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Call it “hair metal,” “glam metal,” or “sleaze rock,” but the unique sound that came from the Sunset Strip in 80s Los Angeles was once the dominant vibe of commercial radio. Guns N’ Roses’ sonic masterpiece, Appetite for Destruction, emerged as the high point of the genre, which subsequently expanded and diluted as record labels rushed forth to cash in on the cultural hysteria. Weaker, lighter fare, packaged as “metal” and “hard rock,” found overexposure on MTV and by the decade’s end, the music industry was already searching for the next big thing.

The 90s saw hair metal reduced to butt-of-joke status as gravely serious bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana rolled out music that was low on image but high on intensity. Some hold that grunge killed hair metal, but the fallacy of that statement is that hair metal never died- it simply returned to its hardcore fans. In that process, many of the 80s’ biggest names failed to move on to the next millennium, but of those that did, none made music with the consistency and caliber of L.A. Guns.

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, recorded 30 January 2011 at The Hall of Records in Portland, Oregon. Featuring Quenby Moone, Meg Worden, and Art Edwards. Produced by Aaron M. Snyder, Megan DiLullo. Executive Producer, Brad Listi. Music by Goodbye Champion

Four weeks ago I woke up in a cold sweat. By my fourth cup of coffee I’d broken into a hot sweat. And after pedaling myself over to a nondescript building near the railway station, I was glistening with a gooey, stinky sweat. It was, you see, my first day of Finnish school.

I locked my bike to the paw of a sleeping polar bear and sought out my classroom; it was empty, but students of all nationalities were waiting just outside the door. I assumed this was some sort of European thing. Being American, I went inside and chose the best desk and spread my belongings over a wide swath. I then marked my territory and drank some more hot caffeinated beverage. By the time the teacher showed up, I was panting heavily and stewing in a puddle of my own bodily fluids.

We didn’t actually learn any Finnish that first day, but we did learn not to wear perfume, and that our teacher is pregnant (which she conveyed to us by gesturing toward her nether regions while saying, “plop!”).

One month later, things are a little different: I can now say, in Finnish, how old I am. I can count to one hundred and I can tell time. Life is really progressing for me. This is exactly where I wanted to be at age 35.

I also now know that Finnish is not actually the most difficult language on the planet. It’s second, after Penguin. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of it all. Just trust me on this one. Finnish is mouth murder.*

Fortunately I’m not alone. I’ve got twenty-two courageous and fantastic classmates. In fact, the rapport between us is frighteningly cordial. We greet one another with “hyvää huomenta” (“good morning”), handshakes and even slappy-hug-but-not-quite-hug things, even though many of our countries are at war with one another.**

It’s almost creepy. I’ve never been that type of person – the type who gets along with other people. I’ve always seen classmates as an obstacle between myself and the bathroom. But this is Finland, where things are different. Immigration is a relatively new concept for Finns (who aren’t quite sure why anyone would move here), often leaving us foreigners as befuddled as drunken elk. We foreigners stick together because we’re engaged in war of our own against this nation’s violent, spasm-inducing language.

And our teachers? They’re the language’s ninjas – hefty, female, Caucasian ninjas who replace one another without warning. Some of these ninjas are old and mean and loud, while some are ancient and aloof and Magoo-eyed. Some charge one euro every time a cell phone rings, or when an English or Arabic phoneme leaks out, while others freely quote Sex and the City or Serpico.

But one thing is for sure: you don’t mess with ninjas, and you don’t mess with Finnish teachers. The teaching profession is, for Finns, as serious as swordplay. Teaching is not only an honor, it’s a highly competitive field that puts one in the realm of lawyers and politicians.

Despite all this, Finnish teachers are no better paid than in the U.S. and their jobs require half a lifetime of education and certification. For many, it’s simply an honor – an act of patriotism. Yes, Finnish teachers are somewhat bad-ass. Our main teacher, despite being close to plopping, rarely sits down, doesn’t fill our hours with busy work, and after class arms herself with a thick binder and yardstick and prevents Russian samurais from infiltrating the country.

Her main job, though, is to prepare us for our first real test, which takes place one month from now. If we do not pass this test, we will be cut from the class. If we are cut from the class, we may be cut from the labor market program that oversees our integration. If we are cut from the labor program, we will be left to wander for all of eternity on the frozen banks of a country where we have no idea what anyone is saying. (Plus we won’t get our 25 € per day stipend, which is about what Finnish teachers are paid.)

I shouldn’t be worried. I do my homework, study, and honor the ninjas for five hours a day. I’m learning so much Finnish that it gurgles in the back of my head like a sewage pipe. I should be able to make the grade. But throw in words like “suuryritysrypäs”*** or “epäjärjestelmällisyydellis tyttymättömyydellänsäkään,”**** and all bets are off. I might as well take up Penguin. At least they tell good knock-knock jokes.

Ninjas and tests aside, here’s the thing that you’ll never here me say out loud: although I rebelled and sweated and suffered an infarction or two, after a couple weeks the truth became as evident as a big fresh reindeer turd – I like learning Finnish, despite having to leave the house to do so. It’s nice, after being in this country for 14% of my life, to be able to understand the label on a can of beans (contents: beans). It’s nice to be able to swear at the kids who are using a stolen lawnmower as a bongo at 4 a.m. It’s nice to pretend I have a future in this strange arctic wonderland. I’ve always been a dreamer, and soon I’ll be able to delude myself in two languages. Wish me luck.

* But let me bore you anyways: for starters, there are some 16 cases, which are all suffixal and conditional and constantly mutating according to context. The language is phonetic, meaning that one must pronounce each and every letter within a word. Finnish does not naturally use B, C, F, X, Q, W or Z, and A, E, I, O, U and Y (“eeyuu”) are all pronounced differently than English vowels (plus it contains Ä and Ö). Many words have double vowels and double consonants, and sometimes entire rows of these pairs are lined up just waiting to humiliate you. As well, the arrangement of letters within a word determines (in addition to the case!), what its respective suffix will be. IT’S F***ING INSANE.

** I suppose it’s more accurate to say that the U.S. is at war with their countries.

*** Pronounced something like soor-eeuw-reet-oos-reeuw-pass.

**** Seppuku is more preferable than trying to pronounce this, though it’s likely that any four-year-old Finnish child could tear through it with one eye closed.

Lettuce Prey

I walked the streets of Missoula all day long in search of a job. At one of the coffee shops accepting applications, a dark-haired barista took pity—she seemed to know I’d never get hired there—and invited me to come see her boyfriend’s band.

She led me to a bar a couple of blocks away, above a laundromat, called Jay’s Upstairs. We climbed a steep and narrow stairway to a tiny room with a sagging floor. Much later, I’d learn that the building was among the oldest in town, built in the 1870s. Arcade seating lined the back wall. A small stage occupied most of the square footage. Skylights in the ceiling had been covered over with black paint. The bar prominently featured a chilled Jagermeister dispenser. The place was nearly empty.

I thought the constant whirring of helicopters at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday was a military fleet en route to West Point. But when the relentless droning drew me outside, I realized that a yellow helicopter was making crazy eights over our woods.

“What is going on?” I asked my husband, who was outside tinkering with our chicken coop.

“I don’t know,” he said, without even looking up.

Dani Shapiro is the author of two remarkable memoirs, Slow Motion and Devotion.

Slow Motion is the story of a twenty-three year old woman’s late awakening to adult responsibilities. When her parents have a terrible car wreck in New Jersey, Shapiro is at a health spa in southern California, a jaunt paid for by her lover, a married man twice her age. Shapiro emerges from her alcohol and drug addled life to discover that the blessing is next to the wound.

Devotion is a “spiritual detective story,” a personal exploration  of varieties of seeking and different kinds of devotion — among them, motherhood and daughterhood. With its appropriation of wisdom gleaned from spiritual resources as diverse as Shapiro’s Orthodox Jewish upbringing to yoga shalas and Buddhist meditation retreats, Devotion tracks the dialectical movements from fear to human faith. For her readers, Dani Shapiro’s spiritual journey home is uniquely hers and yet somehow universal in the way it opens a space to let our own lives speak.

New Harmony, Indiana.

The serene boondocks.

A girl named Katie.

Early

By Sharon Harrigan

Memoir

When I got my period, I was only nine. My daughter is eight, and she doesn’t know what a period is. I wonder if I need to tell her, in case she is early, too.

Premature puberty is partly (some studies say 48 percent) hereditary, with an especially strong link between mothers and daughters. My brother sprouted sideburns years before his peers. At age eleven, my son’s face darkened with a mustache, and now, at seventeen, he has the beard of a rabbi. The other day my daughter said, “I have hair under my arms!” I couldn’t look. I just said, “No you don’t.”

My daughter, who is skinny and flat as the Midwestern plains of her inheritance, unselfconsciously calls herself a little girl. She prefers “Annie” to “High School Musical;” sleeps with a bevy of stuffed unicorns; and doesn’t question, as some of the boys at school did during show and tell, why her hamster has both a girl’s name and testicles. So why am I so worried about a wisp of underarm hair?

It’s not as if my early onset menarche catapulted me to nine-year-old teendom. I still hadn’t grown noticeable breasts and wouldn’t have been able to swagger my hips if it had been required for gym credit to graduate. When I told other girls in my fourth grade class that I couldn’t swim one day because I was wearing a sanitary napkin, they said, “You?” If there had been a vote in the yearbook for the girl least likely to enter puberty first, I would have won.

I paid little attention to boys, even after I was capable of being fertilized by them. I had a brother a year older than me, and we were close, listening to Wagnerian opera on his turntable and watching “Monty Python” re-runs together, so maybe that was as much boy company as a nine-year-old girl needed.

I didn’t try hard to lure boys into chasing me at recess, either before or after I “became a woman.” I wore whatever clothes my mother bought on sale at Kmart, even the pink polyester slacks with the rainbow belt that made me look more like a premature grandmother than a premature pubescent. My hair was too flyaway to feather in the 1970s style of “Charlie’s Angels.”

I wasn’t like Susan, with her naturally wavy black hair that she twisted so it bounced like a vertical Slinky at the side of her face. I wasn’t like Laura, with her long blonde hair down to her behind, her brown suede boots and rabbit fur jacket and beckoning index finger. Everyone thought those two would be first to get “the dot.”

That’s what Jenny Alexander, my best friend since I was four years old and she was seven, called it. My mother hadn’t explained menstruation before its plague hit me, so I was lucky Jenny had.

It didn’t feel lucky at the time, though. Jenny was twelve, and I still hovered on the childish side of nine when she told me something big had happened to her.

“Give me a hint.” Guessing games were one of our favorite time wasters during those long, boring Michigan summers. We both had single mothers who worked full time, mine as a bank secretary in the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit, and hers as a Frito Lay packer on the assembly line. Most days we spent at Jenny’s more lenient house, eating the never-ending twelve packs of Cheetos her mother filched from her shift.

We whiled away unair-conditioned, unsupervised Julys squirting Jenny’s mutt Rusty with the hose and letting the water drip down our cut-off shorts, transcribing the lyrics into a spiral notebook to memorize, singing along, “Afternoon Delight” and “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” I had no idea.

“It’s the thing after a sentence. That’s what it’s called because it’s also the end,” Jenny said. Under the dark of our makeshift fort–a blanket covering a card table on Jenny’s front porch–we pressed Ken and Barbie into each other’s naked plastic bodies.

“The end of what?” I asked.

“Of being a kid,” she said.

“Does it hurt?”

“That’s why they call it Eve’s curse.”

“You mean like Original Sin?” Jenny didn’t go to Sunday School like I did, so I wasn’t sure how she knew that phrase. Probably from a TV commercial about Summer’s Eve, a feminine cleanser that came in a box with a woman wearing gauzy clothes. She floated as if she didn’t even have a body, let alone one with dirt so different from a man’s it required a separate product to clean it.

“No!” Jenny let out a puff of air the way she always did when she got impatient with me.

“Can we just play The Game of Life?” With its tiny plastic cars and stick people, its tidy path from career to retirement, Life was my favorite game.

“All right, crybaby, I’ll tell you.” Jenny cupped her hip. “I got my period. You know what that is? Blood on my underwear. Want to see?”

I shut my eyes.

“Like a dot at the end of the sentence,” Jenny said. “I got my dot!”

I didn’t want to tell her how afraid I was. Of the unknown, of adult responsibility, of losing control. But mostly I was afraid of the dot dragging Jenny away from me. Three years is a large gap at that age.

“Do you know where you’re going to?” Diana Ross sang through the window on the radio and, like that sentence, all mine ended with question marks, not periods: Would Jenny become a boy-crazy mean-girl? When it happened to me, would I become more like a vampire or a werewolf? Wonder Woman or the Incredible Hulk?

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Soon after Jenny announced her “dot,” I got mine.

Besides my mother, I barely told anyone. Jenny was normal, a twelve-year-old pubescent. At nine, I was a freak.

Plus, Jenny was right: it hurt. It was also messy, inconvenient, and confusing. Why was my body preparing to have babies, when I still slept with a blankie?

Jenny didn’t dump me for boys or friends her age. At least not that day or even that year. But by the time I went to junior high and she went to high school, she talked to me only when her friends weren’t around. She got a job in the summer, and her sweet sixteen sleepover was for sixteen year olds only. I couldn’t blame her, though I spent my summer biking to the library, reading Oliver Twist, and pretending I was an orphan.

My premature period didn’t rob me of my childhood. If anything, it made me cling harder to it, since adulthood was a bloody mess.

Then why am I afraid for my daughter? Parents obsess at doctor’s visits and playdates about standard developmental milestones. It seems strange, though, to fret about being early.

Maybe the conversation I need to have with my daughter is one about behavior, not biology. Once she becomes attractive to men, she needs to be able to say no. I don’t want her to be like the narrator in Deborah Eisenberg’s story, “Days,” who remembers when she was thirteen and a stranger put his hand up her skirt on the train. She “just sat there, afraid of hurting his feelings in case he hadn’t noticed where his hand was, or had a good reason for having put it there.”

I don’t want my daughter to give herself up too easily, like the teenage Margo in Bonnie Jo Campbell’s new novel, Once Upon a River, who climbs into bed with the first man who gives her shelter because “she did not know if Brian would force a girl, but he couldn’t force her if she went to him on her own.”

I’m not ready for my daughter to become vulnerable, the way I was, pinned to the wall of a viaduct at age ten; jumped by a stranger hidden in an alley at thirteen; and at fourteen, stalked by a man who wanted nothing more than to lay flowers at my feet, or so he said, before I ran. Maybe it is the rush of hormones I fear, the ones that make teenagers feel invulnerable, like the extra estrogen that talked me into taking the inner-city buses home at night in Detroit.

My breath shortens as I think about what my daughter will do with her sexual maturity and even more what will be done to her. I can’t arrest her development, but I wish I it wouldn’t happen early.

Maybe it won’t. If heredity accounts for 48 percent of early menarche, what about the other 52 percent? Some predictors of early onset menarche are family stress (such as divorce or death or child abuse in the family), absence of a biological father, and the presence of non-related men. African American girls are also more likely than Caucasians like my daughter to menstruate early.

My daughter lives in a stable family with her biological father. Perhaps my milestone was triggered by my father’s death when I was seven or by my mother’s boyfriends. Or maybe my body just reached out to Jenny’s in biological sympathy, a phenomenon that occurs when girls in the same college dorms menstruate at the same time.

I hope my daughter doesn’t start her menses in less than a year, but if she does, I’ll tell her it’s not like the period at the end of a sentence. It’s not the end of anything, just a bodily function like losing a tooth. With today’s improved products, she won’t miss a day of swim team, and I’ll slip her an extra slice of rare steak at dinner to keep her iron count up. She won’t be the anomaly I was because she doesn’t listen to opera and wear old-lady pink polyester pants; and the straight, fine hair she inherited from me has even become fashionable.

We all wish we could protect our children from the battlefield of adolescence, but we can’t. So let the bloodshed begin.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we

may see and remark, and say Whose? – Walt Whitman, from “A child asks, what is the grass?”

My wedding date was set for June 16, 2001. My ex-husband, Jim, and I spent every spare minute over six months planning the day down to the last detail. We reserved a large, beautiful cabin with the sleeping capacity for 75 people at Silver Falls State Park. We ordered wine and beer and worked with a caterer to feed the 50 guests we’d invited to our wedding, and we bought enough extra food for the 20 people who would be staying in the cabin with us for the three-day wedding festival. We found the perfect minister in the classified section of The Willamette Week and hired a local Celtic band. We had our simple, country-peasant wedding clothes custom tailored. We invited friends and family from every corner of the country. We were ready to get married.

Guests started showing up four days before the wedding. Many of Jim’s friends from his youth in Chicago came into town. His mother and her husband, his father and his girlfriend, and all three of his sisters also came.

Unfortunately, and much to my unhappiness, nearly nobody from my pre-Portland past was able to make it due to time and money constraints. Unlike Jim, who came from an affluent, middle-class childhood where almost everybody he knew had grown up to be successful, most of my kin were destitute outlaws skulking in the margins of society. Despite the fact that my mother was severely depressed and making every effort to kill herself with alcohol, Jim and I agreed to include flying her to Portland in our budget. We also paid for my sister, Kim, and her two children to come for our party. It was a time for family and loved ones, so we consciously ignored the fact that having my mom out would potentially be disastrous.

Que la via bien, my friend.
The road is a fearsome and dusty toil,
and by the wayside you will find
among the rubbish of the defeated
and debris of debauchery,
the bones of those hungry
for more than forty hours,
and a case of gringo beer.

Que la via bien, my friend.
The road is an old scar
upon the hide of this ancient place.
And the years race by
like herds of rigs down I-99.

E perdoname compa,
but I perceive
you’re but a kid with a six string,
and no particular destination.
And like all the young ones,
duffels loaded down with unhewn music
and dreams in disarray,
standing rigid in a rain of ice beside an empty freeway,
you might question the road taken—
this trail of tears guttered and rutted to the very ends.

And so, I ‘m here to warn you friend, the road can ruin,
can deal you a bad deck down a drunken arroyo.

This word, romance?
It is but a shabby paperback.
Any truth found therein: dog eared and cast asunder.
Cheaply bought was the ruination of Kerouac,
along with so many others, crowding our graveyards.

This highway,
she can wear out the heart
like degraded treads of second-hand tires.
Can send you head on to that tragedy
waiting in the weeds just past the guardrail.

E por eso, que la via bien, my friend.
And understand that this gringo,
this vagabundo will incite the prayers
of all the angels of the highways.
Those of tear-smeared mascara and heaving cleavages,
I call out to you.

Light a candle to the lonely one.

Protect him,
and when he lies wrecked and bleeding,
somewhere in the middling of life—
lost by the roadside, beside the ribcages of his brethren—
take him to your bosom, comfort him.
Wash his feet and anoint them with Vaseline.

All done with love.
With love.