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the stompers

We got some new neighbors recently.

I’m always excited at the prospect of new neighbors.  To me, neighbors have always held the attractive possibility of Buddyism.  Maybe they will be my new best friends!  Maybe we will bake cookies together and talk about our favorite books.  Maybe we will sit on the back patio after work everyday and sip mojitos and laugh about that crazy time when their cats found their way into our kitchen.

So far, this has not happened with any neighbor that I have ever had.  The closest I’ve come is a tenuous familiarity with the elderly couple we share a wall with.  I asked them if our music was too loud and they gave us a pint of raspberries.  It was a beautiful moment.

When our upstairs neighbor moved out, I felt that familiar rush of hope.  Maybe our new neighbors would love Doctor Who!  Maybe they have seen every episode of My Little Ponies!

Maybe they collect action figures and will trade one of their Raphaels for one of my Michaelangelos.  

When I saw a white BMW parked in their parking space I felt a shiver of excitement.  I walked through my apartment, listening for any sign of them upstairs, every moment expecting to hear someone loudly proclaiming, “GOSH, I SURE DO LOVE NACHOS.  I WONDER IF ANYBODY IN THIS APARTMENT COMPLEX LOVES NACHOS AS MUCH AS I DO.”

At which point I was prepared to climb up their deck and press my face against the sliding glass door and scream, “ME.  I LOVE NACHOS.  HANG OUT WITH MEEEE.”

There was silence for a long time.

And then some thumping.

And then some more thumping.

“I should go up and say hi,” I said to Taylor.  “Introduce myself.  Hold out the olive branch flag or whatever.”

Taylor eyed me over the top of his copy of Game Of Thrones.

“Don’t do that,” he said.  “They’re just moving in.  Give them some time.”

And then there was some more thumping, a large whump, and a sudden explosion of Chinese.

“Huh,” I said.  “I guess they’re Chinese, then.”

“Uh-huh,” Taylor said, turning the page.

Over the next few days I kept trying to catch our new neighbors outside the apartment, but it never worked.  They arrived home well after I did and in the mornings when I left for work, their apartment was silent and dark.  At one point, a U-Haul pulled up and a small phalanx of Chinese boys bustled in an ant-line of boxes and garbage bags.  I approached with a winning smile and tried to greet them.

“Hi, I’m Jessica, I live below you.”

Three of the boys looked at me in confused surprise.  The last squinted and said, “Uhh, I do not live here.”

There has been no further contact.

For the next several nights, the thumping continued, increasing in volume every evening until we were sure they were doing something illegal upstairs.  As soon as the boys arrived home, we’d hear spates of screamed Chinese, followed by a few crashes and the heavy thud of something flumping to the floor.  Occasionally there would be scrapes and bursts of maniacal laughter that lasted well into the night.

Last Thursday, Taylor and I lay in bed at eleven and stared at the ceiling, as the upstairs neighbors wrestled bears and hammered 2×4’s.

“What do you think they’re doing?” I whispered.  Taylor shook his head in the darkness.

“I just don’t know,” he replied gravely.

This was followed, upstairs, by three minutes of howled Chinese, the words, “FUCK YOU!” and then two more minutes of Chinese.

And then giggling and what I presume to be their refrigerator falling over.

So, okay.  Instead of the next-door-besties I have always wanted we have The Stompers. The noise has been a bit annoying, but more tolerable, on the whole, than our previous neighbor’s vicious dog, the one that threatened to eat Taylor every time he went to water our herb garden.

It’s one part obnoxious, three parts deeply confusing.  What can they be doing up there that makes all that noise?  Wrestling?  Woodworking?  Rough sex?  Listening to them every night we dismiss each possibility as crazy or impossible, but as soon as we decide that they’re just very loud walkers the moan of a sick rooster will echo through the complex and we’re forced to wonder if they have started a cock-fighting ring.

The other day we had a near-encounter with The Stompers.  Taylor and I left to go to the county fair and as our rumbled over the speed bumps I looked back to see our neighbors filtering out of the stairwell, rubbing their eyes in the light.  One motioned to the other and they began curiously inspecting the pavement.  One brushed his fingers there and smelled it, as though he were Aragorn testing the soil for the movement of advancing Uruk-Hai.  In unison, the three looked darkly at each other, and then up at Taylor and I as our car turned the corner.

I have no idea what is going on anymore.

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

happiest place on earth

When I was a kid, my parents took us to Disneyland.

On our first day in the parks, my brother and I acted like crazy people, dashing to be first in line for every ride, even the lame ones.  We ogled the Western displays in Frontierland and wandered through Tomorrowland, gazing at the futuristic spires and towers with our eyes falling out of our heads.  It was so much.  It was more than we had ever thought it would be, and we wanted to soak up the experience and drown in it.

After a few hours of running around like idiots, we started noticing other kids with autograph books.  They were taking these books up to the characters who wandered around the park in their sweaty costumes and the characters would cheerfully sign them, with a wink and a floppy-wristed wave.

We had to have these autograph books.

That evening, when we got back to the smoky Best Western we were staying in, my parents took a trip to a nearby Safeway and picked out a couple little Disney themed notebooks from the limited School Supply section.  Ben and I were happy as dogs at the beach, and the next day we proudly took our notebooks and went on a search for every character we could find.

It became a game in of itself.  We hunted characters throughout the parks, spotting them as they passed between two perfectly manicured trees and stalking them until they strayed into the quiet alley next to the Dumbo ride or the Haunted Mansion.  Finally, we’d pounce, leaping out at them and politely asking if they could please sign our books for us, and thanking them when they were done.

This became almost more fun than the rides (almost) and Ben and I were enjoying ourselves thoroughly when we saw a pair of dwarves crossing the bridge by the Cinderella castle.  The dwarves (Dopey and Grumpy, I believe) had eluded us earlier in the day.  We had thought we had them, but when we sprang around the corner by the spinning teacups, they were gone.  We saw our chance and we ran towards them, calling their names.

Breathlessly we held out our autograph books and they turned towards us, reaching for them with their static smiles.

And then, out of nowhere, we got TOURISTBLOCKED.

A posse of grownups swarmed out of nowhere, and Ben and I were shoved out of the way.  I couldn’t find my autograph book until I saw somebody stepping on it.  Our voices were drowned out by laughing and jabbering and cheering, and the dwarves giggled and capered, shaking the hands of any paunchy businessman or Japanese tourist that fought their way close to them.

Ben and I did what any child does when an adult steps in front of them in line.  We stood back, quietly clutching our autograph books, and waited for our turn.

After a few minutes, it became apparent that our turn wasn’t coming.  The dwarves were turning to go on their way and the crowd was following them, hooting and snapping photos.  Ben tugged on my sleeve.

“C’mon,” he said. “Maybe we can find Chip N’ Dale, like on Rescue Rangers.”

Suddenly, a sharp, loud voice cut over the din.

“HEY.”

The crowd fell silent, and my mother stalked forward, her hands clenched into fists and thunderclouds trailing in her wake.  She stood there and glared into the face of every tourist in turn.

“What’s the matter with you?” she bellowed.  “Don’t you see there are KIDS here?  KIDS! At DISNEYLAND!  Didn’t you see it was their turn?”

A few shoes scuffed the ground uncomfortably.  A couple heads hung.  My mother continued, her eyes blazing.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves, acting like this. What’s the point?  What does it matter to you that you get your photo with Sneezy?  How is that going to impact the rest of your day?  And how is it going to impact their’s?”  She gestured to Ben and I with an angry jerk of her thumb.  Neither of us were sure of how we should feel about the situation.  Our mother was endlessly patient and mild.  We had never heard her yell like that before, or seen her knuckles turn that white.  We were partially amazed, and partially terrified.  Someone in the crowd coughed and attempted to speak up.

“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t see them there.”

“You sure saw them when you pushed them,” my mother spat.  “Now, all of you, GET OUT OF THE WAY, and WAIT YOUR TURN.”

The crowd parted automatically, like the Red Sea Of Assholes.  Our mother nudged us forward and Ben and I shuffled up to the dwarves and held out our books.

“Can we have your autographs please?” we asked in unison.  The dwarves signed.  I could have sworn that Dopey’s hand was quivering.  “Thank you,” we said in unison again.  Our mother nodded.  The tourists were watching her as though any minute she might call down lightning to strike them where they stood.  She didn’t.

Instead, she took our hands, threw one last burning stare over her shoulder, and went to go buy us each a churro.

Now, that was the way I remembered it happening, but time and perspective have a way of obscuring these things.  It may have only been a pair of teenagers, not a seething throng of tourists.  Instead of a speech, my mother might have just yelled at them to move so that we could get through.  Instead of looking properly ashamed and mortified, they might have just sniggered at her and left.

That doesn’t matter though.  Those are details.  What is important is that I was scared and overlooked, and my mother defended me.  That’s what I took away from it, and as we sat together on a spotless park bench, munching on churros, I felt prouder than I had ever felt in my brief little life.

My mother, I suddenly understood, was a badass.

Today is her birthday.  Happy birthday, Mom.  Thanks for the churros.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

shitty situations

Like so many strange stories, this one takes place in the post office.

I was there on my lunch break, sending a little package to Tess.  I was already feeling a bit grumpy.  In the best circumstances, the post office is just a mildly irritating place with too many abstract rules that smells like cardboard and cheese.  On a worse day, the line will take forty minutes and when you get up to the counter the bored mustachioed postal worker will tell you that you used a cursive ‘L’ when you wrote the address, and now you either have to go to the end of the line and readdress your envelope or endure twenty lashes from Bob The Bulk Mail Associate.

And you always choose the lashes, because going through that line again will snap the last little hinge keeping a lid on your murderous impulses.

I had already spent about twenty minutes in line with the bubbled envelope tucked under my arm before I really started to examine the other post office patrons.  There was a woman who was wearing something like safari fatigues and a man who had the type of nervous red face that people have when they are always late for things.  The lady behind me had a green purse and was staring straight ahead, unflichingly.  The man in front of me…was different.

He was wobbling from one foot to the other, and every few seconds his shoulder would twitch and then hunch up to rub his ear, as though he felt like flies were settling there.  His legs were decorated with tattoos – a black rose, an ornate dragon-knife-thing, and what was either a bunch of Celtic knots or the alien from Alien.  He had a big box that he kept switching from one arm to the other.

In any case, everyone in that post office looked as resigned and irritated as I was.  I realized, looking down at my blank envelope, that if I tried to address the envelope when I got to the counter that they would have every right to throw rocks at me.  I hunted in my purse for a pen, and didn’t find one.

This is when things get bizarre.

My first impulse was to ask the woman behind me for a pen, and then I analyzed that action.  Why her?  Because she has a purse full of things that could probably write? Or because she was a non-threatening middle-aged woman?  Was I perpetuating some kind of prejudice by not asking the man in front of me?  Sure, he seemed kind of…well, creepy, but he hadn’t done anything to make me think there was anything actively wrong with him besides looking a little different.  And giving me the heebie jeebies.  It wasn’t fair that I would rule him out as a nice, pen-giving fellow-human just because he kept twitching and he seemed to be sweating a lot.

So I asked him for a pen.

“Uhm, excuse me,” I said, tapping him lightly on the arm.  He turned slowly and gazed down at me from over the rim of his glasses.  “Do you happen to have a pen I could borrow?”

He stared at me.  His shoulder twitched into his ear again, and quietly, he turned back around.

I was about to ask him again, louder, in case he had a hearing problem, when the woman behind me fumbled in her bag and said, “Oh, I have one, here.”

I addressed the envelope while we made small talk about the weather and the fourth of July and oh gosh, don’t you always just need a nap around this time of day?  I dotted my final ‘i’ and slipped the envelope back under my arm.

“Thanks so much!” I said to her with my most winning smile.  “Here’s your pen back.”

The man in front of me whirled around, his fists clenched at his sides.

“I DON’T HAVE A FFFFfffffffffucking PEN!” he yelled.

The post office went silent.  The man’s nostrils flared.  When he said ‘fuck’ he drew it out and sort of whispered it, as though that kind of conduct was inappropriate in a government building.  I could have said something witty at that point to show that I was in charge of the situation and very used to being yelled at by men a foot taller than me, but I wasn’t in charge of the situation, and I’m not much used to yelling that doesn’t happen during a Mario Kart match.

So I just said, “Oh. That’s okay.” in a squeaky little voice.

The man turned around, keeping his eyes on me until the last moment.

As the post office slowly resumed its particular brand of bustling inactivity, I became aware of a strange, rank smell.  It was sour and cloying.  It made my nose wrinkle.  I started glancing around as nonchalantly as I could, looking for the source.  I thought somebody might have a baby or something, and then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a soggy brown stain spreading over the shorts on the man in front of me.

I took an involuntary step backwards.  Liquid shit began dripping down the man’s leg, pooling in his sock and creating a puddle on the floor.  For a moment I thought he must have had a colostomy bag that had burst, but no.  The source was…easily discernable. 

I glanced at the woman behind me, trying to find a cue on what to do.  She was just staring at the situation with her hand over her mouth, shaking her head.  I debated with myself whether to tell the man that he seemed to…uh, have an issue.  On the one hand, if it were me, and I were crapping a river in the post office, I would like to know about it so that I could make a hasty retreat.  But how do you not know something like that?  How do you not notice?  It seemed more likely to me that the man was desperately aware of his problem, and that he was hoping that nobody else was noticing.  In that case, telling him would only humiliate him.

Finally, the woman working the passport counter approached with a sympathetic yet firm look on her face.  She leaned over and whispered something in the man’s ear.  He whispered back.  She whispered again.  He whispered back, and then set down the box he had been intending to mail, and calmly walked out of the post office.

The woman returned to her desk, probably to call a janitor or a hazmat team or something.  The post office worker signaled me to come forward with my little bubbled envelope.

“Hi,” he said.  “How is your day?”

I meant to say ‘fine’ or ‘pretty good’.

Instead I said, “Wwwweird.”

“Yeah,” he replied.  “Us, too.”

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

reasons to blog

Before the big Bagley family reunion had even started, I nearly bonked into my cousin Diane* as she was coming into the house from the back deck.  We laughed it off and introduced ourselves to each other.

“Oh!” she said.  “I’ve read your blog!”

I sputtered a surprised, “Oh uh er um!” and my brain delved into its extensive archive of Star Trek factoids and Winnie The Pooh quotes and tried desperately to remember everything I had ever posted on the internet. Had I ever posted anything about my embarrassing pickle addiction?  About my tendency to forget that there are windows open when I walk around in my underwear?  Had I cussed?  Had I cussed creatively?

Taylor interrupted my brief panic and told Diane that if she had read my blog she would undoubtedly have heard of him and introduced himself.  It gave me time to decide that I would tell people that anything they liked on my website was written by me, and anything that they didn’t like was the result of Turkish hackers.

That post about leg-shaving?  Me.

The post where I used the word ‘apoopcalypse’?**

Hackers.  Dirty, slanderous hackers.

At that point I was quickly regretting that I had started a blog.  More accurately, I was regretting that I ever told my family about it.  For the rest of the weekend, whenever I came to sit in a group of aunts, uncles, and people that I would nebulously call ‘cousins’, my father would say loudly, “Be careful what you say!  Jessica has a blog!  She’ll tell all your secrets!” at which point I would giggle accommodatingly and then sink in my chair and blush until my head caught on fire.

After the third time, my Uncle Joe yelled, “Let ‘er!  I don’t have any secrets!”

And then it hit me.  Why would I even have a blog if I couldn’t confront bold claims like that in the public arena?

Once Uncle Joe asked his sister, my Auntie Betsy to make him two chocolate pies for his birthday.  Auntie Betsy obliged, and as the pies cooled, she warned him to only have a slice or two or he’d be sick.  He ate his slice or two and that was that.

Later in the evening, Auntie Betsy came downstairs and found Joe with his head buried in the couch cushions.  A sea of chocolate-flavored vomit was dripping out of every crack.  The pie was gone.

The couch was ruined, and had to be taken to the dump.

Aunt Betsy was roaring with laughter as she told me the story.  Uncle Joe was sitting back on the couch with his arms folded.

“How old was he at the time?” I asked.  “Seven or so?”

“Sixteen,” said Uncle Joe.

And that’s why I don’t regret having a blog.

*names changed to protect relatives and pie-pukers.
**Taylor and I had a long and lively argument after I finished that post.  He was of the opinion that ‘apoopcalypse’ was a pretty good word, but ‘poopacalypse’ would have been infinitely better.  I was off the opinion that he should shut up or get his own blog.
 
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Posted by on July 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

on the younger generation

On Sunday, Taylor took me over to visit with his father’s family a few towns over.

Taylor’s father has been blessed with the task of raising two of his grandchildren, a pair of sweet, round-faced girls who are friendly and outgoing and love Taylor to pieces.  They’re about eleven and thirteen, and Very Much Adults.

As the barbecue got into full-swing, I found myself next to the thirteen year old  as she listened to her IPod.

Me: “Whatcha listening to?”

Her: “Skillet. Wanna hear?”

Me: “Sure!”

She offered me an earbud and we shared for a few minutes.  The song was kind of a faux-punk thing with lyrics about dying and pain and a beat you could really dance to.

Her: “My friend and I listen to this, and there’s a part where he goes ‘MOOONSTEEER’ but when he does it, he does it in a monster voice, so now my friend and I, her name is Ashley, now my friend and I all the time we’re like ‘MOOOONSTEEEER’ when we see each other.  It’s so funny.”

Me: “Neat song!  I like the chorus.”

Her: “Yeah? You like it?”

Me: “Sure!  It’s pretty good.  It kind of reminds me of Everclear.”

She looked at me blankly.

Her: “Uh. I don’t know them.”

Me: “Sure you do.  They do…uh…they do, ‘I will buy you a garden, where your flowers can grow!'”

Her: “No, I don’t know it.”

Me: “How about the AM Radio one? ‘AM Radioooo, AM Radioh-oh! You could hear the music on the AM Radioooo!'”

Her: “Nooo.  I don’t know who they are.”

Me: “Father Of Mine?  Like, ‘Father of mine, tell me where have you been, oh I just closed my eyes…’  No?  How about, ‘Everything is wonderful nooow…na na nana na na naaaa!'”

Her: “Oh, wait, I think I heard that once.  That’s like, an oldie, right?  From the 90’s?”

And then I fell over and broke my hip and died.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

ow double ow

Last night I was sitting on the couch, half-heartedly sketching while I was watching that new BBC series, Sherlock.

Tangent: Sherlock is totally amazing.  Watch it right now, especially if you’ve read the original mysteries.  Awesome.

So I’m sitting there drawing while Taylor thumps around in the office, setting up his third computer monitor because yes, he needs three, it’s actually very useful and important, didn’t I know that?  Occasionally the thumps give way to bursts of singing or mild profanity.  Whatever.  I’m too busy with Holmes and Watson.

Suddenly, I hear a yell.

Me: “Sweetie?  SWEETIE?  What’s wrong?  What happened?”

Taylor: “I DROPPED THE MONITOR STAND ON MY FOOT.  OW.  OW.  BLEEDING.  OW.”

Me: “BLEEDING?”

I jumped up to help, and as I jumped up, I deftly plunged my pencil into the palm of my hand.

Me: “OW OW OW”

Taylor: “WHAT!?”

Me: “I JUST STABBED MYSELF IN THE HAND.  BLEEDING.  I’M BLEEDING TOO.  ARE YOU OKAY.  DO YOU NEED A BANDAID.”

Taylor: “I THINK SO.  WHERE ARE THEY.”

We weren’t asking questions, really.  Just yelling.

Me: “IN THE BATHROOM IN THE THING NEXT TO THE OTHER THING. OW OW.  LOOK.  LOOK AT MY HAAAAAND.”

I stumbled into the bathroom.  Taylor’s big toe was oozing blood as he pulled a bandaid out of one of the drawers.  I showed him my hand, where a tiny drop of red was swelling under the pinprick.

Me: “Need me to put the bandaid on?”

Taylor: “No, no, I got it.  Go back to watching your thing.”

Me: “What did you say happened?  You dropped a monitor on your foot?”

Taylor: “A monitor stand.  Very different.  You okay?”

Me: “Yes.  You okay?”

Taylor: “Yes.”

We are obviously geniuses.  Our children will rule the world.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

inevitable tangents

It’s June, and I’m dissatisfied.

By June, Oregon is supposed to be a glorious wonderland of flowers and sunshine and frolicking woodland creatures.  People are supposed to be wearing shorts and sunglasses.  The highway to the beach should be clogged tight, and the college kids should have filled their mini-pools with ice and beer by now, so that they can laze in their bikinis and swim trunks on the three by three patch of lawn in front of their dorms.

This is not the case.

Summer is coming late to Oregon this year, and I’m starting to give up hope that it’ll ever really come at all.  We have had brief splashes of sun, where the weather climbs temporarily into the mid-seventies and the Oregonians crawl out of their holes like delirious backward bats and hang on.

Hang on one second.

I am looking out my window right now and there is a kid, probably fifteen years old, sauntering down the street with his pants around his knees.  Not his thighs, no, his knees.  He isn’t wearing a shirt, has his baseball cab tilted sideways, and has a towel draped casually over his shoulder, as if to say, “Oh, me?  I just got done doing some crunches.  Lots of reps.  And squats.  Wanna feel my bicep, baby?  This thing is solid like a frozen pack a’ Gogurt.”  He is flexing every few moments and running his hands over his own prepubescent pseudo-abs in blatant admiration.

The thing that bothers me about this scenario is that this boy actively has to hold his pants up to prevent them from pooling around his ankles.

Let me repeat that.

He is purposefully sagging his jeans, presumably to attract the female of his species, but he has to perpetually hold them up to prevent a pathetic self-pantsing.

I can only assume he is trying to look gangster or something, but what is the logic of this?  Boy, what if somebody wants to pop a cap in you?  How will you defend yourself if you have to hold your jeans up while you throw down?  Can you run in those things?  Can you jump? I half expect them to get stuck on some passing car and drag him away.

I was going to write more about the weather, but now I am just too distracted.  Here, I’ll sum what I was going to say: it’s wet and I hate it.  There, post finished.  I can focus my thoughts on the baffling actions of a fifteen year old boy who is trying to look ‘fly’.

Maybe these are the only pants he owns and they don’t fit, in which case he should be pitied.  Maybe nobody has ever taught him how to put pants on.  Maybe the fact that he isn’t wearing a shirt in fifty five degree weather signifies some skin condition where he can’t feel cold, or embarrassment.

There, he has walked past the frame of my window, his jiggling swagger gone from my view forever.  I will never be able to ask these burning questions.

Dang kids.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Uncategorized