Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where my slight phobia of manhole covers comes from

I've never really written much about our trip to China on this blog (I did on our old travel message board), but the other day Dan and I were talking about the trip and about one event in particular. It's a pretty good story, so here you go.

I've always been a relatively graceful person. I keep my balance pretty easily, I don't tend to trip over things, and I was always praised in ballet class for just GOING for it and learning how to fall in the process. If you went to school with me (and at least one of you did), you may remember that I once made a habit of ghosting the hallways, walking from class to class with my nose in a book, never looking up yet never tripping, falling, or running into anything. Half the time my shoes weren't tied, either, so I'm not entirely sure how I managed it. But I did, even during the middle school years when most people were at odds with their growing, oddly-proportioned bodies. I never really had one of those times; most of my height-growing was done in 10th grade and by that time I was old enough to deal with the new inches in my arms and legs.

So I'm not one who's prone to falls, and when I do fall, it's usually because I've chosen to, and so I can predict my landing (to some extent). This trick has come in handy over the years, as I'm sure I've avoided more injuries than I've sustained, just by being aware of my body and where it is in time and space.

When Dan and I went to China, we visited three cities: Beijing, Xi'an (where the terra cotta army is), and Luoyang (gateway to the Shaolin monastery). Beijing and Xi'an are enormous cities and people there are used to tourists any time of the year. Luoyang, on the other hand, isn't nearly as big (it's only several million people) and the culture is far more old-fashioned in terms of city improvements and transportation habits. In Beijing, most people used bikes, though there were a lot of cars, and the sidewalks were all in good repair. In Xi'an, there were far more cars, and you had to cross the street in a large pack of people to avoid being mowed down. In Luoyang, most motorized vehicles were either mopeds/scooters or small trucks hauling stuff around, and we saw very few cars. Everyone rode bikes. There weren't many crosswalks, and the sidewalks were in all stages of repair and disrepair. We had to really stare at the ground to avoid things like rebar sticking up, broken sidewalk sticking up, a sudden expanse of dirt below the sidewalk surface, etc. At the time we visited, it was early November, and what few (Western, non-Chinese) tourists the city gets in a given year were long gone. I think in the three days we spent in and around Luoyang, we didn't see a single non-Chinese person. Anyhow, we found the people to be very friendly (especially children, who when we passed them on the street would giggle or act shy, but half a block after we'd passed we'd hear "Hello!") and got to see a lot more of what life in China was really like for an everyday person.

One of the things that most Westerners don't understand about China is the difference in manners. We weren't as prepared as we could have been for the three S's: smoking (in all places, in all situations, regardless of whether there were signs prohibiting it or not), spitting (worst in Beijing), and STARING. Because we were the only white people in town, the citizens of Luoyang found it entirely necessary to stare at us at all times. By then we were kind of used to it (and by the end of our trip, when we passed a non-Chinese person on the street we stared ourselves just because it was such a novelty), so it didn't bother us, and we were so busy watching where we stepped on the sidewalk that we probably didn't see as much as went on.

Our first day in Luoyang, we took a bus out to the Longmen Grottoes, where thousands of carved buddhas of all shapes and sizes rested in amongst some gorgeous scenery. We bussed back into town after our amazing tour of the area, and were walking back to our hotel (set into the old city wall) along the same sidewalk we'd already trod twice that day. While walking along, talking about something, I took a step, and suddenly my right leg was not where I expected it to be. Rather than on solid ground, I'd stepped on a manhole cover that wasn't sealed. My leg sunk below the sidewalk, and the heavy cover flipped back and trapped my leg betweeen itself and the side of the manhole.

It hurt. A lot.

It hurt so much, in fact, that I wasn't sure what had happened at first. Luckily, rather than falling, I was able to balance on my left leg, squatting down, while Dan helped flip the cover open a bit to enable me to pull my leg out. It hurt a lot more. My pants were covered in grime. Some kids who were walking by pointed and laughed at me. I hobbled back to the hotel and we vainly tried to communicate the question of whether ice might be available (it was not) and my leg swelled to ridiculous proportions. The next day, I had a bruise about six inches long and four inches wide on the inside of my right leg, and I realized that the reason it hurt so bad was because the manhole cover had closed on my right shinbone.

It took about four months for the swelling and discoloration on my leg to go back to normal, another year after that for it to stop hurting completely when touched in the area I'd bruised, and I still have a palpable bump on my right shinbone. We have talked many times since about how it was a good thing that I was the one who'd stepped on the open manhole cover, because if Dan had done it he would have broken his leg, and we would have had to try to navigate the process of a Chinese hospital by ourselves in a city with very few people who spoke any English at all. I am grateful for my ability to balance, for my sense of body place, for my lack of shame and humiliation at the spectacle I caused on a messy sidewalk in Luoyang, and that it was me that took that step, rather than Dan. I still have a little twinge of fear whenever I step on a manhole cover, and I've mostly avoided them since then, even here in the States where we make sure our manhole covers are secured, dammit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


The girl had washboard abs, highlighted by her teeny tiny running shorts and sports bra. Glowing as only a young 20-something can, she filled out her form and joked with my friend who was helping her register to vote (or, perhaps, to change her address for her voter registration). She was the fourth person I saw come up to the table and ask for a form in the three minutes I'd been there, and I had yet to be trained on how to fill out the paperwork, to fill out the receipt, to code the form so the Powers That Be would know which drive the form came from.

"Register to vote!" said the large sign in front of the table, set underneath a shade tent beside a tree in the park on Saturday. There were also Obama '08 signs and a Mark Udall sign, the democratic candidate for the up-for-grabs senate seat. There were bottles of water, pens galore, not enough chairs. After I'd been trained, another volunteer came by, and the two of us went out to roam around the park, me with my floppy straw hat, her looking efficient and preppy. "I'm a registered Republican, lifelong," the woman told me, "but I've voted Democrat in the last 3 elections. And now I'm volunteering for the Obama campaign." We came upon a group of people about to sit down to a cookout, parents and children and babies and old folks, people who were Southern expats, all football fans of the Southeastern college football conference. Normally arch rivals, once a year they gather together to celebrate the start of college football, strangers in this strange land of the Big 10, where people don't plan their Saturdays for months around football games. One man registered.

We approached small groups and large groups. Many of them seemed nervous at our arrival, and visibly relaxed when we asked if they were registered to vote, and moved on at a "yes." We passed a large volleyball tournament, people lounging in the shade and munching on all manner of foodstuffs, and I signed up three people to vote, all change-of-address. Someone offered me a bagel. It was warm, verging on hot in the sun, and the dark clouds to the west meant that we'd probably get an afternoon thunderstorm. The air was changing, becoming oppressive, and my back and neck were bothering me from the hard yoga class I took on Friday. I signed up another person, born two days before me, only a US citizen for two years so it was her first time voting. She held her curly-haired cherubic daughter on her lap as I filled out her reciept, feeling that the sun and the sore back and the angry woman who shouted at me when I asked if she was registered were all worth it, because I got to witness something truly powerful.

* * * * * * *

My first thought was that it smelled like Berkeley, like Telegraph avenue.

"Wanna go see what's going on out there?" asked my coworker yesterday around lunchtime. "Sure," I said. We left (through the front door, making sure we had our IDs) and headed for Civic Center Park, the area between the state Capitol and the City and County building. The park was milling with people in orange jumpsuits, with people selling buttons, with people holding signs. It smelled like Telegraph, a combination of patchouli and pot and unwashed people I thought unique to Berkeley or maybe Haight street 10 years ago, but just as I had that thought I turned around and saw at least fifteen police officers on horseback watching the unorganized protestors. Next to them were two men in "Cop Watch" neon green vests, I guess to make sure there were observers to witness any police brutality. And then I laughed out loud, because one of them was the guy who sells political bumper stickers on Telegraph Avenue, the guy with the long hair and beard that used to be mostly red and now is more white and who has been selling stickers in the same spot for at least the last 12 years. And here he was, in Denver, watching cops.

I wandered through an interesting structure, built of some sort of fabric to look like a mosque, filled with photos and faces of Islamic people just being themselves. It was clear that the purpose was for us bloodthirsty Americans to see what Muslim culture is really like, that there is more to Islam than suicide bombing and burning American flags and jihadism, but it struck me as trying a little too hard.

Many of the protesters started a march down the 16th Street mall, at the other end of which is the Convention Center where the DNC is being held. Throngs and crowds of people don't appeal to me, but I was curious so I watched for a little while as the protesters were followed by police on horseback who were followed by cop watch guys who were followed by curious onlookers. I saw lots of people wearing Obama merchandise and only one wearing Hillary stuff. I went back to my office, unwilling to see the outcome of the protest because there were just too many people in that one space.

* * * * * * *

Having spent the last two weeks watching the Olympics, seeing the occasional puff piece about China (the food on sticks! the wall! the gymnasts taken from home at age 3! oh. wait.), I've been thinking a lot about our trip to China back in 2005 (the reason I started this blog, in a way, so there would be a place to store Dan's trip report). I thought about what it was like to be a Western tourist in China, to visit so many of the places they showed during the Olympics (especially the Marathon, they ran by all kinds of stuff we walked by when we were there), to observe people living their everyday lives in a mix of ancient and ultra-modern. One of the reasons we went to China when we did was to see some of the ancient stuff before it was torn down and covered over by modernity, and even back in the fall of 2005 everyone was very excited to be on the world's stage in 2008. I thought about what the Olympics means, to have a host and hundreds of countries compete against one another in pure unadulterated atheletic achievement, to set aside political differences and just enjoy the opportunity to meet people from all over the world while performing great feats of physical strength, grace, speed. I was not surprised when journalists were denied access to certain websites (despite China's assurances that they'd have access to everything). I was not surprised when stories arose about underage gymnasts and other ways in which China might be bending the rules in order to win the most golds. I was not surprised when I learned of the nationwide training program begun in 2001 designed to develop athletes who could compete against the best in any other country in as many disciplines as possible, and kids were taken from their homes and families and put through the Chinese Olympics Machine, doing nothing but training (no school, no time to do anything but become the best). I was not surprised because, as much as China wants the rest of the world to see how enlightened and developed and modernized they are, the truth is far murkier.

I will forever be grateful that I was born in, grew up in, and live in a country where I have choices. The athletes in America choose to train and compete, and the livelihoods of their families are not dependent on whether or not athletes continue to train and win medals. Citizens in this country have the right to vote for whomever we please to the highest office in the land. And we have the right to protest when there is something we feel strongly about, whether it be a war or animal rights or abortion or something else entirely. We are not punished for speaking our minds or for wanting to have some say in how our government is run or for deciding that hey, we'd rather go to college to become a dentist than remain a national diving champion. When Chinese citizens have these choices, I think China will truly have shown the first world that they're ready to compete. Until that time, I'm going to continue to be pleased by the choices that are available to me and my fellow Americans and my future potential progeny, and be thankful that everyone in this country has those choices.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Things on my mind these days, in no particular order:

* The Olympics, and why I have been watching them so much. I haven't watched anywhere near this much Olympic coverage since 1992 when I babysat all summer and they had 3 channels of events going on. Maybe it's because we have such a pretty TV for the first time ever.

* Dan started school last week, and his INSANE schedule (six classes and part time job!) means he doesn't get home until 10 PM every night but Friday. My evenings are mine to do with what I wish for the first time in a long time. Mostly I've wished to read books I've already read because I don't want to buy more. And I'm cooking dinner every weeknight for the first time since he moved in 5 years ago.

* I really, really, really don't want to be in this job anymore, especially since it's nearly fall and I don't want to do my insane fall schedule again. I'll be spending a good chunk of next week (when most of my coworkers are taking the smart route and avoiding work) to help make that a possibility. If I find something new by then end of September I'll get to go to Philadelphia but won't have to do the rest of the stuff.

* My knowledge of East Coast geography sucks. Jive Turkey has informed me that Philly (where I'll potentially be) and Pittsburg (where she will definitely be) are 5 hours of driving apart. Sheesh.

* Speaking of JT, she's got some Big News. Go say congratulations!

* So yeah, next week is the Democratic National Convention here in Denver and it's going to be totally insane. The place where I work is literally across the street from the State Capitol building and we're on virtual lockdown all week. They've had us do umpteen drills in the last couple of weeks and a good chunk of the major highway that goes north-south in Colorado will be shut down on Thursday because it is close to where Obama will be speaking. I am SO GLAD I don't have to drive in this area. Dan is off school all week (his campus is right next to the DNC so they elected to not try to hold classes that week) so he is volunteering for the DNC. And I will be volunteering for the Obama campaign this weekend, just helping people get registered to vote if they need to register.

* I think I might be allergic to my own leg hair.

* Two workouts a day 3 days a week and one workout a day 2 days a week have resulted in me being fricking exhausted all the time and not losing any weight. In fact, I think I'm gaining because my muscle (especially in my harms, abs, and back) is bulking up. And for all you out there saying "vary your workouts!" rest assured that during the course of my week I take 2 difficult yoga classes, one power pump (weights) class, one cardio/weights class, I hamster on the elliptical/ride the stationary bike at least twice, sometimes swim, and do a full weight circuit on the weight machines. It's varied. Also, I still can't run. Stupid leg.

* My sister and her husband got to hold poison dart frogs and see sloths on their honeymoon. I am green with envy.

* I need to sleep more. Stupid Olympics.

* Confession: I really, really enjoyed doing the flowers for Lissa's wedding. And our wedding. And if I'd had more notice, probably for our ex-friends' wedding last fall as well. I find myself thinking up interesting flower/greenery combinations, with unusual elements sometimes. I exclaim over unusual flowers at the grocery store even though we never buy flowers. I daydream about doing wedding flowers again. I think I'm a freak.

Friday, August 15, 2008

SumoGodzilla Wedding, Part 2: Everyone needs a Night of Discovery

Immediately following the ceremony, L&C went and took some more photos, while everyone else mingled and the catering staff moved all the chairs inside so people could sit down. Lissa had done a seating chart (rather than escort cards) and everyone managed to figure out where they were supposed to sit. The centerpieces consisted of a potted orchid and a jar of chocolate-covered mint patties, and each table (0-10) had a photo of Lissa and Curtis at that age. I think people had fun going from table to table looking at the photos; they put a lot of work into that project!

So now, I explain the sumo-godzilla thing. Several years ago, L&C found one of those plywood painted face cutout things, and took a photo of themselves - Curtis as the sumo wrestler and Lissa as Godzilla. During wedding planning, they decided to structure the wedding around this theme (with some orchids thrown in for good measure) and lots of the little details involved sumo and godzilla - the ties, the sumo cufflinks, the cake toppers. (Yes, that is a small piece of paper towel taped to Godzilla's head.) The intro to their wedding website featured an animation of Sumo fighting Godzilla that Dan put together for them. And they recreated the sumo-godzilla photo cutout thing (cardboard, not plywood, handpainted by Lissa), and used it as the backdrop for their DIY photo guestbook (also starring a new polaroid product that spits out a photo taken by a digital camera), so guests took photos as Sumo or Godzilla and pasted them in the guestbook along with their signatures. And speaking of the guestbook, I mentioned that Dan handmade it, and by that I meant that he REALLY handmade it - all of the paper was made by Dan, and it was hand-bound, the cover was made, the letterpress was done, and the drawings inside were done by Dan. I think it turned out really nicely.

I digress. So while L&C were taking "We just got married" photos with each other, people started to take sumogodzilla photos, and mingle, and drink wine and beer and other refreshing beverages. I got a chance to talk more with my Dad's-side-of-family relatives and hug some people I'd last seen at our wedding (granted, it was only 5 months ago, but I hardly ever see them). I posed for more photos. By that time it was REALLY hot outside unless you were in the shade, so people mostly stuck to the shady spots or hung out indoors to wait. Horse's ovaries were passed. More mingling happened. Simon, as the emcee, got the music going and asked everyone to be seated when the caterers started putting out lunch, and I chatted with my mom's-side relatives with whom we were seated, waving at Leah and Simon the next table over.

There was eating, and there was visiting, and little girls and cute babies playing on the floor, and there was prosecco (or sparkling cider) poured into champagne flutes, and Laurel and Sam toasted the bride and groom. Then, they cut the cake, and they danced their first dance for a minute, then invited others up to join them. I danced in my heeled brown sandals for the first time since I hurt my leg, and for a while it was OK. The best part of the dancing, aside from dancing with my husband, was the (now) traditional set of movements to the Proclaimers' I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), and this time more people joined in. And at one point, I had to fix Lissa's hair because it started to come undone. Don't ask me why she looks so horrified.

Lissa had asked us to keep the dancing going, which we tried to do, but it was so hot. I had to escape outside for a few minutes, while cake was cut and passed out, and when I came back in there were no more slices or plates or a knife for cutting, so I had to find someone in the kitchen to cut more. Harumph, I said to that. But the cake was exceptionally good, so it was worth the hassle. Then, those of us in the bridal party were whisked up to the highest part of the park (Inspiration Point) to take a few more group shots, and when we got back the party was over. The place where the wedding was held has two events a day on summer weekends, so everyone was booted out at 3 PM.

After everything was packed and loaded up, Dan drove us (plus some stuff) down to Leah and Simon's, who followed with some of the potted orchids (they volunteered to take care of them while L&C were on the honeymoon) and the remains of the full sheet cake. We put it in their extra fridge, where it juuuuust fit, and everyone relaxed for a while and took off their fancy clothes. I took a brief nap. Then, it was time to load back up and head for the afterparty, held at a neighborhood pool/poohouse in Orinda. At the party we saw a slideshow created by Curtis's dad, we ate pizza, we drank sangria, Dan swam in the pool, and I marveled at how utterly exhausted I was. It was kind of ridiculous. My energy was gone, and everyone else at the party seemed to have unlimited amounts of the stuff, even the little kids and the pregnant lady. Laurel and her friends came up with a drink they named the Night of Discovery*, consisting of blueberry vodka and sprite, I think. It was a little sweet for me.

Apparently, after we left, there was a (root beer) keg stand and a cake fight, but I was long asleep by that point. And Lissa and Curtis headed off to a fancy hotel (a gift from Laurel and Jackie) for their night of discovery.*

* One of Curtis's coworkers spent the nearly two years of their engagement telling him about the wedding night and what it would entail. He called it the "night of discovery." Curtis initially thought he was joking, but apparently he was dead serious (and also didn't know L&C had lived together for their entire relationship). So after Curtis told us about it, people spent the entire wedding week/weekend teasing them about it.

Thanks to Dan, Leah, and Laurel for the photos

Food meme, courtesy Great Big Nerd

Courtesy the dude I married, originating from Very Good Taste.

The rules are pretty standard:
A. List of 100 items
B. Italicize items you’ve eaten
C. Cross out items you’d never consider eating

1. Venison I rarely eat mammal, but I might make an exception for venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Rancheros
4. Steak tartare I don't eat raw mammal
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding ew
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush Sadly, I'm allergic to eggplant
11. Calamari
12. Pho mmm, pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart not unless it's turkey
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns Had 'em back in my mammal-eating days
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper Medium salsa is my heat limit
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava Loooves me some baklava
30. Bagna cauda This sounds really good!
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar I smoke nothing and like it.
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal - though it would probably really hurt
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi - I had something like this in China, but it wasn't umeboshi.
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini - I would try it but I wouldn't like it
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips Bleah
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin I thought this was clay?
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis I find it highly unlikely I'd ever eat haggis willingly
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette I've had chicken andouille sausage, does this count?
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu Not sure if we had this in China or not
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail There's a story behind this one. Perhaps one day I will blog it.
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict I'm not big on hollandaise sauce.
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam unless I would really offend someone if I didn't eat it.
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa Sounds yummy!
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee Coffee is gross.
100. Snake

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sumo-Godzilla Wedding, part 1: or, how I gained a second brother in one year

August 2nd dawned dark and early.

Actually, it's kind of hard to tell when you're in the Bay Area in the summer, because it's nearly always overcast that early in the morning. How early, you ask? After nearly 5 hours of sleep I rolled out of bed at 6:30, tiptoed down the stairs, brushed my teeth, checked my email and updated my Facebook status, and attempted to leave Leah and Simon's house in order to drive to my sister's in time to do her hair. Except the screen door wouldn't open, so I had to wake Simon up. Boo.

So I got to Lissa's house around 7:15 and everyone was awake, or as awake as most of them can be at that time of the day (none of them are morning people). As I said, it was overcast, so there was still some dismay over the possibility of the wedding being cold rather than warm. Staying in their house were L&C, Laurel and her friend Lindsay, and Jackie, the awesomest ER nurse evah, and so as you might imagine, things were a little crazy. Someone put the Princess Bride on the TV, and someone handed me a caffinated sody pop when I asked for one, and there was a parade of showers and people pouring coffee and I plugged in the curling iron and started on Lissa's hair. Because her hair is even thicker than mine, I knew it would take a while to get it all curled so I could start to style it, so I had Lissa sitting in a chair in a daze by about 7:40 as everyone else fluttered around.

Due to some practice earlier in the week, I knew exactly how I'd be doing Lissa's hair, so once it was curled it didn't take long. I sprayed the heck out of it and hoped it would hold with only small bobby pins - in our family, with our thick hair, we usually need the big ones, but the amount of hair that was pinned wasn't especially big, so I was hoping it would hold OK. I shoved in the two pearl hairpins that had belonged to my maternal grandmother to help camoflage some of the bobby pins, and Lissa's hair was ready to go. I sat in the kitchen to do my makeup, hand mirror propped against a box on the table so I could see, because the bathroom mirror and living room mirror were full of primping ladies.

At various times throughout the morning, a parade of people stopped by the house to assist in transporting things like all the wine and beer and prosecco, the champagne flutes, the 15 potted orchids, the elements for the table settings, and a large cardboard cutout with Godzilla and a Sumo wrestler on it (more on that later). My mom arrived and was put to work ironing shirts and wraps. I put on my bm dress (a little tight in the boobs, but fit OK otherwise) and did something very simple with my hair, and stopped in the middle of something to apply Lissa's eyeliner when requested (tightlining using a dark brown eyeshadow, which I think looks much nicer than a pencil) after Jackie and Laurel had done the rest of her makeup. Jackie filed my obscenely long nails down in a square shape and I gave myself the quickest French manicure ever, and immediately smudged it when helping Jackie to tie her dress. Someone put makeup on Curtis (don't ask me why, but there is photographic evidence). The groomsmen who hadn't been at the rehearsal dinner came over to get their ties (silkscreened with sumo wrestlers) and one of them had a large hole in the back of his pants, which I fixed with about 6 safety pins. And suddenly we all had to leave, and so we piled into three cars, Lissa with her dress, veil, purse (with vows) in hand, and headed up to the Brazil Room in Tilden Park.

I didn't know where I was going, since I'd never driven up there from the part of the East Bay where L&C live, and the drive was far more challenging than I expected - lots of twists and turns on super narrow streets undergoing construction, trying to follow someone who knew where he was going but wanted to drive way faster than I did. On the drive up, it became clear that the fog was going to burn off completely, and then someone realized that the tie for the remaining groomsman might have been left at their house, so Lissa switched cars and Curtis drove home to get the offending piece of formalwear. We made it to the location in time for Lissa to get her dress on before the photographers arrived (10 AM), and people immediately went into action, arranging centerpieces on the tables, setting up SumoGodzilla and the camera and the guestbook that Dan made them, helping Lissa with her dress and getting her veil in the right spot, and visiting with each other. I managed to find everyone on whom I needed to pin flowers (8 men, 6 women) and eventually the last bridesmaid (Curtis's sister) arrived so we each picked a BM bouquet (each one was different, and all had elements similar to Lissa's bouquet). I ended up with the one I liked best, and I think everyone's bouquets went best with their dresses, even though I didn't plan it that way.

More guests arrived as we started taking formal photos, and it got brighter and hotter as the morning went on. The fog had burned off completely, so it was actually much more comfortable indoors than outside where we were taking photos. Leah and Simon arrived with the PA system and Dan just in the nick of time, as he was supposed to be in some of the photos. More people arrived. It got hotter. People started to seat themselves on the shady side of the ceremony space. Nobody seated themselves on the sunny side except people who'd thought ahead and brought umbrellas to shade themselves. And then it was time for us to gather inside and discuss the order in which we'd be walking out, since we hadn't had any sort of rehearsal the day before. Dan escorting Mom, officiant, flower girls, every other groomsman and bridesmaid, and then Lissa and Curtis walking arm in arm up to the front of the group to say their vows.

So that's what we did. Some of us grinned. Some of us cried. Some of us did both (me! though I managed not to let any tears actually fall out of my eyes). And then, suddenly, after all this time, they were married.

It was time to party.

photos by Dan, Leah, someone with Lissa's camera, and Laurel

Thursday, August 07, 2008

My top 3 bodily fluid encounters in big cities, for Jive Turkey

Yeah, yeah, I'm still going to write about the wedding. But this is far more amusing! Over at Jive Turkey, she recently wrote about all the things she loves and disloves about NYC, and mentioned the high rate of encounters with other people's bodily fluids. Which reminded me about MY encounters with bodily fluids in public places in big cities. And so I have some stories to tell.

MLE's Top 3 (in terms of bizarreness, I guess) stories of Encountering Other People's Bodily Fluids in Big Cities

#3. Was it pee? Was it amniotic fluid? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.

Once upon a time, I worked at a Really Big Corporate Law Firm in San Francisco. The firm had space on several floors of a big highrise building right downtown, only 2 blocks from the Montgomery BART station, and on the ground floor of the building was this huge gorgeous atrium area with tables and chairs, open to the public. You had to flash a badge to security in order to get upstairs in the elevator, but anyone and everyone could hang out in the glass-walled atrium and enjoy any sun that came through the San Francisco fog during regular business hours. Lots of people, including me, tended to eat lunch here on cold-but-sunny days, since it was climate-controlled, but you never knew what you might see. One day I had gone out with a friend to grab some lunch at a place nearby, and when we walked back in the building a large woman in her 30s (I don't even remember what she looked like, other than she was wearing voluminous clothing and smelled bad) entered the building and yelled out something incomprehensible. All the people in her immediate vicinity shrank back, and a security guard came over to speak with her, or perhaps to escort her right back outside (you never know about people wandering in off the street in San Francisco). All of a sudden, a large splash of liquid sort of started emanating from her feet and it covered the floor in a big puddle. I wasn't close enough to tell whether said liquid had any color (it was a slate floor), and because of the nature of the woman's size and clothing, it was impossible for me to tell whether she was pregnant and her water broke or whether she just decided to pee all over herself. Either way, it was rather entertaining and broke up my monotonous day of running Lexis Nexis searches.

#2 There are some things that do not need photographic evidence

I went on a big, multi-country six-week-long trip to Europe after college. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I saw a lot of crazy things on that trip, but the best story (in my opinion) was when I went to Prague. I stayed in a hostel with a bunch of other people, all of whom were traveling alone, so one night we were hanging out in the common room and chatting, and all decided we'd go out to a club and go dancing together. Before we left, however, one of the people who had been there a few days told us that the staff would prepare and sell shots of absinthe. You know, the whole show, with the sugar in the spoon and the lighting on fire and whatnot. This was back in 2000, when you couldn't really get absinthe very many places, and I wanted to try it. So I did. I had one shot of absinthe and it was far more intoxicating than I had expected (incidentally, I had occasion to try it again last summer, just one shot, and again I experienced a different kind of intoxication than with any other alcohol I've had. Also, it tastes gross.) The one shot was more than plenty for me.

Anyhow, so we were hanging out, and this one kind of annoying guy decided to join our group. Most of us weren't really up to doing much partying, but he wanted to get his drink on, I guess, so before we left the hostel he had FOUR shots of absinthe. Now, I don't know how many of my readers have ever tried this beverage, but ONE shot of absinthe was nearly enough to knock me out. Granted, I'm not one who generally holds a lot of liquor or anything, but sheesh. FOUR. Eventually, it was late enough to consider going out to a club, so we all (probably 8 or 10 of us) ventured out into the foggy Prague night and went down some dark stairs into a place that was recommended by the hostel staff. On the way, we passed by an ice cream cart selling Magnum bars (kind of like a popsicle made of ice cream but not covered in chocolate) and the annoying guy bought one and wolfed it down. So we got to the place, and it was bumping, and we all danced for a while, and eventually the annoying guy came over to me and told me he had THREE more shots of absinthe (bringing his grand total to SEVEN) and he wasn't feeling especially well, and could I help him get outside? I guess I was the most approachable of the group (the rest being mostly independently traveling guys) and I wanted some fresh air so I escorted Drunken Magnum Bar Eating Annoying Guy up the stairs.

He promptly vomited all over the place, including on his socked- and birkenstocked feet. It was white.

Then he pulled his camera out of his pocket and took a photo of it.

I decided to remove myself from the sticky situation and went back down into the club, but the group was pretty much ready to go so we all headed back to the hostel. On the way, some gypsies (and by this, I mean probably Roma but possibly any manner of other people who act this way) surrounded Annoying Guy and tried to take his wallet but we chased them off. When we got back to the hostel, most of us headed to bed, but Annoying Guy tried to get us to go out with him to another club in some other part of the city. I'm pretty sure everyone blew him off.

I had to get up early the next morning to catch a train, and I went into the common room to get my free breakfast (museli and yogurt and hot chocolate), when who should I find but Annoying Guy. From the looks/smell of him, he'd never gone to bed or showered. Which meant he hadn't changed his clothes, or his shoes or socks, and he still appeared to be drunk. Gross.

#1 Why that Thai restaurant hosed down their sidewalk every morning

As many of you know, I used to live in Berkeley, CA. I lived one block away from one of the busiest intersections in the whole city (University and Shattuck) above some small shops, and I had to walk a couple of blocks to the BART station each day on my way to work. I noticed that the Thai restaurant on that first block always hosed down their sidewalk, as it was wet every day whether or not it had rained. On the same corner where I lived but on the other side of the street, a blind, presumably homeless guy, would bring a folding chair and a radio and sit in the same spot every day, all day long, swaying back and forth to any music that came out of the radio. I never spoke to him, and he seemed pretty harmless, but I didn't pay all that much attention. When you live in Berkeley long enough, you see the same homeless/beggars in the same places all the time, so they're part of the landscape.

One day I was going to the movies with the Chef and my sister (and maybe someone else, I forget). We were going to see O Brother, Where Art Thou, and I was super excited about it. Everyone met at my house to walk downtown to the theater, and just before we passed the blind guy in the chair he stood up right in front of us, walked several steps down the sidewalk (to right in front of the Thai place), pulled down his pants, and had explosive diarrhea all over the sidewalk. Like, 10 feet away from us. And he just pulled up his pants and walked back to his chair like nothing had happened.

You haven't lived until a blind homeless man has taken an explosive diarrhea crap right in front of you. And then pulled his pants up and sat back down.

That day, I learned why the Thai place hosed down their sidewalk every morning. I assume the guy just used it as his personal toilet whenever he felt the need.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fantasy evening

This is how it was supposed to happen:

My sister and her new husband flew into Denver at 8 PM last night with a four-hour layover before their red-eye flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Dan and I picked them up at the airport and we drove into town to have dinner at a tasty Mexican place that's open late. They brought a few things I'd left behind at their place (all my makeup, for instance) and it worked out so conveniently. We drove them back to the airport in plenty of time for their midnight flight to kick off their honeymoon, and went home ourselves and ate ice cream in our newly cooled-down house.

This is how it actually happened:

My sister called me 40 minutes before their flight was even supposed to board yesterday afternoon to tell me their flight was listed as delayed, but with no idea as to how long. A few minutes later she called again to tell me the official delay was TWO HOURS.


So we went grocery shopping after I got home from work, and she called me again to give me an official ETA on their flight: 9:51 PM. Obviously, there would be no time for going to dinner, and (not expecting their flight to be delayed two hours) she had brought my stuff with them. Which we had to go get, because they didn't want to haul a pair of my jeans and my makeup all the way to Costa Rica and back! So we drove out to the airport last night, waited for them to tell us they were off the plane, met Curtis at the passenger pickup area, and gave him some sandwiches and snacks we'd made for them so they wouldn't starve (not much is open at 10 PM at the airport). It cost us an hour and a half of travel/wait time and probably 5 bucks in gas, but at least I have my stuff and they got some food and by now they are on a jeep somewhere in the wilds of Costa Rica. I hope they have fun.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I went to California for a week and I need another week to recover

First, my sister and Curtis got themselves all marrified. Yay! I will write a wedding post, maybe tomorrow, because holy cow, people have already put up like 500 photos on their flickr site and they just got married on Saturday.

Second, while I enjoyed doing everything that I did, I never want to work in the wedding industry. Three weddings in 12 months was hard enough, I can't imagine doing it all the time. Maybe it's different if you're getting paid for it, I dunno.

So. I flew to Oakland on Saturday the 26th (at night) after a busy day of errand running (post office, pharmacy, fabric store) and purse-finishing and packing. My sister and her almost-husband picked me up at the airport, and when we got to their house I got to work on my first task - making some fake flowers Lissa had gotten into hair wreaths for their flower girls.

Sunday, we (and by we, I mean my family) threw a suprise birthday party for Lissa (her birthday was the 30th). She thought she would be attending a coed shower but didn't know anything else. A good time was had by all 16 people and I hope it was nice for her to have some birthday-oriented time rather than wedding time (my birthday this year was all but swallowed by wedding prep; I even kind of forgot I was having one) since it was my idea that the party be a surprise bday shindig and not a shower. We had salads and pizza and tasty beverages (Jupiter's sells a very lovely pomegranate hard cider) and my mom made a chocolate cake. After the party, we went back to their house and worked on wedding stuff.

Monday I woke up in abject misery. My neck went out again, and I have no idea why, but it hurt like a mofo and made things much more difficult because there were a lot of projects and errands I was intending to help with that I just couldn't. Lissa got their rings cleaned and bought some makeup at Benefit, and Laurel and I tagged along. We got some food at Trader Joe's. I spent most of the day on the verge of tears because 1. my neck hurt really, really badly, and 2. I was essentially useless after making the trip out to be helpful. I ended up working on a few projects that didn't ultimately happen, like spraypainting blackboard paint on some cardboard for directional signs that never got used. It turned my finger black!

Tuesday was Lissa's final dress fitting up at the same shop where I got my dress, so Laurel and I went up with her and met my mom at the shop. Lissa had no end of trouble getting the dress to be right (the shop ordered a size too big, which came in late, so it had to be drastically altered, and the fabric for the veil didn't come until a week before the wedding so there wasn't time for anyone but the dress shop to make it, and her dress got shuttled between Santa Rosa and the Bay Area at least twice, and she probably had six fittings, and when it was finally done the lady still hadn't done everything she was supposed to do to the dress). I had far less drama with my dress but the last alteration on mine was never done, either, so I am starting to think the whole thing was just a scheme to get more money for the alterations lady. My sister intends to write a scathing review on Yelp, and I am glad I stuck to my guns and insisted on the size that I knew would fit me. We ran a few other errands that day - to the wholesale flower place to look at flower possibilities, to Costco and Trader Joe's and BevMo to price alcohol, and we helped my mom pick out carpet. My neck felt a little better that day, but not a whole lot. I pulled a list of "to be done" out of Lissa's head in the car on the way back down to the Bay Area and when we got back I organized it into "Stuff to buy" "Errands to run" and "Projects to finish" and I think it ended up being helpful for them.

Wednesday I tagged along on more errands and then I met Leah at her work to pick up a key to her house. Then my friend the Irish German picked me up at a cafe, we had some tasty Pakistani food, and stopped at Berkeley Bowl (Pilgrimage!), and then we went back to his house in Oakland to relax for a while before we retrieved Dan at the airport. The Irish German co-owns his house with College Boyfriend, so I got a little update on College Boyfriend's life (currently: off-again with his 10 year, on/off again gf) and got to hear all about how fertile his brothers are (he has one niece, another on the way, and his younger brother's wife just found out she's having twins). He had retired to his room by the time we returned from the airport, and everyone was just exhausted so we didn't stay up late or anything, and I got to sleep in a Real Bed for the first time in nearly a week and it was so, so nice. I heart the Irish German.

Thursday, we made a tasty breakfast for our pal who let us sleep in his bed, and picked some veggies in his garden, and he drove us all over the place, meeting with Lissa and Curtis at the Oakland Flower Market for them to buy flowers and me to take them and deposit them in Leah and Simon's basement, and then we had to go meet them again to get the other stuff they needed to give me (cooler, bowls for the event on Friday) and for Curtis to pick out the right orchid plant that would have enough flowers on it for the groomsmen's bouts. We got back to the Irish German's place pretty frazzled, so we relaxed for a while and logistics for Thursday night were worked out (a last-minute bachelor and bachelorette event came together, so Dan had to take our newly-acquired rental car down to the South Bay and went out to see Batman and play games at Dave and Buster's with the boys, and I took BART over to the city, met up with my sisters and a couple of other ladies, and we watched Mamma Mia and then went out to an Irish Pub, and then I took the bus all the way across the city to Scarlett's house where Dan and I stayed that night).

Friday we got up and going much later than I had hoped and it took us over an hour to get through the city and across the Bay. Luckily, we'd done our planning in advance so we knew exactly what we needed to buy at Costco and at Berkeley Bowl. And we lugged our groceries to Leah and Simon's who graciously agreed to let us use their kitchen to cook the rehearsal dinner that Dan and I hosted that night for the happy couple. We made a green salad with veggies from the Irish German's garden, and black bean/corn salad, and shrimp kabobs, and turkey burgers, and bought everything to go with, plus made some guacamole for the chips and salsa, and a great big apple pie and cookies from Costco. We hauled all the food up to the park in nasty traffic, but luckily the guests weren't there yet since everyone else had to deal with the same traffic. We used a new portable grill that L&C got as a wedding gift, since the charcoal in the existing park grill didn't work out so well (though it eventually caught after all the food was cooked and people used it to warm their hands; it gets cool up there once the sun goes down!) and successfully fed 26 guests (plus leftovers for Leah and Simon) for about $120. Not too shabby!

After the party was over, a big group went over to decorate the wedding afterparty venue but Dan and I went back to Leah and Simon's to finish the handmade guestbook, relax and watch Flash Gordon (Dan) and put together all the personal flowers (me). I made 1 bridal bouquet, 4 bridesmaid bouquets, 2 flower girl nosegays, 5 groomsmen bouts, 3 other bouts (2 dads and Dan), and six corsages in about 3 and a half hours (I took a shower break) and got to bed around 1:30 AM. It was a long week, and I haven't even written about the wedding yet.

Photos courtesy Laurel and someone using Lissa's camera (not sure who!)