Monday, March 23, 2009

the post that was longer than the trip, part three (you could read the bible in less time)

PART III: The Reunion:

Anyway Amy, when I opened my eyes the next morning, I gazed upon Maria's oh-so-familiar photographs and all the knick knack paddy whack that she has had since I was little. We were really there. And in two short hours we would be immersed in Wilhelms. I sprang from her bed and jerked on my children as if it were christmas morning. Quinn and Reilly and my mom are the quintessential sleeper-inners, which I can scarcely tolerate in real life, but on this day, it was simply not to be borne.

(Interjection: christmas eve, 2008, the kids and I slept in the living room, wiggling with excitement over, I am proud to say, the gifts we were giving. Around 7:00am my text notifier went off so many times my phone practically burst into flames. Everyone on earth was wishing us merry christmas, and by 8:00, most people's kids had opened their toys and my mama friends were trying to nestle into the wrapping paper wasteland to steal a nap. But not my kids. They slept until almost noon. Since when does a mom have to wake her kids up on christmas??? My brother was calling to say, "Um, are you guys coming?" Even my mom, who is practically a vampire, began calling, anxious. So that gives a little broader landscape of trying to do anything in the morning.)

I decided to eat most of Maria's avocados and take a shower. You know how other people's showers make absolutely no sense? Well they're geniuses compared to her shower. She has one of those claw-footed tubs (ooh la la right?) with this odd visqueen curtain separated into like 75 strips, but no opening where you need to actually enter the shower, nor so much as a slit allowing a person to reach the five-tiered rack just outside the shower, which holds shampoo, something I feel is vital when showering. Both knobs dispersed hot and cold water, and by knobs I mean knob, since one was missing. Maria was in the mansion, where I assumed the shower was voice activated, so there I was, naked, alone, trying to scratch my way into a spray that could only be scalding or frigid. But what care I for comfort when there are Wilhelms to be had? After my shower I gave another futile shout to my slumbering brood and set about to rifle through my suitcase and see if any of my clothes had magically transformed in the night into something that would make me seem thin. The closest I came to realizing that fantasy was my beautiful, shocking red blouse from Torrid that my mom bought me for $7,900 a few months before I lost 50 lbs. It's way too big now. I wondered, "Will that suffice for looking thinner?" Maria later said no, with a bit of a chortle. B had come the night before we left and packed my outfits because packing causes paralysis for me. If she says, "Hey, come this weekend and help us paint, and only paint, and go nowhere, bring paint clothes!" I stand at my closet, fondling my cashmere sweater "just in case," trying to justify packing jeans, imagining which eye shimmer will match the brand new shirt I was specifically ordered not to bring. Seriously, it's agony. I just know if I pack some grimy-ass painting frock, I will be pulled over, covered in paint, unshowered, with no bra, and my infamous crack whore circles under my eyes, pleading with the officer to believe that I am not on drugs, nor a battered wife, working in that I have a 4.0 GPA in college. Also, we never just stay at the Kinch Compound (where they bind and torture me, Mom, hee hee). Someone always breaks the pact and I end up in some ill-fitting gypsy relic, splattered with could-be-puke, could-be-anything, at Safeway, where we run into Heather, in her size 2-ness, glowing skin, rich, vibrant hair, trademark smile. No this really happened, and she literally gasped, and squeezed her husband's arm. I'm so not kidding. But Jesus, is this a post about Salem or Santa Cruz? No matter, it's all for Amy, so suck it.

I don't remember what I wore because I donned my cop-out new white pea coat that B made me buy, and due to two unforeseen circumstances, to be specified later, I wore it until bedtime. Finally my ridiculous mother and children were up and moving. At one point, while traversing the dollhouse-sized footprint of my cousin's house, Mom and I ended up in the kitchen, facing each other, and we sort of locked eyes and realized that telling your guests you have no coffee maker at 9pm, is really different than those guests waking up to the bleak reality of there actually being no coffee maker. Suddenly Mom was herding my kids with a cattle prod because damn, if we didn't find a Starbucks soon, well, this needn't be a horror story. Mind you, we can barely find the driveway in Santa Cruz, so I had to rely on Maria to lead us to Starbucks, wait for (I'm not kidding) 42 minutes, and then onto my uncle Eric's to see everyone! I realize I am embarrassingly prone to tangents, but in the interest of being informative, can I just say that everything in California costs quadruple what we pay in Oregon? And not just houses (they're quintuple). On the trip, we ordered the same four drinks at every stop and it came to ten dollars every time. But at the 41st Street Mall on Soquel Drive, between Gottschalk's and the bus depot, an Americano, a house coffee, and two small kid drinks cost $24.00. And the fuckers were out of half and half too, and by the time I got back to the car, which was practically parked in Capitola, my family were octogenarians, and I was bitter as hell. Thankfully, my hostility and threatening anti-corporation rant gave way to a state of physical excitement I can only liken to a Pomeranian, maybe when it's humping your leg.

Let me just say I am so tired of hearing my own narrative in my head, I am going to try to wrap this segment up succinctly yet without causing you (Amy) whiplash.

We arrived at Eric's, there was nowhere to park, no obvious entrance, and not a relative in sight. I pretty much said 'fuck it,' killed the engine, and trembled through the wheelchair-strewn garage to the long-awaited door (eek!).

(Santa Cruz was having, literally, an historic torrential rain storm that weekend, so, yeah, my hair...)

We burst through the door and my eyes can barely scan the number people before me. I was at once frozen and rushing the crowd, so eager to throw my arms arms around each and every one of them (and later eat them of course), I don't even remember how the hugging began. I believe I was greeted first by my supremely beloved aunt Caci, whom I had not seen in ten years. I love her beyond words, and being face-to-face with her didn't last long. I enveloped her (she's one of the shorter Wilhelms) for hours and hours, making up for ten long years of unbearable distance. She's the sort of person whose love is so strong if you stand still you can feel it all the way in Oregon. Next I glimpsed my uncles Eric, David, and Raj (Caci's husband--I'll explain the names shortly), along with my brother Sky and aunt Virginia, sitting around the dining room table. I would have slid onto the table as if it were home base, and been grasped and mauled by loving arms, but alas, these were the men folk, so I went around and hugged each one in the traditional manner. It had been seven years since seeing my mom's younger brothers David and Eric, eleven years since seeing Raj, and a year and a half since seeing Sky. (But don't be fooled, his was the best and most coveted hug. I'm kind of a loudmouth, and there's something about being embraced by my towering big brother that words can't describe.) Next up was David's wife Virginia, beloved, amazing mama of four, whose talents and drive make me look like an invalid. Three people said I looked amazing, an opinion which, even if true, absolutely never translates to photographs, so you will just have to take their word for it. Someone said "stunning," Caci said "movie star," and I also heard "oh my god, all grown up!" Later I found out the white coat created a sort of smoke and mirrors effect, but you know, whatever bitches, it's my praise and I'm keeping it.

My mom with her four gradkids: Oren, Quinn, Reilly, and Wyatt:

Reilly and Oren (7)--here comes trouble!

Quinn in a racing wheelchair:

Mom and Wyatt (6):

Donna, Cat, and Maria:

Just like Wink and Spoons, it wouldn't be a reunion without acupuncture (my cousin Jonah was teaching the littler kids how to kill themselves on some ramp and broke his ankle or something):

Sky, Mom, and me:

Sky and me:

Somehow Reilly in the wheelchair looked more like a chariot (with Quinn, Oren, and Gabriela):

Spoons finalists Maria, Maria's thong, Raj, and Cat:

Luca. Yum:

Our magnificent hosts, Eric and Francisca:

Some of the womenfolk I managed to wrangle into a photo, including myself (l-r: Reilly, me, Caci, Virginia, Francisca, Cat, Gabriela, Emilie, Mom):

I got more men to cooperate than I expected to (l-r: Joe, Eric, Raj, Oren, Sky, Wyatt, David, the twins, up top, Jacob and Zach, and Joshua):

The siblings, minus Daniel (in order of birth: Donna, Caci, Mom, David, and Eric):

Here's some insight: Caci's given name was Catherine Rose, but when she became a Krsna devotee in her 20's she was renamed Catura (pronounced Cha-TU-ra), which somehow became Caci (CHA-chee). Her husband was born Raymond, and his devotee name is (god help me spell this) Rajendrenendrene, which, fucking of course became Raj in three seconds. No disprespect you know, I'm just saying, I don't really have time to be all, "Hey Rajendrenendrene." My brain gets stuck and I want to say Rajendrenendrenendrenendrenen..." You get it. So they're Caci and Raj, and their son is Aja.

When I had caught my breath from man handling the adults, it was time to ferret out all the cousins I knew were lurking about. Eric's house is a bit of a labyrinth so I set out to find my boys. Within moments I was wrapped around Nik like a boa constrictor, and shockingly, I was taller than he. His dad is Eric, the tallest member of the family at 6'6" I think, so I was surprised that 22 year old Nik didn't get the crazy height. But in walked Jonah, Nik's younger brother, who um, did get the height. All of it. A strapping, shy, 6'4", Jonah hugged me and smiled, like they all did, remembering how I kissed them within inches of their lives until I had my own babies. Suddenly my eyes locked on my precious, wonderful Joseph. I spent the most time with him as a baby/toddler/kid/young man, and my heart almost couldn't contain the emotion I felt. To be sure, I hadn't totally floated off the earth, for I did notice immediately that Jo-fus (as he used to call himself at age one) hadn't grown much at all since I saw him when he was 15. Interesting. So Eric's and David's eldest sons are pretty average but both their second-borns are 6'4". This was fascinating for me because a) I was changing all their diapers yesterday, and b) height is sort of a sense of pride for us. Eric is the king and I am the queen. I talked to Jo-fus for a long time, and he smiled all the while. All the boys have a tender bashfulness that just makes you want to pinch them, or commit some other such violence in the name of love. His eyes sparkle just like his dad's (David), and I seriously wanted to squeeze his cheeks and kiss him on the mouth. Thankfully, a surge of reason prevented me from essentially molesting him, and the rest of them. Soon Izaak made his way through (Eric's youngest, and the cousin I know the least), and hugged me with that same smile that's going to get all these boys married in the next five minutes. Izaak's counterpart, cousin-wise, and age-wise (they're all 16), are David's twins, Jacob and Zachary, who opted to stay home and work on some school project. I ordered David and Virginia to scold them and shame them with the harrowing tale of our 15 hour drive, and to get their A+ asses here the next day or there would be hell to pay.

My sweet Joe:

Aja, who was reluctant to pose, which the camera captured. His beauty defies words:

(OMG I'm going have to post my installments in installments. I'm embarrassed at how my overly loquacious tendencies increase exponentially when the theme of my story is based on sentiment.)

My grandparents had six children. Three daughters, followed by three sons. Donna, Caci, my mom Jess, Daniel, David, and Eric. Between them, they had Maria, Cat, Sky, me, and then ten years later, Nik, Joseph, my brother Chris, Aja, Matthew, Jonah, Izaak, Jacob, and Zach. Since the Fab Four are so much older (Maria is 42, and Zach is 16, but we're all first cousins), there are seven great grandchildren; Max, Gabriela, Quinn, Reilly, Oren, Wyatt, and Luca. You can't fathom how delicious each of these people is. I could spend a week alone with every single member of my family. And since Air Supply is playing as I type, I'm going to make it a month. The only relatives not in attendance were Chris, Matthew, who was with friends and whose cell phone was lost, and my uncle Daniel, my mom's precious Irish twin, first born son, and unfortunately, Ohio resident. But there were plenty of others to sift through, and I basically wove in and out of them all day in a haze. I decided I was never leaving Santa Cruz. The best memories of my childhood were tagging along with Maria and Cat, and I want that for Quinn and Reilly.

Some of the highlights from that Saturday (as if anything could compete with being called a movie star) were:

Seeing Nik and Joe with beers and giving them a puzzled look. I certainly didn't care, and we're a pretty loose family, but their openness surprised me. I looked at Joe quizzically and he shot me a look that engulfed me with embarrassment. Um, duh, they're all 22 or 23 and can drink freely, lol.

Seeing my cousin Aja for the first time since he was ten, having him turn around and pierce my soul with his eyes, and we were instant soul mates. We hugged for an hour and I cried. We just totally clicked, and oh my god he's gorgeous.

Eric's wife took Caci and Quinn and me out to get burgers, even though Caci is obviously vegetarian. I wanted to be respectful, but neither of us knew how to navigate SC so Francisca hauled our sorry asses around. After grabbing Hula Burgers and p-l-e-n-t-y of beer, we returned to the hacienda. Despite the nearly-insulting clarity with which I ordered Quinn's buger (ketchup, mustard, and pickles ONLY), it was covered in mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and cheese. Fuck. A. Duck. I couldn't go back and exchange it, and mayonnaise is fucking vile, how was I supposed to get that shit off? And why am I talking like Jules from Pulp Fiction again? So who appears from the crowd to save the day? Caci. She scraped everything off his burger, we switched his bun with mine (even though it had mayo molecules on it, blech), and voila! A plain burger. Quinn was really impressed that his auntie, whose deep religious convictions regarding the consumptions of meat are legendary, would get so intimate with his burger to fix it. I loved that he appreciated that.

Eric works for a specialty wheelchair company, so all the kids were riding in wheelchairs all day. Is it wrong to think that's cute? Both my kids fell on their backs, because these are racing wheelchairs and you have to lean forward.

Cat (Catherine, named for Caci, then became Catarina when she married Brasilian-born Gustavo and everyone suddenly began speaking Portuguese, though we still call her Cat. Confused?) walked in and I was so excited I almost peed my pants. She's the same, just like Maria. I would have squeezed her harder but I would have broken her bones. She and Maria got the coveted skinny gene from Donna, and they are all size 2, even though Cat just had Luca. She didn't have the baby with her because he's so super busy, into everything. Gustavo brought him later. But she did have Gabriela, who is four mos. older than Quinn, his height, brown and beautiful, and such a sweetheart.

Remember (if you haven't died from this story yet) that the whole reason we went was because Reilly had her heart set on seeing Sky's boys, Oren and Wyatt? Once my kids made their way through the throng of less familiar faces, they found the boys and then the four of them were like Velcro. Reilly and Oren are a year apart, and particularly close, and similar. Little fire crackers who never stop running, competitive, intense, instigators, and also can't stop hugging and hanging on each other. They're both the "tough ones" at home, so it melts my heart to see them so affectionate with each other.

Reilly was a baby last time she saw Gabriela, whereas we see Oren and Wyatt a couple times a year, so Reilly was a little shy with her and kind of stuck with Oren, but the next time I turned around, Rei and Gabriela (who we kept calling "Gab" because of our Gab at home, lol) were suddenly BFFs, and were totally inseparable the entire visit. But as I recall, they didn't ditch the boys, they all played in wheelchairs in the monsoon, in the dark. (Mother of the Year here I come!)

Meeting Baby Luca, god. His picture renders my descriptions totally unnecessary.

It wouldn't be a Wilhelm weekend without Wink and (alliterations, and) Spoons. Seriously, we're fierce. We're groomed from birth to be the fastest-spoon-grabbing, and subtlest winking people on earth. And we don't go easy on the kids either. It's merciless. My grandma, Lydie, without whom these precious people wouldn't have existed, never once let a child win a game. Ever. Despite benevolence that bordered on saintliness. We would push Luca down to get the last spoon without batting an eye, no joke. My mama was the reigning King of Wink, and I can't remember who won Spoons because I was hiding in the fallout shelter. Yeah, it gets that serious.

Throughout this overwhelmingly loving, healing reunion, I was Camera Nazi to the extreme. No sooner would a cluster form, and I'd whip out my dinosaur of a camera and force everyone to wait for the scope to extend (approximately half an hour), smiling all the while, so I could capture each moment. It has long been my role to corner people, bark at them if necessary, burden them all with re-dos when certain lazy bastards keep blinking, reposition them, hell, I'd almost follow someone into the bathroom to get a good shot. They're all gracious for about one minute and then the eye-rolling begins, as does the grumbling and false threats to walk away. But they know better. When we return home, I send everyone all the best shots, and they call me gushing with gratitude for my willingness to withstand their scorn, to get such beautiful pictures. There were times during which four of us had cameras out, all trying to snap the same pic, and various relatives started calling us the photog, and laughing about what it feels like to be the focus of the paparazzi. But I make no apologies, for I cherish these pictures, as do they. I just hope next time I will have a newer camera.

Finally some of Eric's boarders were getting tired, and talk of bedtime began swirling. "Wimps," I thought. Lame. So Mom and I gathered up the kids and headed back to Maria's, where I polished off the rest of the avocados and waited for Quinn and Rei to settle in with my mom to a movie, and immediately concocted a reason to go visit Maria in the mansion. As luck would have it, she had the cloves on her! We stood on the balcony, and dished like never before. She recently divorced Max's dad after 17 years, and is newly dating. She divulged the bliss and grit of her experiences, and I shared a bit about my own life. To stand with my beloved cousin, as an adult, sneaking cloves and talking trash, will forever stand out as one of the best moments of my life. Upon returning to her abode with a clove she gave me "for later," I decided to stand under the .5" inch eve of the surf shack, in the pouring sideways rain, and smoke my clove. (I was on vacation yo, I deserved it.) Ironically, while it took me six hours and a thousand utterances of "fuck" and "fucking" to get the damn thing lit, the wind immediately blew a cinder the size of a rock into my eye. Like, my eye was actually on fire. I heard it sizzle when I closed my eyelid. It hurt so fucking bad. (A thousand and one.) But trouper that I am, I finished my clove, ashes clumping in my eyeball, tears streaming down my face. It wasn't until I got back inside that I realized I couldn't see out of that eye. And it was swollen almost shut. "Sweet, " I said to myself, as my brain whirred to concoct a story for my unsuspecting, yet eerily-adept-at-recognizing-my-lies mama. I told her a branch had scratched my eye, and when she looked in, I prayed she wouldn't see smoldering ashes. I had roughly 10% vision in that eye for a week. Am I quitting the cloves you ask? Hell no, that would be letting them win.

The next morning, after my Starbucks rampage, Donna invited us over for breakfast. She claimed to have the best coffee on earth, and we arrived at her gorgeous 100 sq. ft. pad to find a spread including oatmeal with walnuts, toast, the works. We were just settling in to some delightful dining at Chez Donna when I got a call from Caci that David and Virginia had persuaded my perilously studious twins to come. My party of four dropped their spoons as if rehearsed, apologized to Donna, jerked Maria away from her breakfast, reminding her of her promised servitude as our guide, and headed to Eric's. I stormed in, past the wheelchair gang, and laid eyes on my babies, Jacob and Zachary, aged 16. I smothered them with kisses, questions, and then indignity at the very notion they might have missed seeing us for some measly homework. Like the rest of the boys, they were quiet, timid, but gave me a smile that acknowledged our bond. Delicious. Scant moments after I ordered them against the wall for my photographic assault, they left to finish their homework. Goddamn.

Sunday went a lot like Saturday, except everyone's awe had dissolved and we were just a regular family. And people's patience with my photography began to wane. But I still got great shots, had amazing conversations, struggled a bit with my customary generalized anxiety, and called it a night. Before we left, the five siblings were huddled at Eric's refrigerator, looking at the photographs we all have on our own refrigerators. Arms interlocking, someone said, "One of these days we'll be standing at one of our funerals." It was chilling, but not tragic. Just an acknowledgment that these five people, and brother Daniel, have lived very full and fulfilling lives, with lots to show, particularly in the way of the children they've contributed to the world. Their age span is 44-65, but they all seem 30 to me. Anyway, on the drive back, I got my kids and me two tacos, one quesadilla, and a burrito at some lauded shack of an eatery, to the tune of $29.00. Um, can I get a holy shit? Now that is tragic.

Monday morning people were leaving, returning to work, the gang was thinning. Aunt Donna promised the kids (Quinn, Rei, and Gabriela) a pedicure, so we did that, had lunch, and I took the kids to the hot tub at the mansion. All the kids had decals on their nails and didn't want to get them wet, despite my insistence that they were painted on with regular polish, and that they were safe. They stayed in there until they were shriveled beyond recognition. Meanwhile, Maria would not let Max join them until he finished like 800 pages of multiplication of integers or some shit like that. I told her she was a horrible mother for depriving her son the opportunity to be part of cousin soup. Later we all went back to Eric's to bid farewells and soak what little family remained.

Quinn, Reilly, and Gabriela getting pedicures:

Nice toes right? (Quinn got mushroom decals in honour of his odd mushroom kinship with B):

Little fashionistas (and fashionisto?) too afraid to put their painted toes in the hot tub:

Slave driver Maria forcing Max to do math homework before getting in the hot tub. What the hell is it with my family and homework?

They finally believed me:

Finally! Nothing like a soak to soothe a mathed-out brain. Max and Luca:

We decided to leave Tuesday. Deep breaths.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the post that was longer than the trip, part two

PART II: The Arrival:
(AKA: Blame it on Jacob, apparently.)

As you may have figured out, signs really impact me on trips such as this. I can remember driving from Fortuna, CA, to Santa Cruz as a child, and the peace that filled my heart when we got to 41st Avenue, where (my Grandma) Lydie lived. I'd have to say this particular trip was the most monumental of my life, since her passing, and seeing the Santa Cruz City Limit sign was when all my off-roading, wanna-be testosterone gave way to sentiment, and I began tearing up at the prospect of seeing my entire family, some for the first time in eleven years. The only absentees were my brother Chris, and my uncle Daniel, who lives in Ohio. My mom is one of six kids, three sisters, followed by three brothers. (She's the youngest sister.) After she and her eldest sister, Donna, bore the original four grandchildren for the matriarch of our family, Grandma Lydie (Maria, Catherine, Sky, and myself), there was a ten year gap until the younger siblings began breeding. In the late 80's a new Wilhelm was born seemingly every other day, until finally Lydie had 13 grandchildren, all boys after me. From the age of eight, I spent nearly every holiday in Santa Cruz, and reveled in my boys (one of whom was my brother Chris). They were all my favourite, and I would pester aunts and uncles incessantly to bring all the boys to me. Nikolas, Joseph, Chris, Matthew, Aja, Jonah, Izaak, and the twins, Jacob and Zachary. Nothing brought me more happiness than to be up to my neck in these boys, each so sweet I sometimes bit them. For reals. Last time I saw the older boys they were Quinn's age, still welcomed my kisses, still my boys. Now I was about to face men, some of whom were rumoured to be taller than I, one of whom recently joined the National Guard, until the entire family united to oppose his choice, and convinced him not to sign the commitment papers. That's my Matt-Mo, so-called because Joseph couldn't say Matthew. He ended up not making it to Eric's either, due to some cell phone debacle, and I was practically bereft not to see him. He's 6'4"! But I still would have kicked his ass over this military shit. I will not lose one of my babies to George Bush's war.

Anyway, it had gotten too late to go to my uncle Eric's house, where everyone was staying, so we went straight to my cousin Maria's. She and Max, 12, gave up their entire, sprawling, 600 sq. ft. (super cute) house on the beach and they stayed in a friend's mansion next door. As soon as I saw Maria, my beloved, I got all shaky and tearful. Yes, I may be a loudmouthed heathen at home, but I am all heart with my family. Her embrace felt like a salve on my heart I'd needed for seven years. And she was the same, only now she's an A+ beach volleyball star on West Cliff, and so thin I tried to be bitter, but I couldn't. She's also an acupuncturist, like her mom (Donna). And there was Max! Oh, my Max. Max was the first of the babies to send a viable signal to my uterus. I loved him with each and every cell, so hard I got pregnant with Quinn. (There may have been more to it.) Both Maria and Catherine married Brasilians, so their children are delicious golden brown. Max looks the same, only giant, and gave us the sweetest hugs, even with his three uber-cool skater friends right there. It's hard to imagine anyone taller than Quinn, but Max has him by three inches (and almost two years), and it was just perfectly familiar to see his immediate, natural love for Quinn and Reilly, just the way it was when Maria and Catherine toted Sky and me everywhere back in the day when you could rent roller skates at the Boardwalk, and skate around town, with Tiger Milk bars in your pockets. Maria is three years older than Cat, who is three years older than Sky, but I am almost five years younger than Sky, so dragging me along just goes to show the inherent love we Wilhelms have for each other, seemingly the younger the better.

To quote my non-cousin-Jacob, I'm not gonna lie to you, I was shuddering with love. Literally. I nearly reenacted his Thanksgiving toast, to no one. I'm not sure, as I write this, why I always measure my love for my family in terms of the ferocity with which I want to bite/gnaw/eat them, but it's true. One time, when Chris was little, and I used to dress him and keep his hair short, I sort of bit/sucked (this is getting embarrassing) his cheek so hard he got a huge hematoma. Oh my god my mom was so pissed. We couldn't take him anywhere for a week because, as I had failed to anticipate, a sister can't giver her three year old brother a hickey. Except maybe in Kentucky. Don't worry, this chapter doesn't end with me at the kitchen table eating Maria and Max with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, but they are scrumptious.

Max took his Santa Cruz-named friends (Sequoia, Dava, and I think the third one was maybe like Reef or Breeze or something) and Quinn to the mansion to play Halo (Quinn's favourite game), and I stood in the living room, which concluded the tour of Maria's house. I couldn't help translate all the real estate I saw (or lack thereof) into Oregon prices. Her house was small and super cute, and we proceeded to make ourselves at home.

600 well-decorated square feet of Pleasure Point's very best beach front dwelling, for $1,500 per month:

See? There wouldn't even have been room to eat them at this table:

As Mom and Rei brought in their bags, Maria was familiarizing me with her house's little quirks. (Um, yeah, like costing a million fucking dollars? Oops, did I say that?) The garbage supposedly goes in one of those charming, ubiquitous, little chrome cans with the swinging top. Except this one was built for Stuart Little's room, so when you toss a tissue in, it's full. As we all know, when these must-have garbage cans (these, along with the uber-popular pedal ones) get full, we all act completely ignorant of the fact. As the rubbish forms a heap so dense it can scarcely be mashed down more than a millimeter, we continue to stomp and smash, because face it, wrenching the liners out of those ill-conceived, gimmicky bullshit cans is about as fun as a colonoscopy, so everyone just waits until finally, some gallant hero gets fed-up and changes the bag. Okay so there was the garbage, so full the swivel top couldn't swivel. And the recycling goes on the counter. (???) I made a new rule, because, again Jacob has my back here, don't nothin' go on the counter bitch. As expected there was little if any food in the refrigerator because my family mostly eats out, though I did spy Maria's classic contraband: Chips Ahoy. I also saw a bowl of avocados, which I knocked off one by one within two days. So, Maria doesn't have a coffee maker? I don't really know how that's possible. She has more energy than a locomotive. Her chi must abound in all the right channels, or whatever (sorry family, the joke is sacred). At one point, after, you know, driving 765 hours, I sort of wished I had one of those...what are they called again? Um,, cloves, right. Maria was explaining she had tea, and this and that creature comfort, and I sort of muttered, "I could use a clove," hoping my mama wouldn't hear. She's the only person in our family who smokes, and it's of great sadness to my kids and me, so I like to keep my very occasional treat on the down-lo, lest anyone worry. To my utter shock and awe, my Maria winked slyly (she's not particularly known for being sly--love you Mic!) and I knew. Mom walked away and I approached, covert-like, as if we were Special Op. I was afraid I misunderstood, so I clarified as delicately as a sweaty meth addict: "DIDYOUSAYYOUHAVECLOVES???" "Yeah, I'll set you up." Suddenly, in diva form so rare I can only attribute it to my frequent contact with Jacob, I blurted out, "But I can only smoke Djarums." Like some vagrant saying, "I can only accept 1967 quarters." Clearly some heavenly force was rewarding me for my harrowing drive, because Maria's glorious response was, "Yeah, Djarums, Bali Hais." My knees nearly buckled. Problem was, Maria wasn't in the delirium tremors state of need yet, so she was content to show us the mansion, each blade of grass in her yard, ask about mileage and shit, and I needed a goddamn clove. I expressed that, you know, sooner was r-e-a-l-l-y preferable to later so she sent Mom over to check on the Halo boys while Rei set up her bed/kingdom/menagerie. We sauntered every so casually into the shack out back that houses Max's 20 surfboards, and I feigned interest with, I'd say, 0% believability, and then we lit up. I feel superstitious comparing this to some sort of spiritual experience, but damn. I felt a deep stigma even touching a white clove, as it may as well be a Marlboro for all anyone knows, which means I may as well be doing meth. (It's my inner Jacobness.) But I was a beggar, and you know what? It was damn fine. Robust, crackly, burny with an attitude, it kind of kicked its slender black cousin's ass, at least in that moment. I've never enjoyed some surfboards more than I did that night. (I absolutely refuse to make a Hulk Hogan/Barack Obama analogy about the cloves, because a) I can't bear for Barack to get trounced by Hulk, and b) the implied sucking and everything...)

It's in my pathology to be a night owl, but that drive kicked my ever-loving ass. I meant to join my mom and Maria at the 2" x 2" table, but I accidentally touched the goose down comforter and the next thing I knew it was morning.

My beloved Maria and some bloated whale that washed ashore from Oregon (me):

I realize "Maxy" is a less than dignified nickname, but this is my Maxy:

Maria and Max, a little blurry, but I'd still eat them:

You must be this small to sit at this table. Maria's actually 5'11" but fortunately weighs a buck ten soaking wet and is apparently pretty bendy:

Even better if you're this size. How the hell Reilly figured that Mac laptop out I will never know:

You KNOW I'm not an animal person, but I am a Quinn person, and this is Quinn with Roxy, who is very affectionate, and, I'm kind of afraid, named for the brand?

Disclaimer: Maria doesn't actually smoke. Someone gave her that pack on New Years and I think she only lit up to ease the shame of my trembling, pathetic desperation. Still, it was bliss.

the post that was longer than the trip, part one

PART I: The Drive:

I mentally started this post on my uncle Eric's porch, and my mind was absolutely brimming with brilliant observations, witticisms, and anecdotes for you all to devour. Somehow, on the harrowing journey home, I not only lost half my brain cells, I also can't find my memory, flare, nor sense of humour. So bear with me, and tell me it's genius even if you're secretly embarrassed for me.

You may recall from my previous post that I was none-too-thrilled to embark upon this exhausting expedition, and I prayed to break my leg. Alas, I awoke Friday morning with all limbs fully operational, so we picked up my mom and set about to spend the next decade on the road, for better or worse.

A 15-hour drive is no small feat, even with rockstar kids who travel like pros. My focus from the start was making good time. I'm obsessed. We don't stop unless a majority of my passengers has to pee so bad their kidneys are failing, we eat twice, no stopping to stretch legs, no arguing about me driving 90mph, and it's my music or you can hitchhike. The one concession I made, and this is no trivial sacrifice, was not to text while driving. My mom is vehement in her objection, as well she should be, so I refrained, save for the few times she dozed off, or I convinced her I was "checking something" on my phone. I am wholeheartedly opposed to texting while driving, and fully support the upcoming ban, but I do believe I should be exempt, I'm just sayin'. Obviously no road trip can commence without a trip to Starbucks, so we got our caffeine and were on the freeway by 8:00am (much later than I'd planned, but I figured I could make up the time driving 100mph around Corning, Orland, and all those barren olive fields leading up to the big, scary turn onto the 505 South (shudder). We were at the border in no time, ate at Ma's favourite restaurant in Ashland, and excitedly sped past that much-anticipated sign, "Welcome to California." I admit to choking up whenever I see it. I'm an Oregonian, through and through, but I'm a native Californian first, not because of geography but because my family is there. So I sped up 10mph. We hoped to make it there for dinner, but Mt. Shasta had a trick up her sleeve. That bitch. As we approached the pass, we found ourselves in the worst blizzard I have ever witnessed. Highway Patrol was turning people away based on the adequacy, or lack thereof, of their tires. I was, of course, waved right through, which would have been cause for celebration except that conditions, visibility, ferocity of the snow, were so dangerous, I was forced to drive 2 (yes 2) mph for two motherfucking hours. No hyperbole. Just to be clear, the traveling portion of this voyage was so utterly beyond reason I won't have to exaggerate at all. So we're creeping along, and I'm totally fixated on how we're going to miss the entire weekend and how I'm going to get some C4 and go back to Shasta, and, and... Eventually my passengers fell asleep, and before long, the tranquil beauty of the snow, which was ruining my trip, the quiet, and whatever music I had on, infused me with a fatigue previously unknown. My head started dropping, and then I'd startle awake. I couldn't drive faster, nor roll down the windows, and there was no signal to call anyone, so I shouted that everyone must wake up and sing with me, at the tops of their lungs. This is where Adam saved our lives without even knowing it. Adam is the DJ of my life, and were it not for his unparalleled compilations, my life would be a black hole. I brought approximately 6,695 discs he's made me, and found ones that had music my kids, my mom, and I would all know and we sang ourselves hoarse to get over that GODDAMNED pass.
Finally, after being trapped in that snowy purgatory, we started seeing green trees, and I accelerated to 15mph, and as soon as possible, 105mph, which Ma failed to notice thanks to Adam's convenient penchant for Van Morrison.

Okay so from Dunsmuir to Williams, on I-5, is so indescribably boring, there is nothing to say.

Typically, after eight hours, we turn left at Williams, and drive one more hour to my brother Sky's house, but in this case, it had already been over ten hours (thanks Mt. Shasta!), and we had to pull out the Mapquest and prepare for eight-lane highways, exits on the left, followed by unmarked exits on the right .2 miles later (no hyperbole remember), with pits in the road, no discernible lanes (Cal-Tran can't afford paint, apparently, but feel fine setting the speed limit at 80.), pitch black sky, sleet so heavy even we Oregonians were in disbelief, people driving 200mph, and seriously, we were on eight of the ten highways for less than a mile. No sooner would I risk lives and limbs to skid in front of some Audi driving so fast it was merely a streak, to make an exit on the left, and it would be time to veeeeer across another eight lanes to exit right. The last sketchy exit, before the harrowing, often deadly, widely feared, but familiar, Highway 17 through San Jose, was exit 12. No big deal right? How harmful could a little old exit 12 be? Funny you should ask. My hands were numb from clutching the wheel, and Mom was trying to ascertain the colour and shape of the upcoming exit sign, when suddenly, we saw ourselves, in slow motion, passing exit 12. The off ramps are very long, like a quarter mile, so the exit itself was right next to us, and we passed the tiny blue sign. This was when I suddenly became an outlaw, a Mission Impossible Agent perhaps. I jerked us up onto the two-foot ledge separating the dumb shits who missed the exit, and the purpose-driven bats out of hell headed to take their chances on highway 17. Mom urged me to drive to the next exit, and turn around. My brain rejected that like a trio of Mormons on my porch. The only thing standing in the way of me getting us onto exit 12, was an even higher barrier, four feet high, in fact. Mom could see my mental gears churning, and repeated her preference for merging back onto the autobahn, but I refused to lose more time. I pretended to look over my left shoulder, as though to merge, but was secretly looking at traffic coming hella fast from the right, toward the exit. I waited for a clearing, and I jumped the four foot ledge and sped down exit 12 before the law could descend. There was a collective gasp, but ultimately, praise and relief that we were finally on the last leg of our journey.

I just have to say, I wish every man I know could have seen me do that. Those of you who know me know that I don't let suggested retail prices stop me, and now I don't let dangerous ledges or traffic laws stop me either. Finally, the infamous highway 17.

With adrenaline pumping, I naturally sped up to 90 on this frighteningly narrow, twisty bullshit highway, with a ten foot divider in the middle, so you can't breathe.
Two relatives called to caution us about 17, but I was so impressed with myself I was deaf to their warnings. I was Mario Andretti, and we were almost there.

I thought it would never come: "Santa Cruz City Limit."

Friday, March 6, 2009

same song, second verse (aka: Neighborhood Bleedstro)

I've been obsessed with posting my Santa Cruz trip immediately following my sniveling rant about how I didn't want to go. But I haven't had a moment to capture the essence of our voyage and translate them into words that will change your lives, and pop out Jacob's stitches, so I've shelved it. For now. That said, I am totally breaking tradition, and offering up a little dish about an experience I had last night at a new local eatery, hoping it will impress you to no end, grease my wheels for the Santa Cruz blog, and keep Amy alive a little while longer.

A few years ago there was a little house/restaurant called the Dragonfly that B and I used to frequent, and occasionally planned monthly Moms' Nights Out with our home school group. The Dragonfly was Salem's mecca for gays, with AIDS awareness fliers plastered everywhere, notices of upcoming wanna-be Indigo Girls being featured at open mic night, everyone had a crew cut, a minimum of 20 tattoos, Docs up to their knees, and they had the best wrap sandwiches ever. It was great. Then they shut down, inexplicably, for many moons, never really giving a reason, nor a re-open date. Finally they opened their doors to all of us displaced deviants, and then slammed them shut permanently about three days later. It was the end of an era.

Several ambitious restaurateurs tried to revive the little house, in its poor location, with absurd parking, to no avail. One loser named it Cravings, Etc. (sorry if that was your sister), which lasted six months, and was only open from 9-10 M-F, and like 5-7 on weekends. Oh wait, it was closed three days a week too. Needless to say I was bewildered when they tanked.

Okey dokey, that brings us to present time. The house is now called Word of Mouth Neighborhood Bistro. I pass it almost daily en route to B's house, and refuse to go in on principle because the name is too long and the hours aren't posted on the door. And I don't have time to park my Jeep in their motorcycle-only slots just to find out they are only open on Saturdays from 5-5:30. Recently our broader friend circle has been searching in vain for a venue in which to craft, lounge, eat, sin, and preferably, not go deaf. Oh, and somewhere open later than 7pm. It's harder than you think. A couple days ago Todd read a review of the Neighborhood Bistro, and became somewhat consumed with trying it. Yesterday, when everyone was posting online that there are no suitable restaurants, that Salem sucks, that we're all moving, committing suicide, etc., Todd came bounding in like a labrador puppy who'd been caged for a week, absolutely bursting with accolades for the Bistro, where he had just had breakfast. Most of you know, Todd's a wonderful person, with a heart of gold. (Which he borrowed from the gold paved driveway waiting for him in heaven. I just hope he's not neighbors with Sarah Palin there, because I'm hoping his inherent goodness gets my kids in, and I don't want them getting cozy with her. Are there wolves in heaven? Okay okay, that's a different post.) So Todd is exceedingly conservative with compliments. Truly. If you poured a million dollars cash in his lap he would tell you how filthy cash is, and the statistics on Hepatitis and whatnot. So I was struck by his exuberance. He literally stood over me and forced me to post to everyone that it is imperative that we try the Bistro. So I did. I mean, for all I knew, he'd enlisted in some Bistro militia or some shit, that's what it seemed like. "The biscuits were so light you couldn't eat them with a fork, the gravy, and you know I'm not a gravy person, was divine. It was the best chicken fried steak I've ever had." I was convinced. I posted to the group, and decided I was going regardless. And then B said she'd join.

We arrived around 6pm, B looking quite stunning I must say, quite appropriate for what turned out to be a little higher brow setting than I was prepared for in my faded jeans, pilly, should-be-illegal, pea coat, neglected hair, the way you guys always see me, only worse because everyone there had pearls, Wingtips, Rolex watches, etc. So B was sleek in black, with her hair pinned up beautifully, rosy cheeks, good posture, and I was clearly the vagrant Indigo Girl wanna-be who was hoping to bear my soul and grunge at open mic night. Clearly she felt sorry for me, and in an act of charity, treated me to dinner. So this spritely waitress, the first of many celebrity look-alikes, came over with three glasses of water, and set two down for us. "Um," I started, "Is this deja vu, because didn't you just bring three glasses over and set two down?" She, Natalie Portman, shot B a quick glance, as if to ask "Is she on a furlough from the psych ward?" B, trying her best to stifle her embarrassment for me, sweetly pointed out that had Queen Amidala already brought us water, there would already, ahem, be water on the table. I was off and running. Then another uber-skinny waitress who moved so quickly she was but a streak, brought a basket of bread. Thankfully, she dashed away before I could ask if she'd already brought bread. The slices were so thin, they belonged as a prop in a production of Mickey's Christmas Carol, for it was almost as thin as the wait staff, transparent even. The menu offered frou-frou burgers made of beef, lamb, pork, giraffe, panther, you get it. I have a pretty simple palate, kind of a BLT girl. Yeah, no dice. B suggested the pulled pork sandwich, since it's one of my favourite things she makes. Sounded good, nice and safe. Suddenly were delighted to see Heather walk in, and while I typically malign her perfect figure, quite often in front of her (I don't know what is wrong with me but I'm taking medication), it came in handy last night, as our table was the size of a small chessboard. She fit perfectly, but I hadn't been a nuisance in at least three minutes so I asked if we could have the bigger table in the other corner. The Queen granted this request. She was a perplexing contrast of saccharine sweet, a bitch, and oddly transfixing. So we settled into our new digs and were quickly served our food. My pork sandwich was like a submarine. I immediately grew fangs and tore off a bite. Um, and then sort of choked/gagged/nearly puked. Now, B knows I'm finicky (okay, fucking impossible, if you must know the truth), but Heather doesn't, so I tried to disguise my near death moment, to no avail. Heather was practically calling an ambulance. (I don't hide things well, fyi, except hams--wink.) Oh. My. God. This was not B's pork sandwich. I winced and tried another wee bite, just in case I got a bad bite, but by then, the actual pig that was in my actual sandwich had begun squealing, its tail wriggling out the other end. That's right. It didn't taste like pork, it tasted like I went to Maria's farm and bit into one of her pigs. B, with her tough-as-nails palate, took a bite, as she often does, to determine if I'm crazy or if in fact, I got the shaft, in which case she trades me orders. So I was totally vindicated when she too gagged. She did not offer to eat my gangrenous pig in a bun, but she did offer me half of her sandwich, the name of which escapes me. I tried one bite, and listen, I can fit my mouth around a bowling ball, which I'm sure no one will contest, so this should have been no problemo. Problem was, the bread, and I hope I'm not stealing B's line, was made out of croutons. I sunk my teeth in and immediately began bleeding in my lower gum line. No joke amigos. Actual blood. I had no choice but to complete the bite, which I did, with tears streaming down. It was quite tasty, even with blood as an unexpected condiment. I called Todd and told him my sandwich was too gamey, that I'd bring it home to him. He said "Don't bring that gamey shit here!" This reminded me of the scene in Pulp Fiction when Eric Stoltz' character said, about the OD-ing bitch, "Well don't bring her here! I'm not even fuckin' joking with you man!" Todd didn't actually say shit, but I like to filter dialogue through my heathen lens, so suck it. Heather and B were trying to considerately pick at their food, seeing as how I was reduced to Ore-Ida steak fries for dinner. Suddenly, a new waitress breezed in with a smile that was almost assaulting. B leaned over and whispered, "Jennifer Garner." Right she was! And it was even funnier because B doesn't know who celebrities are. But she got Natalie Portman, and we simultaneously agreed on Jennifer Connelly. But I was still stuck with this $9.00 carcass and no dinner. Normally I waste no time bringing sub-par offerings to the attention of whomever I must, but I was slightly intimidated by the seeming mixture of genuine friendliness and Stepfordness of the waitresses, who all had the same super cute butt in cargo-flap pocket jeans. Alas, I knew I would seethe over my $9.00 forever, so I mentioned to the Queen that, um, my sandwich? Even though you can't see the pig? Well it's there, and I bit into it, and I'm not okay. She was puzzled, I assumed because she's only ever praised for her cuteness and tipped handsomely by the lawyers and dentists who come in to drink wine and hob knob. But she took the swine off my table and said she'd take it off the check.

I was glad not have thrown $9.00 into their Abercrombie jeans fund, but I was hungry yo. My eight fries were cold by then, but I ate them. I wouldn't dare take another bite of B's sandwich, for fear of losing a lip or something. Soon the Queen, accompanied by Jennifer Connelly and the blonde, cyborg version of Jennifer Garner, all of whom were exceedingly interested in my "gamey" sandwich. And the house is small enough that I was basically in fifth grade giving a report on gamey, unacceptable sandwiches, in front of the lawyers, in my tattered clothing, and food stamps. The waitresses grinned as they expressed disbelief about my not making love to the sandwich. I sheepishly said again, it was gamey, and unfortunately, inedible. They kept saying "gamey?" as if they'd never heard the word before. Possibly incredulous? I was really embarrassed. They comped me a salad, which somehow sustains Heather, lol, but just makes me hungrier. Oh well. Everytime one of the starlets passed by, they apologized profusely, though I questioned the sincerity. Then the Jennifer Garner-bot brought a slice of some chocolate-looking bullshit cake out, with three forks, as a peace offering. I quickly discovered I had misjudged. This cake was so stupendous, I would have made love to it, except we ate it too fast. I was pleased with the gesture. As we began to get our coats, and assured the Queen and Jennifer Connelly yet again that I was not going to die from the swine sandwich, Garner-bot approached our table with another piece of cake, and then laughed at us, and twirled away, and took it to another table. That must have been the bot part of her, attempting humour. It just made me feel more stupid. The place is small and overcrowded with tables, and you can hear the constant stampede of celebrities in cute-ass jeans rushing to and fro. One can scarcely eat in time, let alone knit, read a magazine, etc. Our celebrity friends apologized (some conjured up tears it seemed) seven more times as we stood to leave. We finally re-entered the real world, albeit with bleeding mouths, but nothing a little clove can't remedy.

In summation, I can only say that I do not recommend the Neighborhood Bistro, but that the utter and genuine awe expressed by the staff over my displeasure, may indicate that no one has ever sent anything back before, in the Bistro's history. If you like to bleed, pay through the hose, sit on the lap of a strange man in a suit next to you, eat transparent bread, and watch thin gorgeous celebrity look-alikes prance about in their sweet matching jeans, feel uncertain as to whether you are getting the friendliest service ever, or are just being tolerated until wealthier folks arrive, all while trying not to let the cacophony cause a psychotic break, then by all means, hurry on over.

As for me, I'll just go back in disguise, and cargo-flap jeans, to get another piece of the cake.