) — those tutorial levels that teach you how to use the controllers and such. Things start off relatively simple. Once we have mastered the “I’m hungry” cry (it sounds like she’s hollering at us) and the “putting the sleeping baby in her crib without waking her” skill set, I imagine we will find ourselves at the next level, with a new set of challenges. (Also: I realize that things are not so simple if your baby is colicky and please please I am not trying to tempt fate or jinx myself please baby do not get colicky please thank you.)

Also, not to get all TMI or anything, but let me say: for a few weeks after giving birth, mama’s bottom is SORE. Luckily, this coincides with an infant’s first weeks of X-treme Sleeping. See, now that just makes sense. Everyone can rest up for a while. For short bursts of time, but frequently.

Even breastfeeding makes sense. Sure, it glues you to your baby’s side. But after sharing my body for so many months, what if I were just suddenly cut free, truly able to eat or drink whatever I wanted, entirely my old self again? I’d probably go insane, like an Amish kid on Rumspringa. I’d likely disappear only to be discovered days later, slumped in an alley somewhere half-buried in a pile of empty wine bottles and the carcasses of high-mercury fish.

In conclusion, I would go back over this and polish it up, and/or make some more salient points, but the baby has commenced to squeaking, and my mammalian brain has taken back control of my body. Must. Go. To. Baby.

 

 

Since nearly every interview with Sean Penn immediately notes that he lights cigarettes with the regularity of old women on prune juice, Sean Penn lit his third cigarette before our interview had begun. He spent that time gazing at me as if I were some sort of fantastic form of quartz. He is, and will always be, one of Hollywood’s foremost geologists, digging up jewels of roles, which he then polishes like a rock tumbler. He lit a cigarette before finishing the other one and smoked the two simultaneously. Soon, he was smoking fifteen cigarettes at the same time. He put on his sunglasses, took them off, and put them on again. It’s a useless actor’s ploy, and he was being ironic, I’m sure of it.