Monday, August 31, 2009

national park

Here: a very, very long way of saying that I had a good time in Colorado. Read if you'd like.

On Thursday, I biked west on Highway 160 to Mesa Verde. I woke early, dawdled, talked to Terry, and then packed up my stuff and rolled my bike down Goeglein Gulch Road. It wasn't until about 9:15 a.m. that I started my trip; knowing what I know now about how hot it gets between 2 and 5 p.m. here, I would tell that unsunburnt, untired enthusiastic Thursday morning biker to start a few hours earlier to avoid the midafternoon brain bake. And how I baked on Thursday. It got to be about 85-90 degrees by midafternoon, with no shade at all in sight, only tan ground covered in low scrub oak at the side of a two- to four-lane highway with cars going by around 75mph. The scenery was lovely - first curving around the edge of the San Juan Mountains, then down through the Mancos River Valley, then the long downhill approach to Mesa Verde and then the final climb up through the sandstone and shale verticality of the park - but the speed of the cars and the poor quality of the shoulder, which varied from a comfortable 6-7 feet to a frightening foot or so in the descent into Montezuma County, made it hard for me to think of anything else except my proximity to death. Drafts from semis blasted me off the shoulder. I was already feeling pretty shaky because the panniers rattle at high speeds and make my handlebars wiggle under my hands. I braked a lot on the descents - probably didn't get going much over 25mph, although there were places that a better biker could have just gone screaming downhill.

I made stops in Durango West, an eight-mile climb out of Durango, to sit in the shade of the post office boxes and eat granola, in Hesperus, the peak of the eleven-mile uphill west of Durango, to eat a chili dog, 20 oz. of Dr. Pepper, and a king-sized Snickers ice cream bar, Target Tree Campground, the midway point between Durango and Mesa Verde, to stand under a pine tree, and Mancos, a town ten miles away from Morefield Campground, for chai with soymilk and a Colorado peach. By the time I got to Mancos, around 3pm, I was worried about brain damage. I had a headache and I couldn't cool myself down. I had slathered sunblock all over myself, but I was sunburnt all over anyway, and the spots I had neglected (under my wristwatch and the top of my left ear) were glowing pink. I also don't believe that sunblock is sweatproof; as the sweat beaded up along my arm, I could see the chalky substance lifting away from my skin. Maybe I shouldn't have mocked Olympia so mercilessly for her SPF 30 long-sleeve travel shirt.


At 4 p.m., I rode down the final stretch of the Mancos River Valley before hitting the turnoff to Mesa Verde. It was flat scrubby land with ranches on either side of the road, and a roadside store selling Indian trinkets with 20' fake arrows shooting into the ground. I got to the base of Mesa Verde, snapped a few photos of my bike and peed behind the National Park sign, scattered some skinks to sit in the shade, and poured water on my head for a few moments before attempting the last four miles up into the campground. I had thought earlier that it was only my aerobic fitness holding me back, but by then my muscles were also spent and I was tired as hell. The grade was very steep, as it was the approach up into the mesa. I walked the bike for three of the four miles. Cars drove past me and the drivers either looked puzzled or delighted. I got lots of thumbs ups. I got into the campground 50 minutes after entering the park and then fell down on the gravel pad of my campsite and poured water on myself until the sun went down; I wasn't able to function until the heat receded.


The campground was huge: there were apparently 400 campsites stretched along two miles of road. It was also fully equipped with showers, laundry, all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, and a general store that sold spinning LED pens painted with skink images on the left side and groceries (including some fine microbrews) on the right side. I made friends with the West Indian ladies manning the cash registers, and stopped in over my four days in the campground to make conversation. I gave the three of them three of the beers of my six-pack, since I couldn't possibly have finished it all, and they were really friendly to me after that.

I stayed in the campground three nights. The first night took a little getting used to; it was also the most crowded of the three nights. Half of the people coming through seemed to be middle or northern European tourists. Lots of Germans, Belgians, Dutch families whom one could tell were not accustomed to making eye contact and nodding hello to strangers in the American fashion. There were also some American families, and groups of college-aged American kids; two of the last parked themselves at the faucet next to my campsite and washed dishes for forty-five minutes on Thursday night, and made loud declarations that made me hate them ("All rap is basically the same, except with different sound effects, which I could probably make on a drumset," and "For beetles, it's phyllum, and then class, and then species...Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's what it is - oh, and plus order," and declaring that certain kinds of insects were better than others) and plug my ears with Durango Hometown Hostel's free earplugs and stew in my tent for a while. There were fewer people the other nights for me to feel curmudgeonly about, or I just got more settled in my site and started to focus more on things - like the fact that I was sleeping on a beautiful sandstone-capped mesa that was under swampwater 90 million years ago - other than the people around me.

I had a little gravel pad for my tent and a picnic bench where I locked my bike up, and an adjacent empty campsite, where I did my cooking and eating. No sense in luring critters to my own campsite; a family of deer stared intently at me several times over my stay in the campground; I saw lots of squirrels; and there were many posted warnings about black bears, although I didn't see any traces of those.

In front of me was Prater Ridge, a steep 1000' hill capped with a shelf of beige sandstone whose silhouette blacked out a quarter of the sky in front of me at night; behind and to the right were Knife Edge and Point Lookout, other sandstone features lifting out of the top of the mesa. I walked the twelve miles of trails on these on Friday, which gave me exotic and abundant blisters but also a panoramic view onto the valley two thousand feet below. On my first night at the campsite, I walked around trying to find a place that wasn't crowded by camper vans or where the dull vibrations of acoustic guitars were muffled or where the stars weren't dimmed by the lights of the camp bathrooms, but when I found this stretch of road, I was frightened by the solitude, and by the threat of being watched in the darkness by a hungry mountain lion, and I went back into my site.

The next two nights I was nervier. This transition made me happy. On the second night, I bought the aforementioned six-pack of Black Butte Porter (Deschutes Brewing Co. from Bend, Oregon, God bless you) and a packet of Handisnacks from the camp store and sat by myself for two hours, getting buzzed and spreading fake cheese on crackers with a little red plastic stick, feeling unhurried, half drunk, and totally pleased with myself.


I had made plans to meet up with a bus tour on Friday morning, but because of national park regulations, the bus wouldn't stop at the campsite to pick me up, and I had to get back down to Highway 160 to wait for it. I started out walking the four miles but saw that I wouldn't make it in time, and I stuck my thumb out. It was 8:45 a.m. in a national park and there wasn't much traffic. Five cars passed me in a hurry before one finally stopped, twenty minutes after I first started trying. (At least it was not the hour and a half I had to wait on the Blue Ridge Parkway.)

It was a white SUV with Virginia plates driven by a nice dad named Jim in the front with two toddlers strapped into car seats in the back. Jim said they were from Northern Virginia, his wife was stationed in Afghanistan with the State Department, and the two kids had one German name and one Spanish name; they were excited and gregarious, and they chirped, "Our mom usually sits there!" when I got in the car and then showed me their backseat TV screens, on which they'd watched Clifford the Big Red Dog and Madeleine in Paris on the drive across the country. They dropped me off on the wrong side of the highway, since Jim said his GPS narrator, which he referred to as "the voice of my conscience," would scold him for deviating off the route, if he had driven me all the way.

I walked across and found a concrete block in the sun upon which to sit and wait. While I waited, I called Connie, to congratulate her on her last day on the job, and then Stern, who said that she was in midair skydiving when I called her and then later said that she couldn't make time to see me when I am in New York in November because she planned to be washing her hair from November 17-23 ("By the 23rd, I'll probably be only on conditioner"). I moved to the shade and continued to wait; after two hours of this, and a sunburn on the tops of my thighs, I gave up and hitchhiked back up to the campsite. The first car I approached stopped for me; Chuck and Rosemary, originally from Madison, retired in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I kept up the friendly prattle but can't remember a thing we talked about.

I wasn't too disappointed about missing the tour, even though it meant that I wouldn't see the cliff dwellings that day. The cliff dwelling sites were twenty mountain miles away from the campsite, and I didn't think I had the legs to do the forty miles roundtrip of biking. I'd have been biking at an altitude of 7500-8500', on steep single lane roads, and have expected to do a couple thousand feet of climbing; there's no way I could've done this the day after my Durango-Mesa Verde ride in my state of unfitness and altitude sickening.

But I knew I would be in Mesa Verde a few days, and I'd see the cliff dwellings later, so I spent Friday afternoon hiking and learning about the plants, animals, and geography of the region. In twelve miles, I didn't come across a single person; I guess people go into Mesa Verde to drive to the ruins, not to hike on the mesa, so I had the overgrown trails to myself. The eight-mile hike in sandals ruined my feet, so I did the last four miles in my bike shoes, with my cleats spinning me all over the sandstone. (I had a stroke of inspiration after returning to camp: remove the fucking cleats.) I dodged what I thought was poison oak all day until I came down from my hikes and picked up a trail guide that revealed the plant to be gambel oak, a scrubby low oak that produces little low-tannin acorns that can be eaten without much processing. I spent about two hours sitting still during these hikes, to eat lemon bars and beans from a can under pine trees and to write in my journal. I hooted a bit on the far side of Knife Edge, and listened to the echoes. On Point Lookout, I got some miraculous cell reception and I called my mom to tell her I was fine. She asked if I had located any Jeffrey Dahmer-types in the campsite, and I said I had to get off the peak in a hurry because I could see lightning touching down in the valley below. This was true.

In this way, I had a lot of time to myself on Friday. As always when outdoors, I got distracted thinking about my sensations: where I hurt, what I could see, the slope of the ground below my feet, the mysterious rustling in the trees, petrified branches that looked like gopher snakes (and the one gopher snake that I came across, threw rocks at, and ultimately dashed away from whilst squealing like a kettle). From my journal entries: "I am very hot. I lifted my shirt up to my bra for just a moment on Prater Ridge and immediately got two bug bites in the formation of Dracula's fangs on the fattiest pt of my stomach. I am very dusty all over. It is very quiet up here except for the flies. My bowels continue to digest (very poorly) the calzone from Wednesday. I counted switchbacks (32) to pass time and took my heart rate each time I stopped. On the uphills: 164 max. On level ground: around 120. Saw a big lizard/toad thing - too fat for lizard, too many toes/joints/not-toad features for toad."

During the mesa top phone call, mom asked me why I was doing this, and I was anxious about not having an answer. I thought lots about this on the hike, but my brain was uncooperative all weekend: when I tried to think about my motivation to come to Mesa Verde, I would become distracted singing a hybridization of Beautiful Dreamer lyrics over the Moon River tune; when I tried to force myself to think about Stephanie, the abstraction I once called my lover who ostensibly turned thirty two Fridays ago, I could only think about Boo. I stared giddy-drunkenly at a flashing point on the horizon for a few long moments on Friday night, and then tumbled into my tent and said, in the manner of lovingkindness meditation, "I love you" to everyone I could think of whom I loved, and thought about how nice it was to not be in a hurry to do anything and to be responsible for almost nothing and to be outside and to work up a sweat just for its own sake and to run away from snakes for a few days, before passing out. I woke up the next morning with the right side of my body numb from my deflated sleeping pad. These to me seemed as good of reasons as any for my trip.


I got a seat on the tour the next day. The driver felt bad for having missed me yesterday and agreed to pick me up at the campground, so I didn't have to hitchhike back down to the highway. In our green SUV was just me, Robert the tour guide, and a retired couple from Chicagoland, Trudy and Klaus. Everyone was nice and friendly, but I felt very disoriented the whole day. This could have been because we were moving three times faster than I had moved in five days, but I think it was because I felt that the mainstream values of national park tourists were at odds with my moral and politcal identity. This feeling was exacerbated or caused by the crazy-inducing nonsense coming out of the mouth of the tour guide. In describing the culture of the ancestral Puebloan people, Robert made lots of absolute statements, many of them about gender and sex differences. "Spin ten men and ten women around in a circle and nine of the men and none of the women would be able to locate magnetic north without a compass," and so on. I couldn't tell how he'd cast his vote; he said things like, "Well, you see the way things are going in our society, we're going to reach a breaking point like they did in Rome, or Greece, or whatnot, because people get fed up with authority and the government getting in their business," which sounded very reminscient of those dirty teabagging protests from earlier this year; but he also said leftish things like, "Patriarchy and patrilinearity causes all of our problems," and professed that if we could go back to the matrilineal systems of the ancestral Puebloan people, the globe would stop warming and people would be happy as maize and squash farmers. I asked Robert how the resource distribution or geography of the southwest could have caused ancestral Puebloan peoples to form matrilineal cultures, and his response, I quote in full, was "Women are better at nurturing, so these people didn't have wars." He referred to me and Trudy as "ladies," as in, "You two ladies probably wouldn't have wanted to cut down and haul all this juniper." All of this was vigorously assented to by Trudy, who also suggested that tuberculosis could have been caused by the low percentage of protein in a maize-based diet. Robert also misused words constantly, or said "utilizations" and "reasonings" when "uses" and "reasons" would do, and said "lo and behold" in the way that people say "um." I know I am a perfect little bitch for fixating on these things; Robert and Trudy and Klaus were so friendly. But after nine hours of captivity with my deeply untrustworthy narrators, I wanted to fling open the doors of our moving Ford and escape like a wild turkey into the gambel oak. Also, the forest ranger ingratiated himself to our little tour group by choosing one girl from the group and one boy, and making them pretend they were married, which everyone thought was so funny and cute, and Trudy instructed me that I should find a husband because they were helpful in retrieving lost glasses cases - all in all, I felt like a fraud being so broad-shouldered and masculine and pussy-loving but telling Klaus that my last boyfriend was a German like him. Technically not a lie, but a self-betrayal nonetheless.


Josie and her new boyfriend Kevin were sitting on each other on the picnic bench next to my tent when I got back to the campground from my tour. Josie is my ex-girlfriend's ex-girlfriend who in 2000 almost became my ex-girlfriend, except that I was sleeping with our co-op roommate while conducting a relationship with my ex-girlfriend, who almost became Josie's ex-girlfriend one night in Boston Common after a bottle of whiskey. Two of these characters had worked at a car-themed lesbian cafe in Davis Square where baristas with regrettable tattoos (e.g. "CHARLIE DON'T SERVE" across the neck) shot me icy looks whenever I walked in, because they hated outgroup girls; it was all so childish and so long ago.

We escaped this period of hormonality. She grew out her hair, took out the lip piercings but left in the tattoos, and in 2005, she stayed with me a month in New York and I stayed with her a week in Moab. I went to law school and lived in New York and Chicago and bought and adored an expensive suit. She is the only friend I have who has opted to live rural and poor, but it is where she came from.

I had written Josie a few weeks ago to tell her I'd be staying in Mesa Verde for a few days, and never heard back from her, so I didn't expect that she'd turn up, but she called on Friday night to say that she'd be driving in from Moab the next day. They drove up in Kevin's ruined old blue Toyota Tacoma: the seatbelts were all knotted up because they no longer retracted; the tailgate window was held open by a pair of clamp pliers; odd bits of rusted metal from DIY repairs were bolted into the chassis; the spedometer stayed at 30 when we were moving about 10mph; and the interior was littered with climbing and sleeping gear, bags, tools, carabiner-handled travel mugs, golf balls, cutoff Metolius gloves, dirty shoes, plastic tubs filled with canvas sheets and lumber scraps, a woven basket carrying Josie's homegrown vegetables, cast iron fry pans, a mirrored medicine cabinet, and a book called "One Heartbeat Away," about confronting one's own mortality.

I offered them my remaining bottle of Black Butte Porter, but Kevin only grinned and said, "Oh, we brought our own favorite local brew" and hauled a case of Miller High Lifes out of the bed of his truck. We drank and they watched as I ate my evening gruel - canned beef stew with instant rice, made palatable by the addition of Josie's zucchini and okra - and then we moved to seats inside the tailgate so they could roll their cigarettes without being fined for having an open fire in a very high fire danger zone. We talked until late, and they unfolded a foam pad in the truck bed and fell asleep very soon. Kevin had lived out of his truck for a while in Moab, and Josie had lived out of her van for a while in Somerville. Kevin called this the "dirtbag lifestyle," and they seemed very pleased to have found each other.

I realized afterward that they didn't ask a whole lot about me - I haven't seen Josie in years but she didn't even learn, e.g., what I was doing in Chicago - but I didn't mind that we filled up the evening with stories about their cast of characters in small town Utah. I liked to see how wrapped up they were in their little patch of desert (despite the tattoo around Josie's wrist that says "wanderlust" in an elaborate script font). Josie works in a community garden and a bookstore part time; Kevin produces mountain bike races in Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia. They know people whom they call names like "Knees and Elbows," "E-O," "Icy Mike," "the methhead with one of those names that can be pronounced more than one way, like Brianna," "Big Gay Larry," "Sticky Nick," and "The Bleeder." We spent four hours on Sunday morning sitting under an oak tree thinking about business ideas for Moab; it needed a sushi place, a strip club, an independent movie theater, and a machine shop. They told stories like the one about the guy who got stabbed in the liver at Lollapalooza with a syringe filled with port-o-potty fluid - there was no more information to be known; Kevin said, "If this guy who got stabbed told me 100% of the information he had, I've told you about 85%, and there is nothing more to the story" - about attending town council meetings to convince the city to permit chicken on residential property, about Utah liquor laws, about smoking out the brakes on a big rig on Molas Pass and expecting to die, and about catching rattlesnakes with tubes and rope. I asked Kevin if he killed the rattlers after catching them. He responded, "Hell no, woman, that's my spirit animal."

I kept wondering if their knowledge of the geography and cultural history of the southwest were a result of them being avid rock climbers, or if people in the rural southwest just cared more about their natural environment than people in big cities, or what. Kevin told a story about stumbling across a painted potsherd in the middle of nowhere Arizona while scouting out a climbing location. He had dropped down into a chimney, and his friend above him was sending rocks onto his head, so he hid under a boulder; there, he found a portion what must have once been a beach-ball-sized Hopi pot. He said the climbers don't touch sites with petroglyphs or artifacts, whether out of superstition or respect for culture or federal law.

As we drove to the less-trafficked half of Mesa Verde, they pointed out geographic features in the Four Corners states. We could see the La Sal mountains near Moab, the San Juans, the La Platas, the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Way in the distance was a flat stretch of land with a very tall chunk of rock seeming to rise from nowhere. Though the day was hot and clear, the air in the distance was hazy and it looked as if this big rock were floating in the sky. This was Shiprock, they said. A big old fucking rock in the middle of nowhere, apparently very sacred, apparently very tall.

I couldn't imagine the places but I liked the names they rattled off: Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods, South Mesa, Indian Creek, Big Mitten, Lone Cone. They discussed the difference between a mesa, a butte, a tower, and a spire, and ignored my lawyerly questions about how to classify buttes that were taller than they were wide but the size of mesas. Josie played some mixes but the speaker next to me kept giving up, so we got Doc Watson and Belle and Sebastian from only the right side of the cab. I sat cramped up in the passenger overflow spot behind the driver's seat, and let the wind whip my hair into a dusty tangled mess around my head.


Wetherill Mesa had about a thirtieth of the visitors that Chapin Mesa had. This is because it is a forty-five minute drive from the visitor's center to get out there. We passed two cars going in and three cars coming out. To me it felt that were were driving to the end of the world.

I always thought mesas were table-flat on top, but this one was rolling and hilly. Mesa Verde is not a mesa after all, but a cuesta, because it has a seven percent grade from north to south; this kind of information means exactly nothing when you are on top of a huge rise of soil and cannot tell one end from another. Portions of it had been scorched in wildfires; in these places, all you could see were burned our husks of juniper trees and the low grass that pushed up in the decades after the blaze.

We made tortillas with peanut butter on the tailgate, but I ate sitting by myself in the roasting cab because I could not bear to be under the sun. After lunch, we scurried down the path to Step House, as much to get in the shade as to see the ruins. Josie and Kevin kept looking up at the sandstone overhang and saying, "Yep, this could be climbed." It was a half mile to the alcove.

I have said almost nothing about the cliff dwellings that give Mesa Verde its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I find it difficult to explain, even through pictures, because the experience of the people who lived here 800-1000 years ago seems so remote from mine. So this is a mesa or a cuesta about 7500 feet above sea level. The mesa top is dryland farmable, and here ancestral Puebloan people would grow that special combination of corn, beans, and squash that could coax the right balance of nitrogen out of the land. But water on the mesa top is very scarce, this being the high desert of the southwest, and the atmosphere is harsh. The mesa is comprised of a layer of crumbling, porous sandstone on top, underlaid by a layer of nonporous shale. Rain and snowfall leeches through the sandstone and hits the shale and then comes out through seep springs; these springs carve away alcoves on the sides of sandstone cliffs, creating what would be ideal locations for human habitation - water and natural shelter from the elements - except that they are high up on a canyon wall. But humans will do what they can with what they have, so these ancestral Puebloan people decided it was better to live in an alcove 120' high and 200' wide and 60' deep, hundreds of feet up on a steep slope or cliff, and carry fifty-pound pots of water on their heads up and down near-vertical rock faces, than shrivel up and die on the mesa top. So they cut bricks out of the sandstone and piled these up and made apartments and plazas and streets and social and ceremonial spaces and lived out their short lives on the side of a cliff.

This is totally fucking insane. I am glad I went to see them because it is totally fucking insane. The ranger-led tour of Long House gave us the opportunity to step through the ruins and actually go all the way to the back of the alcove, where it was possible to touch the sandstone roof and see how hundreds of years of fires created soot that survived to be pet hundreds of years later by tourists, and to see the corn-grinding slabs where Puebloan ladies ground up sand with their maize and eroded the teeth of their people. I asked all sorts of inane questions of the ranger, such as "Did they wrestle instead of playing ball sports because you can't retrieve a soccer ball that goes bouncing off a cliffside?" and "What is the purpose of this square hole in the ground?" and pulled juniper berries and acorns off bushes and put them into my mouth, and stabbed myself on a yucca spine.

I learned that sitting every day of your life in a covered pit with a fire burning inside will kill your lungs pretty quick, and that adobe could be made of sand, clay, ash, and urine. One could stand at the edge of the alcove and see down into the valley, and then look across to see the canyon walls a few miles across the valley. Inside the alcove was very temperate and very quiet. There wasn't much sound except for the swallows.


Our day on Wetherill Mesa also restored my faith in American friendliness, after my day with Robert and Trudy and Klaus had made me so nervous about democracy. On our tour of Long House were several midwesterners, my new favorite kind of people. One older man who took a liking to me was Michael Kearney, a retired computer room cleaning specialist from St. Louis. We walked down into the alcove together. I saw his Cardinals hat and said, "So you're from St. Louis?" and he immediately broke out into a huge smile and laid his hand on my shoulder. He was about 75 and wore a towel wrapped around his neck and tucked into his collar. He said absurd things, like telling a group of visitors passing by us "Watch out for the ice!" (it was 90 degrees out and sunny out) and made jokes about his wife driving off with his car and abandoning him in the national park, or about how he would pitch his kids off the cliff dwellings if they had lived there ("Or I'd say, where's the orphanage, hm?").

He asked me what I did, and seemed very concerned about finding me a non-lawyering job because I had expressed some doubts about my career. I told him I liked plenty just listening to stories. He said that as a salesman he was a story teller. He said that he stole lines from other salesmen, one of which was to say to customers in a very solemn voice, with a slight South Carolina accent, "Sir, a data wave is as reliable as a cement driveway." He said he had no idea what a data wave was but it didn't matter, because you knew then that it would be reliable.

I didn't tell him very much about my personal life, but I also felt that I could have, and he would have understood. Mom warns me about Jeffrey Dahmer, and Olympia writes to say that I am too old to hitchhike and be discovered cut up into pieces in the trunk of a car, but I haven't yet learned not to trust strangers the way I do. It only seems right that in my experience of a national park, my connections with other Americans are just as prominent as my time seeing the sights.


Josie and Kevin gave me a ride back to Durango. Thank God; I wouldn't have been able to stand the hot, scary ride back and would've had to hitchhike. I didn't want to do that. In Durango, we ate bad sushi that was still infinitely better than the zero sushi they had in Moab, and then they dropped me off at the hostel, where a Bernese mountain dog named Kodiak was delightedly wriggling around in the parking lot. Josie and I hugged and promised not to let years go by between seeing each other again.

Well, I don't know. We don't have that much in common anymore; each day she spends in rural, white, local, poor, outdoorsy Moab makes her experience more remote from mine, in the city, among yuppies, among politically active queers and people of color, with no sense of whether it is sandstone or shale or granite or gneiss or arkose or God knows what else lies beneath the asphalt. I don't romanticize the former, and I don't want to live in it. Happy as I was to be whipping around single lane roads in the cab of a fifteen year-old truck, I am scared of shotguns and big utility cars and racial homogeneity.

But it was very nice that my short trip to Colorado, and my time with Josie and Kevin in particular, gave me some access to this. It made me focus on something entirely different for a few days, not Chicago, not moving, not missing my old lives, not making travel arrangements for the next three months. I have been sleeping very well. Many of my muscles are pleasantly sore. I have been writing now for four hours; when I finish this paragraph, I will walk to town, eat pizza, find a bike box, and get myself on a plane home to San Francisco. It has been a fine week here, and I am ready now to go.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I fell asleep at 9:30pm and slept very fitfully until 7:45am, and in between had very vivid dreams, all of which I have forgotten except the one in which I was playing either a bone flute or a clarinet very loudly from my hostel bed. This morning in the hostel I made friends with a Durango divorcee named Terry who was very kind to me and who burned me a CD with four albums of music from the Irish and Scottish highlands; then he took out two dozen carbon fiber arrow shafts and let me hold a razor-edged titanium elk-hunting arrowhead and instructed me on the hubcap-sized patch of animal that one must hit in order to get a heart or double-lung strike to kill the animal there. I peppered him with questions about weapons while he sat at the kitchen table scraping the plastic feathers off his used arrows. I had a cup of coffee and waited, to no avail, for my bowels to move yesterday's Wendy's breakfast meal out of my body, and then slowly shoved unnecessary supplies into a pannier and made my slow way through Durango, up Highway 550 to County Road 203 to Hermosa. My chain fell off immediately -I'd overshifted - and then my left shoe got stuck to the pedal because a bolt fell off my cleat and I was flailing about trying to figure out how to stop without freeing my foot before I remembered that my other foot was free. Also, the altitude is still not easy to overcome; walking up a flight of stairs leaves me breathless, and today's flat, 28-mile ride with only one half-loaded pannier should've been pretty easy but wasn't. Other than these little glitches, all goes well and I have not been leveled by one of the millions of SUVs or trucks out here. I probably should've known that Colorado would be this full of rural white people. Maybe it's that Colorado people aren't as friendly as midwesterners (i.e. not as responsive when you grin and wave at them or when you want to make conversation with them), or maybe it's that my season of playing bluegrass has tricked me into thinking that I actually have access to the all-white world of country strangers, but I admit to being a bit disappointed by how many people either walked away from me or blankly stared when I did my friendly midwestern jawing to them today. Whatever, I had a delicious five-pound calzone for lunch and that was enough to make me happy. Also making me happy was the scenery; it was sunny almost all day today and the Animas River valley was very lush and the weird reddish rock formations shooting up around it - I wouldn't really call them mountains because they come from nowhere and appear to be made out of rock, not earth - were very pleasing to view from a slowly-changing angle of approach at 12 mph. When I bike alone I think mostly about sensations - leg pain, back pain, neck pain, sun burn, fear of cars - and then I think about next steps - distance to destination, tasks to be completed at next destination - and when I drift from this, I think stupid things like Will I be superheroically fit when I return to California now that I am acclimated to Colorado altitude? and Did the Anasazi from Mesa Verde ever take trips to the Animas River valley, and if so, how long did it take, and did rival groups of Pueblo people live there or were they relatives and friends, and did they ever get over to Moab where the red rocks must have seemed so different and strange? Ordered thinking almost never occurs when I am biking. I can't tell if this is good for my brain, which is crowded from an emotionally taxing move from Chicago, my new love, my job ending, my ex's 30th birthday, or whether I ought to be using this time to make general conclusions about vexing life questions. I started at 10am after handling Terry's arrowheads, took a two hour break to wait for my calzone and write in my journal, and got back into town around 4pm. Roadkill seen today: many birds, many chipmunks, something that looked bigger than a chipmunk but was similarly furry, and a totally flattened black (and now also red) garter snake. Food eaten: oatmeal, calzone, banana, handful of trail mix, Colorado peach, soup from a can with instant rice, two Reese's peanut butter cups from the hostel free pile. I got in bed at 8:30pm but couldn't sleep, so I got out of bed on a premonition that SL might be online, and she was! I am a shaman. It made my night so sweet to talk to you.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


In dry, high Durango, Colorado now. Got to Durango in after two flights and a migraine. Movers took my stuff away yesterday. Spent the night camped out in the living room with Olympia, woke up, shipped off stuff, ate last breakfast on the stoop and was surprised to find myself overwhelmed with emotion when thinking about leaving. The altitude here is making me verrrrry dizzy. Just gave away my fourth copy of Professor's House this month to a man at the hostel who shared his dinner with me. Altitude recovery tomorrow. Very, very dizzy. Bed now, more later.

Monday, August 24, 2009

the weekends after memorial day

I found this old journal entry that will fill up space on my blog until I have more free time to put down some thoughts about what I have been doing recently:

The weekends after Memorial Day:

One weekend after Memorial Day: C in town. Bike ride, Cubs game. C and I dominated the karaoke place in Chicago's Chinatown that we went to upon O's advice. It was a meeting of TAP, the Taiwanese American Professionals organization. I was on my game. We sang "Total Eclipse of the Heart." (We'd watched some funny YouTube spoof videos, where the lyrics were rewritten to describe what was literally happening during the video, so we were prepared for the song.) We rocked the house. Strangers applauded. Everybody paid attention. C and I walked out of there saying, "Total domination."

Two weekends after Memorial Day: Thursday night flight got in delayed, crazy hotel (Hudson - more like a hunting lodge-cum-nightclub than a hotel, tiny little room, sleeplessness), watched the Lakers win the championship in a deli, watched men watching women. Friday, ridiculous last meeting, they had no idea what to say about me besides generalities because I never did anything for that organization, I left for C's and slept for five minutes on the futon on the ground while she slept (in the middle of the afternoon) in her bed because she had swine flu. I met up with R. Massage in Chinatown, S met up with us. S and I then went to Guitar Center for tambourine, then Center for quickie in and out glance at older lesbians playing card games (we declined to join), then to Cubbyhole for some mass flirtation. We then went down to IB's apartment and spent three hours just chatting and sipping beers and whiskey and smoking cigarettes and forcing each other to mime scenes ("Okay, now you're walking down every other stair..."). We inspected the weirdness of the former tenant of IB's apartment, who left behind an advent calendar composed of chocolate squares, a cabinet filled with diet pills, a fridge filled with diet Red Bulls, cat posters (I brought the white Bengal tiger one to S in Brooklyn), high heeled shoes, photographs. What was even weirder was that IB kept all of these things around despite having lived there for four months already. I snagged the high heeled shoes that C later told me probably cost $200. I look like a tippy clown in them. There was some sort of Swedish or German or Austrian or Irish low-budget porn-like movie being filmed directly downstairs. We watched rats run around; IB called it his "favorite game." I walked back uptown to C's. On Saturday: I dropped my bags off at S's, then met up with JS for 2-3 hour walk around Prospect Park, restoring our confidence in one another. Met her friend Jen. Went back to S's for dinner party with Connie and Raj. We sang in harmony. Everyone left. S and I had soft serves, discussed our business plans ("Zen Cone" [get it? Zen koan, zen cone?!?!], which would have a pastry skirt on the lip of the cone to catch drips before they reach your hand), and walked around Park Slope for two hours in a light rain. We walked by Ginger's, went inside momentarily, and left. It was a replay of the night before, at the Center. We found an erotica book on the cement and later read bits of this to each other, which, I was embarrassed to find, turned me on. I thought I might want to make out with S. We didn't; she fell asleep. In the morning I awoke late, and then I took the train up to Harlem to see K and IB. I've described my lazy Sunday reading with IB in an entry a few posts back. That was a good weekend.

Three weekends after Memorial Day: T and K's wedding in Boston. New York, night at Connie's. Trip up on Chinatown bus. D and AK's Brazil photographs. A Sikh man handed me a Mountain Dew and a Coke through the window of D's car as we drove past him in Union Square. Took a death cab to the wedding; nearly dead throughout the evening. Cambridge Common. AK and J and I played guitar into the night. I admired their mastery of Brazilian-style guitar rhythms. AK had to close four doors between the living room and the bedroom so that L and her brood would not be awakened by the noise. I felt inadequate all weekend and realized that my last six years have been very unlike the five years that preceded those; the people I have surrounded myself with in recent years are brilliant, but less competitive about their intellects than the people I went to college with. This may implicate the difference between people who go to grad school to develop ideas and people who go to professional school to develop skills. I didn't mind, in the end, although I felt like I was wasting something. The following day was brunch at T's house, which was nicer, smaller, and more low-key. We chatted, played with SM's babies. I asked RR to be my friend again. She hasn't written since then, or called, so I guess that's not going to happen; this is a source of sadness for me, and I cried a week ago when I realized that she wasn't going to respond to me. Still I am proud of myself for having reached out to her, because it is better to be rejected in my friendship overtures than never have made them at all.

Last weekend: sleep, B and RI's bridal shower, and then karaoke event. I played some Beatles songs and "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" with B's mom Marti for the crowd. I bought 96 kazoos so everyone had one to play along with. Marti loved it. B later told me she'd said, "What a rush! I didn't want it to end!" I found this so endearing. She asked me for advice about buying guitars and I just wanted her to hurry up and buy anything and make music because it obviously brought her so much joy. It was out in Oak Park. I wore new sandals that I returned the next day at REI. Later I met up with SL on the first car of the Blue Line and we went up to Montrose for karaoke at a seedy, huge suburban small-town bar that nonetheless was within Chicago limits. There are worlds out there I know nothing about! We didn't stay long. Somebody bought SL a drink. She looked pretty. Sunday: puttered, band practice, puttered, pride parade dregs, an hour of laying on the pier at North Avenue beach, reading a New Yorker, then all-you-can-eat sushi with Asian homos at Sushi Para Two on N. Clark. Didn't really connect with anyone, was too hungry and sunburnt, went home. O wasn't around this weekend and I couldn't be bothered to call anyone up so I missed having someone to goof off with. C'est la weekend.

A backpack button I saw and liked last weekend: "My karma ran over your dogma." Clever, I thought.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


She calls the game Celebrity "Proper Nouns in a Bowl."


Monday, August 10, 2009

since feeling is first

There is some stress; work is ending in two weeks and I haven't nearly enough time to do everything I need to. There are three summary judgment motions, a two-bedroom apartment to clear, three months of unstructured time (and health insurancelessness) to plan for, and my parents are in town and would like me to accompany them to floor 103 of the Sears Tower and other such Chicago landmarks. There is some triumph; my roommate and I performed many times in the past week, quite well, and it feels good to find a music-making partner whom I respect so much and with whom I feel so comfortable and compatible. This I will miss above all when I leave Chicago. Finally, there is happiness; I am in love with somebody who is in love with me. We spent a week in Chicago being a pair of fools. Although my happiness often comes with neurotic fear about losing the source of my happiness, right now the giddiness is overwhelming the anxiety. How did that happen? Who knows? What will happen? Only God knows which way the wind will blow. Does it matter? I had a stunning week, y'all.

Anyway, I think I will cool it on Bananarchist for a bit. After I get myself through the next few weeks, I'll have some time to write about the entertaining preoccupations of summertime in Chicago: the improv class, the week of music performance, the friends who have come through, stories about Brahms, the elements of a cause of action for a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in Colorado. Until then, I leave you with a something my dad said to me, in English, totally out of the blue, as we walked along Lake Michigan on a 98 degree Saturday: "Believe it or not, [Bananarchist], when I was younger, before I met your mother, I thought that when a man married a woman, if it was a time of famine, he could cut off her feet and eat them, and they would grow back. So I married your mother because I knew I would never be hungry."

Thursday, August 06, 2009


I haven't written in a bit because I've been somewhat unexpectedly demolished by love. It's a new wonderful development and my heart is singing a sustained note of happiness right now. I'll write some more when I find some more time.