Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Birthday Breakdown

Someone decided to stop following my blog on my birthday. I try not to take that stuff too personally, but that is just cold. Isn't it? And I can't figure out who it was.

And here's a confession: I counted how many people on Facebook wished me a happy birthday. (55.) You might be really shocked and taken aback at that kind of narcissistic, obsessive behavior, or you might be secretly thinking "Well, doesn't everybody?" You tell me.

The birthday was really nice. It's still going on, because David will be home soon and we're going to a restaurant I really like with the in-laws. And my friend Synthia took me to lunch today and gave me a super-sparkly MAC lipstick. Oooh, new, expensive lipstick. That doesn't happen much anymore. And she said I looked skinny. And then we ate cupcakes.

I had a girls night at Lei Lounge with a few of my near and dear, and we ate fried everything and washed it all down with Peach Collinses and Watermelon Lemontinis. Mmmm, peach. Mmmm, watermelon. Mmmm, vodka. I was harshing it through my 30 minutes on the elliptical this morning--but I didn't quit early, so I rock.

While ensconced in our white leatherette cabana, blown-out coifs blazing from the heat lamps, deafened by the bachelorette lingerie madness across the way, I regaled my guests with tales of David's birthday gifts. In order, they were:

1. a green notepad. ("Huh?" "Jarrah picked it out." "Oh, thanks, sweetie--I do take a lot of notes.")
2. the latest Joss Stone CD
3. a mix tape ( husband makes me mix tapes) of songs from "Glee." Yeah, baby.
4. The last one I really can't say. But here are some hints.

--it's a gadget, with a written guarantee that you will be satisfied or your money back.
--he said "I don't know about opening this in front of Jarrah..." as I did exactly that.
--it has a clever name that is a cute misspelling.
--in the '60s, it might have been described as a "marital aid."

But you so wish I could tell you what's actually so special about it. Because you would never guess. In a million years. I'm staring at the box right now and I still can't believe it myself.

All right, enough of that. I also had a 90 minute massage on my birthday. I had never had more than 60 before. Here's what I learned about 90 minute massages:

1. They are 30 minutes longer than the 60 minute ones.
2. Everything you think is awesome happens for 50 percent longer.
3. When they're over, you feel like it's a new day. Seriously.

This year, I got to start my birthday the night before and ring it in at midnight just like the new year, since I was still out at that time. After a particularly lively rehearsal, me and a bunch of my theater peeps got together for tea, and were out late plotting world domination (one show at a time.) Three of us were celebrating birthdays, which is pretty scary if you think too hard about three feisty Scorpio babes sucking all the air out of one tiny corner of Point Loma. A special shout-out to chef prodigy Calvin, who surprised us by baking an actual cake, with layers and frosting and ganache and all. And which tasted like angels made it. Only they didn't. He did, and even recruited the tea guy to serve it so we could be surprised. It's very hard to surprise me on my birthday, since my expectations are so ridiculously high. But I was surprised. And that's really cool.

So, my national holiday has passed for another year. And I think I'm ready to let it go gracefully. I didn't break my comment record, you may have noticed. But I'm not sad, because the comments you did leave had me basking in your love.

And I love love. Thanks, Dear Readers.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shameless Plea for Birthday Love

So, I have a bit of a problem. I mean, I have lots of problems--I drink too much Coke, I don't like overhead lighting, I forget 80 percent of what happens in the course of a week--but this one is a smidge more embarrassing.

I kinda feel like my birthday should be a national holiday. You know, everyone should have it off from work, and perhaps a parade. With floats. At the very least, a general air of celebration.

Yes, yes, I realize that I share October 28th with a sizable portion of the population. With Julia Roberts, as a matter of fact. And Joaquin Phoenix. Heath Ledger's daughter. And Andy Richter and I are exactly the same age. But now that I've given them a cursory mention, let's move on, shall we? (Oh, all right: Happy Birthday, Julia, Joaquin, Matilda and Andy!)

Now, I don't require a lot of material gifts. But I do so like to be acknowledged. Last year, I asked my Readers to leave a comment for my birthday, and the experiment was a wild success. I received 72 comments! 'Course, that was because two popular gals made it their mission to recruit participants, which was all kinds of awesome. And really, 72 comments: that was above and beyond even my unreasonable expectations. think I can bust that record this year? Well, that depends on YOU, Dear Readers. If you're a lurker, come out, come out, wherever you are, and record some bloggy birthday love for posterity. Here's your prompt:

If you know me IRL, what's one of your favorite memories of us together?

If you don't know me IRL, what's one of your favorite posts from my blog?

I mean, could this be any more solipsistic? Let's see if we can make it so.

Please let me know if:

1) you are a Reader from another country besides the US. I always wonder about that.
2) you are a man. I'm convinced that very few men read my blog (and maybe that should be telling me something.)
3) how long you've been checking this blog.
4) if you are in my demographic (married with children, no longer, ahem, a spring chicken)
5) anything else you think I should know.

Now, if all those instructions overwhelm you (remember I listed "Bossy" as #1 in my personality profile) you can always just wish me a happy birthday. And I shouldn't say "just" because that would made me very happy, too. And you want me to be happy. Don't you?

If you leave a link to your blog, I will be coming by in the next few days to say hello and thank you. If you don't have a blog, I will be thanking you in this space. One way or another, I'll be thanking you!

And now I thank you, in advance. Hugs and smooches from the very-nearly-birthday girl.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pinch Me

"Mommy, can lobsters get us?"

Thus spake Jarrah on the way home from Birch Haunted Aquarium last night. I wasn't actually that surprised. I could recall the exact moment when things had taken a turn.

This was our fourth year of consorting with the fishes and the spirits at the annual Haunted Aquarium, and the first in which Jarrah and Joy had a set of grandparents apiece along for the adventure.

Things were different from the outset. We always have a dark picnic outside the gates before we go in, but in the past, we've had Quiznos. This year, I sussed out Prep Kitchen, a take-out extension of perhaps my favorite restaurant in La Jolla, Whisknladle. Instead of subs, we dined on pear and gruyere, chicken salad with cherries and pecans, and tri-tip. Paul said his turkey and chutney was "a million dollar sandwich."

We did notice that the hustle and bustle seemed a bit muted, but put it out of our minds since J and J were having such a blast tearing hither and yon in their costumes--Dorothy and Tinkerbell, respectively. The "aisle of pumpkins" and the rockin' band that greeted us in the entryway were familiar, though I was a bit miffed to see that the cookies and cider table of previous years had been disappeared. Damn economy. There were no crafts, either.

It was inside the tank tunnel that we could sense that something was off. Normally, it's shoulder to shoulder in there, everyone falling over tiny jellyfish and crabs in the dark. This time, there was room for days. The girls enjoyed feeling up some squid and screaming about the eels. The usual.

Outside, the eeriness took center stage. A thick fog encased the view and most of the terrace, and there wasn't a soul in sight. Jarrah and Joy had a captive audience in the staff who had been set up to show the kids a good time. The boy in charge of the lobster presentation wasn't just doing his job--he was doing it with love. He had been instructed to fascinate children with lobsters, and by gum, that's what he was going to do. He narrated his presentation with a swoopy, tremulous voice while a girl projected slides of lobster-related scariness onto the screen.

Now, I was standing behind him, so I really couldn't see what was happening there. I do know, however, that the moment when his tale was punctuated by a crashing piano, Jarrah's expression--which had been up to that point a combination of polite and "Is there candy at the end of this?"--suddenly went bug-eyed (lobster-eyed?) She didn't make a sound, but I knew. All I can say is, that boy must have been mighty persuasive about the threat of crustaceans. Because this is the kid who wants to see The Vampire's Assistant.

Next, the staff invited the girls over to the tidepool to see the nocturnal lobsters frolicking in their nighttime party milieu. Jarrah demurred. "I don't want to. Lobsters scare me," she said, taking my hand. "That's okay," I said. She stood behind my leg while everyone else admired the lobsters that a very enthusiastic gal was shining her flashlight on.

The rest of the evening passed peacefully--a bit of playing "house" in the photo booths, more than a bit of palpating plates of slimy green "sea turtle snot"--but once in the car, the worries rose to the surface again.

"No," I said. "They can't get us. They don't even want to. They're shy."

"Can they...pinch us?"

"Not these. They're California spiny lobsters. They have no claws."

"In the movie, this girl was on the beach, and a whole bunch of lobsters came up and attacked her."

(A short, stunned silence.)

"What? That was in the movie?"

"Yeah. So if it was a whole bunch of lobsters, they could get us?"

"I don't know what kind of movie this was, but no. They have no incentive to get us."

"What are lobsters, Mommy?"

"They're like...bugs that live in the ocean. Trust me, they want nothing to do with you."

"Okay, but I'm just going to be afraid of them."

Hey, better than wrought iron fences, if you ask me. We're making progress.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I Am Soooooo Pithy

Sorry that last post was so long. I know I must really test your patience sometimes, Readers.

My in-laws from Australia arrived late last night. We haven't seen them yet. I was at book club at the time (I didn't read the book--bad me--but the dinner and company were delish.)

We have a lot of events coming up in the next week, including a play, the Haunted Aquarium (only in California, right?), a visit to the other grandparents, and a certain blogger is anticipating the commemoration of her birth next week...please be contemplating your sentimental thoughts, as I will be calling upon you to share them at that time. (Not just yet--let's not rush things.)

I also have rehearsal, which I haven't been mentioning much, but it's going pretty well. I am off-book for one of my parts, though struggling with the fact that I'm supposed to be stuffing cookies in my mouth and talking with my mouth full for most of the scene. And there are no cookies. They're air cookies. Not my area. I mean, what do I know from air cookies?

This is the first year that Jarrah is making the connection between Halloween as scary and scary as FUN. The other day, I asked her if she wanted to watch Pooh's Heffalump Halloween again, and she sighed and dismissed me with "the hand," saying "No. There aren't any spirits in that one. It's not real Halloween." In a theater lobby, she nudged my pointing finger from a Disney movie poster towards The Vampire's Assistant, which looks sort of terrifying even to me, whispering "When can I see that one?"

"It's about vampires and zombies and a freak circus," I told her. "I don't think you'll like it."

"Yes, I will. I love vampires and zombies and freak circus. When can I see it?"

"It's for grown-ups."

"When can I see it?"

She also asks about when she can see Transformers and The Terminator, because any poster with what she calls "red eyes" stays burned in her brain forever.

Okay, I promised myself that I'd try to woo you and win you back with a much shorter post, so I'm going now. Kisses!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Diary of a Camper

4:17 p.m. I've just arrived at the Marriott Residence Inn in beautiful downtown...somewhere. The traffic was terrible and I have a splitting headache, but am instantly cheered by the junk food in the lobby. I get some Coke and cookies and wheel my bag up to my room, which is like an apartment, with a full kitchen and living room. I contemplate staying here for a week, naked and covered in cookie crumbs. But the reunion awaits.

4:58 p.m. Cocktail hour is about to start, and I still can't decide what to wear. Clearly, I am not doing my nails at this point, and I'll just pretend I didn't just rake a big ladder up the leg of my new stockings. And what's up with my blood-shot eyes? I stare in the mirror and despair. Time to heat up the flat iron.

5:35 p.m. Finally ready to walk out the door. I think I'm looking decent, though I'm too terrified to work it. I'm hoping this thing is running on Jewish Standard Time since I'm already quite late.

5:40 p.m. This Jewish Community Center looks like a palace. As I walk in the door, I see Jeff and Karen, who must be the greeters. They sort of recognize me as I approach them. "So, how's it going?" Jeff asks, which makes me want to crack up, since I haven't talked to him in like 20 years but made out with him once. All I can think of is "Good! You?"

5:42 p.m. I storm the gates with false bravado, heading towards the din in the lobby. People check me out, hoping to recognize me. Nope. I'm searching the name tags when I see Andrea. Whee! I haven't seen her in years, but we stayed friends after camp because we both went to college on the east coast. She is still in Boston. She also looks just as dazzling as she did the last time I saw her. We hug and shout questions over the crowd. Funny how this sort of thing has you delving into your life choices in the first 30 seconds of pleasantries. I beg her to sit with me at dinner.

6:00 p.m. A familiar face is smiling at me. It's Robin! Haven't seen her in years, either, but we also went to high school together. We've been chit-chatting on Facebook for a year, but this is the first time I've seen her in a couple decades. She looks smashing and chic and--like Andrea--weirdly young.

6:30 p.m. I've lost track of Andrea and Robin and am feeling really self-conscious. A dog approaches me, dragging his owner. "You must have pets." "No," I say. "I guess I just smell good." Somehow, no conversation ensues. I inspect the cheese and crackers and pour myself a drink. I feel highly absurd. Everyone around me is talking and laughing, but I really have no idea who they are. I timidly approach Robin in the hope that she'll introduce me to the two guys she's chatting with, and we all chat briefly about Michael Stuhlbarg, former CK camper (not present) who is currently starring in the latest Coen Brothers movie. Robin and I keep talking until someone reaches for my arm and starts leading me out of the room...

7:00 p.m. ...and it's David Hillinger. I mentioned him in my camp post--he was dance director. He had brown hair then, and it's gray now, and he looks uncannily like a very small Steve Martin. I'm not sure why he's pulling me, but it turns out it's time for a pre-dinner prayer service.

7:02 p.m. I'm sitting next to Robin in the front row of a "theater in the round" bamboo-covered outdoor shelter, and a woman in white is calling for everyone to be seated. She is very familiar to me, and when I see her name tag, I remember that she used to lead prayers at camp, too. "And what is she, a rabbi now?" I joke to Robin." "Yes," says Robin, not joking. Emily is a high-drama sort of reverend, and her intensity makes me want to giggle. She doesn't look any older to me. But now that we are all sitting down and I can look around, I see that is not true for the rest of us. We look older. Graying, balding, wrinkled. I have a sobering few minutes contemplating how I must look much, much older than I think I do. I knew these people when we weren't even grown yet, I think. Wow. The singing starts.

7:20 p.m. "Why don't I know these songs?" I whisper to Robin, and she laughs. She knows them. I don't seem to remember anyone or anything. It's disconcerting. Later, I discover that Robin was at camp for SEVEN years, to my two. So that lets me off the hook, a little.

7:40 p.m. Lots of singing. Lots of putting our arms around people we don't know. I remember that part well. Not so into it anymore. When we get to the Kaddish, which is the Jewish prayer of mourning, Emily invites us to say a few words about campers who are no longer with us. I get a bit choked up when Laurie, who was briefly married to Glenn, places his CK sweatshirt in the middle of the circle. He was the one who took us for sundaes back in the day. He died of stomach cancer when he was very young.

8:00 p.m. We're invited to the dining hall, where the walls are covered with hand-made posters invoking camp memories. "Tiger Milk bars!" I marvel. "I'll never forget those." We weren't allowed to have real chocolate at camp, but you could buy Tiger Milk Bars at the canteen after lunch. I think I had one every day. I point this out to Andrea, but she doesn't remember them at all. That's okay--I don't seem to remember ANY of the others. You can see where my priorities were.

8:15 p.m. I am really hungry, but there are some speeches and some thank-yous and a reading of the evening's menu in Hebrew. I can tell that I'm supposed to remember this ritual from camp, but I don't. Also, everyone else seems to remember the Hebrew words for everything. Again, I got nothin'. Finally, it's time to eat.

8:30 p.m. Food is sort of hotel banquet-hall like. Chicken, rice, salad. It's okay. I'm very hungry and eat a lot. I realize suddenly that I've been concentrating on my food and haven't really talked to anyone in 15 minutes, but everyone else is laughing and shrieking and circulating, already. Andrea has vanished. I don't know the other people at my table at all, and can't imagine what to say.

8:35 p.m. I get up on the pretense of getting a drink, and drift into the hallway to text David. I am wallflower after all, I write. Lonely. I wander the halls a bit, drawn back to the empty cocktail room because I hear our little voices. One summer, we made a tape of us singing all the camp songs. We sound so young. I stare at myself in the mirror awhile. Why can't I see the part that has clearly gotten old? I notice a bowl of Hershey's miniatures, and furtively stuff some in my purse for later. David texts back: Well, go find the other wallflowers and ask them what they're up to. It's good advice. He's a smart man. I don't see any others, I write back, but I'll try.

9:00 p.m. Back in the room, I decide I've had enough of my table. I haven't exchanged two words with my dining companions, and I'm tired of looking at my uneaten chicken. I spot Robin across the room with an empty seat next to her, and swoop in. She seems genuinely glad to see me. I'm instantly relieved. We end up talking pretty seriously through a presentation of old photos with rather obscene captions in both Hebrew and English. Then we do some singing with a guitarist like in the old days, but somehow it doesn't spark any sentiment, seemingly in anyone.

9:30 p.m. Our revered director, Norm, he of the froggy voice, yellow beard (now mostly gray) and diminutive stature, takes the mike, and we launch into a call and response thing about spirit and body parts. I remember it only vaguely. I'm starting to get paranoid about how little I seem to remember.

10:00 p.m. Flipping through an album of photos at the table. I can't find me in any of them. There are a lot of too-short shorts, a lot of feathered hair. We comment that it looks like the '70s to us, even though it wasn't. All the photos are turning yellow. I spot my brother in one of the group photos, wearing a pink alligator shirt, standing right next to a guy I made out with. I'd forgotten that my brother went to CK--we weren't there at the same time.

10:15 p.m. Dancing is announced, and I am more than ready. I'm pleased that the people I've been talking to are also into dancing. I'm shy at first--I'd forgotten how fast the movements are, and how many steps you have to remember. But then I decide to go for it, and kick off my shoes. Many of the dances are done in a circle, holding hands, but everyone is very welcoming. About 30 or 40 of us hang in for every song. Ah, now I'm remembering something.

10:45 p.m. David Hillinger is amazing, a force of life. All my old crush feelings come swooping back. Apparently, he's also a dentist now, but I've never seen a man, of whatever age, so light on his feet. Sometimes he seems to be floating. The music is harsh and tinny--good lord, are these cassette tapes?--but fills my heart with song just the same. There are three dances which open the floodgates of muscle memory for me. I can't stop smiling and wish they would go on forever. The last one, with the high side leaps, feels so incredible that I ignore how much my hips are going to hurt tomorrow.

12:00 a.m. I am dripping wet, standing off to the side chit-chatting with Karen, one of the organizers. She friended me on Facebook about a year ago, and she's a lovely, lively person whom I'm fairly certain I've never met before in my life. She seems to think otherwise, which is fine. I'm glad we're having an actual conversation IRL--swapping community theater stories. The dancing winds down with some incredibly complicated moves set to "Footloose" that--say it with me--I don't remember. Robin is still out there, going strong. I kind of love her, even though I haven't seen her in like 20 years.

12:30 a.m. I say goodnight to Andrea and we exchange numbers, talk about having breakfast at our shared hotel. I also exchange numbers with Robin, and after she tells me that her husband and twin boys are coming up for the BBQ tomorrow, I start rethinking my cowardly plan to flee in the morning. I want to stick it out and introduce David and Jarrah to this strange little world. When I get to my car, I'm smiling and feeling pretty good.

1:00 a.m. Rattling the door of my hotel room in terror, thinking someone might ooze out of a crevice and kill me. Why did I agree to an upstairs room in the back again? Then I look at the number on the door. "1223." I say out loud. That is not my room. Oh. I run down the stairs.

1:15 a.m. I could get used to this. I've shed my finery all around the room (which I never let my husband or child do) and am stuffing cookies and stolen chocolate in my mouth while flipping through channels. Next I'm going to take a long, hot shower and use ALL the towels. I really know how to live.

5:00-ish a.m. I startle awake, thinking I hear an ax murderer outside my door. Did I use both the dead bolts? I'm frozen. No, I guess the ax murderer was just using my stairs to get to someone else's room. Or maybe people are actually up and about at this hour. Horrors. It takes me an hour to get back to sleep.

8:30 a.m. Wake up, feeling like death's less stylish cousin. Walk to buffet in lobby, teeming with unruly children wrestling with the "make your own waffle" machine. Head is reverberating. And I didn't even drink anything. I get a bagel and orange juice and go outside with some trashy mags. Behind me, I hear other reunion-goers laughing merrily about the previous evening's exploits and making plans for today. I don't turn around. I don't know them anyway.

12:00 p.m. Check out time. Can't I just live here for a while? Now I am a wandering Jew. I do have my day pass to the JCC, so I head back over there. Why did I shower, if I was going to work out? The place is a frozen tundra today, not a soul in sight. I have to go through a lot of security to get to the gym, but eventually I bust in and have a good workout. Now I need another shower, and there are no towels. Ruh-oh. I have a shopping bag with my stuff like a homeless person, and I end up using one of my shirts to dry off.

1:30 p.m. David and Jarrah pull up to the JCC parking lot. I've never been so glad to see them. We decide to start driving, figuring we'll hit the Long Beach Marina with the help of the GPS. But you know what? That little stinker is no help at all unless you have an actual address. We drive aimlessly for a while, with Jarrah repeating "Where are we going, and will it have lunch?"

2:00 p.m. Almost by accident, we pull up to the Queen Mary. Man, that boat is grand. We wonder if we can find some lunch on it. Turns out we can. And then we take a self-guided tour of fascinating little rooms filled with equipment and old furniture. Unfortunately, we also pass an expensive guided tour about ghosts on the way in, and every moment of our visit is punctuated with "Yeah, nice...but let's go see the GHOSTS now!" from our supernatural-obsessed daughter. But the ghost tour, luckily for us, isn't starting until the reunion BBQ is already underway, so we have an excuse.

5:00 p.m. We return to the JCC. I decide to send David and Jarrah in without me and try to make myself presentable in the car. I'm beginning to adapt to this vagabond lifestyle, and not only do I patch up my makeup, I strip to my skivvies in the back seat and shimmy into a new outfit. I'm sort of proud of my surfer-like nonchalance. My hair, however, is not salvageable without a flat iron, and I can't plug it in in the car.

5:30 p.m. Now this is the setting we needed last night. Pinkish late-afternoon sun glimmers off the pool as people recline around small tables, listening to old camp standards like "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Both Sides Now." The music and the kids splashing in the water are incredibly soothing. I help Karen set up sodas in buckets of ice, and feel useful. I look up and Rhonda--who was my tentmate one summer--is smiling at me. I smile back, thinking we will finally have a catch-up conversation, and she says: "Are you the one who's going to cut the tomatoes?" That is unexpected. "I don't know if I was the one," I say brightly, "but I can do it." She praises my tomato-cutting abilities to the heavens, but that's as far as our conversation goes.

She and a group of women friends--some of whom I remember--have been sticking together all weekend. They sit in groups, ranks tight, and I have moved past marveling that I'm going to go the whole reunion without even making small talk with them. Maybe they don't remember me at all. That's certainly possible, though inconceivable to me. Or maybe they've planned this reunion as their own little get-together, and are too busy catching up with each other to pay attention to people they don't know. I know for certain I've done the same thing at other times and in other places. So, it is what it is. I decide to just let it go.

6:30 p.m. And I'm glad I do. Robin has returned for the BBQ with her husband and twin sons, who are seven, and it's great to meet them. We all sit together and eat burgers and hot dogs, and it's a beautiful evening, so relaxed. And because I'm not striving for anything, everything gets easier. I end up chatting with several people I haven't met yet, including Naomi, who I didn't attend camp with, but is lovely and fun and a great dancer. I love the idea of making new friends at a reunion. She turns out to be friends with David Wolfson, who was my little boyfriend one summer. I ask her to tell him hello, and then--suddenly uncertain about memory--add that we met in the infirmary.

7:30 p.m. It's getting dark, and the familiar songs start up at the other end of the pool. David is back with his masterful moves. I join the dancers, feeling a lot more confident tonight. Give me a week of reunion and I'll be willing to lead a couple numbers. I'm also much less sweaty, since we're outside. Someone mentions that David teaches ballroom. Ah, so he's not just a dentist. That explains it. I realize that I'm having the fun now that I thought I'd be having last night, but it's a different fun. One where I've released my expectations. I'm sure I'm supposed to learn something from this.

8:30 p.m. Jeff and cohorts hand out the Havdalah paraphernalia. I haven't had much contact with Jeff during the weekend, but when he cooks me a burger or dances near me, I'm reminded of how sweet he was, like a teddy bear. I remember making out with him as a very cuddly, teddy-bear-like experience. As I was saying, Havdalah is a ceremony that separates the Sabbath from the rest of the week with a few prayers and rituals, like a three-wicked candle that you snuff out in a cup of wine. Jeff hands me the wine cup, and I'm stoked. I haven't felt intrinsic to the celebration until now. Havdalah at camp each week was a big deal. We sang and swayed arm in arm. Now I'm grown up and in charge of the wine, and I feel cool. Looking around the swaying, smiling circle, I'm amazed that in 24 hours, I've come to recognize most of the faces here.

And maybe that's enough to take away, you know? Feeling that I've reconnected with a time, an experience, and some people who understand that experience. On Friday night, Norm's speech was all over the map, but one thing he said sticks with me: "Who knows when and if we'll ever get together again." Right. It's not like this reunion is a regularly scheduled event. It's probably a one-time deal. And it's pretty cool that over a 100 people chose to be a part of it.

I have this sense that the weekend has been a bit like camp itself. I always spent the first few days a bit lonely, a little homesick, a tad marooned on an island of my own insecurities and self-consciousness. And gradually, I got comfortable. People became familiar, days developed into a pattern, rituals emerged. The more we shared, the more I relaxed. And eventually the strangers around me became friends, and by the end--a sort of family away from home. We haven't had a summer together, just a couple of days. But somehow I know that if we had, that experience would have been familiar, too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seven Wonders of Me

So, I've been challenged by Prosy on Toast to reveal seven of my personality traits to you. Please don't thank me--it's what I do. Because it's not like you've had to hear anything about my personality before, since I write only the most terse, telegraphic posts in this blog. Before I launch in, I'd like to suggest that you go check out Prosy, who is extremely funny and irreverent, which is extra-surprising since I just learned she is also 14. (At least that's how old she looks in her vlog.)

1. Bossy. I'm the oldest child, whaddaya want? It's not so much that I tell everyone what to do (more like I subtly suggest, repeatedly and with a surfeit of words) as that I have to control every situation like I am the Cruise Director of my loved ones' lives. I am actually very handy to have around when you are an unruly group of people who are all hungry, but otherwise, I'll annoy the hell out of you.

2. Garrulous . Had you noticed? My motto is, why say in five words what you can say in 20? Words are purty, orally and textually. I like to spread them thick like butter and jam.

3. Dramatic. Even as a child, my family would laugh at my tempestuous outbursts, as if I were doing them just for show. I tell a lot of stories, gesticulate wildly, and talk way too loud in public. Once I was imitating a comedian in Carl's Jr, and this goth girl with a nose ring apparently took exception to my flamboyance. She asked me if I'd like to go to the parking lot with her so she could kick the @$%&* out of me. I said no, thank you. But that's just me--I inflame even strangers with my passion. Luckily, in the past year I've found an actual stage on which to fret and strut.

4. Romantic. I get all moony about...moons. And sunsets. And waves, with dolphins leaping over them. I like to sing sad songs in the car, turning my face just so and staring into the middle distance at stoplights. I like to hear poetry read aloud, and sometimes will tear up when I do (see #5.) I have every letter I've ever received in a series of shoe boxes in the garage. Hell, I save restaurant receipts that remind me of happy times. Just writing this is making me a little misty.

5. Sappy. I cry without much provocation. So please don't be mean to me. The other night, we were catching up on Dancing With The Stars, there was this tribute to Patrick Swayze. As soon as I recognized that Cheryl Burke and Tony Dovolani were recreating--step for step--the mambo from the last scene of Dirty Dancing, I started sobbing. Stuff like that just slays me, instantly and totally.

6. Compulsive. In my last post, I mentioned that I found the perfect little dress for my reunion. In the first store I went to. And then I proceeded to pound the pavement in the mall for two hours, slogging through every sales rack in every store except those catering only to men, babies or pets. I needed a stretcher by the time I was done, but I couldn't rest until conscientious research proved me right about that first choice. So, basically I could have been done shopping in 10 minutes. But I wouldn't have been able to sleep that night.

7. Sarcastic. Have you met me?

If you read this and have a blog, consider yourself tagged.

And P.S.: There are now photos in ALL of the recent vacation report posts, if you still care.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Which She Doubts Herself

So now I'm nervous. Just found out that my Camp Komaroff partner in crime, April, will no longer be attending, due to some sort of automotive crisis.

Which means that I will have to walk into this throw-down alone. Can I hack it? What do you think, Dear Readers? CAN I HACK IT? Will I be standing in the corner all night, clutching my punch?

In happier news, I took myself shopping for some "You haven't seen me in almost 20 years, but feast your eyes" sartorial splendor yesterday, and I ended up buying the first dress I tried on. I think it's smashing without trying too hard. And then I found some of those black suede shoe-bootie things that are all the rage in US Weekly, so I can pretend I'm trendy and hip. I'm thinking of wearing them with fish nets. Too much?

So, the shopping went well, but my psyche is melting. I'm feeling 14 again. Can you bolster me up with a "Go get 'em, Tiger" type pep talk?

Monday, October 12, 2009

But Most of All, It Lives Inside of You and Me

When I was 13 and 14, I spent my summers at Camp Komaroff in Lake Arrowhead. I don't know where the name comes from. But it's burned in my brain, along with the theme song we harmonized at every gathering:

Way up high, Camp Komaroff
Must be the sky, Camp Komaroff
There's a place where magic lives in every tree...

The song had a lot of verses, but that was no problem--by the end of the summer, we had memorized over 50 songs, because singing was a big deal. We sang at meals, on hikes, around the camp fire in the evening. We did a lot of dancing, too--Israeli dancing. I still recall this one dance with a very high side leap, and one time I landed on the edge of my wooden Dr. Scholl's and was in agony for the rest of the night. But I loved the dancing, and I loved our dance leader, David, even more. He played the flute, if I recall correctly, once directly in my ear as I burrowed in my sleeping bag during a marching band wake-up call. You know, camp spirit and all. Round the clock.

It was beautiful up there in the woods, alternately hot and freezing, and incredibly dirty. Our tents had no walls--just cement slabs with a tarp on poles. None of us knew how dirty we were until we got back to civilization, but we were all coated in a thin film of dust--skin, hair, clothes. And there was no laundry. You either swished your stuff around in the bathroom sink periodically, or you wore it dirty. No one cared.

The food was Survivor-like--there wasn't much of it, and it was dubious at best. The only meal I looked forward to was spaghetti, because at least I recognized it. It was not unusual for me to lose 10 or 15 pounds during my stay. One of the summers, some girls and I won a reward challenge and our counselor Glenn took us "into town" in his pick-up truck for ice cream, and said we could have anything. "Anything?" I said, and when he nodded, I ordered a sundae with fudge, marshmallow, butterscotch, caramel, strawberry and pineapple. Then threw up. I don't think I'd had sugar in weeks.

But really, we were too busy to think much about eating. Not with camp-type stuff. When I hear about other people's camps, seems they were doing sports and making crafts and rowing boats and having color wars. Maybe we did a few of those things. For a minute. But mostly I remember singing, dancing and making out. The making out was key. I might make out with three or four boys a session, or I might have one boyfriend the whole time (like when I met Dave Wolfson in the infirmary and we flirted even though we both had stomachaches. Hi, Dave, wherever you are!) The making out was very chaste, because there was no place to sit down that wasn't policed. You couldn't go to your tent, or you'd get busted. It was cold at night. You had to hide in the woods, and there was only so much you could do standing against a tree. People had a lot of hickeys, because the neck was the only body part exposed. That was my experience, anyway. If other people were more resourceful, I didn't hear about it.

On Friday evenings, you put on your least-filthy garments (complicated by the fact that they were supposed to be white, to greet the Sabbath) and waited outside your tent for Norman, the camp director, to come around with his retinue and wish everyone "Shabbat Shalom." Then he kissed us, one by one. Then we all kissed each other. What can I tell you? It wasn't the '70s, but the camp was founded during the era of free love. Everybody was kissing everybody all the time. In fact, the best way to get with someone you'd had your eye on was to wish them a Shabbat Shalom on Friday. Then they had to kiss you, or let you kiss them. Which was an effective way to break the ice, as you might imagine.

Now that we've entered the Age of Facebook (how many more minutes will it endure, I wonder?) it has suddenly become possible to reunite former Komaroffites in one, handy on-line locale. Someone (I think I made out with him, actually) had the idea to create a Camp Komaroff group--this was last summer--and it grew like the dogwoods of which we sang. I think there must be 500 people in this group. Most of them are unfamiliar to me, but some of the names make me smile. Before too long, some of the group's founders had another idea: throw a reunion! And so they did. They've been advertising it for nearly a year now, and this Friday? The time is nigh.

As the sun sets on a beautiful Southern California Shabbat evening, close to a hundred former campers will gather in Long Beach for dinner, singing and dancing. And who knows what else? Probably not making out, since most people will be with partners. There's even a family BBQ scheduled for Saturday, to keep the reunion going for a whole weekend.

I am mighty curious about how this will play out, and a little nervous, too. What if no one talks to me? I had that same worry each summer when my parents dropped me off at the bus that took us up the mountain: what if no talks to me? I will die of loneliness. This time, it's only one night, and we aren't teenagers anymore. This last part is clearly on more minds than just mine, as our last reunion bulletin said:

Let's remember we are all at least 25 years older than the last time we saw each other, so prepare yourself to see fat, bald, gray and old folks. But, our spirits are the same and we can look inside each others' eyes and see the teens and young adults we once were.

Is it just me, or is this incredibly depressing? I think maybe it's Jewish humor (self-deprecation, exaggeration, putting the dagger in the hand of the enemy, yada yada yada) to some extent, but there's a glimmer of sobering truth there.

As for me, I plan to be anything but bald. If all goes well, I'll be rooming with my old pal April, who is just about the chicest person I've ever met, so maybe some of that will rub off on me. She was the girl who brought a 7-product regimen of Erno Lazslo facial products to our sleepovers, and showed us how to scrub our faces with inky black mud soap, and massage various lotions into our pores to insure dewy complexions.

Of course, in those days, we really had no idea what all those products were for, and what exactly our faces needed with them. Now we do. And there's still the damaged little girl inside of me who was crushed to the soul when two nasty camp boys posted their weekly ranking of the "10 Hottest Komaroff Girls" and I was never on it. When I look back at camp photos now, I think what the hell? I was all kinds of hot.

And Friday night? I'm gonna dance, sing, schmooze, and behave like nothing's changed.

But no making out.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Roll Bounce

Just call me Roller Girl. (Not the one from Boogie Nights, though. No porn in this story.)

This morning we went to a birthday party at a nearby roller rink, one I never knew was there. (David and I agreed that the outside was masquerading as a car wash.) The party was for Jazmine's 4th birthday. Jarrah doesn't know Jazmine, and kept asking "When are we going to Aladdin's party?" But Jazmine's mom, Jennifer, is a pal of mine.

We were the first ones there, and a smiling young man welcomed us, asked our shoe size, and confided that Jarrah's skates had been tightened to make them "less roll-y" so she'd be less likely to fall down. Genius. The skates were brown and scuffed, and the air smelled like popcorn and sweat. Heaven. It was no fluke that we were right on time.

I must confess I'd been amped about this party ever since I got the invitation. I was big into roller skating as a teen. I went to a rink in Irvine on Friday nights with my friend Jill, and I'd stand there making sarcastic faces to mask my anguish when boys would ask her to "couples skate," and she'd chirp "No, thank you!" in a way that made me want to smash her.

One time, I met an adorable boy at the rink, and we spent most of the night giggling and flirting. I was over the moon when he asked for my number, and he called me the next night, and we talked for like three hours. And then he called the next night and we talked for like three hours. And the next night. And the next. But he never asked me out. I know I digress, but what the hell? If you are a boy, can you tell me what was going on there? I've already asked David, and he has no clue. After a few weeks of this, I stopped calling him back. Which was cowardly. Now I would just say "So, what's the deal? Are we going out or what?" But back then, I was just a coward.

So I have some fond and fraught adolescent memories of roller rinks. And I have to confess that I was not a little anxious that today--who knows how many years since my last rink outing--I would discover that I couldn't even stand on skates anymore, and would have to stand there clutching the side, my knees as wobbly as a newborn foal.

It was Jarrah's first time rollerskating, but she's been ice skating once, so I think this was a little easier. She stood up immediately, trotted around the carpet, and announced, "I'm good at this!" Down on the rink, it was a different story. The tightened skates made it hard for her to get any momentum. And once we loosened them up, she had a tendency to fling her weight backwards when she panicked, which is an instant ticket to falling. It's hard for people to take advice about what to do when they panic, though, because--let's face it--they're panicking. So she fell a lot.

And eventually, I just let David hold her hand and teeter around the rink. Because I was feeling the need for speed, and I just couldn't ignore it. As the DJ pumped up the Michael Jackson medley, I began to find my groove, and soon I was cruising around that rink with the wind in my hair, pumping through the glide, a bounce in my stride, a little sashay in my hips.

And oh, Readers, did it feel good. I felt 15 again. It was dark in there, with rainbow lights, and when "Off the Wall" came on, if I squinted a bit, it could have been the '80s all over again, and I was as light on my feet as I was then.

And then I stopped squinting, and almost mowed down a few toddlers skating the wrong direction. What? Why are there toddlers in here? Oh right, it's 2009 and this is a 4-year-old's birthday party, and the rink is full of them. And one of them is mine.

But you better believe I skated every minute I could, even the "Hokey Pokey." And worked up an honest sweat doing it. And I didn't have to worry about who would hold my hand during the couples skate. I already had two prospects eager for the job.

And if one of them doesn't ask me out after we chat on the phone, I'll just go home and tell him off.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What You Didn't Know About Dorothy

Jarrah and I bought her Halloween costume yesterday. I've been putting it off, because she keeps changing her mind. "I either want to be Doro-fee, or a cat. Doro-fee, or a zombie." I didn't want to get in a situation where Dorothy was summarily rejected and I had to buy two costumes. Because, Readers? That wasn't actually going to happen.

By some miracle, Target in Grossmont Center had exactly one Dorothy costume left, and it was Jarrah's size. More or less. Better a bit big than a bit small, right? When we got home, she wanted to try it on. "This is going to itch," I warned, noting the netted underskirt and the velcro closure. But she didn't complain. Wore it all afternoon, in fact.

Today, she asked to put it on again. And seems even more delighted. Just now, I walked by the living room, and she was spinning in circles, because it makes the dress "go way up." And here's what she told me:

The dress has rainbows, Mama. Which makes me Rainbow Girl. That means I have rainbow powers. My dress shoots rainbows, which makes the bad guys...fall asleep.

Leave it to Jarrah to make a superhero out of Dorothy. Come to think of it, she had powers last year, too, when she was a mean witch ("only mean witches have powers. Nice ones don't".) And even the year before, when she was a bee.

Jerry Seinfeld's Got Nothin' On Me

Yesterday was my dad's birthday, and I gave him a call. After a bit of birthday-related chit-chat, he said:

Dad: I hear that you had a wonderful time on your vacation.

Sam: Yes, we did. It was really beautiful.

Dad: You know, your mother is a big fan of your blog.

Sam: (surprised, pleased) No, I didn't know that.

Dad: Oh yeah, she reads it all the time. Every day. She's your biggest fan, in fact.

Sam: My biggest fan. Hmmm.

(Suddenly I can hear my mother talking in the background.)

Mom: I read it sometimes. Every now and then. For the pictures.


Slowly but surely, we're inserting photos into the Idaho/Wyoming/Montana posts. So if you want to see what we were seeing in "My Own Private Idaho" and "Hay and Antlers," those are up now.

I took the photos of the anthropomorphic potatoes for obvious reasons, but the huckleberry products were a theme throughout our trip. Seems all three states (and who knows how many others?) claim the modest huckleberry as their State Berry. We saw jam, of course, but also salad dressing, shampoo, syrup, you name it. Also I adored the tidy little Idaho Falls gift shop, which was just a glass counter in the terminal without a soul within a 50 foot radius. I couldn't have bought those potatoes if I'd tried.

Amongst the photos of Jackson Hole, the most intriguing are the Arch of Antlers (apparently these are collected by local boy scouts on a regular basis) and the Thai Me Up restaurant. I think that wins for Best Use Of Word Play In An Asian Restaurant Name. Unless you want to contradict me, which is fine.

I snapped the landscape shots from the car window (as if you didn't know) between Idaho Falls and Jackson. As I mentioned, most of the fields had recently been harvested for hay.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Deck The Halls

As if there wasn't enough going on during my vacation, what with the snow and bears and the road closures, there was also some drama involving...drama. I found out shortly before I left that I was going to miss the auditions and first rehearsal for the next play, and that made me sad. I contacted the director, and he invited me to a "pre-audition read-through" at his house. When I got there, I was quite surprised to see a crowd. There was even pizza. And danish. It ended up being a lot of fun, since we switched off reading the many parts--I even got to read some of the men. The rationale behind the gender-bending would become clear later on.

From there, I just had to trust that I'd be remembered come casting-time, since I was several states away and buried in goose down at the time. I received a cryptic e-mail from Dave the director to call him when I returned, but when I pressed him in a (hysterical) follow-up e-mail, he reassured me that I'd been cast. Whew! That was very happy news, the icing on the vacation cake. The sprinkles arrived in the form of the cast itself, which is comprised almost entirely of people I know well (can you believe this will be my FIFTH show with this group?) and a good portion of them veterans of our 48 Hour Film Project triumph from this summer. I tell you, it warms my frosty little heart.

And speaking of frosty, this play is a Christmas show. That's right, yours truly--Nice Jewish Girl Extraordinaire--will be decorating a tree on stage, something I have never done in real life. Should I be watching instructional videos for verisimilitude? The show has Christmas right in the name--A Tuna Christmas. No, the play is not about the fishing industry, but rather about a small town in Texas called Tuna. Here's the description from the official website:

Seasons Greeting from A Tuna Christmas, the hilarious sequel to the hit comedy, Greater Tuna, starring the original cast, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. Come spend the holidays with all your old favorite citizens of Tuna, Texas and make some new friends while you're there. Master comedians Sears and Williams, along with some split-second costume changes, portray all 24 citizens of Texas' third smallest town, where the Lion's Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.This time, it's 24 hours before Christmas and all comic hell is about to break loose as the delightfully eccentric characters attempt to cope with seasonal traumas such as a disaster prone little theatre production of A Christmas Carol, and a yard decorating contest that is being sabotaged by a mysterious Christmas phantom! Bring the whole family and join in the holiday fun!

I'm glad about the "bring the whole family" part, as Jarrah would not take kindly to being barred from this show after attending all four nights of Moliere this summer. Just don't tell her that I'm playing a slutty waitress (also a sullen daughter of a larger-than-life mother of three. Notice I am playing the DAUGHTER, not the mother.)

I've been to one rehearsal so far, and it was mostly a thrill, since we are already on stage and working out blocking. That has never happened to me before; usually, we spend weeks out on the porch or in the kitchen with an assistant director, but this time we are taking the scenes in order.

So far I've only been daughter Charlene, and my mother is a giant man in drag. When I play waitress Inita Goodwin (pronounced "I-needa-good-one") my best friend and slutty waitress-in-crime will be...another man in drag. So much for my passionate speeches to David about feeling the girl power and working with women on this show. But it's going to be very funny.

My only trepidation thus far arrived in the form of a costuming discussion with the director after rehearsal last time. See, apparently Dave sees both my characters as VERY, VERY...buxom? Curvy? Zaftig?

Well, I'll just quote him: "I need you HUGE." So, after all my hard work to look THINNER on stage, I will be PADDED this time. With pillows, or stuffing, or who-knows-what. That gives me pause.

A couple of my loyal pals remarked "Hey, look on the bright side. He's not saying you're exactly the size he's looking for right NOW."

That is a comfort. But I'm still trying to see myself waddling around the stage while stuffing cookies in my mouth. Or being called "Moose" by one of my patrons. Hmmm. Vanity: I release you now. Be gone.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Long And Winding Road

On the plane from Billings to Denver. It's very crowded, lots of squawking babies. Mmmm, my favorite. Luckily, it's not a long flight.

We had a decent night at the Billings Crowne Plaza, “the tallest free-standing brick building in the world.” How's that for bragging rights? It had really nice QUEEN beds. And free wi-fi. The best part (in Jarrah's world) was the flat-screen TV. She screamed “YAY!” at the top of her lungs and did a little happy dance when we opened the door. This same kid refused to even LOOK UP from her iTouch game when a bison practically stuck his nose in her window.

We didn't see much of Billings because we didn't get there until after 8:00. We had dinner downtown at The Soup Place, which was absolutely delightful and had the yummiest food, including maybe the best chicken noodle soup I've ever had (barring the stuff my friend Beth made me after my surgery in 2003. Let's give credit where credit is due.) Our waiter was an adorable self-described “Montana boy” who blushed with pleasure when I complimented the soup, and chit-chatted with us a bit about the local wildlife. He said that occasionally bears can be seen strolling the streets of Billings, looking for snacks. No offense, Billings, but calling all bears: You can do better in Yellowstone.

Lots of driving yesterday. We knew that was going to happen, but still. We drove (and stopped) all day in the park, and finally programmed the GPS for Billings about 5:00 p.m. Three hours! The first stretch, to Livingston, was gorgeous, with snow-capped mountains, and fields of cows and horses (and what I thought were gazelles—Cute Waiter said they would have been antelope.) I kept yelling “The sky is HUGE here!” just because I know it annoys David when I claim Montana truly is Big Sky Country. But that's what I believe, and he's not going to talk me out of it.

From Livingston, the road was dark and dull, and I was driving. Shortly before Billings, we started to see lights, which turned out to be refineries, spewing smoke into the pristine air. From the 20th floor of the Crowne Plaza, it was clear that refineries of various sorts are the main attraction in Billings. David told me that this morning when Jarrah opened the curtains, she crowed “Look, Daddy! GEYSERS!” Hee.

I was a bit agitated when the day began. We'd been told we'd need a ranger escort to travel from West Thumb to Lake, due to a recent fire in that area. The first posted opportunity was 6-8, which was out of the question, but the next was 12-1, which seemed like a late-ish start, particularly since we had to back-track due to another road closure. And we were hoping the Geyser Gods would grace us with a full showing of Old Faithful, since we had yet to experience that. I was nervous about getting to West Thumb in time, thinking we'd be trapped in Yellowstone forever otherwise.

After breakfast, we felicitously wandered into the middle of the Old Faithful Inn tour, and though Jarrah was the only kid on it, she was surprisingly well-behaved. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, having written the only biography of Robert Reamer, the inn's architect, and I really liked her style. Having done my own research on 19th century American tourism, I liked seeing one of the original rooms (no plumbing, of course, and log walls) and learning about the wealthy early guests who all sat down to dinner together, and danced in the lobby after. I was glad we were able to squeeze in this little history lesson.

After, we were able to pack the car and run outside in time for Old Faithful, and we even got a front-row seat (yes, there are seats.) And sure enough, it went off only 4 minutes after the predicted time. It shoots for less than a minute, making it maybe the world's shortest show, but it was awfully cool. It felt right to conclude our stay this way—minutes later, we were checked out and on the road to West Thumb.

And for all my hand-wringing, the timing was a non-issue. We sailed through the junction at West Thumb and soon were hugging Lake Yellowstone on our way north. A bunch of people were stopped on the roadside and—knowing the drill now—we joined them. OMIGOD! A bald eagle at the top of the tree! Seriously, I have never seen one before, and I was in awe. We stayed until it flew away, and then continued on to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel.

I wanted to stop there for two reasons: one, I'd read it was the only dining room still open in the park (except for ours) and two, the hotel is even older than Old Faithful, putting it architecturally in the same period as the Catskills resorts that I've studied. Sure enough, it was a very Victorian yellow wood building with a wide, sweeping veranda, and the dining room was light and airy, perfect for people-watching. We enjoyed our lunch—the best of the trip, in my opinion. My sandwich was grilled organic cheddar, slivers of Granny Smith, watercress and curry butter on cracked wheat. Oh, I'm getting hungry again just thinking about it.

Next we continued north to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I was a little skeptical about the grandness, since I've seen the one in Arizona, and another in Kauai. But this one did not disappoint. I think it was the most beautiful scenery we saw in Yellowstone, and that's saying something. Because of Jarrah's aversion to hiking, we didn't try any of the trails, but we did take a short walk off of North Rim Dr. (a loop road) to observation decks at Grand View, Lower Falls and Inspiration Point. At Inspiration Point, you descend some stairs and stand on a deck over the canyon, which actually feels pretty safe. What did not seem safe was looking across the canyon (which feels vertiginous even to the eyes) and spotting a tiny, rickety-looking staircase built into the cliff, with ant-like people standing at the end of it. It made me shiver just to look at them. At the bottom of the canyon, stained orange and red from the geyser bacterial deposits (that sounds icky, but bacteria is the reason for the striking colors in Yellowstone phenomena), a turquoise river runs through it. I would have been happy to hike around there all afternoon, but the road called.

Back in the car, we wended our way through the Norris Geyser Basin without stopping, but now started to spot the wildlife we were beginning to think everyone else was making up. We saw several clusters of bison, and at least two only a couple feet from the road. I remarked that they looked incredibly healthy, all clean and fluffy and plump, which I guess is what happens when you have a whole National Park to yourself. We saw the back of a retreating wolf, too, by following the photogs. We saw a couple herds of elk. I thought I saw a black bear down by a river, but it was on the other side—could have been a thirsty bison. In any case, we became hyper-alert to the roadside as we drove, expecting new delights around every corner.

Eventually we reached Mammoth Hot Springs, the last settlement in Yellowstone (by the north entrance) where we'd been told that the geothermal attractions were like no other. I'm not sure if I was jaded by this point or what, but a short stroll and a slightly longer loop road (more like a path that barely fit our car) failed to excite me (and believe me, I'm easily excited.) A lot of the terrain seemed white and ashy, like a recent fire site, but we only saw a few patches of the crystal-like terraces, weeping with color. I was puzzling over why all the guidebooks describe this spot as a must-see as we headed down a little hill into the town of Mammoth Springs, and here I fell in love again, just as I'd done in West Yellowstone, only for different reasons.

Mammoth Springs contains a hotel, some cabins, a visitor center, a restaurant and precious little else, but the whole collection is arranged prettily around a big lawn and nestled into a tiny valley between mountains. The buildings are Victorian style (I think faux-Victorian, but still) and in the middle of it all? A large herd of elk, strolling and lounging between the buildings, only inches away from the folks snapping their pictures. One large buck with the most amazing antlers actually seemed to be posing, turning slightly so we could get him from different angles. I told David I could imagine staying there sometime, which I think he found odd of me.

I felt wistful about driving out of the park, but it was time. It was only five miles to the northern entrance at Gardiner, Montana, another wild-west town, but not as homey (in my limited exposure from the car) as West Yellowstone. I was mighty curious about the folks we saw congregating—in swimsuits!--down at “Lava Creek” as we drove away from Mammoth. Since it was only in the '40s outside, I can only imagine that the creek must be bubbling with warmth. Perhaps we'll find out on another trip.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Have A Nice Day

We are home. I still have one more trip post, coming later today, and--of course--photos. Which will happen. It's not just a myth.

I thought I'd share my little brush with bureaucracy from yesterday afternoon in the airport. Now, some of you may know that I am a veteran of the international adoption process. Some of you may even know what that entails. Either way, I'm here to tell you that I'm deeply familiar with the sharp inhalation coupled with a long, slow shake of the head that is the most typical response to any question that seems:

1. difficult to accomplish
2. hard to understand
3. lengthy, thus requiring more than 10 seconds of attention
4. not personally beneficial to the listener
5. requires operations such as crossing the room, or pressing a button on a computer

Not only do I know this, I consider myself a seasoned professional at handling this response. There was a time when I got the inhalation/head shake in a County Records office where--one day before--I'd gotten cheerful, immediate compliance. The request involved applying an ink stamp to a piece of paper. I remember that I raised my voice--only slightly--and with a steely smile spake thusly:

"Please listen carefully to what I'm about to say. I have already been to this office, and already gotten a 'yes' where you are telling me 'no.' So, just so we understand each other, I am not leaving this spot until you give me what I want. I will keep asking to speak to someone else until my request is granted, and I will do this all morning if necessary, and I will do it with a smile. I will not back down, go away or change my mind. There is only this piece of paper that stands between me and becoming a mother, and your resistance is not going to break me. I will overcome."

And she did it. How's that for can-do spirit? I like to think of those happy times as my first test of parenthood. And I think I rocked the bell curve.

The lady in the airport Lost and Found had no idea what a formidable opponent she faced when she buzzed me through her door. I had received a call in Jackson Hole from a man in the same office who told me my Kindle had been found. He asked when I could pick it up, and I told him Sunday. I asked if he'd be there, and he said no--but Joanne would. That's all I was told. It's all I figured I needed I know.

Now here I was:

Sam: Hi, are you Joanne?

Joanne: Yes. How can I help you?

Sam: I'm here to pick up my Kindle, which I left in a security bin a few days ago.

Joanne: (doing the inhalation/slow head shake thing) Ohhhh, I don't know. I doubt I can find that.

Sam: What? Can't you just look?

Joanne: I need the property number.

Sam: I don't have a property number. The man I spoke to didn't give me one.

Joanne: Who was this man?

Sam: I don't know him. When he said he wasn't going to be here today, I asked for your name. That's how I knew it.

Joanne: I think you're going to have to come back Tuesday, when he's here.

Sam: Tuesday! Can't you just look (trying to peer behind her head, where there was clearly a closet full of stuff)?

Joanne: Not without a property number.

Sam: Really? It's a Kindle. That's an electronic book, with a black...

Joanne: I know what a Kindle is. I have one.

Sam: Okay, can you see if there's one in back?

Joanne: Not without a property number.

Sam: Is there anything else you can check?

Joanne: I think you should just come back Tuesday, since that other guy knows more about it.

Sam: But he told me about YOU. That's how I know your NAME.

Joanne: I don't know...I don't think so...what day did this happen?

Sam: Tuesday, September 29, about 9:30 a.m.

Joanne: I don't know...(pulling massive, six-inch thick binder from beneath desk)...I don't think so...(opening book to September 29 and scanning down orderly list with finger)...I have a feeling this won't help....(finger alights on item KINDLE-BOOK-WHITE)...I don't know (points to property number next to item and then writes it down on another piece of paper)...this probably won't work...(walks to back room and returns with Kindle, encased in plastic)...I don't know...this could be yours....but I don't know (pulls another massive binder from beneath desk, opens to item, retrieves form with the report about my Kindle on it)...I need you to fill this out completely...

Sam: (snatching Kindle) Okay. (noting that I have to list my address, phone number, weight, height, family history, employment records, bank statements, references from former teachers, blood type, and degree of brownie chewiness preference on this form, but stifling EVERY SCREAMING URGE to ask why any of this is relevant)

Joanne: And I need your driver's license.


Joanne: Thank you. Have a nice day.

Sam: Thank YOU. (turns to go, realizing door is locked, waiting with heart-pounding to be buzzed out, and then practically running into the hallway, Kindle clutched to my chest)

And that, Dear Readers, is how I rescued my Kindle from the fire-breathing dragon of institutional non-policy. It's resting now and doing fine. It appreciates your kind wishes, and in lieu of flowers, requests that you send donations to the Fund for San Diego Government Employees, to get them a better coffee maker.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

It's Not Really The Apocalypse, It's Yellowstone

Right now we are recovering from an adventure-filled day before our dinner reservation downstairs, and I hope we get to sit near the fire. We did a lot of walking today and I feel chilled through. Jarrah is in the bath and David is trying to get to the next level of an iPod game. And me? I'm blogging, of course. Because I'm obsessed with documenting every minute of this trip, apparently.

Which is why I must correct an omission from yesterday. When we got to our room, there was a plush wolf on the bed, encased in some plastic explaining something or other. Which of course Jarrah didn't care about. She'd found her new best friend. The fine print explained that by leaving the room with the wolf, you are agreeing to purchase it, and “a portion” of the proceeds benefit wildlife somehow. I hate it when they say “a portion.” It could be 10 cents. Anyway, the deal was sealed, and Wolfie has been with us ever since. He goes to meals, in the car, even on walks if we don't forbid it up front. I've taken to calling him “Volfie,” like Mozart's wife does in Amadeus. He's cute, but I'm sure he'll be abandoned like all the rest as soon as we get home. Enjoy your 15 minutes, Wolfie.

We have learned that many of the connecting roads through Yellowstone are already, ominously, closed for the season or for repairs, which suggests that tomorrow we'll be driving for 20 hours, in big circles, trying to get to Montana. I'm a little nervous about this, yet it's a testament to today's lovely sights that I'm also excited to see new parts of the park. Today we took the western route from Old Faithful, which travels through the village of Madison on the way to the park's western entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana (which, confusingly, is not in Yellowstone.) The distance was a scant 30 miles, but between stops, excursions and detours (planned ones) we were driving most of the day. The roads here are so pleasant and scenic, though, we hardly mind it.

Today dawned bright and sunny, though still witch's tit freezing, and we were glad to see the blues and greens of the park, and not just the grays. It had been a hard night—once again, I hardly slept, and there was a cacophony of coughing. I felt like I'd been slapped around without dinner first when Jarrah said it was time to rise and shine. The breakfast buffet was certainly ample, but it wasn't Jackson Lake quality. I think we were feeling a little too full the whole day. We hit the road about 10:00 and it wasn't long before we reached Midway Geyser Basin. In addition to the smoldering pits of the Old Faithful trail, there were massive crystal pools the color of opals and tourmalines, which are around 160 degrees and seem to descend to the center of the earth. In the cold air, the pools were billowing steam and mist so high they blocked out the sun. I told David later that driving through Yellowstone is like seeing the most gorgeous scenery on earth directly after the apocalypse. There are tall trees and snow-capped mountains and verdant meadows...and bare stretches billowing with smoke. We had a lovely ½ mile walk around the raised boardwalk while Jarrah kvetched constantly that she was tired. How is it that the child can literally run up and down a beach for six hours with 10 pound buckets of sand, but the second her sneakers cross the trailhead on a parent-enforced hike, she's exhausted? I ask purely for information.

Our next excursion was a loop road off the beaten path called Firehole Lake Drive (there were many references to the Firehole today, and I must say they all made me wince) wherein we were able to see scads of geysers without leaving the car. In fact, we saw our first unscheduled explosion—the Pink Cone Geyser—going crazy about a foot from our window, and that was really thrilling. (Unfortunately, I didn't realize David was filming until I'd already said something untoward about the spectacle, quite audibly.)

From that detour, we doubled back briefly to the bubbling fields known as the Fountain Paint Pots, and that was all kinds of cool. Everything seemed about ready to blow wherever we looked, and one geyser, The Red Spouter, was making noise that sounded like a Zambonie. The paint pots themselves bubbled very agreeably, and one of the geysers—I believe called the Clepstyra—was hurtling towards the sky when we encountered it. I find it so mind-boggling when this is happening, but I know David is a little disappointed to keep missing the beginning of the eruptions, which he thinks may be the best part.

We continued through Madison, and right after, spotted a crowd of people by the roadside with giant lenses. The next thing we saw was a herd of elk. We skidded to a stop to watch them—most of them were just chilling on their bellies in the grass, and we only saw one buck with huge antlers. But it was an amazing sight, even once we learned that this particular herd makes this particular meadow their home. I had just been speculating that we were going to to leave Yellowstone without a good look at the locals, so I was happy to be proved wrong.

From there, it was a very short way to the West Entrance, and we noted with consternation that we were leaving the park, having paid $25 to enter and forgotten our receipt to re-enter. Oh, well. I took a gamble on the way back and asked the (yet another) adorable ranger if they had credit card records, and she smiled and waved us through. It was so nice of her to do that on faith that I instantly felt guilty and wished we had offered to pay again. What is wrong with me?

And now we were in downtown West Yellowstone, and I was instantly in love. Like Jackson, there was a lot of stylized “old west”-type architecture, with rough logs and advertisements for bison hides and cowboy boots. If anything, it felt even more striving and tacky. But there were also a couple teeny community theaters, independent bookstores and coffee shops, and a Yellowstone cultural museum on the site of an old railroad station that featured every single china pattern of all the railroad lines that used to service Yellowstone. The main street had blinking red lights instead of actual stops, and the candy store offered chunks of just-pulled taffy to Jarrah. We ate some half-way decent barbecue in a place with no pretensions whatsoever and a table of guys in camouflage who ended every sentence with “man.” What really sealed my love was the public library, where I went to steal their Wi-Fi, flooded with natural light, delicious-looking books and lots of overstuffed chairs and couches. I am a sucker for libraries.

We took a leisurely route home, including a detour through some sheer cliffs with rolling white water at the base, and stopped to visit the elks again. This time they were more active, and one of them let a gaggle of photographers who were up in their faces know who was boss. It was funny to see them grabbing their tripods and backing away in a hurry. A talkative, maybe lonely guy, offhandedly complimented my parenting, which at the moment consisted of explaining to Jarrah that if she followed her desire to run down the hill and play with the elk, she might get squished. Turns out he works at a “raptor” rehab facility in Washington (silly me—I heard “raptor” and immediately went Jurassic Park in my mind) and had some harrowing tales of youngsters who messed with bald eagles and lived to regret it.

We had plans to do more trails on the way home, but it was mighty cold and I knew we'd be hearing from Jarrah the whole time. So we ended up back at our place, arriving—once again—in mid-geyse. We got some ice cream cones in the deli and took them to the balcony, where there were actually three open seats with a view. We ate ice cream, listening to the piano and the crackling fire. It was the right choice.

Dinner at the famous OF dining room was tasty (the Roasted Red Pepper and Smoked Gouda soup was sublime), but David and I are feeling the need for food detox at this point. A week of watercress soup is calling to me. I'm hoping we all sleep better tonight, with far less coughing.