(this is annie)

On the last day of the year, of the decade, two projects fit the contemplative mood.

1. Illegal Art invited people to write down what they left unsaid in 2009. It would be nice if the NYT had included more from the project, because the included pieces make me want to read more. It's interesting how little snippets of strangers' unspoken conversations can be so poignant.

2. My friend ks is co-creator of Before I Die I Want To..., which is a simple but fascinating endeavor. She takes Polaroids of people as they're finishing that sentence, then asks them to write it on the bottom of the photograph. Seeing other people's goals, hopes, and dreams is oddly motivating.

One project looks at the past, the other toward the future. Both of them have me excited for a new year, a new decade, a fresh start.


The ants go marching one by one

For the past few months, our apartment has had what we thought to be a mild ant infestation. We'd see a few here, a few there — annoying, but not worth calling the Orkin man. (Plus, the Orkin man's chemicals are probably not good to have in the house anyway.) Assuming that they were coming from outdoors, we sealed the cracks in the kitchen window and went on full-blown "remove every trace of food from the countertops" duty.

We were quite pleased with ourselves when the ants seemed to disappear. That triumph lasted for one measly week, and then there were just as many as before. My roommate and I had different approaches to eliminating them. She'd squish them with a little "ha!" whereas I preferred to frantically overspray Mrs. Meyers all-purpose cleaner to end their lives. (It made our kitchen smell very nice, like geraniums.) And yet they still kept coming.

We bought traps. They were absolutely useless, and I considered the possibility that we would never be able to win, so why keep fighting? Then, the other day, an ant crawled onto my arm and something inside me flipped. I'd had enough. "We are going to annihilate these ants," I shouted with fiery passion. This would have been more electrifying if there had been an army corps there, but instead, an obese cat stared blankly at me before dancing for his food. We can't all be Patton.

So I bought some Terro ant baits. The ants see their sugary liquid as a food source, and they take the poison back to the nest. Hoping to watch the ants' greedy appetites lead them to their own destruction, I put the baits out and waited for the sadistic fun to begin.

Where the Raid traps failed, Terro kicked ass and took names. Lots of names. Within an hour, the ants were having a full-on bacchanal. Imagine a group of 19-year-old spring breakers chugging Tecate in Cancun and you'll have an idea of how eagerly and quickly these ants guzzled the poison. Hundreds of carrier ants swarmed to take in the sugary Borax cocktail. "Drink up, little ones," I thought wickedly. "There's more sweet, sweet nectar where that came from."

It's now been 24 hours, and while the ant festivities continue, there are already significantly fewer revelers. It's only a matter of time before they, too, meet their own demise. It's a little embarrassing to reveal the blood lust that the ants have stoked in my heart, but hey, at least we'll have pristine countertops again.

Nostalgic for nothing

Apparently I have nothing better to do than obsessively scour my music collection and whittle it down to 50 favorite songs from the last decade. Two enormous files, 25 songs each, let you play along at home. Don't say I never did nothin' for you.

This all-over-the-place compilation is probably the only time Mojave 3, Madonna, and City of Caterpillar have been playlist neighbors. Of course, I've already remembered songs that should have been included. It's too much of a pain to re-edit, re-zip and re-upload, but I reserve the right to do those things. You never know when you might wake up in a cold sweat at 3am because you forgot to add some super-meaningful song to a collection that literally dozens of people may or may not download. Also, I know there are barely any songs from this year on the list. I'm cheating because I'll probably do a top-ten of 2009 list, too.

So anyway, there we go. Don't forget to grab the playlist file, because otherwise the jumbled mess will seem like even more of a jumbled mess.


...and now, I am paid to create this sort of thing. It's oldish by internet standards, and it features my signature mediocre editing skills, but the shilling is so amusingly weird to me.

Sean Combs (is that what we're supposed to call him? Puffy? Diddy? Diddly Doodly?) made something like $300,000 in an hour from this home-shopping appearance. My favorite part is how he's phoning it in bored-style, while the effervescent host is talking in exclamation points the whole time. You know she thinks she's down. Also, the hug face creeps me out.


Persistent vision

I have many character flaws, but at least I'm honest about them. (See, that's one right there: insistence on defending said flaws.) The most obvious of them is my fierce stubbornness.

For instance: Once, while having a scintillating discussion about TRAP laws at a Vietnamese restaurant, JC said that I talked about politics too much. "Fine," I said. "I'll never talk about politics around you again." Even then I knew I was being immature and bratty, and I wouldn't handle the situation the same way now. But guess how many political conversations we've had since that night almost four years ago? Zero.

I'm not especially proud of that brand of unreasonable inflexibility, but (again with the defending!) obstinacy can also be helpful. Really, isn't will power just a more positive spin on stubbornness? Nobody looks at a smoker who's trying to quit and says, "Wow, you really should be less stubborn about staying away from cigarettes." So I'm not convinced that sticking to a given decision, as long as you're not hurting anybody, is a bad thing. Then again, being stubborn as a mule might just make me an ass. Not sure yet.



When I was young, probably around four years old or so, my father designed some holiday cards and had them printed. He arranged 25 letters alphabetically, five by five, and sent them to his clients and colleagues. I thought it was the most clever idea in the world.

This was our last Christmas together at the house, in 2007.

And this was our first and only Christmas at my apartment, in 2005. We took things very seriously, as you can see.

Generally speaking, we had a good time together. I miss my dad a lot today, but I've enjoyed remembering past Christmases we've had. It's been a bittersweet day. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have important things to do, like slipping a fuzzy wreath collar on an unsuspecting dwarf cat.

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As promised, Christmas songs that I like.

For a girl who spent her formative years being shuttled between Catholic and Methodist churches, liking religious-leaning Christmas songs is almost required. So! Hearing "Silent Night" makes me think of my grandfather, who liked to sing it in the original German. That's pretty much my favorite traditional Christmas carol. Oh, and I also like "Good King Wenceslas," and "We Three Kings" unless it's Blondie doing it. Tomorrow morning, I plan to surprise Betty with this version of "O Holy Night." She'll either say it's sacrilegious or she'll laugh until she cries. Let's hope for the latter result.

And with that out of the way — since you've just been waiting with bated breath — here are the not-so-churchy Christmas songs that I actually like. Special mention goes to the Dreidel song, which is a perennial Hanukkah favorite.

Embarrassing ones
George Michael clearly has not shed the baggage of his last relationship in Last Christmas. If he were really going to give his heart to someone special, he wouldn't be spending four minutes reminding his erstwhile love of last year's present. And you just know that the recipient of this message is wondering why this putzy rebound (who she dumped a year ago!) will not stop embarrassing himself in a futile attempt to stoke jealousy. And yet, I love the poppy synths and theatrical crooning.

But it gets worse. There is no excuse for enjoying Christmas Don't Be Late as much as I do. I am so ashamed. But every time I hear its woozy, waltzy first measures, I grin at the ludicrous thought of fat, greedy chipmunk children demanding toys. I always have to sing "me, I want a hula hoop." (Current scene point balance: -39,596)

Ones that aren't super-Christmasy but are nonetheless related to the holiday contextually
When River starts, you groan and think it's going to be a schmaltzy take on "Jingle Bells," but I suspect this would be a dangerous soundtrack if you had a whiskey in one hand, a phone in the other, and a lost love's phone number in your memory.

Next! Fred Thomas has one of the best smiles I've ever seen, and hearing him on This Time Every Year brings one to my face. If you pay more attention to the music than the lyrics, you might miss the alienation.

2000 Miles is a bit corny but I like its matter-of-fact melancholy. The Kinks' Father Christmas is a guilty power pop pleasure. (From the same year is this Leopards track, which has a bizarre little ragtimey piano hook.)

Soul and sadness
My love for Otis Redding knows no bounds, which is why sometimes I listen to Merry Christmas Baby in June. The James Brown Christmas album is pretty great all-around, especially because he doesn't schmaltz things up. My favorite track, Soulful Christmas has a killer bass line. If you don't want to dance when you hear this, you might as well be dead.

Or maybe your heart just feels dead. That's okay, I like sad-bastard Christmas songs, too. The older I get, the more emotional I am over the bleakness hiding in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. (For my money, Judy's version is the only one that matters.)

Then we have the lonelyhearts. Jon Bon Jovi seems like a nice enough guy, but he can't hold a candle to the loneliness of Charles Brown's original Please Come Home For Christmas. (The way he says "please" kills me.) More upbeat but similarly themed is the lovely Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). Continuing on with the alone-on-Christmas theme, we have Elvis Aaron Presley's Blue Christmas, which might be my favorite Elvis song.

Of the three brokenhearted singers, I assume Darlene Love would be the one to get her former lovah back, because she comes off as cheery and cute. Elvis sounds like he's feeling sorry for himself, but isn't going to push the issue too much. I kinda want Charles's ladyfriend to show up on his door, but he needs to work on looking more nonchalant about it. The whole "by New Year's night" thing makes him come off a little desperate.

So! That's most of the list. There are other decent ones that I don't mind, but these are the ones I actually like. Even so, it'll be nice to not hear them for another year.

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Kris Kringle was a car thief

Christmas music generally makes me want to hit myself over the head with a yule log. That way, I could be niiiiice and unconscious until the general public is finally spared from hearing tracks off Snoop Dogg Presents Christmas In Tha Dogg House. Sadly, even though I avoid malls, department stores and other dens of piped-in, holly-jolly music, the stuff is damn near inescapable.

I am not the only one in my family to feel Scroogey about this issue. Every time my father heard "The Little Drummer Boy," I thought he was going to pa rum pum pum pummel something. My mother, however, loves certain Christmas songs. She has a history of falling in love with an album, then playing it — and only it — for that holiday season. In my childhood, it was John Denver and the Muppets. Then it was the Barbra Streisand album. By far, the worst was These Are Special Times, featuring the vocal stylings of Celine Dion. On repeat. It is a wonder that nobody committed seppuku that year.

And so, my crabby ass brings you my top five worst Christmas songs. I'm not including obvious ones such as "Feliz Navidad" and "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Also out: modern pop-culture offenses along the lines of this Christmas Cash trash and the Lohan/Destiny's Child/My Chemical Romance pap. Too easy (and too much of it). Instead, these are the songs that stir a tiny sliver of repressed rage inside my soul. The ones that really drive me insane.

5. This version of Deck The Halls puts me into very mild panic if I can't get away from it. Literally, I feel my lungs tighten. It's that bad for me.

4. TIE! It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year / Happy Holiday. With the whoop-de-do and hickory dock? That makes no sense. Also, mistletoeing is not a word. It's back to remedial English for you, Andy Williams.

3. This Christmas, or as I like (hate) to sing it, "Theeeeeese Chreeesmusss." Something about the melody reminds me of farts, which would be fine if it didn't also make want to vomit. Only one unpleasant bodily function per song is allowed. Also, the video for Chris Brown's version takes on a menacing subtext considering his proclivity for beating women. In summary: We find Mr. Brown spying on some innocent family, stalking the daughter, and dancing in the street like a crazy person while they call the cops. Then he breaks into an orphanage, skulks around while on a hallucinogenic PCP bender, and creepily shushes the children until they hide under their covers. Haven't those kids suffered enough? Haven't we all? As my roommate put it, "Who does he think he is in that white suit, the fuckin' R. Kelly of Christmas?"

2. You'd think that they'd have learned from the run-run-reindeering that their father did back in the day, but no. Wendy and Carnie Wilson decided to unfurl the treacly Hey Santa upon us. The song's protagonist is waiting for her deadbeat beau to show up. She nags Santa about delivering this clearly uninterested man to her, and oh boy, it's a Christmas miracle! She's "underneath the mistletoe with my baby tonight." Immediately, the sisters begin chanting "slei-eigh ri-ide," which — due to my puerile sense of humor — makes me think that the proto-emo dork in the video has drawn them into a holiday-themed sex cult. And he's the sleigh.

1. Could this spot belong to anything other than Wonderful Christmastime? It's as though Paul McCartney looked at the success of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" — which, as a Vietnam protest song, really isn't about Christmas anyway — and thought, "Lennon will not outshine me! I need to get in on that!" It was not one of Macca's better endeavors. Though nearly universally reviled, it somehow manages to stay on holiday playlists year after year. Truly, it is the cockroach of Christmas songs.

Tomorrow: five holiday songs that I love, just to prove that I'm not a total grinch. (Until then, you can enjoy a free Michigan-y Christmas comp thanks in part to Mr. Kempa.)

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Death or glory

I remember the day, seven years ago, when we found out that Joe Strummer had died. For once, I didn't mind Chicago's cold and gray skies. They seemed appropriately somber. That afternoon, while riding a crowded Madison bus westward toward Western, I wound up squished next to a fortyish guy with various punk buttons on his jacket.

"Sad news about Joe Strummer," I said.

"What sad news?"

When I told him, he looked like a four-year-old who's just had the true identity of Santa Claus revealed. Which makes sense, because there was something about Joe Strummer that was comforting, and his premature death felt unfair. I liked the Clash, but I liked what he represented, too. He embodied so much of what, in my opinion, a man should be. By all accounts, he was well-traveled, artistic, political, funny, open-minded, reflective, and intelligent. (Also, he looked good in a t-shirt.)

He seemed like a mensch — an imperfect one, but a mensch all the same. Fighting the good fight and all that. There's nothing I love like a person with convictions (I have been told that I cling to mine too tightly) and his had the benefit of being woven into some pretty great songs. It's funny how you can miss somebody you never met, but I do.

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Swimsuits, my ass

As a woman, I'm somewhat expected to groan at the thought of swimsuit shopping. Women's magazines devote plenty of ink to finding the right swimsuit for one's body type (pear! apple!) as though we are a nation of Cathys. Through these articles we learn about padded tops, hidden girdles, string bikinis, tankinis, monokinis, and so forth. But nothing hides the fact that wearing a swimsuit is akin to parading around in one's underwear, and no swimsuit can magically hide our jigglypuff.

Because I accept this reality, swimsuit shopping is not so bad — especially because I do it only once every few years. My existing suit (bought in 2006) is too big now, and so it is time to buy a new one. All I want is a simple black bikini. No fussy beads, no goofy fake-metal rings, just a classic look. You'd think this should be an easy thing to find, right? It's not.

I refuse to pay $80 for what amounts to less than a yard of fabric, so today I went to Target, who always stocks swimsuits no matter what time of year it is. There were six racks stuffed with swim, so I had much to choose from. Although my heliophobic ass wouldn't mind the extra sun coverage provided by a one-piece, I avoid them because they flatten, not flatter. They always transport me back to being 12 and wondering when I would finally need a bra. (Still waiting.) Most of Target's maillots were matronly tummy-cinchers, which was frustrating. Some of us might want to wear one-pieces without choosing a style made for a middle-aged mommy or a Mormon. Or a middle-aged Mormon mommy.

So, then. Bikinis. Whereas the one-pieces were dowdy, the two-pieces were itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, etc. Most looked like something a 16-year-old Tila Tequila fan might like to wear. I encountered Ed Hardy knockoff skull bikinis and bikinis decorated with paisley, camouflage, and neon paint splatters. All of these things made me feel old. Which, considering the fact that I am about twice the age of the hypothetical target audience for these suits, makes sense.

Finally, I managed to find a black swimsuit. This one called to me due to its simplicity and blackness. I tried it on, which was challenging because (obviously) you keep your underpants on during the process. I'm glad that rule exists for sanitary purposes, but it's hard to envision what you'll look like when there's a pair of underpants poking out from underneath the swimsuit. I looked like a never-nude.

Now is a good time to mention how multiple people have commented on the alleged hugeness of my ass. I have been told that I have a big one for a white girl, which is a backhanded compliment that tosses in some mildly racist talk just for funsies. Personally, I don't think my haunches are as big as everyone claims, but years of unsolicited comments have left me wanting to avoid anything that highlights my bum more than necessary.

Because of this history of bottom-focused talk, I wasn't sure what to think of the suit. It's not that it looked bad or was scandalous, but it basically looked like lingerie. And the bottom was skimpier in the back than I would like. Then our friends prudish Swimsuit Angel and slutty Swimsuit Devil showed up, one resting on each of my shoulders.

"Ayyyyyyyyyyy," said Swimsuit Devil. (Apparently, Swimsuit Devil sounds like the Fonz.) "Lookin' gooooooood. You should totally buy this because it is uncharacteristically sexy for you. Live a little! Enjoy what you've got before gravity drags it all south!"

"Oh my, no no no," Swimsuit Angel clucked. "You will not be able to fade into the background with this harlot bikini. Especially because it looks like lacy underpants! Go for something less revealing, like a hazmat suit."

As part of my "do things differently" plan, I decided to side with Swimsuit Devil. Yay for body acceptance and so forth. But preening in the Target dressing room is much different than parading around in front of strangers. I imagined walking in the suit in front of unknown men, and how I'd be able to feel their eyes even after I passed. Not that I'm some goddess with a knockout figure, but I think most women know the sensation I'm talking about. Stares can feel so violating. So in the end, that party pooper Swimsuit Angel won out, leaving the swimwear quest unfinished. I swear, I've spent more time thinking about swimsuits today than I've worn them in the last three years. And yes, I know this is all ridiculous, but perhaps it's a little more entertaining than the alternate story: Here's An Anti-Greenwashing Tirade About How Scott Naturals Toilet Paper Is Made of Only 40% Recycled Fiber.


Beer boors

When Barbara and I go out for a drink, we go to one of two places. Most recently, it was the Lone Palm, a bar that should be subdued because of its name. You can tell that it wants to be; something about the long wooden bar and small tables with white candleclothes feels vaguely noir-ish, like you might go there for an illicit rendezvous. But the music is always just a little bit off, and the presence of a television ruins the ambiance as televisions always do. The Lone Palm is good enough to give glimpses of how great it could be with just a little tweaking.

We purposely went early to avoid the late-night crowd, but as it turns out, inebriated hooligans had beaten us there. As soon as I began ordering my drink, a blotto Brit stumbled up and began ranting about the flahtness of the be-ahhh to the bartender. Wait your turn, I wanted to tell him. Decided to let it go. (Serenity now!) Then things went from bad to worse. This group of men had clearly been drinking for a while, and they were doing that boorish yelling-in-unison thing that dudes sometimes do while watching sports. Except there were no sports, and we couldn't figure out what had them so riled. Then one of them wiggled his pelvis up to the stool he'd been sitting on, and he began violating the innocent furniture with clumsily violent thrusts.

Our suitably frigid glares were for nought, and I thought about slinking over to them and giving them a falsely flirtatious smile and asking them if they wouldn't mind keeping it down. Then I realized it would be better to mind my own business, particularly because these guys were rip-roaring drunk. See, getting smarter all the time, even if my ears may have suffered permanent damage.


Grape juice plus

Really, is there anything worse than having to go to a party when you feel utterly, fully, and plainly defeated? Well, yes. Scabies, for example. But within the microcosm of social obligation, not really. I had some good conversations tonight, but the surrounding giddy festivity only accentuated how alone I feel lately. So I quietly sipped my Welch's and waited for my ride home.

The collective "they" are right in saying that the holidays are hell for the bereaved. Months ago, when my father's death was fresh, people asked how I was doing. "I think things will be harder in a few months, when it all settles in and feels real," I'd say. Well, guess who's a regular Miss Cleo. I wish I'd been wrong like you wouldn't believe.

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Decembers in California are pleasant, but they don't feel right. You can hang lights and decorate trees here — which we've done chez T — but this time of year feels odd without a chill to the air. My Decembers have historically been filled with snow, sleet, and hail. Of those three meteorological phenomena, only the third has hit San Francisco this month, and just for a brief and magic-seeming moment that left me frantically trying to inspect the tiny ice chunks before they melted on my hand.

Anyway. Tonight, Chris and I walked past boring buildings on Kearny, not even needing to wear gloves in the mild evening air, and then we came across this tree. I'd never seen a tree decorated like it, so we inspected (LED lights!) and smelled the pine needles. The scent made things seem a little more like Decembers I have known.

Since we were so enamored by the tree, we decided to change our destination. We went inside the cold office building next to it and took the express elevator to the top floor, home to the Carnelian Room. Then, after I considered shriveling up and dying because my doctor's-orders sneakers were so inappropriate for the environment, we settled in for a Kir and a Guinness.

It was stodgy and all old-boy network inside, but I would have sat next to that troll Joe Lieberman if it meant I'd get to enjoy that view. The Golden Gate Bridge yawned over the dark water of the Bay, and the Transamerica Pyramid seemed within arm's reach. All of the taxis and neon strip-club lights of North Beach looked like tiny glinting jewels from that height. Just beautiful.

When I went home, I looked up the Carnelian Room to see if I'd violated its dress code. (Pretty much, yes.) Sadly, it is closing in two weeks. So even if December doesn't feel like December here, at least I grabbed this experience in its last days of possibility.


More than anyone else I know, my father feared death. It always hit him hard. When my hamster Bernice died 20 years ago, he wiped tears from his eyes as we eulogized her. "She was a good hamster and she loved her wheel," he said, solemnly shoveling dirt on top of the cardboard-box coffin we'd made for her. He'd also fashioned a small wooden tombstone for her; it's still standing at the base of an old oak tree in my parents' front yard.

In late August, we found out that he had eight to 12 weeks to live. Or was it six to eight? I can't remember, and it doesn't matter because the doctor overestimated his time anyway. I knew what my mother was going to say before she said it; I read the news in her eyes. "Does he know?" I asked.

He didn't.

If Dad had been Dad, we would have given him the bad news. But he was Dad only in pieces. During his last months, he often became confused and forgetful. You could tell him something simple and he'd forget it in five minutes. Then again, he might surprise you by remembering the minutiae of a conversation you'd had months earlier. For instance, in the same hour, he confused me with a nurse but remembered the name of a friend's dog who he'd never met. We had no way of knowing what information would remain lodged in the folds of his brain. What we did know was that he wouldn't feel his body slow down; it would be a painless death.

The doctor gave the prognosis to my mother, not to my father. We talked about what to tell him. If we gave him the news, we wondered, would it sink in? Would he remember the terrible reality or would it slip in and out of his understanding? I imagined him going in and out of full lucidity, re-remembering that he was going to die over and over again. Learning that death is close is painful enough; learning it for the first time more than once is just cruel. Or if he did remember the fact that death was coming, wouldn't it torture him? I imagined him going to sleep each night, feeling alone and wondering if he'd wake up in the morning. There was nothing anyone could do to stop the inevitable, and since we knew it would terrify him to know how little time he had left, we settled upon a merciful lie.

We tried to make his last weeks as happy as possible. He laughed with his children, all five of us. He enjoyed chicken fingers and chocolate ice cream and all of the other dietary disasters normally forbidden. I took him outside on a warm day and helped him paint his last painting. On the way inside, he began telling me about his youngest daughter, who lived in San Francisco and just came back from Spain and has two beautiful cats.

During a nursing-home visit, my mom went outside for a smoke or something, leaving my dad and me sitting on his bed. "I want to talk with you," he said. Serious face. "Now, I don't want you worrying about that hospital visit. Doc says I have a good ticker and I'm going to be around a long time."

I tried to smile, but instead I burst into tears. "I'm sorry, it's just that I miss you so much," I told him. "I wish we got to see each other more." I buried my face into his shoulder and he put his hand on top of mine. That was one of the most difficult moments of my life.

Some of my friends judged us for making the decision we did. They said it wasn't fair to hide the news from my father. "Wouldn't you want to know you were dying?" they asked. With the mind I have now, yes. With the mind my father had in his last months, no. No, because emotions get stripped to their rawest state when the mind can't handle complexities. Between the fearful knowledge of certain death and the simple love of family, I would prefer to spend my last days surrounded by the latter. Which is strange, because generally I'd rather deal with cold, brutal truth than a pretty falsehood.

Sometimes I wonder if we should have told him everything. Then I imagine what he would have thought if he were able to fully understand what it all meant. He would have felt small and scared and helpless. I couldn't do that to him. So I think we made the kindest decision possible, given the circumstances.

When Bernice the hamster died, I sobbed and worried about whether her death had been painful. To comfort me, my father said that she probably went to sleep and died without feeling a thing. I believed him because I needed to. This year, he believed me because I needed him to. I'm not sure if I needed him to believe me for his benefit or mine. Maybe both. Whatever the reason, it doesn't change the fact that I acutely feel his absence today. I miss him so much, fiercely and ineloquently.

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Threshold apprehension

In elementary school, our classes always put on some sort of holiday presentation that involved singing. We'd line up in our blue-on-blue outfits, arranged by height in front of the church, and we'd belt out a blend of religious and secular-but-not-godless tunes. During one rehearsal, young Christopher Dunn felt his eyes roll back, and then his body followed. In trying to stand up straight, he'd locked his knees so tightly that he fainted next to the altar.

I thought about poor Chris yesterday while at the doctor's office. My doctor is the best. He's kind and down-to-earth, and he explains tricky medical things in easy-to-understand ways. He remembers non-medical details about my life and is always encouraging me to date more. Also, he is a sci-fi nerd.

I was in his office for a few reasons. Most importantly, I'd found another breast lump, and it was painful. I always feel awkward about having him check this sort of thing. I worry that he might think I'm trying to get some cheap thrills out of the visit, which is doubly awkward because I'm pretty sure he's gay. Anyway, he felt what I was talking about, made a concentrated frown, and then covered my torso with the hospital gown.

"Well, your breasts look good," he announced. "Oh, wait, that doesn't sound right."

"You're right, they're spectacular," I joked. Laughs all around. (See, he gets my sense of humor.)

So the lump didn't worry him. Good. Then it was vaccination time. There are two things I'm terrified of: snakes and needles. If it's possible to avoid either, I'll do it. But I'd rather have an vaccine than have Hepatitis A or B — the treatment of which would undoubtedly involve even more needles — so you do what you gotta do.

That brings us back to Chris Dunn, whose particular brand of fainting I stole as the second vaccine spread through my arm. Suddenly I couldn't see, my ears began ringing, my face drained of color, my throat and tongue tightened, and I began slumping down on the table. Did you know there's a fancy term for this? It's called a vasovagal episode, and my doctor explained it to me as I considered dying of embarrassment. Suffice it to say that I do not look forward to next month's follow-up vaccine appointment.


Leaving on a jet plane

Usually, when rough times come crashing down, it's time to raid the travel fund and book a ticket to somewhere interesting. Whether the trip goes well or not, I think going somewhere new helps shift my thoughts into a better place.

For obvious mobility reasons, I was not able to get out of town this past autumn. Before breaking my foot, I'd planned to use my frequent flier miles to spend Christmas in Japan, but limping around Nakameguro did not seem like fun. So I looked into flights to Thailand. The fare wasn't too painful, but I'd rather go there with somebody, or save it for the inevitable "I'm taking six months off and going to Southeast Asia" freakout. And South America will have to wait until my language skills improve. Arizona sounded good, but not quite right.

Anyway, right before leaving the office tonight, I looked up some flights on a whim. To my delight, they cost about half of what they normally do. So without overthinking it, I booked a ticket to get the hell out of Dodge. Why not, you know? Life is for living, and travel savings are there to be used. There's a 24-hour window to cancel the ticket in case I can't get the time off work, so I haven't lost anything. I don't want to jinx myself by mentioning the destination, but it is exciting to envision new surroundings and the new ways of thinking that correspond in kind. Then again, tomorrow I might actually look at my savings balance and change my mind completely. In that case, it's the spirit of adventure that counts, right?

(Also, whenever I see any airport, this song runs through my head. Always.)

MAKE-UP - International Airport
Found at skreemr.com
(I don't know why this looks bad. It looked OK in preview. Too lazy to look at the code.)


Fashion shows would be a lot more fun if they didn't bring out the fashion assclowns. Sadly, most of them do, and last night's was no exception. It was being held at a expensive but sterile hotel decorated in dark plush carpet and thousand-dollar chairs, the kind of place that wants people to think it's an edgy den of decadence but is ultimately just a hotel with nicer toiletries than Holiday Inn. It's the sort of place where eyes look you up and down the moment you walk in, although the staff is unfailingly friendly and polite to make up for some of the guests' snobby sneering.

I was there to interview the lead hair stylist. Talking with stylists about their fashion-show looks is somewhat limiting. They're frantically trying to finish their work while you rattle off the same questions that you ask every stylist: What's the inspiration? How did you work with the designer and makeup artist on this concept? How can people recreate this at home? Beyond that, there's not much to talk about.

Nobody expects a stylist to wax poetic about how he was inspired by Caravaggio or whatever, but it's just the worst when they clearly resent your presence and just want to get back to singeing the birdlike 17-year-old in front of them. And I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a variation on "We wanted sexy hair." Sexy hair almost always translates to long, wavy, and slightly messy. (My hair is only one of these three. Guess which one.)

Crazy structural hairstyles are the most interesting to cover, even if nobody will ever recreate the look for day-to-day life. (Odile Gilbert's fall 2008 Rodarte origami hair is one of my favorites.) Last night's look made crimped hair and chignons look cool, which brought back fond memories of the pink Windmere crimper that I loved so much for making me look like a junior bride of Frankenstein.

But back to fashion assclowns. While there are good people who work in fashion, there are also people who thrive off perceived exclusivity. To them, you're nobody unless you can look down on someone else, which creates a chain of aloof condescension. Fortunately for them, I provided plenty of opportunity for them to do so last night. I hobbled in wearing a gray knit sweater, waxed jeans, Das Boot (as Jen calls my removable cast), and one cross-trainer hugged by this contraption. I also had overslept that morning, so I'd tied a long fringed scarf around my head in an attempt to cover the oil slick spreading over my hair.

Basically, I looked like Axl Rose in orthopedics.

It's not an exaggeration to say that everybody else was wearing black. Okay, so one woman had paired her black with a chartreuse skirt, but she was the only wild and crazy risk taker. Otherwise, the women were all wearing high heels and some variation on the LBD. When I went to the press check-in table, the woman there asked, "Are you sure you're in the right place?" I'm press, lady; we're supposed to be schlubby.

After the hair interview was finished, I thought about sticking around for the free canapés, but Spook was waiting for me at home. On my way out of the room, I made eye contact with a model who'd once written something for a friend's book. She gave me a soft smile, one of the the only ones of the evening, and it made me happy. Happy to know that not everyone in the room was a fashion assclown, but happy to be going home, too.


My Muni hero

After this past weekend's transit cutbacks, I should have known better than to count on a normal commute. In fact, I had an odd impulse telling me to take the more roundabout way to work. Instead, I took my usual route and paid for it in a couple of ways.

I waited for the train for about half an hour, which made my foot ache, which put me in a mildly crabby mood. (Also, when Muni makes me late, especially after I've made an effort to leave early, I worry that my boss is going to deem it a dog-ate-my-homework excuse.) Anyway, the train finally came. Boarding the train is embarrassing because I kinda have to pull myself aboard; the steps are too high for me to crawl aboard normally. Most of the time, people either politely pretend not to notice my graspy struggle, or they immediately offer assistance. Either is fine by me.

Because this morning's train was late, it was packed, and there were no seats. Nobody offered his or hers to me, so I thought, "Well, A, you're going to have to stand." A middle-aged man dressed in pricey wools and silks (Brooks Brothers?) and sporting a boring but expensive haircut sat in the seat directly in front of me. He looked like a wealthy businessman, and because of my irrational distrust of tweed, I imagined him to be the kind of person who donates to anti-choice political candidates. I was hoping to make eye contact and whip out some Guilt Face, but he was engrossed in The Economist. Oh well.

Next to me, standing: Youngish guy reading Martin Amis. About a minute into the ride, he crouched down to be closer to Mr. Economist.

"Excuse me, sir," he said politely.

Mr. Economist looked up at him slowly, without expression.

"I was wondering if you might give your seat to this woman," Martin Amis continued.

Slight eye movement toward me. Back to Amis with a blank stare.

"...because, see, she's in a cast..."

Cold glare at Amis, lips pressed together.

"...and perhaps it might be easier for her to sit?"

Mr. Economist simply gave an icy stare to Martin Amis and didn't say a word. The entire car was watching this tension unfold until a woman stood up. "Hon," she called to me. "You sit down." She insisted. So I sat and thanked her profusely, and I thanked Martin Amis for being so kind.

At that point, Mr. Economist's steely glare was reflected on him tenfold. "Aren't there any more gentlemen in the world?" one woman asked pointedly.

"Well, there's at least one on this train," I said. (MY HERO! Seriously, that dude could have picked up so many phone numbers on that train.)

During the rest of the ride, Mr. Economist stared at his magazine while the rest of us had a whole commuter-solidarity thing going on. The woman who'd given up her seat later regained it, and we had a pleasant conversation. Everyone smiled at Martin Amis, and you could tell he felt rewarded by his show of gallantry. Shortly before my stop, a different woman sat down and spilled her coffee. I held the half-empty cup and her purse while she cleaned herself off, and then we talked about broken bones. (She'd broken her collarbone last year.)

It was train camaraderie, us against the jackass. Ultimately, I felt sorry for that bitter little man. Because while he sat in his seat, he had to hear other passengers create connections. In the end, it all turned out well, even if I wound up late for work.

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Overthinking brassieres

Walking with a limp means I walk slowly, which means I have to budget extra time into any trip. If I need to be somewhere at 12:30, it's best to aim for 12:10 or so, just in case a steep hill or detour or simple fatigue thwart my efforts to be on time. That's why yesterday, I had a good half-hour to kill before an appointment downtown.

Since there's not much else to do around there, I decided to window-shop. I hadn't been shopping since August, at least not for fun things. (Insoles and groceries are not fun things.) In general, I am not into consumption as entertainment, but recent weight loss has rendered most of my wardrobe unwearable, so I hoped to find some simple APC-ish basics. Slim gray sweater, black trousers, that sort of thing. Instead, I wound up purchasing a bagful of brassieres, even though most of mine still fit. (Oh no, I've mentioned unmentionables.)

If I were a better person, this admission would be more horrifying than embarrassing, but: Shopping made me happy yesterday. I liked the ritual of the clerk carefully wrapping everything in tissue paper, then sealing it with a sticker before putting it into a sturdy shopping bag. I liked unpacking the bag at home and setting everything out in a neat little row. Buying nudged me into a happier mood, and even worse, it made me feel as though I'd accomplished something.

Of course I know that any sense of accomplishment is flimsy and false. And I know that shopping is not only a money vampire, it also has a lot to do with what's wrong with our culture. I recognize the gross plague of consumption that, in many ways, defines American life. I see how it distracts us from important issues, how it creates a voracious yet insatiable appetite for newer/faster/better/more, and how it ultimately disappoints us for failing to produce the happiness and satisfaction promised by advertisers and marketers.

But, see, I'm a huge hypocrite. It's easy to judge the people who hit Wal-Mart for 4 a.m. Black Friday deals — and trust me, the fiendish gleam in shoppers' eyes as they swarmed shops for holiday deals definitely weirded me out yesterday. But how am I any better? Although I really was pleased with my new acquisitions at first, at home I felt different about them. Removed from the seductive ambiance of the store, they seemed just as lovely but not nearly as necessary as I'd told myself they were just hours before.

Normally, I can easily resist shopping because I see relatively few messages to do so. My roommate and I don't watch television, so we don't see commercials. Adblockplus hides all of the ads online. The boutiques in my neighborhood sell $400 dresses that I can't afford, so I don't even go through the doors. I already have everything that I need, and I know better than to buy into consumerist culture, so to speak. Yet it didn't take five minutes in the store to produce a perceived need (ooh, French bra!), create an emotional response to it (will be secret vixen under baggy clothes!) and justify the purchase (treat yourself!). Object lust tricks our brains and I'm just as susceptible as anyone else.

I've rewrapped my purchases in their crisp tissue paper, and the bag sits on my dresser. I'll give it a few days, but I'll most likely return the items. That's not because I genuinely want to; there's an impish little voice telling me, "But it's so difficult to find bras in your size! Keep them!" I'd be returning them because it just doesn't feel right to buy things I inarguably don't need. Plus, in the same way that people get that shopping high, it might feel good to prove that I can resist the shop-shop-shop message. We'll see.

(In shoppydevil-Annie's defense, it really is difficult to find bras in my size! I often have to get them altered to properly hug my scrawny ribcage. Thus, when I find some that fit, I want to snap them up so I don't have another tear-filled breakdown in the Nordstrom lingerie department because most brands don't even make bras in my size. See? I am a terrible person. Naomi Klein hates me.)


It seems that the more you want to avoid someone, the more likely you are to run into that person. Take, for instance, the time JC and I came to San Francisco for my job interview. While getting dressed that morning, I thought, "What will I do if we run into Phil?" Anxious gears started turning before I told myself, "Self, don't be paranoid and ridiculous. It's a big city. Not gonna happen." I felt proud of myself for rejecting my neuroses.

So of course, we ran into him at the park. Exceedingly awkward conversation ensued.

Yesterday, after spending months wondering when he'd bump into his gargoyle of an ex-girlfriend, a good friend of mine saw her. The encounter was uncomfortable but not traumatic, he said. He handled it without even an inkling of drama, and I savored the idea of her realizing how much better he's doing without her. (I know that seems nasty, but if you purposely and remorselessly wound someone I love, you've earned my disdain.)

Fortunately, there aren't many people I would like to avoid in this town. Four out of 808,976 isn't bad. And yet! A few weeks ago, while hobbling home in the dark, I was approaching a crosswalk when my right crutch slipped. I wobbled, saved myself from falling, and straightened myself just in time to see a member of that quartet zoom past me at 40 mph. Nice metaphor, huh? I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Wound up doing both.

And last night, not five minutes after hanging up with aforementioned friend, I saw one more member of the Avoidance Posse. Instead of wanting to flee, though, I just smiled from afar and hoped that he was doing well. Funny how these sorts of things can provoke the opposite response of what you feared they would.


Slow collision

I was a daydreamer as a child, and a few nebulous ideas have stayed with me since. I've always been comforted by the simple fact that we all live under the same sun and moon. Day in, day out, all of our little lives happen underneath them. It's not profound, obviously; I merely liked how everyone shares the sky. I used to squint at the sun and think about people in France and China and the Philippines and Florida — how at some point, the sun would bring light to all of our days. But night was better suited to my dreamy mindset. On clear evenings, I would stand on our deck in my nightgown, look into the inky sky, and gaze at the moon. I would wonder how many people were wishing on a star at any given moment, and whose wishes would come true, and why.

Tonight, as Sabrina and I covered the southern edge of the park, we remarked on the unusually beautiful moon hung over the city. It had the soft golden glow of yellowed vellum. Decades after my childhood, a good moon will still conjure thoughts of the faraway friends who I miss and love. Even if their eyes might be looking downward, even if they're on different continents where they see sun while I see moon, my heart swells a little to think of our connection. The resulting warmth is a persuasive argument for nocturnality if one ever existed.

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You see, the old way wasn't working

A few years ago, my new year's resolution was to do one thing differently every day. It turned out to be an easy resolution to keep, and it also made for many fulfilling days. It's easy to repeat the same things over and over, to unintentionally create well-worn paths that lead us to the same place over and over again. And then we wonder why our lives feel a little flat.

I still have problems breaking out of patterns. For instance, at a Thai restaurant, I order the same thing every single time: pad kee mao with tofu. One time, I ordered a different dish at Sticky Rice at Western and Irving, and hey — it was delicious! So then I wound up ordering pad kee mao everywhere else, and at Sticky Rice, I'd order those little Thai pancakes. Clearly, I have much to learn about diversification.

Anyway, in an attempt to resuscitate the whole "do something different each day" idea, last night I watched the sky darken around the moon before taking a roundabout way home. The trip took longer, and I was paranoid that a crazy bus rider would steal my teeth, but the change of scenery was refreshing. Since it was early, I decided to go out for happy hour after work. Wielding my trusty fake Moleskine, I curled up at a table and blathered on for a few pages. Sitting in the curved corner of a booth felt just like it did when I used to do it in Chicago. (See here for embarrassing example of loner-style writing times, including yet another Buffy mention.) After arriving home, I roasted some zucchini and cleaned the dishes as I cooked. Newness all around.

So I'm thinking that maybe as we make more changes in our routines, it becomes easier for other changes to follow. Doing one tiny thing differently is a gentle way to step out of patterns, and — for me, at least — then making bigger shifts seems natural. (Of course, I could be wrong, but it wouldn't be the first time.) Baby steps can lead to bigger leaps.

After my father died, I realized how little time we have to live. Yeah, you hear people say that life is short, but it wasn't until September that I actually felt what that means. Decades from now, I don't want to be an old lady sitting on a pile of regrets. There will have been mistakes, of course, but I want to look back and see a full and varied life. I think imagining ourselves in old age can be a great motivator to do more with our days; nobody ever fondly recalls the years spent entering numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, you know? On that note, um, it's time to make the doughnuts, and I'm already so late.


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    it's anniet at gmail.


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