Tuesday, December 29, 2009


At work when things are slow, we entertain ourselves by choosing personal catchwords (indeed, arguably), bus stop personas, hip hop names, and so on. I won't bore you with the details because inside jokes are pretty much only funny to those on the inside, but I will note that I'm a Francesca, and that my hip hop name so scandalized a co-worker that she refused to even pronounce it.

The catchword I was handed is: indubitably. At first I didn't care for it and have actually never used it in conversation but it's the word that came to mind when I was looking at this collection of New Yorker covers. Yes yes, I can hear the sighs and I agree that the magazine deserves some of of its rep for smugness and insufferability. I don't get the Ian Frazier humor pieces either (sorry dude, I bet you're funny in real life but those "humorous" one-pagers are as wooden and tired as last year's Christmas tree). I skip the architecture and theatre articles, figuring they're about people I haven't heard of and wouldn't care about if I had.

The covers though. The covers are genius. Just the past few weeks have featured a luscious Thiebaud pie, and a soft-focus light show. I saved the Obama covers--the White House at night, illuminated with a softly glowing O. The Prez as Abe Lincoln. Even the one that generated all the controversy. The covers are where The New Yorker comes through. Indubitably.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I have mixed feelings about Christmas. And I know I'm not alone in this.
Earlier I posted "glad that's over with" on Facebook and 3 friends liked it within about 2 minutes.
There's so much pressure for the day--no, more than that, the season--to be wonderful and sentimental, jam-packed with family and friends, and in reality, the pressure is to spend money, to buy just the right thing, to part with sufficient cash to fill that inner sinkhole of guilt and loneliness.
My emotions were set to scramble the past few days but I did have fun and I did get to spend time with 3 of my favorite goofballs.
To me, nothing says happy holidays like sisters getting the giggles, Monopoly at midnight with the fam, or curling up in a blanket on the sofa with a bleary-eyed niece, watching cartoons and drinking hot chocolate.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We are our dogs our dogs are we

As a kid I always expected at some point I'd grow up and figure my shit out.
Well, quelle surprise, I haven't.
I don't feel that much wiser than I did in my 20's. I still drink too much sometimes, say stupid stuff, piss off the people I care about, worry too much about what strangers think, I watch crappy TV instead of reading something important, I say yes when I mean no and no when I mean maybe and maybe when I mean probably. Sometimes I don't know what I mean or even want to mean. Has the shit has gotten more complicated? Did I give up and not realize it?
On a completely unrelated note (perhaps not completely), I went to one of my favorite coffee shops the other day and this woman and her dog were inside taking up all the room (it's tiny, basically an espresso counter, a cash register, one table, two chairs, and about six feet of floor space). I left my pooch outside and squeezed inside. Then had to go back outside because the woman immediately declared that her dog would be surprised by my dog when they exited, as though my dog were crouched just around the corner, hee-hee'ing and just waiting to jump out and startle her dog. (For the record, at this moment my dog was staring blankly at something in the street.) So I went outside and petted my dog and waited while the woman crab-walked out of the coffee shop, a death grip on her dog's collar. Her dog did not seem surprised at all by my dog. When she was safely across the street, I went back into the coffee shop.
I am so over people and their dogs, I said, to the barista, who moments ago had been yukking it up with the woman.
She nodded. She's making that dog crazy. It bit my little boy last week.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Executair 880

Here's my latest acquisition, the Executair 880, a portable bar a la Don Draper, complete with carrying case, bone-handled corkscrew, and roomy liquor compartments.
Purchased as a Christmas gift but now I don't know if I can part with it...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Diversions, Kreeshmush and otherwise

Been working long days for the Man, and then for myself. But, despite the drudgery, I've been lucky enough to be invited to some fun and amazing events
  • At Smashputt, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I drank beer and shot golf balls out of an air compressor until 2 a.m.
  • Saw Lady Gaga live and in the flesh last week, and adored her glittery headgear, the stiletto heels, her low smoky insouciant drawl and bendy, awkward dancing. Oh, and her singing.
  • And Kid Cudi performed too, a subtle geek-rap presence, funny and dynamic (although now I see that he smacked a fan at one of his solo shows)
  • On Saturday night this lot was in town; a somewhat disappointing performance (what was with the Lord of the Dance lady?) but good company
  • And finally--the Cool Whip on the sundae--a Sunday matinee chez Ms Dina Martina, as louche, ghastly and inappropriate as ever. I hung on every slurred mispronunciation, and her sequined mini-dress hung on for dear life.
Now I feel ready for the holidays.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The evolution of vest

I spotted this series in the U-district, as though the tagger were trying to figure out his or her signature. Puffy letters, vertical, horizontal with a flourish.
Continuing on up 45th, I spotted the tag every few blocks on street signs and light poles. I felt like an urban Daniel (Danielle?) Boone had gone before me, but I lost the trail around Meridian St.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Low riders

Funny, no?

This sign is posted in the window of Not a Number Cards and Gifts in Wallingford. The owner caught me snapping a picture yesterday--remember my phobia about getting "caught?"--and asked that I send him a link to my Facebook blog (he he) which I'll do.

It's a cool shop, jam packed with kitschy, funny, even naughty items. My co-worker and I purchased foam rocket launchers here (because nothing says "good morning colleague" like a foam rocket to the solar plexus). The shop celebrated Festivus a few days ago. They'll even give you a 10% discount if you've shopped with other merchants in the neighborhood, even my nemesis, Trophy.

And, the sign cracks me up, especially the hand-drawn boxer-exposing low riders.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Even though by temperament I'm mercurial, I try not to reveal that side of me too often in print. Why? I guess because I don't like pollyannas, whining wears me out in a jiffy, and honestly, I haven't really learned to talk about myself at that level. Baring my soul makes me uncomfortable, the way you feel sitting in a doctor's exam room waiting for a shot.
So anyway life feels hard right now. Resistant. Impenetrable. I can't get the traction I want with my writing. Work is marginally okay. Personal life is in the crapper. The people I want to see are busy and the people I don't want to see won't leave me alone. The damn dog won't quit scratching.
This picture reminds me that I'm best off focusing on the things that bring me pleasure. Street art, for one. Bold, naive, even slightly defaced, but still pretty cool.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How'd I miss this?

When I was getting my ink a couple weeks back I browsed through Juxtapoz magazine.
And fell in mad crazy love.
It's my new fix. Graffiti art on the sides of barns, tricked out kicks, creative types making art and not sweating it.
How'd I miss it all this time?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

More birdy neighbors

I do love crows.
These bad boys kept an eye on me and the dog the other day on our raindrop-dodging walk. Mostly silent, uttering the occasional disdainful caw.
I like to think the same birds keep a watchful eye up above but who knows? Maybe it doesn't matter, because I have this idea that they're there, this kingdom of birds, observing the oblivious humans, all of us wrapped up in dancing with stars and a good price on a refurbished iPod when really the beauty and the magic is in the view just beyond our fingertips.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Overheard around town, part bleorgh

College students on the 31 headed to Fremont:
Girl#1: So you're going to Mario's for dinner?
Girl#2: Yeah, I'm so excited. We were supposed to finalize the plan today but he wasn't in class.
Girl#1: Yeah he was probably cooking.
Girl#2: Yeah probably. He invited me and Charles over, for whiskey and manicotti.
Girl#1: That's so Mario.
Girl#2: That's soooo Mario.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Graffiti NYC

More graffiti from my trip last month.
1) Chelsea mural in black and white--love the stark simplicity
2) Brick wall in Chelsea near the Piers--here I love the random raggedy layers
3) En route to Moma--love love love

Monday, November 16, 2009

The peeling and the rust, they speak to me

Yes they speak, I only wonder what it is they're saying.
It's why I love thrift stops, I guess, and can barely stand to walk through a Nordstrom. I like the old, the unique, the cast off and the authentic. This rusting light pole caught my eye in Port Angeles not long ago. The base once painted a rowdy turquoise, the pole sporting a surprisingly graceful silvery scallop detail. Rain added dark wet freckles to everything.
Are old things any more authentic than new ones? They have a history, anyway--like my treasured liquor cabinet, which started out life as a hardwood radio console. Kids must have sat in its oaky shadow many years ago, listening to the Howdy Doody Show, and later, Elvis Presley 45's. Then the velvety turntable stopped working. The tuner dial fell off and rolled away. The console was relegated to the basement, where the varnish darkened and the brass fittings tarnished. And now it dwells in my house, stripped and sanded down to its sturdy bones. I fell in love with the rich burled wood, the brass as silky and glowing now as gold. Now it holds what passes for music in my life--vodka, gin, and a handful of pink plastic monkey cocktail skewers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I got my first ink the other day, something I've always wanted to do. My youngest sis and I had discussed getting it done together. She's got a couple of tattoos and was thinking about another. I thought about what image to get, and where.
Something classic but not trite, I decided--which ruled out Chinese characters, roses, skulls, the Jolly Roger or the old paw print on the boobs--and also not something I'd see on my flapping middle-aged bicep a few years hence and wish I'd spent the money on a spa day or a nice dinner or a lifetime supply of temporary tats. A native moon, I thought, a Haida design. But I couldn't find one simple enough to translate onto skin.
But this I liked, the fleur-de-lis, the elegant, classic symbol of New Orleans. So, $80 later it's mine forever, tattooed into my left ankle. I won't lie, getting it hurt like the dickens. But there is something cleansing in pain that penetrates to your bones. It focuses you, clarifies your thoughts. How much in life is permanent? the artist said, as she was setting up to get started. And when it was over: Welcome to the club.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On decay, aging and sunburn

I ran across these bad boys in Port Angeles a few weeks ago, big heavy rollers with rusted out rims. The grit and decay is beautiful against the wet cement, the moss, the fallen leaves.
They reminded me of Thiebaud cakes, a little bit. Or vintage buttons.
I really like the rims, the way the design varies, how they have rusted and crumbled and deteriorated in different ways. A recently published study of twins (scroll down) and aging had an interesting photo accompaniment, showing how sun exposure and smoking, among other things, made people age differently.
Now I'm wishing I hadn't spent all those summer afternoons in my teens basting my bare arms and legs with baby oil.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Graffitifever--catch it

Check out my sister's blog by lynn krestel for photos of Canadian graffiti. My sis is as creative as they come but until now her interests hadn't extended to street art. (You might remember my memento pendant, which is her handiwork.)

Then I saw in last Sunday's paper that a new edition of Graffiti World was out. My treehugger self debated for all of seven seconds before I ran down to University Bookstore and handed over my $35. A big glossy book featuring street art from around the world--a treasure, and worth every penny (sorry trees).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

They call me smirkee

I don't care for pictures of myself.
They're either smirky or gawky or I look half asleep.
A few months ago I decided to take on my image and see what I could make of it--a close up of my eye, my profile, a three quarters shot in hat and sunglasses, or drenched and laughing after a mad dash in the rain from the bus stop.
How do others see me? I have no idea.
I think I'd like to know. I wish I cared less. And sometimes, when my hem is raggedy and there's a toast shard in my teeth, I wish I cared more.
This picture feels stylized and warholian, yet unguarded. I don't hate it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More overheard around town

At a Port Angeles coffee shop yesterday, a half dozen women in their fifties talked about doing headstands and gossiped about an acquaintance who was shacking up with a younger man. She's a predator, one said, to universal nods. Men should be warned about her man-acquiring, marrying ways. And then someone noted that the predator (Predatress?) had been divorced and single for twenty years.
The conversation moved on to canola oil. Don't use it, it's poison, one woman said. It's made from rapeseed.
Rapeseed--that's where crop circles are formed, another said.
Now it all made sense. The circles were a warning, they agreed. About canola oil.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Open wide

I see this sign a couple of times a week and it always makes me laugh.

The relationship between the text and the two figures is elusive--are they swallowing the words, or did they just cough them up?

The latter, I think. It feels more meta. "Regurgitate nothing," says the sign, which was itself regurgitated. A text fit for a graduate level literature course.

Or, me, hurrying to my bus and chuckling.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Overheard around town, part hmmmph

Kid on the Ave: Dude, that gay guy in Red Light--he looked at me!

Guy on the 373 bus (on the phone): Yeah we caught all our buses. We'll be there in 5 minutes. No, it's not like we're gonna beat him up or anything. We're just gonna steal his dope. (Hangs up and hands phone back to his pal.) Your battery says extremely low. Not just low--extremely low. (Laughs loudly. I see he has H-A-T-E tattooed on his knuckles. Relieved when he de-buses to go steal dope.)

Me (asking rocket scientist about upcoming mountain observatory expedition): Is it going to be a tent situation?
Rocket scientist: Excuse me?
Me: (repeat)
Rocket scientist (giving me troubled look): No, it won't be tense at all. In fact I think it'll be quite relaxing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Simply amazing

Here's one of the pieces from the Jim Hodges show I went to in New York a few weeks back. The family very kindly allowed me to tag along and take a peek at the pieces before opening night.
This piece greeted visitors as the entered the show.
The night of, a security guard stood nearby to make sure nobody trod on the lighted bulbs (there were a few close calls).
The simplicity and loveliness of this work is echoed throughout the show -- get yourself to New York if you can, or Paris, posthaste.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Drip drop ya don't stop

After a fairly dry spell we've had about a day and a half of nonstop rain and it feels as though after the initial shock--crabby co-workers, interstate crashes and neighborhood power blips--it feels as though Seattle has relaxed into its damp, soggy self. Yeahhhh.
At the farmer's market this morning my friend Pat valiantly cooked up Burmese squash curry and talked about her new cookbook. The lady at the Appel cheese stand told me if she stood in exactly this spot she wouldn't get wet. Not even a sagging rain-filled canopy could deter my favorite plum seller from Eastern Washington, a brunette Betty White who handed me samples of Japanese apples and sent me off with a pound of juicy Italian prunes. Traffic lights were out as I walked on, but cars skimmed easily by on the hissing streets.
Honestly, it's my favorite kind of day. Mild, damp, the filtered light making everyone look like extras in a Wim Wenders movie. I sloshed up the final hill, the sidewalk carpeted with leaves too freshly-fallen to have turned to mush yet, some red-gold, others outrageously vibrant yellow, all studded with glittering rain drops.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Seeya lata

I thought I'd take a ton of pictures in New Orleans, what with all the scenic corners, the characters, the graffiti--Abe Lincoln with a lawnmower, random phrases such as "you've been had" and, leaving the Lower 9th Ward, "seeya lata" illustrated with a grinning alligator--but in 3 1/2 days I managed to take a grand total of 2 photos.
One you'll see later. Here's the other, taken on Royal Street in a block crowded with art galleries.
I have no excuse, other than I was living in the moment. Loving the experience and not what I would make of it.
For a writer, not typical. But it was just what I needed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

You can call me Aunty Lease

Today is the one year blogaversary of BusySmartyPants.
One full year of photos, posts, links, thoughts, bright ideas, some whining, and not a few snarls. In other words--life.
So, paper is the traditional first year anniversary gift and I received a piece of paper far more valuable than a crisp benjamin or a winning lottery ticket: yesterday at brunch, my niece grabbed a crayon and deftly edited her kid's menu from "twelve and under" to "twelve and {sic} underweer." She read out the edit with a low giggle. This is the same seven-year-old who, while taking the WASL last year, wrote in her own answers if the multiple choice offerings didn't suit her.
Here's to another year of re-writing the menu.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A change is as good as a d'oh

Welp--5 flights, 1 Ambien, no lost luggage, 1 medical emergency and 5500-odd miles later, I'm back in Seattle. I wish I'd taken more pictures, eaten less, danced more and worked smarter, but mostly I'm just tired and happy that it was such a fun week.

I'll post a few pictures later but for now here's a taste of my travels:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I'm heading out of town for a few days. Keep an eye on things while I'm gone, would you?
If you see any great graffiti or overhear something juicy, drop me a comment with all the details.
There'll be lots to discuss when I get back.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dogs and Katz

Check out Jon Katz's interview from earlier this week on KUOW.
He's a writer/farmer who thinks, writes and blogs about the human/dog relationship.

Agreed that we humans have unnatural love for and expectations of our pooches. Right? Wrong? Ask me after I pick up mine from his dogupuncture appointment.

Dare I add that we've super-anthropomorphized our kids too? One visit to weekend soccer--gushing dads, moms yelling strategy tips to oblivious five-year-olds strapped and padded with their body weight in protective gear--ought to be enough of a clue. And I thought Kicking and Screaming was fictional satire.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All bunged up

A friend and I were chatting yesterday and suddenly she told me something very personal, something she said almost no one knew about her. It was clearly upsetting to her and strangely, it was an experience I had had as a kid, too. Why, we wondered, was this thing still so painful to us? Why couldn't we leave it behind, what did it have to do with who we were today?

I saw this wall a few weeks ago and stared at it for a long time. You can see the imprint of old chicken wire against the cement, kind of like that persistent thing in our pasts. The chicken wire is long gone but the outline remains. I think what's left is prettier than the original ever could have been. It makes me think that the echoes of old painful experiences may ultimately add a certain beautiful interest, a patina to my friend's life, and--I hope--mine too.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pocket knowledge

I found this petal on a walk this morning and brought it home.

Remember when you were a kid and your pockets were always full of stuff you had accumulated during the day?
I just inventoried the pockets of the jackets hanging by my back door.

  • 1 ponytail holder, orange
  • 1 black bobby pin
  • 1 grocery store receipt from August for, among other things, GLPF CK/CKY
  • 1 pink price tag for something that cost $5.00
  • a few too many tissues
  • 1 McCormick & Schmick's matchbox
  • $3.11 in dollar bills and change
  • 1 yellow post-it marked "2619 Broadview"
  • 1 movie stub for "Departed" dated 10/15/06
I love finding forgotten money in my pockets, but I can never find a bobby pin when I need one. It's the flotsam of life. It's what archeologists will be digging up in a hundred years and trying to piece together our stories.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Today, feeling like I got nothin.'
Except this link, my go-to when I need a laugh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Are oddballs the instruments of Deus ex machina?

Some weirdos have been crossing my path lately. Mom always attracted the strange ones. A mentally disabled guy was in love with her for years. He'd stand on our porch and call to her through the screen door: Beautiful Mary!

Last week I took the dog out for a 6am run. Toward the end of it, we approached a thin figure in a black hoodie striding along the sidewalk. We went around him; then I looked over and the guy was running alongside us, muttering to himself. Oh honestly, I said, and sped up. And he kept pace with us, talking louder. It was barely light out, so even though I was tired and only 3 blocks from home, I did the smart thing and turned back, and took the long way back to the house. No sooner did I walk up to it but another guy materialized. A big guy in a polo shirt, waving his arms and lurching around on the sidewalk. Harmless fellows both, I guess, but you never know.

Over the weekend, I was in Vancouver and again took the dog out for an early morning spin around the block. We passed a guy carrying a large duffel bag. He ignored us, instead flipped open a Dumpster lid and hollered up at the apartment above: it's 7.20 a.m., wake up! Pooch and I came back around the block and Mr. Dumpster Diver was just exiting the alley. This time he made eye contact. This is the forty-thousand-millionth time I've seen you today, he said, not angry, but exasperated.

So, what's the key, or is there one? I talk to myself sometimes too. I'll kill myself running so as not to be passed by another jogger at Greenlake and I've certainly been known to pick up free stuff off the sidewalk. One person's Dumpster diver is another's freecyler. One person's loon is another's--well--me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I chuckle every time I walk under the Aurora/99 overpass in Fremont. In addition to the "official" highway sign featuring Geo. Washington, there's another one painted on the concrete pillar. Only the ad hoc George has a bigger nose, a stronger jawline, and a substantial chignon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Enough already

Usually I'm a fan of inanity.
Usually I love the little conversations going on all around, the little politenesses, the verbal bread crumbs that remind us how we got here and where we're going. The bright connective yarn threads on the hook rug of life.
Usually, but not always.
Due to some changes in the office, I am now aggressively greeted every morning.
Good morning, how're you? If I manage to lift my gaze from the carpet, the greeting is seasoned with a broad, welcoming grin and just the hint of a wink.
Good morning how am I at 7.28 a.m. on no caffeine and an SRO Metro bus ride?
So far, I have kept a lid on it. I grunt something that resembles good morning--a series of sounds reminiscent of those German Shepherds that bark "Jingle Bells." It's a sound, but hardly human. If I extend myself any further, I might have to address the how are you. And that would really be pushing it.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I hate talking about the weather yet I can't stop writing about it.
Is it part of life's obnoxious duality? The thing you despise is the thing that obsesses you?
These are things that I don't like but yet which fascinate me: bright blue sky (translates into a hot day), and a metal utility pole next to a traffic signal (cars, driving, roads). You have nature, engineering, and art, wrapped up in a messy, sunshiny image.
I don't know what it means. I just know that I can't stop looking.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hot mama on the 30

On the 30 yesterday a sweet little blond girl serenaded the sparkly sticker on her hand. It was a pure an expression of joy as I've seen in awhile. She lay on the bench seat, laughing and caroling, I'm singin,', I'm singin,' I'm singin.' (Mentally, I couldn't help adding, In the rain.)
Then I noticed the woman she was with. Long, lean, also blond. Bra-less in a tight white t-shirt, with Praise Jesus written on it in blue marker. And her legs. Razor free for many moons, it seemed, furred with tufts of thick blond hair. I couldn't help but stare, fascinated. She was beautiful and honestly, kind of scary.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My hair of the dog

I woke up this morning with the mother-in-law of all hangovers.
I know better than to mix my likkers but last night I did just that at a friend's kick ass barbecue, had a cosmo and some red wine and a sip of white and then some Scotch. Add in a few puffs on a cigar, and around 1 a.m. I crossed the alcoholic Rubicon into the land of I Am Going to be Really Sick.
Segue to this morning--a mere 4 hours of sleep, stomach that feels like it's harboring a festering squirrel carcass, cigar smoke coating my hair and tongue, and a headache tiptoeing around the inside of my ringing cranium. Coffee and a hot shower jump started my draggy corpse but the thing that really resuscitated me was pho.
A big bowl of vegetable pho, steaming hot, loaded with herbs and noodles and jalapenos, heavy on the salt. A few spoonfuls at an overbright Fremont noodle place playing dance music, and I felt my stomach start to settle.

PS: Super gracias to the friends who hauled my sorry butt off the grass and into the car this morning. I promise to pay all the cleaning bills.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When bike gangs roam the earth

Finally figured out the deal behind the bike gang I saw two weekends ago. I was walking up Ballard Avenue and these guys in t-shirts and porkpie hats rolled by on pimped-out bikes--some with oversize frames, seats towering six feet off the pavement, others low and laid back. Bringing up the rear was a guy with some massive speakers pumping out house music. The civilians on the sidewalk--me among 'em--watched open mouthed as they pedaled coolly by.
So anyway it was the night of the Dead Baby Bike Race.
No idea how the Ballard crew did but I give them style points, anyway.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our birdy neighbors

I'm hearing a lot about crows all of a sudden.
A friend posted to Facebook this morning about being woken up by crows; and a few weeks ago, an even more erudite friend posted about watching a murder of busy crows.
Last week, I needed to make a private phone call at work, but the moment I sat down on the stone bench behind my building and pulled out my cell phone, a bunch--sorry, murrrderrr--of crows began a chorus of raucous cawing and jeering. I moved down to another a bench, and they hopped along the grass, continuing to harass me. I gave up finally and went inside to make my call.
Scientists study crows and yet we know so little about them.
I see what I think is the same crow sitting on a power line most mornings when I walk the dog. Sometimes we get a croaky caw greeting. Sometimes, just a sideways beady-eyed glance.
And then this morning, as I waited in line at Irwin's for a pumpkin muffin, a guy entered and stood in line behind me. A space invader, he stood too close, and reached over me to grab a handful of dog biscuits from the freebie cup on the counter. And then another handful. I feed these to the crows, he confided to me. A fifty-ish guy, with gray stubble and Ward Cleaver glasses. The crows know me. When they see me coming, they fly in from all over. I said, joking, You're the crow whisperer, but he didn't laugh. Apparently he takes his murder of crows quite seriously.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In which I am schooled

A 25-year-old friend--student, cartoonist, gym rat--told me he'd read my story that came out in Neon Beam in March. You should think about adding some humor to your writing, he said. You know, funny sells.
I'd thought there were a lot of funny things in the story. Well gee thanks, I said, insincerely.
He went on, It's like when my friends text me, if they say Hey what are you up to, I probably won't text back. But if they say, Hey hooker, why don't you roll outta the bed and come rob a bank with us, I'll text 'em back, because they were funny.
I'm thinking about what he said. Maybe my funny is too subtle. Maybe my funny just isn't all that funny. A writer friend said she thought I had a trenchant sense of humor. Compliment? I dunno. In any case, it all feels a little like that Simpson's episode where Homer berates the television: stupid TV, be more funny.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Overheard around town part VI

The heat may have eased temporarily, but tempers are still crackling and frayed. On the 373 bus to north Seattle, an irate man with a phone clapped to his ear read somebody the riot act. Nobody's gonna tell me when I can go to the f*cking bathroom. How you gonna know when I'm gonna need to go to the f*cking bathroom? If I need to go to the f*cking bathroom, I'm gonna go. I'm gonna. He went on in this vein for a good ten minutes. Then, Hello? Hello, are you there? He closed his phone, disgusted, and stared off into space.
A few nights later, on the 73 downtown, two young men in slouchy jeans rubbed baby lotion into their hands and agreed on the importance of moisturizing. A pair of teenagers boarded, a big cute girl with rhinestone barrettes and a trendy white hoody, and her friend, as slight as she was generous, each of them carrying a rustling collection of shopping bags.
Oh no you didn't
, I heard her say, in a sassy, tinkling voice. This is a Coach bag. Coach. Do you know what that means? Coach. She held up the bag. It was little. It was Coach. It was cute. She glanced at me, and I nodded. It's cute.
Couch bag, he joked. After awhile, he asked to look at her iPhone.
You can see it, but you can't hold it. Na-uh, I'm sorry. You're gonna be that way about my Coach bag, I'm not gonna trust you with my phone.
I'll let you look at my phone, he offered weakly.
She raised one eyebrow and sniffed, So? Your phone's little. Size matters.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The leaves they are a-changing

Not sure if this pressure-cooker summer has anything to do with it but the leaves are already starting to change in Seattle. This perfect golden specimen drifted to the pavement in front of me yesterday. There's something so lovely about the contrast between the rough-textured, pebbly cement and the fragile leaf.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I love this bird, markered onto a pillar somewhere on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Is that his head, or a cartoon bomb? Is he whistling, or about to explode? His unwaveringly shiny eye gives no clue.
Last week, when it was so hot, I witnessed an act of true seagull savagery. A fat angry male made a feet-first, three point landing on the head of another gull which was in the middle of packing half a bagel down its gullet. Birds are not known for their avian kindnesses but this guerrilla attack was both alarming and merciless. Incoming gull managed, with his sneak-bounce attack, to dislodge part of the bagel. Diner gull scooped up his crumbs and hopped-flew away, swallowing like crazy.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Beautiful street people

I visit The Sartorialist web site a couple of times a month.
The candid shots of street fashionistas never fail to inspire me.
Or depress the hell out of me--how can 60-year-old Italian men have more style savvy in their sockless loafers than I'll have in two lifetimes of trying?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Scenes from a hot city

The temperature topped 100 degrees in Seattle yesterday. We’re so not used to it. A few pollyannas say they enjoy it, and loudly proclaim their newfound love affair with the sun. The rest of us walk around slowly, blinking and frowning, alternately cranky or bewildered.

The unrelenting heat is prompting questionable sartorial decisions. I saw my supervisor in a miniskirt. For every lithe young campus hottie running around in flip flops and cutoffs, there's the Rubenesque bare-chested old guy with sweat dripping off his wrinkled nipples.

An older manager at work abandoned his computer, rolled up a copy of the campus paper and chased around an errant fly.

29 Seattle-area friends on my facebook page posted about the weather. No more archly clever posts; we're recording triple digit temperatures in our kitchens, posting screen shots of KING5, and passing around beat-the-heat tips (water soaked headbands, running through sprinklers) .

On my bus, no one talks. No one's sleeping. We all have zombie stares, behind our shades. And overhead, the sun continues to shine.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A priority message

Remember I told you to look up when you're walking down the street? (Be safe and all, natch.)
I snapped this series of doodled shipping stickers along a 1/2 mike stretch in Wallingford.

I tried to simply enjoy and not think too hard about what they were or meant -- poetic clues to a scavenger hunt? Coded messages? Or just random, disposable thoughts?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The eyez have it

I happened across this menacing garage door one Saturday when I was wandering around trying to find Essential Bakery.

I liked that it was a burst of exoticism in an otherwise ordinary landscape--a careless half-tone wall, unremarkable metal siding, a bent drainpipe. And yet someone took care to center the eyes and the snake-nose, and to level the painting against the angle of the door.

Because where would you be if the evil eye were off kilter?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dried to a crisp

Dried flowers were big in the 1980's, and I hated them.
Hated the dessicated rose headbands and clumps of pungent eucalyptus and the dried out baby's breath (don't most babies' breath smell of up chuck?). Everywhere you went people had silk flower or dried flower arrangements bound with satin ribbon and hanging on their walls, gathering dust in windowsill vases, even nestled in women's hairdos. So romantic, ladies sighed. So Victorian and sweet.
It might be why all the dead grass and dried out weeds around town are giving me the creeps. Everywhere you look, the grass is blindingly blond. It looks like crew-cut hay. These are some weeds I saw in an abandoned lot. I did like the sunburst appeal of the bristly dry heads. I imagine if you sat down, you'd be picking sharp little stickers out of your ass for quite awhile.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The smile mafia

A contractor came by the house yesterday to talk about some remodeling projects. Nice guy, youngish, a little fond of monologue but also copacetic with my interjected semi-funny sidebar comments. In other words, it went great, especially given the hot day and my finely honed sales resistance. Until, that is, on his way out, when he handed me his card.
Owner-slash-Smile Maker, his title read.
I looked up, groaning. Smile maker, really?
See, it worked, he said with a grin.
Actually, it was more of a grimace on my part. But I just nodded and shook his hand.
Earlier this week, a co-worker said how much she liked someone. So-and-so is so nice, they're always smiling, she said, nodding in approval.
Those kind of people scare me, I said, and her own smile died.
It's true. I trust them the least. The smilers. Either they're up to something devious and trying to allay all suspicion, or they're just not paying attention.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Henry in tatters

A couple of weeks ago, someone (henry?) posted these strips on walls and utility panels near my writing space. Most are in tatters. This one, pasted up high on an alley wall, is in the best shape by far.
Natural wear and tear, or something more sinister at work?
Whatever. I'm over it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The hotness

So far, it's been a crackling hot summer in Seattle. June was nearly the driest June on record. It's my least favorite weather. I tolerate it, but just barely. Some days, the sun and the humidity and the sweating and chafing, the chipper sun-lovers and the paunchy shirtless old guys get to me, and then, quietly cursing it all, I retreat to a cool basement, run the fan on high, and remember that six months ago the city was paralyzed by snow.
Today I walked a new route and tried to find something beautiful about this hot spell. It wasn't easy. The graffiti looked greasy and unimaginative. A bunch of drunks cooed at the dog, and the female one said Hi pretty doggy, to me, then laughed with so little conviction that it could have been crying. Tourists fussed with patio umbrellas at a gelato place, trying to make more shade. The grass in the parking strips looked like crispy straw, the dried blond heads like starbursts against the cracked dirt.
Forty minutes in, I gave up. The dog was slinking along and panting, tail drooping. On the way back, we passed the drunks again. One fell to his knees. I remember you, doggy. C'mere. My dog shrank away from his waving arms. Sorry, I said. He's hot and he's on his way to get a drink. Still on his knees, the drunk guy said, Ha ha, so am I.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Doctored signs are wondrous

I have a lot on my mind but today's note will be brief.
This is the first of a bunch of altered street signs I'll be posting.
It's by far the silliest.
How cool would it be if crosswalks were patrolled by the likes of Edward Scissorhands?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

How my dog and I ruined everything

I freely admit that I'm a contrarian. I find conflict interesting, telling, sometimes helpful. That said, I did little to start (okay, and little to defuse) the altercation yesterday with the 2 bearded bald guys and their snarly shepherd mix.
Starbucks on 1st Ave S, mid-morning, out front in the sun. Notice The Stranger's Farrah/Michael cover and head past some patio tables to grab one. Out of nowhere springs this pretty big dog, barking savagely. My dog--16 lbs and fierce only in the pursuit of squirrels--falls back, yelping and scared. What the hell, I say aloud, backing away, confused.
The dog's people, two middle-aged paunchy bald men, resplendent in scraggly beards and blue blocker sunglasses, start berating me. How dare I startle their dog why didn't I just go away they had been out there for an hour reading their paper with no problems at all with their wonderful doggums.
I point out that said doggums was still barking so hard that saliva was flying out of its mouth. My dog calmly looks at the trio. We go stand in the shade. Look at her she's standing right there you can't stand there go away you're ruining everything. Inside the Starbucks, people watch, unable to hear but clearly enjoying the visuals.
I also admit that--now that it was clear that the duo was completely unhinged--I fanned the flames. We're leaving, they declared huffily, and I said Good for you. But we need our paper, they added. It had blown over near where I was standing. Then you better come get it, I said with a smirk. The classy couple stamped off, still winging epithets. They puttered away in an old white Volvo wagon, dog still barking insanely. In unison, the pair flipped me the middle finger and drove away into the hot morning.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


A friend passed away last week. It was not unexpected. But it was entirely too soon.
She left this Earth the same day as Farrah, and Michael.
At first I found the coincidence disturbing. Absurd. As though it diminished her passing.
Another friend raged at the brouhaha surrounding Michael Jackson's death. Thousands of people die every day! Think about it!
I did think about it.
I think it's good that we care. No, there's no need for 24/7 video of ambulances and grieving relatives. But it's good that someone's passing hits us hard.
Being human is a terminal condition. The question isn't if, it's when.
Being sad, grieving publicly, is a way of observing that I'm behind you, my friend, I just don't know how far.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

People will talk

I try to walk different routes on my rambles around Seattle. This forces me to pay attention to my surroundings instead of lapsing into a blissed-out travel coma. It also means I do a certain amount of backtracking out of cul-de-sacs and old stone staircases that turn out to be entryways to private yards.

It also doesn't hurt to look up. To notice the graffiti tags and signs and private little posters affixed to nearly all flat surfaces and public objects. Conversations are being conducted all around us. People expressing themselves. Saying what's on their minds--cursing, celebrating, being goofy, talking about sex. All the things that make being a human being so great and so painful.

In the course of an hour, between the U-district and Fremont, I saw these 2 signs and a graffito, which range from Hallmark cheer to menace to despair:

Then I spotted this lovely creature pasted to the site of a utility cabinet. No commentary. No URL. Just being.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Overheard around town part V

Best overheard comment, at the Fremont Solstice Parade yesterday:
"Let's go over there to Taco Delmer," uttered by a well-upholstered fifty something citizen. I'm guessing he meant Taco Del Mar but the pronunciation made me giggle. Tah-co Delmer. It put me in mind of a sunburnt Iowan in overalls.

Second best overheard comment, on the 56 bus to Alki last night:
"Why won't he answer the damn phone? I just wanted to wish him a happy damn Father's Day."
Gee, I wonder.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Call me Chip

I picked up a pair of shoes from the cobbler today. The whole idea pleases me immensely--drop off an injured shoe--heel worn down, strap torn--and turn up three weeks later to pick it up. Besides the obvious draws--recycling, supporting a local small business--there's also the fact that my great-grandpa was a cobbler. We have a photo of him standing in the basement of the Kansas hotel where his shop was located, wearing a long leather apron, surrounded by dozens of pairs of shoes.
His son, my grandfather, loved to refinish furniture. My aunt told me this, in April. How did I not know? Maybe I did, deep down--a whiff of sawdust brings back a flood of happy grandpa memories, a madeleine a la Proust. When I was a kid, his daughter--my Mom--re-did an entire cherry wood upright piano, sanding and varnishing it completely by hand. Next winter, when I'm tucked away in the basement with my Dremel contour sander, sweat dripping off my safety glasses, I'll think of them and this wood-working DNA we share.
I also inherited another of mom's affinities. From the bus this morning I spied a pile of interesting junk on a corner, labeled with that magical word: FREE. Later, I detoured to that corner, and sure enough, the pile was still there. What I thought was a shiny red bread box was a strange square microwave, with a broken door latch. I walked on. Oh well. Free isn't worth extra radiation with my nachos.

Monday, June 15, 2009

All hoity, no toity

I loved this "no public toilets" sign at the place that used to be Matt's Hot Dogs on 45th and the Ave.
Not only are the generic man/woman in agony, the jaunty dawg--a holdover from Matt's, I think--seems to be enjoying it all.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rejection Junction

Welp, it's been a three rejection week -- two for short stories, one from an agent. It's part of the job when you're a fiction writer and your last name isn't Eggers, Lahiri, or Sedaris. (Note to self: look into changing name?) Knowing that rejection comes with the territory doesn't make it sting any less.
I have started getting handwritten notes with my rejections. Cold comfort, you might think, but in a writer's world, this is also known as progress. The slush pile readers at two journals asked me to send them something else in the future. Another wrote, Much to admire.
Meager, yes. Like a saltine cracker when what I really want is the chowder. But for now it's what I've got.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

School, division, and snakes

Graduate is one of those words with meanings that seem at cross purposes, like cleave, or inflammable. This time of year, to graduate is to move up, to ascend from high school to the unknown beyond that is life, whether that's a job flipping burgers, bumming around Southeast Asia, or the lonely horrors of summer school.

To graduate can also mean to divide, and that seems appropriate too. It is a dividing up, a separation, a goodbye. Kids bidding adieu to their old schools, their friends, to being the big fish.

I attended my niece's high school graduation last night. Three-plus hours in a lovely old theatre, our seats front row balcony, craning our necks to catch her eye and impudently stick out our tongues.

This photo is from our April trip to Kansas: my 2 older nieces sitting on the steps of the schoolhouse my grandmother attended as a girl in the 1920's, and where my great-grandmother taught. Blue Hill, derelict now, the interior rotted and collapsing, windows busted out, the white magnesium limestone weathered and sooty. My grandmother wouldn't get out of the car . Watch out for snakes, was her succinct advice, as we clambered up the dusty steps. It made me sad to see the old building, where she had spent so many happy hours, so ill-used. As we continued on our drive toward Fairport, she told us that my great-grandmother--her mother--our Nannie--had once killed a rattlesnake in the outhouse behind the school.

The Blue Hill students have long since graduated. Many have lived out their days completely. My niece is at the beginning of that spectrum still. I see her fresh face, glowing with the excitement of the unknown, and think that if we remember what we share--the thirst for knowledge, the desire to see the world, to experience it and love it--we are never divided.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Go here now

Check out my friend Tracy's blog if you get a chance.
We met a few years back at the summer writer's program at Iowa.
Not only is she a talented writer and skilled editor, she also does a mean Scooby Doo impression.

On our last day of class, Tracy had the nerve to ask our instructor--the amazing Marilynne Robinson--if she, Tracy, was the future of American literature. MR blanched, stammered something, clearly trying to be diplomatic. Then I raised my hand. Am I the future of American literature? The next person at the table echoed the question: Am I...? MR's face cleared--thank the gods--realizing our class of pranksters had cooked this up, and laughed heartily.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wud up dawg?

You may remember my obsession with street art, and the Tubs/FreeSheepFree project. (Go ahead, stroke my ego--"Remember, how could we forget?")

I love the humor in graffiti--it's raw immediate provocation, laced with wit, satire, and of course crudity. It's why I love hip hop, and hanging out with my little sister (hi sis!). It--graffiti--is also of the moment, thoughtful, sometimes comforting, often lovely. Which reminds me of my other sister (heya).

What I really want to discuss though is hot dogs. These dawgs appeared at Tubs. "Wud up dawg" is my favorite. I had to duck behind a city-use sign and break a couple of branches to get the shot. This cranky looking wiener combines two--no three--of my favorite things: graffiti natch, hot dogs, and phonetic spelling. I come from a long line of librarians, writers and English teachers; if there's one thing embedded in my DNA, it's spelling. So I take special, rebellious delight in the artfully spelled word.

And the fact that, despite this post, I'm again sitting here trying to remember how to spell "misspell" ought to be indicator enough that I fell out of the family English tree and probably broke a branch or two--on my way to take a picture of a dawg.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


On CNN the other morning, a reporter was explaining the concept of Twitter, with the kind of dumbed-down language and fake-excited voice you'd use with a child you were trying to cajole. He included a primer on acronyms like LOL and ROTF (and puritanically omitted -LMAO).

Come on, really? We've been LOL-ing for years now. Even LOLCats seemed to have jumped the shark (now there's some metaphor-mixing).

It made me think about this dichotomy I've noticed in people around me, an affinity for both high-tech gadgets and lo-fi living. The same people juggling iPhones, Kindles and Roombas, also embrace--almost fanatically--bike rides and farmer's markets, backyard bbq's and do-it-yourself house projects. We all want to have the latest and greatest and coolest, all while keepin' it real and doin' it old school.

Are we like this because we can be? Would I be so invested in eating seasonally and living sustainably if I were working two jobs, if I had the kind of childcare, transportation or domestic issues that millions of women in their 20's, 30's, 40's and beyond are dealing with?

I don't know. I'm not even sure I would want to find out.

Postscript: the search for Sasquatch continues, unsuccessfully

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A lesson in Seattle nice, courtesy of Metro

Hands down, the best part about riding the bus--other than low-carbon brownie points--is eavesdropping. Seattle is pretty passive aggressive, so most of the time you have to pay close attention. (A friend from Chicago declares we are passive-passive, and she may have a point.)

I rode the 31 today and sat, as usual, in the back; it's not as crowded, but it's also where the troublemakers ride (coinkidink?) so things can get lively.

A guy got on at the last U-district stop, and ran down the aisle to the back. Like half the other riders, he wore headphones, an iPod, sunglasses. Then, a couple blocks later, he moved to the back bench, wedging himself in between a girl by the window, and a very tall guy in scrubs sitting in the middle.

Now, seating etiquette--unspoken but elaborate and hierarchical in a Louis XIV-meets-State dinner kind of way--dictates that if the bus isn't crowded, you don't sit thigh-to-thigh with another rider. This bus was maybe 1/2 full. I watched headphone guy's seatmates. They stared off into middle space, not making eye contact. If I ignore him, maybe he'll move.

Headphone guy started to sing. The kid opposite me, in a knit cap and low-rider jeans, smirked. The guy in scrubs frowned even harder. The girl by the window got up and left. Out of nowhere, low-rider started singing too. They sang together. Sing it, bitch, headphone guy enthused.

When the song was over, headphone guy peeled off his sunglasses and headphones. You got a pot pipe, he asked low-rider. Cause I got some weed.

Laughing, low-rider said No, nope, no way.

Two girls were giggling in a nearby seat. Headphone guy asked them to sell him some weed. You should have stayed in the U-district, they laughed. It's all over the place there.

I tried, he said, rueful. They called me a faggot.

Silence. It was one of those moments where things can go sideways, fast.

I am a faggot, he said, putting his sunglasses back on. He turned his attention back to low-rider. You're a good looking dude, man.

I'm not gay,
low-rider said easily.

Headphone guy nodded. That's okay. You're still hot. And you know it.

He got off the bus at my stop, laughing and talking to a passing dog. It's a miracle he didn't start a fight. On another bus, on another day, he might have. But, not today.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

30 Proof

I had moments over the long weekend where I looked around and realized how completely relaxed, pleasant and/or just plain nice it all was. The kind of moments I wish I could store up in a bottle for later, like good Scotch.

Yes, I'm getting old and reminiscy, but I just can't seem to help it (nor can I figure out the spacing with these darn pictures, so let's chalk the design up to a chillaxed mindset)...

bsp videos don't sleep on 'em