Old Habits

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I am sitting in the front seat in a white van with seven other filmmakers. As we pull away from the airport heading to Birmingham proper, we introduce ourselves to the others. Our films have been programmed to play at the Sidewalk Film Festival and everyone is happy, including our driver, a red-faced, cherub cheeked, gap-toothed man. He hands a festival poster back for us to sign.

“You never know when one of you might become famous,” he says. “might be worth something some day.” We all sign it.

I’m in this van by accident. I’ve taken a respite from the exorbitantly expensive hobby of submitting my films to festivals, though, apparently, under the influence of coffee or wine, I shot off a submission in a random, unfocused manner and got accepted into the line-up.

The acceptance email was lost in the shuffle and swirl of my post-burglary emails, my acclimation to my new technological landscape on the slow side. Inspired, by one of my new anthem, I pledged that “living well is the best revenge” and that no drug-addled thief would stop me from playing in this random festival. I nearly blew up my computer first searching for files of the film ,then downloading software that could actually open it on my fledgling computer. The discovery of an egregious continuity error, one that I had missed despite my weeks of editing, watching, editing, watching, threw me into a tail spin. I considered surrender. But then I pushed it from my mind. I will do this, I told myself. And, somehow, I did.

I wasn’t planning to go to the festival. And then I was. And then I wasn’t. And then I was. And then I wasn’t. And then I ran into a dog walking buddy who programs films for festivals. “You have to go,” he said. “It’s one of the best festivals out there. And it’s so much fun.”

So, I decided to go. And then I decided not to. And then I decided to go. And then I decided not to. And then I booked a flight on miles and a hotel room reservation on my credit card. And then I packed my things in boxes among the deadly drilling of deconstruction outside my apartment window and the smell of entropy emanating from my hoarder neighbor’s apartment, the ego shattering, but successful, attempt to earn my motorcycle license without killing someone, and the vague, head-splitting dive into a major mid-life crisis.

I mean ‘crisis’ in a good way.

And then I decided not to go.

And then I went.

I’m a sucker for a happy-ish ending. Aren’t you?

Of the eight others in the van, one is drives, five make documentaries, and two are animators. One lives in Alabama, one has been at the festival before, one knows all about the festival, but has never been, and six of us have no idea what to expect.

It was great.

It was great because with these others film makers, and the other others I met over the weekend, film makers and film watchers both, I remembered who I am.

In the van, at the party, walking the sidewalks from venue to venue, we label ourselves. Our bright yellow lanyards read ‘filmmaker.’ This weekend, we are special. When asked, we label what we do, how we make our films, the medium within the medium of visual story telling. But as we drink our beers, wine, fruit juice, and soda the labels peel away until we all become versions of each other. We are story-tellers. Every single one of us.

Stories are human. Stories keep us connected. Stories are real. Stories, our silly little, serious little stories are important.

Walking through the streets, I felt a little important, like a toy soldier fighting to keep the doorway of communication open by clearing a path with my stories so that others can tell theirs.

I wonder what would happen if there came a day when every human individual laughed at the very same time. What would all of humanity do with all that joy? Would our laughter cause the mountains to shake?

That was Thursday.

On Friday, I wander into an uptown coffee shop that may or may not a nursery for baby hipsters. The coffee guys are fresh-faced and clean, dressing in white button down and vintage ties, the southern version of their New York City Stumptown Coffee brethren. They don’t speak so much as languidly spill words which run together like soft cloth, even as their coffee breaks through both cream and sugar. It’s the sort of coffee that requires a water back.

This fuel rockets me first into the blazing sun, and then to the Birmingham Museum of Art, where Hale Woodruff’s Talladega College murals tell stories so deep of slavery and emancipation, that I begin to weep caffeine clouded tears.

On Saturday, I wake up early. I need that coffee, I covet that coffee, I desire that coffee with such a fever that I’m pulled from my hotel room into the sweltering streets. Before the street is the lobby and before that, the elevator, which packed with twelve orange shirts. Smiling, chattering people, boldly stating that “all lives matter,” and that “Planned Parenthood and the MIddle East are monsters.” There is a Glenn Beck rally happening a few streets over from the film festival. Oil and water.

They swarm my coffee place asking a million little questions, struggling with the milk thermos, keeping me from my drug. I leave defeated, yet determined to find coffee somewhere between here and there. A good cup. Birmingham’s street throb with history and heart, a good cup of coffee can’t be that hard to find…

Every corner, ever sidewalk is packed. People with orange shirts. I ping-pong through the crowd. Another good coffee place, another crowd. Where are my people, I silently cry. Where’s my coffee? And for a terrible moment, I ask myself a terrible question. Where are the story-tellers, the glue that hold this place together.

And then, in a moment, I catch myself swimming upstream against the current as scared of the fish I’m surrounded by as they are of me. And I resolve to talk to someone with an orange shirt and ask them what and why.

I do it, too. At the airport the following day.

Some land has a heart beat, some cities, a pulse. Birmingham, I slowly realize, has a soul that expands and contracts with every given victory, every given deception. It’s alive, and it’s flavor is deeply complex.

“What was your biggest take away,” I ask the orange shirt as we line up to board. I know him from the hotel van.

“We’re all one,” he says, “and I should go to church more often. And I wish we had a black Baptist church where I’m from,” he adds. “My congregation back home don’t know how to sing at all.”

Birmingham, I think I have a crush on you.

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24 Hour Good Luck Taxi Cab Company

car2Dear friends,

I’ve had a lot on my mind these past few weeks.

The writing’s on the wall.

Christmas candy and wreaths are on display at the dollar store and the weather, as contrary as it is, is leaning stronger in one direction than the other. Even the sun rains down warm golden hues, like the skin of a perfectly cooked turkey. Restless Autumn breathes in green and breathes out reds, yellows, and browns. Summer’s over and the year is tumbling towards its end.

For me, time, destiny, and desire are at odds with each other, and I find myself lost in the labyrinth of life, where nothing seems to change, even if everything is different.

My study of dating rituals across the country has been stymied twice in the past two months. My Nebraska trip blocked by an angry madman in Chicago and the fires he set. I cancelled my Maryland trip for the more personal reasons of exhaustion and apathy. The cool blows in every night and lingers until morning. And I, buried deep in the down comfort corners of my little home, am lulled to sleep by its song.

Last night as I lay in bed listening to my dog’s whistling snores, I wondered if it’s time for me to move on. I’ve dated from shore to shore for three years and still, 24 states loom large, their dating cultures just beyond my reach. Rent, work, and dog bones have hindered my ambition. Perhaps it is time for me to bring this story to an end.

A good friend once said, “the years go by and we just don’t die, and so we keep getting older and older.” Time is a ticking clock and I have many other stories to tell.

I fell asleep. And in my sleep I dreamt.

There was a doorway on a side street on an island much like Manhattan. The streets and alleys were washed in endless gradients of grey. Above the dream doorway was a sign that flashed “24 hour good luck cab company.” Just beyond the dark grey exterior and the light grey bricks, just through the door, was another door. That door was open, too. There was a desk. And a phone. A red wall. A praying mantis leaned its elbows on the counter, reading a book.

I suspected I was witnessing a moment I was not supposed to see. I stepped inside.

“Where to,” said the bug.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“A lovely destination. One of my favorites.”

And then, as it is with dreams, I was sitting in the backseat of a taxicab. The driver was a ladybug, as fat as could be. It’s belly pressed up against the steering wheel, its girth taking up most of the front seat. A tooth pick hung from the corner of his lips. He winked when he talked.

We drove through the dull and dreary landscape, over hills, and around traffic circles.

Then, the landscape changed. High rises and street lamps gave way to hills and valleys of jagged edges, at once as beautiful as snow and as frail as fallen leaves.

“Where are we,” I asked, leaning forward on the seat. The back edge of his wing tickled my fingers.

“We’re passing through the Valley of White Noise. It’s always been a vast area, but lately it’s grown even larger, wider, longer. See over there -” He pointed into the distance, where what looked like mountains emerged from a melting fog. “Those are new. The landscape’s shifting.” He slowed the car.

“It’s a coral reef made from words,” I gasped. “Used words.”

He smiled, winked, and nodded. “Do you want to see your corner?”

“I have real estate in the Valley of White Noise?”

He nodded. “Almost everyone does. Some cover more territory than others.”

I shuddered and shook my head. “I don’t want to see,” I said. “I don’t want to know.”

“What don’t you want to know,” he asked.

“I don’t want to know what I don’t want to know anymore,” I cried. “I don’t want to hear what I don’t want to hear. I don’t want to see what I don’t want to see. And I don’t want to see where my words, thoughts, ideas go to die.”

He shifted his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “That is a problem,” he said. “But since you know you don’t want to know what you don’t want to know, I would submit that you are closer to facing what you don’t want to know then you might realize.”

To which I answered, “my brain hurts.”

“The best cure for your affliction,” he said, “to ask to see what it is you don’t want to know.” He paused for emphasis. “It’s likely that your fate is bigger than your dreams.”

With that, I awoke. It was the early hours of the morning. My dog lay on her side, still snoring, still dreaming. I stirred her from her sleep, stirred myself from my sleep, stumbled into my shoes and sleepy dog and sleepy human, together, walked out of the apartment and into the world.

The city streets were shaking themselves awake, one garbage truck, one livery cab, one school bus at a time. Step by step, we stirred to life together.

I recently wrote a personal statement for a project I’m proposing. In it, I talk about story-telling. There was a time I thought it a frivolous use of one’s energy. I struggled with this thought, as telling stories is the only thing I’ve ever really, really want to do. I’ve since changed my mind. I say in my essay, though it’s not an original thought, bears repeating over and over again:

“Here’s one thing I’ve learned, working as I have: no matter the medium, we story-tellers need to be brave enough to take the responsibility of voicing our visions and humble enough to present them to an audience of one, for if we touch one life, change one paradigm, help one person, we’ve changed the world.”

And with that, I’ve decided to place this blog on a hiatus, maybe forever, or maybe until something interesting, something important, or something worth adding to The Valley of White Noise, occurs. This may or may not include ukulele, backflips, a trip to Thailand, tea with an elephant, congress with a whale, strange dreams, a couple more dates in a couple more states, and, if I’m very, very lucky, a move to Hawaii.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming project The Book of Diva, be kind to Santa Claus, and eat lots of cookies.

almost always,

Amy

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If

IMG_0007We found a bird on the sidewalk. One wing splayed out to the side. His eyes fluttered open, then closed. We knelt beside him; I ran a finger down his heaving chest. We protected him from a curious dog and an oblivious human foot. We figured he was dying and wondered if we should intervene, if we could save his life, or at least provide a soft, safe place for him to pass.

Obi pushed the bird’s wing back in towards his body. I lifted him into Obi’s cupped hands. The bird didn’t struggle. He didn’t move. We walked up the block together and that’s where we parted. I went to work. Obi carried the bird to his apartment.

There was something about how that bird looked at us, turning its head from me to Obi and back again. He had no fear and no hope. He surrendered into the warmth of a stranger’s hand as if it was the obvious, the only, thing to do. In a battle between fate and free-will, he surrendered to that which was bigger than him, and kinder than the panting sidewalks and angry cars of Manhattan.

Before the bird, we were drinking coffee, talking about the fine filaments in the spiderweb of life and how we both appreciate the journey we’re on even if we somewhat dread our endlessly impending arrival into the Land of Outcome. We wondered what if we were to discover the Land of Outcome is nothing like how the brochures describe it.

Life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, we agreed, except once you make a choice and turn the pages, you can only go back to page one and try something different in your imagination.

This somewhat depressed the both of us, so we drank more coffee.

And then, I tried to make him feel better by deconstructing advice someone once gave to me.

Years ago, I was bartender in a fancy boutique hotel. The hotel was a lesson in chaos theory. I don’t know how the bricks stayed put with the disastrous happenings inside. The veneer had a high polish. Any strangers looking in could only see a reflection of themselves. But, on the other side of the pristine facade, the truth hid in plain sight. The place was a train wreck. The managers ran and hid when there was an issue that needed attending to, the cooks were drunks, the customers were drunks, the bellhops – drunks. The front desk people were embezzling thousands of dollars, and we, the servers of ostentatious inefficiency, kept everyone fat, happy, and willfully ignorant.

I quit that job three times with a carefully worded letters of resignation. They kept putting me on the schedule. I kept showing up. I was hypnotized by the specter of responsibility. And I was curious to see what would happen next.

At that time, I thought I knew what success looked like. I was itching for it. And though my imagined success rested on the shoulders of others, I thought somehow, I was driving the car.

My work friend, a beautiful wounded bird of a woman, had been a model in the eighties. She insisted that beauty was a curse. To me, her scars were elegant, beguiling, and mysterious.

I was driven, ambitious, and determined. I wanted what I wanted – and believed if I wanted it hard enough and long enough, I’d have it, no matter the cost. I was speeding down the highway with no map, no clear destination. Just me behind the wheel, foot on the gas, driving like my fender was on fire.

On a night filled with drunk Japanese businessmen drinking single malt scotch like it was Coca Cola, we hid half-eaten platters of sushi and bottles of beers in the back room to eat and drink when the party ended and the place was ours again.

Later, while sipping beers on the hotel balcony, she said, “take the back seat.”

Bad advice, I thought. Terrible suggestion. I didn’t like it one bit.

Turns out, my co-worker’s advice wasn’t a suggestion.

Turns out, I wasn’t driving the car back then. I’m not driving now. And I never have.

Turns out I don’t even have a driver’s license.

“What she was really telling me,” I said to Obi, “was ‘stop being a back seat driver.’ No one likes a back seat driver. And if you stop to think about it, it’s not your car to begin with, but a borrowed vehicle.”

“A borrowed vehicle that’s taking you places you may or may not want to go.”

“Yes.”

“If I’m not driving the car and I don’t get to tell the car where go, or how fast, or the shortest route – why am I even a passenger?”

“You help pay for gas.”

In a noble attempt to change the subject, Obi then launched into a story about he nearly sustained a career ending injury at work. “It was bad,” he pouted, “there’s not even a mark to show for it.

“No one believes you?”

“Nope.”

“They’re assholes,” I said.

“But their car ride’s much faster than mine.”

“I’d rather the scenic route. Even if it is slow, at least it’s never boring.”

I called Obi a couple of hours after we parted to check up on the bird. It was sitting on the window sill, alert and peaceful.

“He hasn’t moved since we got here,” he said. “I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Probably he just needs time to heal.”

“You’re a good person,” I said.

“No, I’m not. But I can tell when something needs a little bit of help.”

“Give him water,” I said, “in a little dish. Or on a rag” I was thinking that if this little bird lived, he might turn things around for Obi. They could become best friends. The bird could teach Obi about the joys of riding in the back seat in the car ride of life.

And if the bird died at least it died protected, in warmth and safety.

When I was twelve or nine or some such age, I held a crow in my lap as it died. I didn’t know what to do, so I sang in lullabies and rocked it for an hour or two. And just before its final breath, there was a surge of energy. Its beak opened, its wings spread, its head arched, and it tried to fly.

After we talked, Obi took the bird to his building courtyard. The bird rested in his palm for a minute or two, then flew to the fire escape. And then it flew away.

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Fuck You, Litter Lady, Fuck You

December 10

I have a problem.

I love Christmas.

I love the lights. I love the smells. I love how happy everyone pretends to be. I love it so much that I’m already thinking about it. I love it so much, I’m willing to skip over Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving in order to set up the little white tinsel tree at work.

Also, I love my dog so much, it’s stupid.

***

When I was six, or somewhere around there, my mother pulled me aside and explained to me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

I believe this is a right of passage for every Jewish American kid. The first indication that you’re not like other children, that you have a secret knowledge not all youngsters are privy to. That that special day of family and food, opening presents, and singing nice songs about jingling bells and a flying fat man, are for other people. And not for you.

“Don’t tell the other children,” she warned.

I held the secret of Santa Claus deep in the chambers of my heart, locked away in a strong box, deeply saddened by the absence of that great man.

Though, for a few years, I did try to sneak him cookies. Just in case.

How I wished he would stop by and say hello.

I never spoke of him. Not a single word. Until one day, decades later, the pull became too great and I commenced writing a holiday script.

It’s called Repo Santa.

I believe it’s one of my finest works.

***

I have another problem.

Plastic shopping bags.

Though those troublesome wastes of petroleum have their uses – household garbage, namely, if you don’t keep a handle on them, they multiply like kangaroos.

Other ways to cull the plastic bag collection: abandon them at the dog run for other bag-trodden dog owner to use, wrap presents, create insulation, make art, stuff pillows.

Even if you’re determined, as I am, to avoid the plastic shopping bag situation, they find you at your weakest points and insinuate themselves back into your life.

With one comes another. And another. And another. They’re unstoppable.

***

It happened like this:

My plastic bag collection was at a dramatic low. On one hand, I was triumphant, having put to re-use the last of my plastic bags. On the other hand, I now had a different problem to solve. I had no disposable vessels in which to deposit my trash, send it down the garbage shoot and out of my life.

I mentioned my dilemma at work. And, well, someone had more plastic bags in the trunk of their car than they knew what to do with.

– I’ll take a few, I said.

– I’ll bring you an entire bag. They are taking over my car.

– Just a few will get me by, I said.

The next day, she gave me with bodaciously overloaded yellow plastic shopping bag full of bags.

I hung my head and said:

– Thank you.

***

December 13

***

I decided to keep the bag of bags under my desk at work. I’d whittle the collection down week to week, taking what only what was needed.

Furthermore, I developed a plastic bag plan.

I would use the plastic bags for the good of all mankind. Each morning, when I walked my dog, I would fill one plastic bag with litter.

I had my limits, of course. I wouldn’t pick up anything that would give a disease, for instance. I would be a ninja super-hero litter lady – as cool as the Guatemalan woman in my neighborhood who collects cans very morning in her fedora, but in secret.

It wasn’t hard at first. During the summer, my dog and I wake up with the sun. The streets are quiet. I didn’t want anyone to see.

I had my spots – a tree well that, for some reason, collects bottles and candy wrappers, the ramp into the park, where I can pluck cups and cans from the ledges without anyone noticing, and the bushes and beaches by the river, where a Schlitz beer loving band of merry-makers likes to leave their mark.

The plastic bag plan was going gangbusters.

But, summer’s ended. The sun rises later. And when we walk, we walk while children go to school, adults leave for work, and superintendents sweep the sidewalks. For a while, I persevered in the open, for all to see, my yellow plastic shopping bag swinging from my wrist.

But eventually, I lost heart.

***

I explain my tragic defeat to Nikki.

She doesn’t understand.

– You know how people are, I say.

– Nope.

– Someone will get mad at me for picking up trash. And then they’ll circle me until someone throws a rotten tomato at my head and yells “fuck you, litter lady, fuck you.”

– That’s what I would do.

– “Who do you think you are,” they’d taunt. They’d think I was some snooty person telling them how to live. Insist that they like their litter just where it is. If they didn’t want the litter there, they would put it in the trash. A poet among them will say that kicking through trash is the urban equivalent of the crunching of dried leaves in autumn. I have to do it in ninja-style or not at all.

– Or maybe the bag idea would go viral.

I shake my head.

– I don’t want to be famous. I just like picking up trash.

***

In my holiday script, Santa Claus (NIck) is semi-retired in South Florida, the elf jobs have been shipped overseas, Mrs. Claus is running overseas operations. and many, though not all, of the stateside elves work at Rudemart Department Store stocking shelves.

It’s nearly Christmas, Santa’s slightly depressed. His sleigh goes missing off the streets of his gated community. He goes to find it. An innocent in a big bad world, he teams up with Duke Roughstone, the rightful heir to the Rudemart corporation who lost his controlling share to his brother during a game of Mousetrap when he was eight, to become a home appliance repo-man on a pre-holiday repo-race. The prize, a share of Rudemart stock, will tilt ownership of the store back to Duke.

Santa’s unique skill set ( i.e. he’s a whiz at packing and getting in and out of tight spaces) is an asset to the job. but when he finds out that he’s been conned, that he’s ruining a lot of people’s Christmases by repossessing their toaster ovens, he loses heart.

In the end, it all works out. Everyone gets their appliances back. Christmas is saved.

It’s a holiday story after all.

And I love Christmas.

Also, I love my dog so much it’s stupid.

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36 Hours Out of Omaha; or things to do when your plane doesn’t fly

IMG_2065Saturday:

5 a.m.: Wake up and roll out of bed. Meet a car on your stoop to drive you to that pimple on the face of the FAA, LaGuardia Airport. Get lost a few different ways before entering airport. Secure your ticket to Omaha. You’re on your way!

6 a.m. Endure the early morning assault of angry fluorescents as you make your way through the highly dysfunctional security lines where angry, post-pubescent TSA employees treat you with unique indifference and disdain. Witness their peevish attitudes of antipathy mixed with apathy – second only to the extraordinarily mean and petty elder TSA employees in Chicago.

If a fish rots from the head down, as they say. LaGuardia airport’s fish head clearly decomposed years ago

6:30 a.m.: Just past the often overwhelmed Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk in Terminal B, find the gateways to the only good reason to come to LaGuardia Airport – Southwest Airlines. Notice that the lines have stalled. Sit by the gate entrance and listed for flight delay information. Ask the nice lady with the microphone what you should do should you miss your connection. Peruse the New York Times article: “36 hours in Omaha,” circle points of interest, and plan the day ahead, despite sinking suspicion that the next 36 hours will be spent someplace else.

7:12 a.m.: Check flight status. Eavesdrop on conversation between airline employee and mysterious decision-maker and/or messenger type on other end of her phone. Ascertain that nothing this morning is going as planned for almost every person there, and relish in the metaphorical one-ness of all of humanity stuck in a dingy, dirty, smelly, ugly airport.

7:14 a.m.: Speak to a customer representative at service desk. Ask representative if you can change flight to San Francisco. Marvel at the dissatisfied couple yelling at the customer service employees for the policies of the FAA, given that planes are grounded not out of some strange conspiracy to keep them from their daughter’s wedding, but rather because some asshole tried to burn down a radar facility while trying to slit his own throat. Lose compassion for couple, as they are cantankerous and self-entitled. And because husband sports long hair and a comb over.

Surrender to being stranded at home.

7:26 a.m.: Walk way from the gate. Should a fellow customer ask why you are leaving, as cancellation has not yet been announced, tell them you are going apple picking.

8:15 a.m.: Arrive home, confirm for personal edification that flight has been canceled.

Take a nap.

10:45 a.m.: Get a good cup of coffee at Cafe Bunni  (213 Pinehurst Avenue), and treat yourself and friend to spinach croissants and cappuccinos. Sit on bench outside, and run into friend who has recently become a father and his baby daughter. Ogle baby, catch up with friend. Run into another friend who has recently become a father. Repeat.

11:17 a.m.: Agree to drive north with friend who has not recently become a father, but does have a car, to a surprise location.

Enjoy beginnings of fall foliage lining the Saw-Mill River Parkway as you co-author the beginnings of what is sure to be a Pulitzer Prize winning a novel (excerpt below).

12:30 p.m.: Arrive at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Find seat in field and watch antique airplane air show. Consider the history of flight, from their Curtiss Pusher Model D to their DeHavilland DH.82 Tiger Moth. Marvel at the poetry of stunt flying and admire shiny planes do what they were built to do. Fly.

Enjoys tales of Manhattan resident and plane enthusiast who built a life-size plane model in his New York City studio apartment. Wonder if people in Omaha are having as much fun as you.

4:30 p.m.: Meander through the historic Kensico Cemetery (273 Lakeview Ave, Valhalla, NY). Perhaps you will be lucky enough to catch a Korean funereal with marching band from afar. Read tombstone names and dates. Wonder at the lives lived and the stories buried under their grounds.

6 p.m.: Arrive back home. Eat an apple with peanut butter, take a bath in your own bathtub, read in bed, and fall asleep earlier than is proper.

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Sunday:

8 a.m.: Splurge on another expensive coffee drink at fancy cafe.

Run into dog walking buddy, buy her coffee and pet her dog as she regales you with stories about New York in the eighties. Luxuriate in the last gasps of summer. People watch.

10 a.m.: Enjoy second coffee while plotting a new project at the outdoor tables of 181 Cabrini (181st St. and Cabrini Avenue). Sit at table with yellow pad and until a random friend passes by and joins you.

10:45 a.m.: Drunk brunch at 181 Cabrini with random friend. Explain new project while inhaling spicy and intriguing (despite disappointing olive garnishes) Bloody Marys.

Eat bacon.

Drink coffee.

2 p.m. Attend a Broadway show (Cabaret) on account of your exceptionally talented friend performing in a principal role. Blubber at all the right points because you forget that she is anyone but the character she portrays. She’s that good.

4:45 p.m. Wander through the backstage of theater trying to find an exit after visiting friend.

6 p.m. Arrive home. Pet happy dog, eat a pear, drink beer. Explain to pet-sitting/ delivering friend the presence of potatoes with faces in the refrigerator. Wonder if anyone in Omaha has potatoes with faces in their refrigerator.

Read in bed.

Remind yourself never to cry over a missed flight.

***

Excerpt from my co-authored soon be award-winning novel, Drive North:

There I was; I though I was gonna die. Between the burger, the pizza, the apple pie, though I only ate three slices, and the mango, which seemed like a good idea at the time, my stomach was in knots.

My stomach. It’s always been a barometer for my emotional well-being, regardless of what I eat. So, sitting backstage, waiting to perform my spoon dance in front of thousands of people for a chance to be on national t.v. and change my life seemed, in that moment, like a VERY BAD IDEA.

The competition was fierce, though I knew no one possessed the special skills that I have with moving cutlery and flatware. Still, competing against a contortionist who I’ve seen slide a twenty-six inch kiebalsa down her throat and back up again whole was daunting.The other guys, the card trick magician, the jello-juggler, the clown who made funny noises with his body parts, they didn’t faze me a bit. But Mitsy, in her gold lame ball gown and six inch heels, was invincible.

Aside from the sound of jello slapping the floor the room was silent, the tension thick. the kid who tap-danced on his hands and knees had just taken his bow. In two acts, I would be up.

How I wished I hadn’t eaten that mango…

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Vertically Inclined

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Obi threw out his back dead-lifting an opera singer at a rehearsal for that not-for profit, union-busting Succubus of an institution where art goes to die. Sunday morning finds him supine on the hardwood floor of his apartment, soul searching, instead of drinking coffee with me. Just when I need him the most.

No one to talk to, nothing important to do, a little too much time on my hands, I harass my dog with rambunctious displays of affection until she hides under the bed.

As summer makes a speedy exit and my dog eyes me with distrust, I’m left to rattle around in the house of my imagination, and I’m pulled towards the attic where memories live. I’m tempted to dig through boxes, handle clues, and search for Where It All Began.

The task is more than useless. It’s problematic.

First of all, no life can be reduced to a single “it.” Rather, life’s a series of “its.” Like an “it” tree. All the “its,” attach by overpowering magnetic force, spawn like an endless display of flowers and buds, or cling to fine filaments of spider silk.

The attic of memories looks suspiciously like the attic of the house I grew up in. It’s an unfinished crawl space with boards laid across the beams from one end to the other. The room is stuffy and hot, no matter the season, and packed with dusty old toys, suitcases of ancient gloves and hats, and haunting portraits of people I assume are relatives, though no one could ever tell me who they were.

In the attic of memories in the house of imagination, boxes are crammed with impressions, recollections, remembrances, and dreams. All it takes is a thought, fleeting feeling, a turn of a phrase for that fucking attic door to tumble open.

Why the hell was Obi dead-lifting an opera singer? You’d think he would have learned a thing or two when he was cast to perform naked yoga at that opera at BAM. I call him to tell him so. He doesn’t pick up.

What I most want to talk to Obi about were the instructions a recent date presented to me should I decide to break up with him. He gave his guidance on our first date, which leads me to believe there might be a second date. And a third, and maybe a fourth. We might even date beyond the point where changing one’s phone number or moving out of town is a sufficient strategy for breaking up.

As I tend to locate the exit doors to all my relationships prior to take off, knowing how things should end before they begin strangely comforting.

The instructions:

If and when I decide to break up with him, all I need to do is make him a perfectly seasoned, nicely breaded, baked until golden brown, topped with melted mozzarella and a subtly nuance tomato sauce, zucchini parmesan.

They say the way into a man’s heart is his stomach. I guess it’s also the way out.

When he says this, the attic trap blows open and a certain box, rattled by the wind calls to me.

I have history with zucchini.

My father was a city boy. He grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan, decades before it was a desirable neighborhood. The only vegetables he knew were pickles, black olives, and over-cooked peas. It wasn’t until he was well in thirties, installed in a house in the suburbs with a wife and children and an ample lawn, that he decided to have a vegetable garden.

In this garden, with the help of his reluctant daughters, he grew carrots, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, radishes, corn, and zucchini.

I don’t know if you know about zucchini and how it grows, but it grows. And grows. And grows. If you don’t take the zucchini off the vine, it grows. Perhaps he believed the length of his zucchini a testament to his green thumb. His zucchini grew to mythic proportions. tall as a six-year-old child, as durable as a baseball bat, as fat as boa constrictor. The zucchini grew big enough to eat us.

My mother, a terrible cook, incorporated zucchini in every meal. She baked zucchini bread so heavy and moist that it soaked through our lunch bags. Then there was stuffed zucchini, zucchini pasta, zucchini crudite, zucchini boats, zucchini casserole, and soggy zucchini parmesan.

My father, a terrible cook, stewed the leftover zucchini. He bought a freezer to store it in.

Winter, spring, summer, and fall, zucchini plagued my family. Even after my father died, my mother and I worked through the rubbery, frozen zucchini my father left behind. It was when I left for college, that my mother finally tossed the remaining leftovers and gave the freezer away.

Breaking up zucchini style makes perfect sense to me.

But, what are my break-up instructions? I have none. I think I should figure something out. Something easy. Something fun.

Break up by zucchini doesn’t work for me, as I’ve healed relationship with the melon. I don’t know any other foods that would prompt me to end a relationship, no matter how bland.

I look to the bookcase and pull the dating reference tome “How to Succeed With Women,” by Ron Louis and David Copeland.

Chapter 13 in “How to Succeed With Women” offers a comprehensive overview on how to break up. This counter advice is woefully omitted in the their lauded follow-up book “How to Succeed With Men.” No matter. I’m well prepared to break up with someone via zucchini. All I’ll need to do is a little food shopping, a little food preparation, and turn on the oven. What I need is to figure out the easiest, nicest, most pleasant way for someone to break up with me.

They instruct on the pre-work for a breakup:

* Don’t date a woman for more than a month.

* Get all your things out of her apartment first.

* Make sure she doesn’t view you as a long term man.

* Don’t plan events with her in advance.

* Don’t be the perfect boyfriend.

All helpful hints, but I lack imagination when it comes to the actual event. The rest of the chapter is no help.

I try Obi again. He picks up.

He’s still supine, but bored with soul searching. I read him the break-up chapter.

“Thoughts?”

“Asparagus,” he says.

“I like asparagus.”

“When I was young, my mother made us harvest wild asparagus from the graveyard. I can’t even look at it without thinking about dead people.”

“I don’t have those issues.”

“Yeah. Definitely asparagus.”

I guess everyone’s got their thing.20140914_084300

Middle Earth

April 11

There’s a man I see at night on the subway platform. He rides the same train I do. He stands under five feet, his back is hunched, and his head stooped forward. He’s Chinese, with a wide, kind face. His nose points towards the ground. He pulls a suitcase on wheels nearly as large as he is. He’s hard to miss.

He looks like he’s an alchemist, a wizard of some sort. Like someone from some place close by, but very far away. Where, perhaps, he is capable of great power and commands great respect.

This little old man ambles with his suitcase to the bottom of the first set of stairs in the underground lair of the our subway station. Some kind soul will carry his suitcase up the stairs. He rides the tired escalator to the turnstiles. Once on the upper level, another passerby will carry his suitcase up the second and third flight of stairs, into the starry night. I’ve seen it happen hundred of times.

I’ve known since the first time I saw him, that it will one day be my turn to carry his suitcase. And at that time, I’ll have to make a choice, either abandon my sometimes suffocating shyness and take his suitcase, or rush on by.

I ask my neighbor if she’s ever seen him. Her eyes widen and laughs.

“I saw him for the first time yesterday,” she says. “He was going into the station.”

“He looks like he’s from middle earth.”

She nods. “He does.”

“I carried his suitcase for him yesterday,” I tell her. “It was my turn.”

“I carried his suitcase, yesterday, too,” she says.

“I think he’s magic,” I say.

“I was smiling about him the entire day,” she says.

“His suitcase was light.”

“I don’t think there was anything in it at all.”

“When we stepped outside, the mean man from the paper shop, the one who never smiles, ran out to give him a newspaper.”

“He commands respect,” she says.

“Where does he come from?”

“Where does he go?”

“Middle earth,” we say to each other.

And we marvel at the little man, with a quiet presence, who never asks for anything, but accepts everything… who gives to all an opportunity to carry his suitcase.

“Who is he?”

“Someone must know.”

***

February 7It’s pumpkin flavor season,. I’m happy about that. I’m driving down a road I’ve driven down many times before with a fancy coffee warming my hands. The leaves haven’t yet changed, but the air smells like fall. Like its trying to seduce me into believing that cold weather is quaint and cozy, like pumpkin pie.

My friend is driving. I’m shotgun. We’re not talking much, for no other reason than the windows are open and the trees are still green and the thoughts in his head don’t match the thoughts in mine.

I’m thinking about what the old man carries in his suitcase. My friend, apparently, is thinking about strawberry ice cream.

“Do you like it?”

“Not at all,” I say. The very thought of strawberry ice cream makes me squirm.

“I guess you’re not an alien, then,” he concludes.

“What’s strawberry ice cream have to do with that,” I ask.

“Aliens like strawberry ice cream.”

He’s so matter of fact and nods with authority. I suppose, since he’s been around, that there is a chance he is correct. Someone out there likes strawberry ice cream, I’m surmise.

“Which aliens,” I ask. “There’s more than one sort.”

He shrugs, which lends authenticity to his claim. There’s nothing more convincing than someone who admits to the limits of their knowledge.

“There are people who sit in their RVs in the desert and wait for aliens. They all have strawberry ice cream in their coolers.”

“Alright,” I say, “this is where that strategy could go all wrong. First, why would someone try to attract an alien from outer space, not knowing what that alien’s about?”

“I don’t know. To say they met one?”

“That’s like putting out bear bait so you can get a picture with one attacking you. Second, different aliens, I would assume, enjoy different things. The strawberry ice cream aliens, clearly can’t get strawberry ice cream on their own planet. But wouldn’t it stand to reason, that some aliens might consider human brain a delicacy? And maybe, just maybe, the ones who seem all warm and fuzzy are the ones who like to dine on human flesh. And the ones you want to run from because they’re oozing slime are actually kind, witty conversationalist, and great at parties.”

“Did E.T. like strawberry ice cream?”

“No. Third, who says aliens and other-worldly life comes from out there?” I point to the sky. “Maybe some use inter-dimensional time travel, or ride sounds waves. Some are probably so small we can’t even see them. So what happens if you attract an alien you can’t see who can suck things through the molecular walls of plastic that are cooling your strawberry ice cream and eats it all before you can share it with the other people out in the desert bored out of their heads, waiting for aliens with their strawberry ice cream. Also, it would be good to know if they like good strawberry ice cream, or bad strawberry ice cream. Gourmet, or, you know, chemical.”

“You are very passionate about this,” he says.

I don’t tell him, because I know he won’t believe me, my profound shyness is the fourth reason I would never try to attract aliens for dessert in the desert. I’m no good at parties. I shudder at networking events. I cringe at bars when someone smiles at me. What if I found myself face to face with an alien and had nothing to say? What then? Would anyone ever believe me?

***

Per the man from middle earth, with his empty suitcase rattling down the subway platform, I wonder what sort of things he likes and what he transports every night in that suitcase of his.

“Maybe the suitcase has a few odds and ends he doesn’t need. He carries it to give us an opportunity to help him. For his blessings and good will,” says my neighbor

“He said he liked my scarf,” I said. “And asked me if it was going to rain.”

“When I saw him, his shirt wasn’t buttoned properly,” she says. “He was one button off. I told him so.”

This question of aliens and strawberry ice cream seems absurd. Especially, when such beautiful poetry exists amongst humankind.

That’s the fifth reason why attracting aliens from outer space is something I just don’t care to do.

December 15

Mysteries

hudson water towerMiles’s mustache went missing.

It leapt from the precarious perch of the tip of my finger and twirled through the air. I feared it fell into the dark nether regions between wall and floor. But I dutifully searched for that brown patch of fake facial hair on the black floors and carpets of a dimly lit backstage until I needed to be somewhere else.

“Mustache down,” I called to the stage left crew.

“If you find a mustache, it’s mine,” I hurled upstage.

“We lost one,” I confessed to my crew.

And finally, I broke the news to Miles.

“It’s a mystery,” an actress exclaimed with dramatic flair. She set out to find it, convinced it was riding on the hem of a skirt or the bottom of a shoe.

“We’ll discover it attached to a rocks glass on stage,” suggested another.

“It’s on the wheel of a moving set piece,” my associate stated, having been in this position before.

“I’m sure it will turn up,” I said, ever calm in the face of catastrophe. Between you and me, I was not convinced that this would be the case.

That was Thursday,

***

On Saturday, there was the wedding. It is at a farm outside of Hudson, New York. Hudson’s one of those river towns with good coffee and art galleries that make you think small town life is perfectly designed to fit one’s ethics into one’s way of life. By all appearances, it is an open-minded city-dwellers utopia… if you don’t scratch the surface too hard.

Some are moved by mountains, others the beach. As for me, I’ve been romanced by rivers, streams, oceans, bays, and sounds my entire life. Of them all, mighty Hudson River has claimed the biggest piece of my heart.

They say home is where the heart is. My heart is trapped inside my body. It goes wherever I go. As I wander the streets and galleries of Hudson, I conclude that so long as there’s good coffee and interesting people, a warm place to sleep, hot chocolate in the winter, flowers in the spring, and beauty somewhere along the way, my heart and I will hold the energy of the Hudson close, no matter where we wake up.

The wedding escapes the rain. Towards the end of the night, when the skies weep, they’re tears of joy.

An old actor once told me, “success is about being at the right bus stop at the right time and getting on the bus.”

Our friends look at each other like they can’t believe how fucking lucky they are to have found each other at the exact right time, at the exact right bus stop, with the exact right bus fare in their pockets. At least a few us marvel at the coincidence that they were also traveling to the exact same destination.

January 14

***

Wandering the aisles at Target at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night is like roaming a beach in the wake of a terrible storm.

The path of Sunday afternoon’s tempest is clear. The doll’s clothes section is decimated, pens and notebooks laid to waste. Women’s bags, all sizes have been torn from their hooks with violent haste. Swathes of missing mascara, and only mascara, amplify shining shelves of white nothing. And bath towels of all colors are strewn across the floor.

Band-aids, antiseptic, toothpaste, and mints survived, unscathed. Hundreds of pounds of M&M’s lay sleeping on the corridors of candy. And washing detergents stand in perfect order, like little soldiers ready to march.

Scores of employees set out to repair the damage of the passing storm. Their numbers finally overwhelm the drizzling of consumers who step through the electric doors, even though they know that tomorrow, it all begins again.

***

Monday morning, a potential love interest, the same one who almost killed me five times on a scramble up the cliffs of the Hudson, only to redeem himself by saving my life six times and buying me an ice cream, brings me a book – “Walks and Rambles in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.”

“Read the first sentence,” he says. “Read it out loud.”

“Shall I start with the introduction to this 1986 edition?” He nods, I read. “‘… this is not a book of hikes, but a book of gentle walks…’

He smiles and raises his eyebrows. i pause and peer at him over the pages.

“A lot of things have changed since 1986,” I say.

“Go on.”

“‘They are offered with the hope that they will refresh your spirit as they increase your knowledge of the natural world…'”

“Why to you have so many potatoes” he asks.

“I’m making a movie.”

“That’s what I figured.”

Later, we’re driving to some town along the Hudson that has good coffee with my dog in the backseat scratching for crumbs. We’ll pretend we’re the interesting people who live there. I tell him about the wedding. About how I painted my toenails (and thus parts of my toes) red, as I felt it only fitting for a celebration of love. About the horses and apple trees in the yard. About how Chuck wept in his napkin when he watched his guests dancing. How his husband held his hand under the table. How Sebastian put his arm around his pregnant wife’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. How guest after guest spoke of the blossoming in their own lives, their hopeful pursuits of love, art, career, and life. And, how everyone there was happy to be happy for someone else on a day where love trumped politics and the rain held off until just the right moment. When I stood in the field, the raindrops were soft and clean and bled through my skin and into my heart.

He pulls the car into a lot. We walk across the street, up a path, across a field, and sit under his favorite tree.

Maybe I should’ve fibbed about the potatoes.

On the other hand, love me, love all of me. Or get out of the way.

***

But what of the mystery of Miles’ missing mustache? I left you hanging.

I was the culprit of my own caper.

It leapt from my finger, twirled through the air and landed on the elbow of my brown sweater. It rode in comfort through the rest of the show, until the sweater retired for the evening on a hook by the door.

The mustache wanted to see the world.

During the night, it grew scared, a lone mustache in a room full of wigs. It crawled off my sweater, onto my desk, and penned a note, in hopes of finding its way back home.

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Excerpts from Islandia

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Dear Diary,

today, I endeavored to conduct experiments with ice cream. Namely, I sought to either prove or debunk the myth that it is impossible to be unhappy while standing behind an ice cream cone. As I have no intellectual attachment to the results of my query, and found myself unhappy, yet perusing the ice cream flavors at a shop in Reykjavik, I remembered the old adage and decided to test it through self-observation.

It was my birthday, a day that is full of mirth for many, but not for me. When I was young, around age seven, my birthday wires were crossed and instead of enjoying the day, I dreaded it instead. Mind you, the day before is fine and the day after is always sunny. Call it a quirk of character, or a flaw. Call it what you will.

Mankind is a walking, talking contradiction and our innermost thoughts elude us, even in plain sight.

I had every intention to conduct my experiment with vanilla, a solid flavor. A good vanilla, is like the sublime quietude of the mind while the mind’s body sits on a rock by a babbling stream and listens. Unlike its cheeky cohort, chocolate, vanilla is weighty with nuance, subtlety, and poise.

However, cherry-vanilla is very nearly the hardest ice cream flavor of all to pass up.

And so, I conducted my test on a two scoop cone of cherry vanilla on a bright Saturday evening in Reykjavik, Iceland. I cannot recall the flavors E chose, she mixed, but as it was not E’s birthday, nor was she sad, angered, or in any way put out, her emotional response to her ice cream cone is a moot point.

And thus, I learned that, yes, it is possible to be sad while eating an ice cream cone, but ice cream, particularly in the form of a cone, but it is equally impossible not to feel silly about feeling sad while eating an ice cream cone.

In short, cherry vanilla ice cream definitely takes the edge off.

***

I once had an awkward conversation with a friend who loves rocks above all else.

It went something like this:

He said, “rocks are the most powerful element of nature.”

I said, “no element is more or less powerful than any other.”

He said, “rocks are the strongest.”

I said, “everything works together.”

He said, “rocks crush things.”

I said, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”

He said, “rocks are cool.”

I said, “do you want some ice cream?”

***

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“We are walking on the bottom of an ocean,” I say to E as we explore an open field surrounded by flat-topped mountains.

It’s true. Once upon a time, the ocean covered the land where we were walking. Fish swam, sea plants grew. But, the oceans pushed their ways through to cover dry land, and rearranged the continents.

Why the oceans and waterways moved, I don’t know. Perhaps change was in order? Perhaps the water wanted a new view? Curiosity? Boredom? Or maybe they drifted over while they were dreaming.

At any rate, it happened. The ocean, with help from the other elements, moved itself from one place to the next.

Rocks are strong and trees are smart. Fire is transformative. Air sees everything and ether carries the news.

But water has the ability to break up continents and wear away the sharps edges of rocks. It shape shift with or without the help of fire, and travels through land and sky.

And yet, if it were agreed in a conversation between all the elements that water trumps them all, I’m pretty sure water would shrug his shoulders and say, “come on, guys. Without you, I’m nothing.”

***

Dear Diary,

I have a theory. One that I dare not tell E, as she is a scientist and I am a dreamer and my dreams make her quake with irrational fits of indulgent logic and spurts of rationality.

Today Eleanor pointed out how Icelanders seem to have an elemental geographic understanding of the island upon which they live. The landscape changes within the course of one’s life. Earthquakes open volcanic steam vents on the sides of mountains, lakes move, and mud pits boil. It’s as if Iceland is the engine room for the planet.

While we were exploring a cave, our guide pointed out that the water dripping from the cave ceiling took five thousand years to become a free-falling drop of water. It is the drinking water of the country, filtered by layers and layers of rock, lava, and earth. This water tastes fresh and clean, despite the fact that it took five thousand years and a specific set of circumstances for that particular drop of water to where it does after all that time.

Hearing this, I began to suspect that water has a very different experience with time than I do.

And then I saw that when time and water work side by side, they are invincible.

I started to wonder if time might be another expression of water.

If so, earth is not only the water planet. It is the time planet as well.

Time, like water, can cascade, drip, evaporate, erode, flood, swirl, wriggle, and stand still, depending on its intentions.

And we, humans, travel through time with every breath we take, every step, every blink, and every heart beat.

Time swirls around us and changes us with the patience of a drip of water finding its way to the center of the earth.

Like water, it has the power to change the landscapes.

Time and water possess infinite reserves of patience.

I am more convinced, every day, that this planet we live on is a time machine.

***

During the ice cream experiment, a few minutes in, I was yanked into my future.

It’s my eightieth birthday and I am similarly employed in considering the emotional implications of a cherry-vanilla ice cream cone. try as i might to ignore the day and it’s relevance, a well-intentioned friend who enjoys her birthday remembers it is mine.

And my eighty-year-old memory boomerangs back to the memory of me conducting my ice cream and emotions experiment in Iceland in that moment with my sister. I see, if I learned anything from the trip, other than being a stone or a tree or a mountain or an animal on the water planet is an exercise in adaptability, is that life is an expression of time.

And I finally understand that, no matter what my mood is, or where I find myself, I’d be a fool not to eat ice cream, even on a dreary day.

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Islandia; a Teeny Adventure of Extraordinary Implications

A Slightly Fictionalized Account of a Very True Story.

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CONTENTS:

Chapter 1In which two sisters, Eleanor and Amelia, endeavor to travel to a far off land for a nature vacation full of hikes, caves, and searching for whales.

~ Taken by the Northern Lights, Amelia proposes a quick get-away to Iceland in the winter. Eleanor, having dreamed of visiting Iceland, suggests a lengthier sojourn. The sisters agree on a summer trip, during which they have no hope, whatsoever, of encountering the magical, midnight, arctic light show.

Chapter 2: In which Eleanor arrives in Reykjavik as Amelia wastes the bulk of her pre-flight afternoon with a number of unsuccessful attempts to purchase wee wee pads.

~ Arriving a full day ahead of her sister, Eleanor engages in a free city tour, enjoys the city botanical garden, and eats fish in chips, and leisurely learns the city. Amelia arrives at midnight on a cloudy evening, where the sky only hints at darkness. Per Eleanor’s instruction, she walks up the hill, towards the church, and miraculously finds her way.

~ Upon her arrival, Eleanor and Amelia eat cheese.

Chapter 3: In which the sisters hop on a bus, explore a cave, and bathe in a Very Famous Pool.

~ Ever considerate and concerned for her sister’s potential jet lag, Eleanor plans a day of lava cave explorations and bathing at the world-famous Blue Lagoon, where every Icelandic tourist is required to visit upon their arrival.

~ Unbeknownst to Eleanor, Amelia has nightmares about squeezing through tight crevices high off the ground. Amelia scoffs at her fear and squeezes through a dark, tight crevice high off the ground in order to enjoy the mysterious beauty of a lava cave.

~ After an epic battle with an electronic locker, the sisters relax in the unnaturally blue water of the Blue Lagoon with mud on their faces. They enjoy an extended dip in the geothermal hotspot.

~ Later that night, Eleanor and Amelia eat cheese.

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Chapter 4: In which Eleanor and Amelia climb a Very Steep Hill.

~ Faced with a cloudy day, Eleanor and Amelia take a city bus to Mosfellspaer to hike what Eleanor describes as a Gentle Granny Hike.

~ Not trusting their navigational skills or the trail marker that leads over a jagged precipice and down a steep mountainside, they ask a granny who is picking blueberries on the side of the hill withe her grandchild for directions to the road. She points them towards the jagged precipice.

~ Amelia almost dies from traversing steep inclines, sudden drops, and trails littered with rolling pebbles while jet-lagged.

Chapter 4: In which the sisters enjoy a morning of culture and learning at the Icelandic Phallological Museum before flying North to the wilds Akureyri and beyond.

~ Always looking to improve their minds, the sisters visit the impressive display of mammalian penises and penis bone samples before lunching on cheese in the domestic airport parking lot.

~ The sisters pick up their rental car from the Akureryi airport. Amelia almost dies from stick-shift shock.

~ Amelia teaches herself how to drive stick-shift in fifteen minutes in the airport parking lot, recalling a single standard transmission driving lesson twenty years ago on a rural road. The sister find themselves in a perilous loop, driving around and around a traffic circle as The Lady of the GPS nearly explodes with rage.

~ The sisters get lost.

~ The sisters get found.

~ The sisters dine with a Swiss German couple in the dining room of a house in the middle of nowhere, and spend the night in a camper van enveloped by a pink sky and a wooly storm.

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Chapter 5: In which the sisters walk in the rain.

~ Amelia and Eleanor drive to Husavik. Amelia conducts experiments with the car’s windshield wipers.

~ The sisters check into their hotel and set off on a path to visit a pair of giant lakes. Eleanor is well equipped with a pair of plastic pants. Amelia almost dies from being wet.

~ Though they follow the path, they never reach the lakes.

~ Eleanor and Amelia eat Icelandic pizza. With cheese.

Chapter 7: In which Eleanor and Amelia journey to Lake Myvatn, explore an Ice Cave, and find a pond.

~ As Amelia endeavors to conquer parking the car without stalling out, the sisters journey inland to Lake Myvatn. A crisp morning, their socks and shoes still damp from the previous day’s events, they retreat from the frigid morning air into a boutique hotel to drink coffee prior to their tour.

~ Eleanor is well prepared for variations in weather with fleece, gloves, and plastic pants. Amelia, having spent her last days at home taking care that her dog had doggie treats and squeaky toys, is ill-prepared for thirty degree weather, rain, sunshine, and wind.

~ A dashing tour guide drives the sisters across barren lava fields to the ice cave. Amelia almost dies from being cold and faces another literal nightmare: being birthed, face first, out of a tight spot into a dark, dark cave below.

~ Amelia buys a sweater from a charity shop and states boldly to the women behind the counter that “now she can go anywhere.” The women give her a pack of flatbread. She heretofore refers to said sweater as “the magic sweater,” for it keeps her warm and dry.

~ The sisters follow a path and find the lake. Her gloves soaked through, Eleanor acts out the meeting of the European and American tectonic plates while wearing socks for mittens.

Chapter 8: In which the sisters brave the elements and traverse the Asbergi Canyons in all directions.

~ Eleanor and Amelia venture once more into the unknown, walk a lot, and eat cheese.

~ They visit a green lake and waterfall. Amelia attempts to etch the image into her memory, where she will have it forever. Eleanor, ever logical, takes pictures instead.

~ Amelia almost dies from a panic attack after she face another literal nightmare: rope- climbing a straight incline with nothing but air between her and the ground below.

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Chapter 8: In which the sisters set out to see a whale and Eleanor almost dies from diesel inhalation.

Chapter 9: In which the triumphant sisters return to Reykjavik, observe boiling pits of mud, waterfalls, bathe in a river, brave tourists, and nearly lose a shoe.

Chapter 10: In which the sisters say goodbye.

Epilogue: In which Amelia, in an effort to incorporate the outdoors into her urban life, goes hiking with a potential love interest, gets stuck dangling off the side of the cliff, and almost dies five times and Eleanor takes a nice bike ride through Berlin.

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