(this is annie)

Coughing up my cookie heart

My doctor is the best. Every time I go in for a visit, he asks how I'm doing, and he seems to actually care about how I'll answer. This last time he had another physician with him to observe. Doctor 2 — Electric Boogaloo, M.D. — looked apologetic for barging in on our appointment.

So my doctor checks a few things out, and I am proud of myself for not asking him to look at the sliced toe. He fills Dr. Boogaloo in on my health history, including the cancer scare/dad death/broken foot unholy trinity. Boogaloo keeps a mostly stoic face but you could tell he felt uncomfortable, as though the non-doctor side of him wanted to say he was sorry about it but the professional part of him asked, "What would Trapper John do?" and decided to stay quiet. This is probably why he is making the rounds with my doctor, because my doctor has a PhD in people skills. My doctor knows how to make patients feel like he cares. Maybe a little too well...

While writing a prescription, my doctor — that sly devil! — said, "And so. Dating! Tell me how that's going." Notice how he just assumes that there's something to tell. He has been on my case for a year now to date more, and he is always encouraging me to do XYZ activity and so forth. I know he sounds yenta-ish here, but he's actually very sweet about it, like a stepfather might be.

Because I have issues with trying to please authority figures (thanks, Catholic school!) I burst out with a bunch of tiny stories of dating disaster. I tell him about the chard-inspecting Ryan Gosling lookalike at the farmer's market who interpreted my feigned interest in his panniers to be actual interest in his panniers. The bike questions, as I told the doc, are an excuse to talk with someone, but Fake Ryan Gosling seemed to think I was enthusiastically curious about the stupid panniers.

"Well, Fake Ryan Gosling is either dense or a damned fool," my doctor said. Dr. Boogaloo nodded supportively, like Oprah would.

"Maybe both," I said. Ha, ha, ugh.

Then, as always, the good doc nudged me toward putting myself out there a little bit more. I like to think that he would like to help me find twue wuv, but then again, maybe he just wants me to get knocked up before my ever-dwindling egg supply poops out completely. So, because he's that good at guilt-tripping me, I followed his advice and cobbled together an online dating profile. This in itself would be slightly awkward, but you know what's even more so? When the computer algorithm searches hundreds of profiles to suggest your absolute best pairing... and who's number one in the resulting list but an ex? As for my doctor, he's got some 'splainin' to do.


What holds us apart

After work yesterday, I scurried to BART it to the north end of the Mission. I was walking quickly on 16th Street, keenly aware of the six minutes that remained before I'd be late — and I hate being late — when I heard a man call out to a woman. "Excuse me! Miss?" he said. I kept walking. He kept calling. Then I turned and realized he was talking to me.

I am ashamed to admit that when a strange man approaches me in the city, my first instinct is to wonder if he wants money or to sexually harass me. Because of this response, I am always a little guarded. I looked at the man slowly.

He was a small, slight man with one of those faces that could be 40 or could be 55. It's not that his skin was completely rough and leathery, but it had spent some time in the tannery. Like kidskin. He had bright eyes, dark short hair, and wrinkles that suggested a painful past made livable by trying to smile through it. He was pretty well put together in the way I always imagine Ethan Allen Hawley to be: wearing inexpensive shoes, but wearing them with a shine.

"Hi!" he said. Very nervous.

"Hello," I said.

"Hi," he repeated. "You're a fast walker." This is true. Even with a still-not-quite-right foot that ached, I was marching toward Valencia quickly. I smiled politely and said that it was just a habit.

"Hard to keep up with ya," he said. He was nervous, not slick. "But I saw you and I thought, 'I gotta say hello to her,' and you heard me!"

"Well, hello," I said. "Are you from San Francisco?"

"I was born here, but then I lived down in San Jose, and now I'm back. You're real pretty."

I smiled, this time genuinely. Truthfully, I had been tired all week, and my face showed the kind of exhaustion that makeup cannot conceal. If you are a stranger, especially when I look like the female version of Dorian Gray's decades-old portrait, flattery will get you everywhere!

"You have a pretty smile," he said, all dazzle-eyed. "Amazing smile. Beautiful."

I laughed. "Thanks," I said. "I've had braces three times."

He chuckled and then we were at Valencia. "Well, this is my stop," I said. "Going to meet someone for a drink."

"Oh," the man said. "Maybe I'll see you again?"

"It's a small city," I said.

"Goodnight," he said. And then, his sweet, heartbreaking coda: "Thank you for for being nice to me."

As I watched him cross the street, I wondered how often he talked with women, and how often they were or weren't nice to him. Later that night, I thought about how frequently people (myself included) are too scared to speak. We worry about what someone might think of us, or we talk ourselves out of going after what we want because we don't believe we deserve it. And then we wonder why we're dissatisfied with the situations we've created for ourselves.

Vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness, but paradoxically, the more you embrace it, the more courageous you become. I'm glad that man approached me because he inspired me, as corny as that is to say. In a quiet, subtle way, he was the strongest man I'd encountered all week.

I hope someone out there enjoys the Chain of Strength allusion because that band continues to crack me up.

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To keep ourselves entertained, Jen and I have created a new inside jokey game. Actually, it's not that new. Toddlers probably play it all the time. But it's new to us! Basically, we try to outdo each other by texting nonsensical sentences to each other. Here's a sampling:

  • Gouda shoes.
  • Massage the car into a ball of sumo wrestler.
  • How's the day waxing sticky velvet? Jackrabbit! (My response: "Papaya.")
  • Battery-powered quiz bowl with snowflakes of orange zest.
  • Mesh cats are in the rectory.
  • Plush fangs slip on some shower curtains.
  • Frankfurter disco nap.
  • Porkpie hats steal laser sauce! Unfortunately, the cactus whispers to the tugboat. It's a neon pomelo.
  • Purple Pieman washes granola.
  • How many Milos does it take to roast a chicken? Silverware!
  • The celery stalks at midnight. Koo koo ka choo, Mrs. Robinson Crusoe.

Linguistically, the interesting thing is that as the game goes on, the nonsense begins to shape itself into sense. ("Mesh cats are in the rectory" was understood to mean that my plane landed safely.) If we keep this up, it's only a matter of time before eep opp ork ah-ah means I love you.


En train de...

It was the commute from hell: nearly an hour to travel three piddly miles from work to home. I knew I was in for it when I saw the train platform stuffed with people, most of whom had a half-hopeless, half-annoyed screen over their eyes. When the trains finally began coming into the station, they were already crowded. But we boarded, and some people even got seats. We tried to make the best of it.

The train crawled about 25 feet, then stopped. We waited. As the train stood still, the air became warm and stuffy. I was wedged into a corner, with only a few inches of space between me and the people around me. The stale air, lack of movement, and sensation of being trapped were highly unpleasant. Nobody looked happy.

Ten years ago, I might have turned to a fellow commuter and shared some sort of sympathetic small talk about the delay. I wanted to do that tonight, but the man next to me was listening to his iPod. The woman in front of me was listening to her iPhone. The long-haired goatee man was playing games on iPhone, the teenage girl was texting on her Sidekick, and over on the other end of the train, a woman had turned up her iPod loud enough that I heard jolene! joLEEN, joLEEN, jo! LEE-EE-EEEEN! through the earphones.

The train eventually shuddered forward, then stopped again, then started up, and so forth. Aside from the two coworkers talking about a new relationship ("She's great, but I'm waiting to see how she fights") the train was essentially void of conversation. It was typical of urban life, it was nothing unusual, and it was sad.

I recently got an iPhone through the boss man. Earlier today, I mentioned this, and someone made a comment that stuck: "You get one and it's like you create a little relationship with it." That is the problem, isn't it? We look at phones, not into people.

And yeah, I enjoy all of the things the iPhone can do (Angry Birds and Hipstamatic are so much fun) but I can't help but feel that we're losing a lot. Tonight I kept my phone in my bag during the hour-long commute and wondered what might have been.

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Lust for old age

In Chicago, if I didn't know people in bands, I knew who they were by sight. Within pockets of the city, it's nearly impossible to walk a block without seeing So-and-so from Such-and-such band. That's probably the case in San Francisco, too, but I can't rattle off SF bands like I can Chicago bands.

Do you know why? Because I am old and out of the loop. Some evidence:

  • Generally, I like going to shows now only if I know I love the band. No more of this "Sure, let's see what this random band is like" stuff.
  • Not-infrequent grumbling about shows starting later than they're supposed to. (In my defense, this is not new.)
  • People in buzzed-about bands are usually in their 20s. Guess who, despite her deceptively youthful looks, isn't.
  • Have thought, "Fifteen dollars for a show! I remember when shows cost only TEN dollars!" This is only made worse by memories of $5 punk shows.
  • Sabrina and I went to a Jens Lekman show last year and, when the band started twirling in circles on stage and the people in the audience were smiling blissfully at the connectedness of it all, we groaned and got the hell out of Dodge.
  • Am crabby if the venue has nowhere to sit. Especially now with a foot that is prone to soreness, standing for hours is not my idea of a good time. Danny and I went to a show at Bimbo's a few months ago, and I greatly enjoyed sitting at a little table with him.
But the biggest sign that I am old is symbolized by this: When I watch videos by Girls, who are from San Francisco and filmed videos in my neighborhood, I observe the dilated-pupils antics of the band and their friends. And I think, "Those kids are ON DRUGS!" (Which they are, obviously.) That is a grizzled enough perspective, but — and oh, it is embarrassing to admit this — then I think, "Why do they sit around getting wasted all day? Don't they have jobs?" Worst of all, I realize that this makes me sound like an old fogy, so I watch the videos again with an open mind. Then I rationally understand that youth is often about hedonistic pursuits and that I am a fun-hating old fart, but ultimately I settle back into thinking that the singer needs a haircut and wondering why the rest of his friends can't just put some clothes on.

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I am possibly the worst beauty editor in the world because certain grooming details are of little concern to me. At a few events, I have been the only one without filler in her face or a Botoxed brow. My nails are usually bare. I run screaming from any products with nanotechnology. Looking like a number one stunna takes too much time, money, and effort. Aside from my obsession with getting clear skin and a good haircut, I am content with half-assedly cleaning up to become a number two, or even three, stunna.

This lazy attitude extends to body hair. If you really want to make the average young woman squirm uncomfortably, all you need to do is whisper the phrase "hairy thighs." She will become self-conscious because body hair makes you an undateable wildebeast who will never have any friends. As a pre-teen, I had internalized this message and thought that if only I had smooth legs, an Esprit cotton tote, and a bra, I'd become the most popular girl in school.

Betty tried to stop me. "Don't start shaving," she said. "If you do, it'll come back darker." She was right, and for the first couple of years, I inspected every square inch of my legs to see if I'd missed any stubble. Not that anybody was looking, but if they did, they'd see plenty of cuts and raging razor burn... but no hair! That was the important part.

Suffice it to say that I did not become the most popular girl in school, and my dedication to hairless skin waned over the years. (It waxed once, too, but I couldn't get the stuff off my skin, and I walked around with a chunk of green goo on my knee for three days.) I resented being expected to de-fuzz on a near-daily basis, so I started doing so only when I felt like it. Wonder of wonders, nobody seemed to care. For all I know, they're calling me Chewbacca behind my back, but not to my face. And if I'm asked about any stubble, which is rare, I tell people I have bigger fish to fry. Because I do.

And yet... It makes me feel like a terrible feminist to admit this, but I've been conditioned to prefer the look and feel of smooth skin. I enjoy the sensation of a newly shaved leg swishing against the other like silk. But I remain too lazy to shave every day, and besides, have you seen how expensive those replacement razors are?

This is why yesterday, I found myself lying naked on a dentist-style chair while a pregnant woman slathered K-Y on various parts of my body. No, I have not started a career in niche porn. Instead, I have spent a month's rent on laser hair removal. It might seem ridiculous to do so, but honestly, this may be the best shallow decision I have ever made.

This is what a session is like. I go in, strip down except for a pair of sunglasses, and then the esthetician uses a little clipper to shave any hair to be zapped. From there, the KY goes on and the laser comes out. (I assume the KY is to make the laser glide along skin smoothly.) When the machine is ready, it makes a happy electronic burbling noise that suggests a sadistic streak.

People tell you that laser hair removal feels like the snap of a rubber band. That is inaccurate. It feels like a burning needle plunging into the skin. The pain lasts only a second, and it's much more tolerable after the skin has been iced, but a rubber band snap it is not. At least it goes quickly; the underarms take less than 10 minutes total. Over the next 10 days, the hair falls out.

The pricey painful process is worth it, though, because despite not shaving my underarms in a month, there's less peach fuzz than on a 13-year-old boy's upper lip. And that's after just one session! This makes ridiculously giddy, like I have somehow outsmarted biology. It also makes for boring reading, but again, trying to do something every day.


Royale with cheese

I ate Burger King last night and now I'm filled with existential dread. — John Coyle Steinbrunner, February 19

JC's whopper of a fast-food hangover made me think of how, as a child, fast food seemed like magic to me. Pizza delivery — the concept that you could pick up the phone and have a slab of cheese on dough brought to your front door — was truly mind-blowing. We lived in the country, where the nearest fast food place was 15 miles away (it's now less than that) and nobody delivered pizza or any other food to our dirt road.

Naturally, my 10-year-old mind felt that this was an income opportunity.

I drew up — literally, with crayons and colored pencils — a business plan that would bring Burger King within walking distance of our house. That way, I could almost effortlessly enjoy a cherry pie that tasted like the cardboard it was presented in. It was an election year, so I scribbled some notes on how the presence of Burger King would bring much-needed jobs to the neighborhood. (It's the economy, stupid.) I attempted to cajole my parents into opening the Burger King. "We'll be millionaires," I explained. "And we can have a chicken sandwich anytime! You'll never have to cook again!" Betty has yet to heed my youthful sales pitch, but I'm telling you, there could be literally dozens of dollars made from it every week. And who doesn't want to live next to a Burger King?

The funny thing is, now I could walk to some awful fast-food place in just a few minutes, and all I want is to make food at home. Sadly, I haven't had a home-cooked meal in eight days now, all thanks to the magic of delivered Zen Palate and room service. Even tonight, when I really wanted to cook but haven't been home long enough to buy groceries, I gave up and ordered some kati rolls. They showed up less than an hour afterward, and it is still amazing — wondrous in that we-live-like-royalty way — that I can dial a number, speak into a shiny slab of technology, and have paneer wraps brought to the apartment while they're still hot. Let's just hope they don't spark a crisis of the existential or gastrointestinal variety later on.


From what I have read, Soho House is some sort of exclusive place. It must not be that exclusive because they've let me in twice this week.

If you had told the teenage me that someday I'd be going to fashion week, doing all of the allegedly glamorous things that such a trip entails, she would have scoffed (and been a bit impressed in spite of herself). Appropriately enough, the fashions reference the early 90s. Right now I'm at a party and trying to decide whether to take the path that leads to glamour, money, prestige. And oddly enough, I prefer a quieter path that is no longer available to me. So this is what's left by default.

It is strange to reach places that many people want to reach. Interviewing people from the teevee. Seeing fashion before it hits the runway. I am grateful for the opportunities I've had and continue to have. I don't take any of this for granted. But if I have learned anything over the last few months, it's that when you reach a certain status, there's another status to reach right after it. It never ends, and nobody ever wins. Or if you do, you become Anna Wintour. I do not want to become Anna Wintour. Somewhere in the past, a very young Anna Wintour would not have wanted to become the modern Anna Wintour.

After this, I will try to see Frank. Then I will try to see Stefan, who is blanketed by beautiful women and literary and smart and nice enough to me.

Update: Mission See Frank was a success. Walks, drinks, and good times were had. Mission See Stefan was a failure. Nothing was had. I apologize if none of this makes any sense but I'm typing it on my phone and I'm going on about four hours of sleep.


Busting many moves

Cool Hand Luke and I had plans to hit up this arepas cafe, but by the time we made it down to the East Village, the place had stopped taking names for tables. So we walked around in the cold, crisp air in search of another place to eat. Mexican? Maybe. Thai? Not feeling it. We snaked through the streets discussing my ophidiophobia. (He thinks it can be cured; I disagree.) Then we saw an interesting-looking restaurant, glanced at its menu, and saw that it was another arepas place. We decided it was a sign.

I'd never had Venezuelan food, but it's pretty straightforward. The menu consisted of tapas, arepas (stuffed cornmeal patties), and meat and fish dishes topped off with a light drizzle of crude oil. Our server had a birdlike energy, all angles in her gait and back-and-forth eye movements. She recommended the tofu arepa, but I feel like most Venezuelans don't eat tofu, so I went with beans and whatever. We ordered too much food, agreed that it was decent but needed tomatoes or something else to balance its dryness, and drank red wine (CHL) and sangria (me).

The restaurant closed at midnight but the music kept playing, and a few people began to dance. Their sense of movement was natural, their rhythm inspiring. I enjoyed watching them. Then CHL said two words that struck fear into my heart: let's dance. Oh no!

It's not that I don't like to dance. Quite the opposite. Do it all the time at home. The problem is that I am absolutely horrible at it. I explained this and hoped that we could do The Chair. It's the hot new dance move. You sit down and wait for the server to bring the check. It's huge in Venezuela!

"Oh, come on," CHL said. And with no real defense or valid excuse to save me, I was pulled out of my seat. The other dancers were doing some hip-wiggling thing that the nuns back in grade school would have surely disapproved of.

In an attempt to be a good sport, I decided to give it a whirl. I asked myself, "WWPSIDDD?"* I then realized that the answer, too, would involve hip-wiggling. I couldn't do that. That's how you throw out a hip! So I pulled out my usual thumbs-in-the-air, torso-twisting moves. It looked almost as impressive as this. "Why don't you let me lead," CHL offered.

So he led. I tried to follow. It didn't go well. I spun the wrong way, nearly flung myself into the bar, and wondered if a second sangria might have helped me forget this embarrassment in the morning. "I need those numbered feet," I muttered. We laughed. Eventually I started getting the hang of it, or at least I stopped being completely inept. I may even have had a good time.

While dipping down and spinning around, my mind went back to dancing with my father. He used to take my hands in his, and I'd put my little feet on top of his shoes. He'd get a little sparkle in his eye while moving us around and making me laugh. I was sad when I grew too big for that, but as I let myself be led in the restaurant, a small part of that feeling came back. And better yet, I was able to share stories of that memory, of my father, while smiling. I think my dad would be happy to see me dancing. Even—no, especially—when I didn't think I could.

* (What would Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing do?)

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You're gonna see adventures

The last time I saw Seddu, he was newly in love. When he talked about his girl, his eyes lit up and he alternated between rattling off her amazing qualities and dreamily slipping into a loss for words — the latter of which is a rarity for him. I'd never seen him so head-over-heels happy, and his overabundance of joy put a big smile on my face.

Fast forward a bit, and there's this:

Obviously I'm biased because Seddu is an old friend, but really, if this doesn't touch your heart, it must be made made of granite. Some people cry on Valentine's Day because they don't have this, or any, kind of love. But I smile just knowing that love like this exists.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo seemed promising on the surface. A journo and a punkish hacker girl teaming up to solve a decades-old murder: What's not to like? A lot, sadly. The book is fast-paced and the main plot is tight enough, but it's about 1/5 too long. I won't spoil the story for you yet, but there's a snoozy subplot that drags the denouement down past its natural endpoint. Just trust me. It's too boring to describe.

In fact, Larsson's prose is generally bogged down by tedious details; we read too little about important conversations, but get full paragraphs about minutiae like the many steps Blomkvist takes to make a sandwich. Then there's this type of enthralling stuff:
The rucksack contained her white Apple iBook 600 with a 25-gig hard drive and 420 megs of RAM, manufactured in January 2002 and equipped with a 14-inch screen.
And later on the same page:
Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHZ in an aluminum case with a PowerPC 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity Engine, 960 MB RAM and a 60 GB hard drive. It had BlueTooth (sic) and built-in CD and DVD burners. Best of all, it had the first 17-inch screen in the laptop world with NVIDIA graphics and a resolution of 1440x900 pixels, which shook the PC advocates and outranked everything on the market.

Gripping prose.

The book has been praised as a feminist novel. Funnily enough, I found the female characters generally one-dimensional. I appreciate Larsson's inclusion of female characters; there aren't many Nicola Griffiths out there, so too many whodunits are a sausage fest. But his attempt to focus on widespread abuse of women has all the subtlety of, well, tattooing pervert on a rapist's chest.

(OK, now I will get spoilery.)

The main character, Blomkvist, is a middle-aged reporter (and jailbird) who winds up schtupping three women. They meet him and, immediately transfixed by his so-so personality and average looks, need to get in bed with him right away! Oh, and they're totally cool with him sleeping with the other women — in fact, they're all for it! Please. Even if he were indeed a hot property (tm Chaz Walters), he doesn't treat his lovers well. He's a mostly absent, crappy father, too. In short, he is a putz.

Yet he's presented as a stand-up guy. Larsson is so busy creating cartoonishly misogynist pedophiles and sadistic rapists that he glosses over the milder but still sexist tendencies of his main character. No, Blomkvist isn't a lady hater, but he's presented as though he's a saint. He doesn't need to be one, and characters are stronger when they possess the mixed virtue that we all do, but I feel like we're encouraged to praise Blomkvist despite him being an assclown to the women in his life. (Way to not kill us, Blomkvist. Sigh... my hero!)

As for the violence that permeates the book, I think Larsson was trying to call out misogyny in our culture. I always love men who actively and loudly speak out against violence, rape, and abuse. I don't like it when they speak for women, though. I appreciate his intent, but the world he presents is one in which women are constantly violated and victimized — and it's done with so little nuance that the end effect leans toward torture porn rather than societal commentary.

The book's big mystery revolves around a series of grisly murders of women. But it isn't enough that the women are tortured and killed; no, they're tortured and killed in gory, bloody, vivid detail. The brutal violence feels gratuitous, and more interestingly, the writing in these passages differs from much of the rest of the book.

When it comes to talking about rape and murder, the writing perks up with intensity. Some of this shift is reasonable. After all, discovering a torture chamber provides more action than making toast. But the graphic detail with which the crimes are described is unsettling. When he writes of dismemberment, decapitation, setting breasts on fire, parakeets shoved into vaginas, and other sadistic crimes, you sense... excitement. Enthusiasm. Larsson creates elaborately stomach-turning scenes that feel more than a little voyeuristic. It's as though he's saying, "Look how horrible these crimes are. Sick, just sick! I'm so disgusted that I'm going to look some more."

Beyond the brutal violence, the book fails to treat rape as a serious crime. It says rape is serious, but it's largely treated as an event to move the plot forward. You'd think that sexual abuse as a major plot point would warrant introspection, as in Bastard Out of Carolina. Instead, we see that raped women decide to ensnare their rapists and then torture them.

After Lisbeth's rape, she doesn't go to the police. This I find realistic. Of all my friends who have been assaulted in one way, none have gone to the police. We suspect that we'll be asked, directly or indirectly, what we did to deserve it. And even if the rapist is arrested, who wants to publicly talk about being raped in a courtroom? Shame is one of the first responses.

But refusing to go because rape centers are for victims, and Lisbeth doesn't consider herself a victim, feels false. Confronting a rapist feels even more unlikely to me. Again, most women I know are too traumatized to do that — and since we see vague allusions to Lisbeth's earlier abuse, I find it hard to believe that she'd create an elaborate plot to blackmail, ensnare, and torture her rapist.

Yes, she's a fictional iconoclast, so she can do what she wants. I just didn't think Larsson adequately examined the long-lingering, crippling aftermath of being raped multiple times by the same man. I also find it impossible to believe that while being repeatedly raped, "she did not cry. Apart from the tears of pure physical pain she shed not a single tear." What's the point of that? To prove how allegedly tough she is?

In the long run, Larsson's attitudes toward sexualized violence suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the female experience. In his rush to tell everyone about how rough women can have it, perhaps he (and his story) could have benefited from a little less talking about women and a little more listening to us.

Things I do like: how Lisbeth saves Blomkvist, how her intelligence defines her character, and how she's a weirdo. (Of course, in the next book, she gets breast implants because her small chest, as described in the first book, is "pathetic.") I just wish Lisbeth — and the other women in the book — were written more as complex people and less as suffering symbols of a sexist society. You know, as actual characters. It's worth mentioning that the book's original Swedish title Men Who Hate Women. Tells you most of what you need to know right there.

(Here's the movie trailer subtitled in French, if you want to see it. Hollywood is working on a version, too.)


Invisible man

In the mornings, I like to watch other commuters as we ascend from the underground. Most of us are trudging off to work, and sometimes I force myself to walk slowly. This is one good side effect from those awful days of crutching. Slowing down means I notice more details, like whether the Examiner-offering man's eyes are bright or defeated.

Yesterday morning, an elderly man was about ten steps in front of me. He was about six feet tall with trimmed gray hair peeking out from a tweed flat cap. He wore brown leather shoes, tan trousers that were a mite too large, a navy twill jacket. His ears stuck out a little. From behind, he looked almost exactly like my father.

Rationally I knew that this wasn't my father, but he shuffled his feet so similarly that my heart instinctively hurled itself toward him anyway. I wanted to know what he looked like. If only I could see his face, I'd see that he'd look nothing like Dad. Even if some bizarre twist of fate gave him an identical face, it wasn't Dad. I knew this, and yet I felt simultaneous urges to run away and run toward this stranger.

His gait was slow, so I tried to catch up to him. No matter how much I stretched to see his lightly whiskered face, I couldn't see any of it. I'd get closer, and just as I found the right angle to steal a sideways glance, he'd shift his path. When he disappeared into the news and candy shop, it was too late.

I tried to keep it together by looking up at the tops of buildings. Gravity kept the tears from brimming over at first, then my preference to never cry at work did. Hours later, upon crossing the apartment threshold: release.

This morning, I retraced my steps from train to street. I looked around. Not-Dad, of course, wasn't there — it's a big city with lots of people and patterns, and paths sometimes cross only once. The truth is that the man I'm looking for will never be there, at least not physically. I'm still wildly unused to living without my father. The grieving moves forward in sine-wave formations. But at least it's moving forward.

I was up before dawn again and called my mom. She made me feel better. Before work I stopped by Walgreens to buy a Valentine's Day card for her. It's her first v-day without my father in more than 35 years, so I hoped to make it feel a little less alone.

Hallmark — oh yes, I do care enough to send the very best — had a dorky selection. The flowery "For you, Mother" cards were mawkish. The music-playing cards were gimmicky. I considered a greeting from the Chipmunks, but she hates rodents. In the end, I went for a card whose theme truly captures the sentiment and depth of our relationship. I think it'll show her how much she means to me. Let's hope she likes the Jonas Brothers.

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Needle in the hay

I have been getting acupuncture for the last month or so, and I am unconvinced that it is doing anything aside from draining me of $15 co-pays. I like my acupuncturist, who is gentle and funny, but I don't have the come-to-Jesus moment that some of my friends do when it comes to having needles poked into their feet.

One of the pleasant things about acupuncture sessions is the quiet time. You just lay there in dark silence and space out. In theory, I could do this at home, but my bedroom is never dark enough, and there's always some clutter that needs straightening, et cetera.

Today I used the time to do a few things. First, I accidentally banged my needled hand, which was painful. Then I thought about all of the things I needed to do today, which was daunting. Finally, I shifted perspective, which was helpful. I'd had a difficult morning and had been fighting off the mopes; after a little time alone in the treatment room, I realized that it was better to laugh at the problem than waste another second ruminating on it.

So, who knows. Maybe going to another state, another country, or just another part of San Francisco is the way to un-stick my thinking. I'm willing to wager money that going to New York will do even more of that. And on that note, I need to get back to that "all of the things I needed to do today" list. Still daunting.


My lunch with Andre

I was not even halfway to my destination when the clouds over the Caribbean swelled with rain. If I turned around, I could easily make it back home before the downpour. I decided to go forth anyway. I managed to park my bicycle right as the drops began to fall, and upon walking into the cafe, I felt like I was back in Northern California. There were chimes, woven goods, handmade necklaces, natural balms, and so forth. As I wrote in my journal, it was a woo-woo new agey place. It was also the only place in town to offer a varied vegetarian menu, which is why I was there.

The proprietor didn't look overly thrilled to have a guest to feed, but she cooked anyway. She made one hell of a mushroom omelet with eggs plucked from the chickens clucking just outside the screen door. I was eating when a man, maybe late 50s, walked up toward the building. He squinted at me through the screened-in windows, then stared as though he recognized me, then entered. The woman’s husband. He had a gentle but intense air about him.

While they talked, I kept eating my omelet and homemade bread. The woman had to leave for an appointment, so her husband took over and walked toward the table. “Ça va aujourd’hui?” he asked.

"J’vais bien," I responded. I don’t know how he knew that I spoke crappy French.

We began a discussion of Quebeçois vs French French, which somehow bled into me asking if he thought I really needed to take the oral antibiotics prescribed by the health clinic. "For a foot injury?" he said. "I wouldn’t, personally."

I agreed and explained how I was clumsy and accident-prone. And this turned into the kind of medical confessional favored mostly by the elderly. I told him about the broken foot and the lumpy breast.

He gave me another intense stare. "Were all of these on your left side?" he asked.

Yes. As was the slice-and-diced toe.

"Interesting," he said. A beat, a tentative glance, then: "Have you lost a man in your life recently?"

Cue the waterworks. I managed to refrain from full-blown sobbing, but I wasn't expecting the question, and so I held my breath and blinked back tears. I filled him in. Then he talked about the Mayan calendar and how the transformational leadup to 2012 is already happening. How we’re supposed to go to a higher spiritual plane. He said that those of us who haven't already started evolving are too late. "You're going to be happy," he said. “You just have to weather the storm first."

Outside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. My eggs were gone. The wife was back. I paid and pedaled down muddy streets.

All of this happened a little over a week ago, during which time I also injured my left hand. I'm not one to go for mysticism, and I don’t believe that this guy has secret psychic powers or anything. I will say that I went in expecting nothing more than a late lunch and left with a lot to think about. Like I said before, it was a woo-woo new agey place.

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Jets to Belize

At the airport, I discovered that the departure fee I'd paid in cash last time was somehow included in my fare this time. So there I was, stuck with $70BZ and 90 minutes to kill. Might as well buy a "thanks for feeding the cats" gift for Sabrina, I thought. At Maya Endings, the souvenir shop, I picked up a few items, a book, and saved a little cash for Jet's Bar. As a woman of my word, I planned to try the rum punch.

Unfortunately Jet was nowhere to be found. On top of that, the rum punch costs $10BZ, but I had only $8 left. (Just haaaaaaaad to buy that copy of Colonialism and Resistance in Belize: Essays in Historical Sociology at the gift shop, didn't we?) You go to a place like Jet's for the experience, though, so I bought a water and made the best of it.

A few minutes later, Jet sidled up to me. "Meese?" he said. "Why do you not have my rum punch?" I explained that my appetite for the dry writings of O. Nigel Bolland was greater than my appetite for rum punch. Well, actually, I said that I'd spent my money.

"But you must try!" he said. "If you don't try it, you'll never believe it. And you won't believe it unless you try it."

He darted behind the bar and mixed me a drink. Hawaiian Punch may have been involved. Then he returned with a plastic cup and triumphantly set it in front of me. "I mix it nice and stiff for you," he said conspiratorially. Dude was not kidding.

I complimented him on the concoction — yes, best in Belize, I said.

"You have boyfriend?" he said, smiling.

No, I have cats. I decided not to talk about Milo's short legs because Jet could have interpreted it as a slight against his own stature.

"You have four-legged cat," he replied. "How about you take two-legged cat? I'll be your cat. Come live with you." I should again mention that he speaks very quietly, and I think it may be a trick to get women to lean closer to him — which affords a better view of the bosom. I had worn a scarf just to cover what cleavage I do have.

"Ah, but you're more expensive to feed than the four-legged cats," I said.

He laughed. Then he began drawing a picture for me and signed it ANNIE LOVE JET STAY SWEET. I thanked him.

He squinted at me. "You 'ave cam-er-a?" he asked. Yes.

"You take picture with me?" he said. Yes.

So he led me by the arm behind the bar, where countless other women have posed with him. (He has framed many of the pictures, which he calls his "babies.") A nice and interesting middle-aged concrete worker from southern Illinois took the picture. I think we got it on the first take, don't you?

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If I hadn't had to fly out to Belize so soon, I might have flown to Chicago to hear four measly songs at this show. Sometimes I loathe the internet, but today I love it — more specifically, I love hot mama-to-be Jessica — for letting me see this:

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Brief candle

Last time I was in Belize, Louis and I were riding horses through a tiny village called San Jose Succotz. We clip-clopped past ramshackle houses with tin roofs, scared away chickens in the dusty road, and headed toward the jungle. It was quiet in Succotz until I heard music. Blink-182 was slipping out of an open window, and that moment made me understand how major-label music truly goes worldwide.

Last night, I treated Louis and his friend Caitlin (Caitlyn? Katelyn? Kaytelynne? etc?) to pizza. Then we went to Faya Wata, which is the happening bar in San Ignacio. I kind of hate it because THE JUKEBOX IS ALWAYS REALLY LOUD, I MEAN REALLY OBNOXIOUSLY LOUD. It pumps out top-40 stuff: Fergie, Linkin Park, and terrible techno along the lines of that "Y'all ready for this?" song that plays at sporting matches.

After finishing a game of pool (won, ahem, by yours truly) I decided to take off. Louis offered to walk me back to the hotel. Caitlin is 20, blonde, and built like a brick shithouse, and I did not think it was wise to have her wait in the bar by herself. "No, that's okay," I said. "I walk alone."

"Like the Green Day song," Louis said. We laughed. Music is a glue.

It's interesting to listen to Belize. On the islands, it's 95% reggae and 5% punta rock. Since there's only so much Bob Marley anyone can take -- for me, about 20 seconds -- there are plenty of other options. For instance, did you know that a reggae-lite version of "One More Night" exists? Or how about "Wonderwall" done up in bouncy reggae beats? Yep. In Belize City, I've heard mostly hip-hop and rap coming out of cars. The closer you get to the Guatemalan border, the more you hear bouncy songs with Spanish lyrics.

The other day, I was riding around the southern streets in the late morning. This is where the non-tourists live and work, and for the most part it's filled with clapboard houses on stilts. I was coasting toward a well-weathered house when a familiar strain came blaring out: And in the darkened underpass I thought Oh God, my chance has come at last...

I paused under the window until the chorus spoke of inextinguishable lights, then imagined an iconoclastic teenage Belizean rebelling against reggae and playing the universal music of adolescent and thirty-something mopesters everywhere. Who on this tropical island is into the Smiths, I wondered. How did he or she find out about them? It's not like the Smiths get a lot of media play these days. Were they handed down from an older sibling, found on a good radio show, read about and tracked down on CD like we used to do? Found on the internet? Maybe, but access is pricey, so maybe not.

I passed the house again a couple of times later to see what else might come out of the stereo -- would have plotzed if it had been Ride or something like that -- but there was only silence. During that morning, though, I felt a frisson of commonality. Just like when you're 17 and you see someone with a band t-shirt and you automatically want to be each other's friend because of music. It was a tiny sliver of this trip, but one of the brightest, too.

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Four Belizean transport things that you can't do in the U.S.
1. Ride in the bed of pickup trucks without getting ticketed. You see this all the time. People pile in the back and usually look like they're enjoying the wind whipping their hair. Betty would kill me if she knew this... but I've done it, too. Yesterday I rode a mile uphill in the back of these German/Costa Rican guys' Chevrolet, and when I trudged away from the jungle in a downpour, they let me hop in back again.* DON'T TELL BETTY.

2. Take a colectivo taxi. No matter what make or model a car is, if the license plate is green, it is a taxi. You flag the car down on the highway and squeeze in with any other passengers. You can go maybe six miles for $4 BZ unless you're a tourist, in which case you get charged a little extra. But, really, if you haggle over 50 cents US, you are an a-hole.

3. Hop on a refurbished school bus and head from one end of the country to the other for $10 BZ. (That's five bucks US.) Unfortunately, the bus stops every ten feet to let people on or off. I am exaggerating, but only a little. On the way from Belmopan to San Ignacio, one lady refused to deboard the bus with a group of people. She insisted that the driver take her approximately 20 feet down the road, which he did. This level of service means that it takes forever to get where you're going.

4. Use a golf cart as your primary mode of transportation. On carless Caye Caulker, this is the fastest way to move. I guess people must do this in Florida and other warm places with old people, but it's not the main way to get around.

* I couldn't help but remember the story I overheard a local tell the other day. Background: Spanish Lookout is a Mennonite colony not too far from San Ignacio. It's mostly known for farming, construction and what-have-you. Nothing too crazy, or so you'd think. Anyway, this guy** starts talking about how some Mennonites are helping traffic drugs up to Mexico; there was a big bust in which the fuzz found cocaine in coconuts. Last year some deal must have gone wrong and a Mennonite was found shot in the back of the head. Anyway, the drug trade is lucrative (duh) and so you've got a few people living l-a-r-g-e in buggy country.

While climbing Xunantunich, I'd run into the ride-giving guys. They were nice enough but something about the way they were quiet gave me an odd feeling. They were talking in a language that sounded vaguely German, but it wasn't German. Dutch? No. I asked and they told me it was a dialect of German called Plautdietsch. Oh, and they're from Spanish Lookout.

So while going downhill in the back of a new, slick, decked-out, expensive pickup, I thought, "This is one of the nicest trucks I've seen in the whole country. I bet it cost a lot." Then I did the math. Let's say that the truck cost (conservatively) $20,000 US. Double that for the 100% (!) Belizean duty fee and we're at $40,000 US. That is about 18 times the yearly income of the average Belizean.

As we reached the river -- my hop-out point -- I thought, "Golly, I hope I'm not hitching a ride with Mennonite drug smugglers." Maybe they were Mennonite oil barons?

**He just walked into the computer cafe as I was typing this up. Small world.

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say hello

    it's anniet at gmail.


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