God’s Funnybone (1987)

(When I was 19, I became obsessed with a disabled street musician. It was his wit and charisma that fascinated me, not his disability or religion. It was my first foray into “Gonzo” journalism, crossing the line from witness to participant. It carries some risks, as we’ve discovered.)


I call him Brother Joe because I need to be little sister to someone. These warm days I know I can always find him. Wheelchair Joe plays his harmonica for spare change downtown, a shrill “Amazing Grace” whining, winding through the Plaza. Like the Pied Piper, it’s easy enough to follow him.

The day we met we talked about harmonicas. “This is a C”, he said, handing me his for observation, “and I pull this slide out to get the sharps.” His voice rumbled with New England pride: shahhhps. His lean, narrow face was veiled by the hood of a grey sweatshirt, monk-like. One of his hands was twisted in his lap. He had a little metal box with three compartments, for money, his harmonica, and his Marlboros, for easy access with his good hand. 

“Can I take your picture?”

“Yeah, because you asked.”

I had borrowed a medium-format camera from school, an awkward tool, where you look down into the camera instead of having it in front of your face. As I fumbled and bumbled, Joe made fun of me, playfully.

“Let’s go to Dunkin’ Donuts,” he said. “You push.”

         I never knew this, but there’s a certain skill to cruising a wheelchair, and I quickly realized I wasn’t very good at it. People WILL get out of the way (they don’t see you, they see the chair) but, you can’t just plow a wheelchair into a crowd of people. They will freak out. Chuckling, in a conspiratorial stage whisper, Joe said, “yeah, they think it’s catching.”

         Joe knew everyone in Dunkin’ Donuts. “Hey, Charlie! How ya doin’, Mike?” He murmurs to me, “that’s my brother, Mike, he’s labeled retarded.”

         “Your brother?” I asked.

         “My brother in the Lord,” he said.

         Even that first day I felt completely at ease, not threatened. There was something intriguing about Joe, childlike at thirty-one. Besides, I had the advantage.

         “Don’t worry, little sister,” he told me, laughing. “You can run faster than I can wheel.”

         We drank coffee and smoked all his Marlboros, and Joe told me stories all afternoon.


                                     Brother Joe

They say I’m a religious fanatic and they say I’m a radical, but I say that’s a contradiction.

There’s this lady who was upset with me, and God told me I should buy her a flower. I said, “OK, God, but if I spend a dollar, then I have to make five on the street today.” Not one, but three, people gave me fives. Now, how’s that for a blessing?”

I asked God to send me some children. And these senior citizens were comin’ up to me, gettin’ a charge from my energy and me gettin’ energy from them.

And I said, “God, these are senior citizens, I asked for children,” and He said, “Yes, but these are My children.”

If I ever walk, it’ll be through the grace of God. I was born with cerebral palsy, my spine’s all messed up, and I have a dislocated hip. I used to get sad about it when I was younger.

The way I look at it now is, I’m God’s Funnybone. I asked God if he understood my sense of humor. He said, “Understand it? I created it!”

“It’s irony, you know. I say vengeance is mine for the disabled community. When the sign says ‘Walk’, should I get up and push? It would take me half an hour.

I wanted to be a stand-up comedian, but they told me I didn’t meet the requirements. Rodney Dangerfield says he doesn’t get respect, but he has no idea.

I went into that pizza place, what is it, Mama Mia’s, and I ordered a pizza. After my meal I went back to use the facilities, but they were not available to me.

I said, “hey, man, if you just move that video game, the disabled will be able to use your facilities. You don’t have to do it right now, but do it.”

The next time I went to Mama Mia’s, they wouldn’t let me in. So, I pushed my way in anyway, but they wouldn’t serve me, and called the cops.

It took the cops fifteen minutes to come. I could’ve ordered a beer while I was waiting. I said to the policemen, “these are my constitutional rights. I’m disabled and should be able to use the facilities. Not just me, but all of my disabled brothers and sisters.”

And the policemen said, “Yes, but this establishment has the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Being disabled is a minority that doesn’t discriminate. We’ve got everyone: Black, white, Asians, Hispanics, senior citizens and children. We’ve even had a President. Now, what other minority can say that?

I’m gonna write my autobiography, as soon as I get me a typewriter.

Instead of “I’m OK, You’re OK” I’ll call it “I’m OK, What’s Your Disability?”


The Claw. It takes Joe a minute to pick up his change. He’s treating me to coffee, again.

Something happened when I was in the darkroom printing the pictures. It’s not that they were great pictures, but the story compelled me. I told my roommate, Nicole, “I want to go see him again.”

I decided that I would find him again with the premise of giving him a print. But I would have to find him first. I feared it would be impossible. Downtown Providence is a theater whose characters and faces are constantly changing, hour by hour, day to day. As a street photographer, I know this. Every moment is decisive and fleeting. Every photograph is a memory of something gone.

“I have something for you,” I say, giving him the print.

“Hey, I look like a monk!” Joe says.

I spend more time in Dunkin’ Donuts now than I could have ever imagined. I spend a lot of time just hanging around while Joe plays the harmonica. All religious tunes, and he doesn’t know too many, mainly “Amen” and “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me.” Still, Joe profits.

Popularity helps. He knows every flower-seller, shoeshine boy, and blue-haired old lady, and he knows them by name. He knows every freaky eccentric in the Plaza, and they all contribute. On a good day, Joe gets a plain cruller to go with his coffee.

I was raised Catholic, so I shrug off religion, but Joe gives me new faith.  I like this alternate reality better than my own, the smug college bubble up the hill. I don’t need to explain anything, or explain myself. There is no need for silly small talk. I’m a vicarious chameleon. I appear and disappear. I know where and when I can find him. Sunny days, he’ll be sitting outside of Woolworth’s. 

Lately I appear more and more often. I reevaluate the phoniness of my cozy marshmallow world. It seems dim, insignificant.

“Will you do me a favor?” Joe asks.

“Yes.” Anything.

“Tonight, will you pray for me? Pray for yourself, but pray for me?”

He tells me I have shoes like Moses, and toes like Fred Flintstone.


I’m getting better at cruising the chair.

I know to keep to the sides, where it’s paved, and avoid masses of people. I’m learning where the ramps are on the sidewalks. Curbs are hell, stairs are out of the question. The double sets of glass doors found in banks and in Dunkin’ Donuts are also a hassle. I hold the doors open while pushing, while he’s one-handedly wheeling, but I must then start opening the second set of doors before the first ones close or the chair is going to get nailed, meanwhile, there are people coming in and out of both doors, doing their damnedest to get out of the way.

I go with him into the bank. It’s lunchtime, and the bank is packed. There’s a big line, which forms in between a series of pole dividers. I have trouble maneuvering the chair around these dividers. In fact, I crash him into one. Then I go too far and the chair hits the man ahead of us in line. “Sorry, new driver,” Joe says. “These women drivers.”

Joe starts cracking jokes, talking loudly to No One In Particular. “Yeah, you people are bummin’! You have to stand in line, well, I get to sit down! You know, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian, but they told me I didn’t fit the spot!”

When we get outside, I say, “that was amazing! You made all those businessmen and sullen strangers laugh with you.”

He gives me a big twinkling grin.

“Funnybone, funnybone,” he says.

I go with him to the Plaza, to observe The Bus Hassle. Joe lives in Warwick and commutes every day. There’s money to be made on the streets of Providence. While we wait for the bus, Joe introduces me to Richmond, a tiny, elflike man with a mischevious grinning face. I almost expect him to have pointed ears. He has the funny high voice of a TV Martian. I gather that he, too, is “labeled retarded.” Richmond goes to the same church as Joe.

Joe goes into a familiar one-liner: “Hey, are you Rich?”

“I’m rich in the Lord,” Richmond says.

The Bus Hassle is a spectacle to witness. It is a slow, plodding process. The driver gets out and opens the back side doors. Then he hits a switch to activate a motorized ramp. It takes a couple minutes to come down. It feels like I’m sending him off on a spaceship.

“Don’t forget,” Joe says.

“You have my word.” 

I’ll pray for you, all right, that much I can do. 

The ramp rises up, whirring, the doors fold in shut behind him. Blastoff.


There’s a line I like a lot on Paul Simon’s “Graceland”:

“I need a photo opportunity/ I want a shot of redemption.” 

This rain is bad for my spirit. I need a spiritual connection. 
         I say to myself, well, of course he’s not out today. It’s raining. It was raining yesterday, too. I walk around, just to make sure.

I still have a certain affection for downtown Providence. The old women in scarves, carrying umbrellas, the flower-sellers with their dying, rainy-wet wares, a bearded man in neon-red plastic sunglasses in the rain. But I’m looking for Joe.

I walk around with my hands in my pockets. I go to the usual places. I glide past Dunkin’ Donuts, peering in carefully. I even look around in the Plaza, to make sure he’s not lurking in a bus shelter.

I don’t know enough to come in out of the rain.

I get these weird half-hallucinations out of the corners of my eyes. I see the spinning wheels of a truck and for an instant I mistake them, far off: was that a wheelchair?

I’m convulsed with a strange and terrible fear. It’s more than just being worried that it’ll rain tomorrow and tomorrow. I’m scared, I feel strangely panicked.

Maybe I’ll never see him again?


Sun at last. What’s more, it’s eighty degrees. “This is good,” I tell my roommate. “All kinds of people will be out today.”

Nicole smiles wisely, she knows exactly what I mean. “No fair,” she says. “You’ve filled your quota of obsessions. I haven’t.”

It’s warm enough for Joe to be without his hooded pullover, and I almost don’t recognize him. His hair is sparse, cropped, greasy. His hairline is receding. Goofy somehow. The hood was like the vestments of the holy man. Of course, the chair lets me know it’s really him.

He stops, takes the harmonica out of his mouth, right in the middle of a rousing rendition of “Jesus Loves Me.” “Hello!” he says, squeezing my arm. “I knew I’d see you today.”


Brother Joe

I saw this blind guy today. He was shouting, “help those less fortunate than yourself!” I said, “Less fortunate? Who’s less fortunate? Look at me. You’re blind. You’re wearing a suit. But will you dance with me?”

I know plenty of blind guys. And they see more than you n’ me put together.

My landlord’s selling my place. I have to make a down payment on a new place. I have to serve The Mighty Buck, even though it says In God We Trust. Money, what’s money anyway? As long as I have my harmonica, what do I care?

I saw a lady today, she was singing “How Great Thou Art.” I said, “Bless you, but take singin’ lessons.” She was making a spectacle of herself. I mean, I’m a spectacle too, but thank God mine’s physical.”

I was complaining to my God, and he sent me the Proverbs.

He said, “Get back in your place, boy. The funnybone, that’s just the elbow.”


It’s a big day, Joe says. He wants me to go with him to a Prayer Meeting at his church. I hesitate, for secretly I grow tired of the constant religious rap. But I am polite. How bad could it be? Images of people saying the Rosary in a dank church basement. I am interested in uncovering different facets of Joe’s life. “OK,” I say, “I’ll go.”

Joe’s pleased. “Brother Vic will give us a ride,” he says. “He can give you a ride home.” I’ve been wanting to meet Brother Vic, who he’s told me about.

Vic has a long grey beard and twinkling eyes, which lend him the appearance of an old fisherman. I hop in the back of Vic’s small two-door car. It takes a few minutes for Vic to help Joe get in the car and to disassemble the chair, a tricky business.

We get there early, as Vic has to attend a Pre-Prayer Meeting. I sit in the car with Joe, smoking his cigarettes to pass the time. Joe is very excited about the Prayer Meeting. “Things are gonna shine tonight!” he says, beaming.

Joe says, much as he enjoys interacting with so many good people, it puts a drain on him sometimes.

“Do I drain you?” I ask.

He considers this. “Yes,” he says. “But you give me something back.”

Brother Wayne, Vic’s brother, sticks his head in Vic’s car’s window. He’s got the same eyes as Vic, but beardless and ten years younger. He has a giddy laugh, a continuous stream of ahhahaha! He helps Joe get out of the car, while Joe cracks jokes about the virtues of Patience. Slow-going, tedious reassembly of the chair.

Wayne’s wearing a big wooden cross around his neck, and as we get inside I notice that everyone else is wearing one too.

The Prayer Meeting is, as I expected, in the church basement. It is completely decked out for the event: card tables covered with paperbacks on “How I Found Jesus”, dozens of folding chairs set up around amplifiers and mikes. And everyone’s wearing these crosses! Little kids, teenagers, old ladies. 

“Like your cross,” Joe says to a little girl. 

“Thank you,” she says.

“Do you believe in Jesus?” he asks. 

“Yes, I do,” she says, staring him in the eye.

I’m a little spooked.

The Prayer Meeting begins! The place fills up with people who begin to save seats for one another, coats strewn on chairs. A few men hoist up a giant wooden cross in the center of the room next to the mikes and amps, which makes me think of crucifixion, or the Klan. 

People with guitars plug into the amps, everybody stands up to sing. “Stand up, Joe,” I whisper, and he punches me on the arm.

Everyone’s singing, everyone. And loudly. People are clapping, it’s a beat, a pulse, that rocks the entire room. I feel bad for not clapping. I am an outsider.

The pulse grows, people have upraised arms, closed eyes. People are dancing, swaying, keening in the aisles.

Joe says, “Look at Vic.”

Vic’s eyes are closed, his face is upturned, his lips are moving but there’s no sound coming out. 

“He shines,” I say awkwardly.

Wayne hands me a songbook with a glassy smile. I shake my head; no, I’m not going to sing. I’m watching the people, trying to fix their faces in my mind so I’ll believe this is really happening.

Joe nods at the entrance of a grey-haired priest in a red cardigan sweater. “Father Randall.” When he appears, the room goes hush.

“Hello, my friends in Christ,” Father Randall says.

Murmuring, “Hello Father.”

Father Randall is quite a good speaker. With gestures of his hands, dramatic facial expressions and a hypnotic tone of voice, he captures everyone’s rapt attention, even mine. But I’m afraid.

Father Randall begins reading a few announcements. Some are fundraisers, requests to “please be generous” for this and that. Some are more specific: “Saturday noon will be our monthly mass for all of the slain unborn, and the healing of their mothers and families. Spread the word and come give them a decent funeral, washing them in the Blood of Jesus who will save them.”

I’m shocked. Disgusted. Apparently, Joe can tell, because he asks, “what’s wrong?’

“It’s OK,” I say, and try to maintain the appearance of interested, yet indifferent, bland observation.

But it’s not easy. After a round of more exuberant singing, a strange thing happens. Everyone begins to babble. The room starts buzzing with strange, otherworldly sounds, a weird singing without words. It gets louder and louder, developing into a high, hysterical wailing, like a lamentation for the dead. Joe’s doing it too.

“Speaking in tongues” it’s called. 

Father Randall says, “Oh, Holy Spirit, you give us the gift of speaking in tongues, now give us the gifts of translation and understanding.”

And suddenly, the Holy Spirit does possess this one little old lady, and she begins to speak, loudly:

“Oh, my children. I exult in your presence here today. But the world is not yet ready. We must pave the way. We must heal all the broken people. The people that are put aside, the people that no one wants to deal with. We must heal the drug addict and the alcoholic and the prostitute. We must wash them in the blood of Jesus.”

After a few more words from the Holy Spirit people begin to sing again. Father Randall comes to our row to ask Joe if he will Witness tonight. Beaming, he says, “yes, Father.”

I ask Joe what this means, to Witness. He says “to go up there and tell how you found Jesus.”

More readings, more songs. Father Randall praises Ronald Reagan for being a good, God-fearing man. I ask Joe what he thinks about that.

“Reagan is handicapped too,” Joe says. “He’s paralyzed from the neck up.”

The meeting goes on and on. I’m not sure how much I can take. I’m not maintaining my fake serenity poker face very well. Joe notices and asks if I want to talk outside.

“No,” I say, “I’m not going to ruin this for you. This is your thing, but I feel like an outsider.”

“This is my thing,” he whispers. 

After another round of speaking in tongues, Father Randall says, “our Witness tonight will be Joe Tremmel,” and Joe goes wheeling up to the mike.

Joe’s obviously excited and a little nervous, because he’s giggling like a silly kid, and when he speaks, he slurs a little. It takes careful listening to understand.

“The last shall be made first, well, I’m the least of all!” he squeals. “I’m ready for the second coming. I’ll wait. Come on down, man!

“Let it be yours, Lord, there are many believers but few workers. Father Randall is a great man. Do whatever this man asks. What a mighty man.

“I used to wonder why I was mobilly impaired. So I prayed, and I fasted, and I prayed, and I fasted, until finally I saw this glowing light, and God said to me, ‘which is more important, the body or the spirit?’”

Father Randall says, “that’s Joe Tremmel, a living example of God’s grace. When I met Joe he told me ‘we’re all handicapped’, and I said, ‘what do you mean, Joe?’ and he said, ‘well, Father, aren’t we all sinners saved by grace?’

“Joe is probably way ahead of us, he doesn’t want to be called handicapped. What is it you want to be called, Joe?”

“Emotionally and physically challenged,” Joe says.

Father Randall starts a chant: “Long Live King Jesus!” People are stomping their feet and shouting.

Joe asks, “will you do me a favor?”

“What is it?”

He points to #7 on the announcement sheet: “Father Randall will be in the kitchen after the meeting to introduce you to a living relationship with Jesus and answer your questions.”

“Will you talk to Father Randall?” he asks.

I get a cold chill. I shake my head.


After the prayer meeting, I drink rancid coffee from a Styrofoam cup. People hug Joe and try to hug me. I’m not sure which makes me sicker, the coffee or fellowship. I really want to leave, but I have to oblige Joe, and more importantly, Vic, our ride. I feel shaken and shocked, a little hysterical. I’m afraid to speak, lest I start speaking in tongues myself.

Joe knows something’s wrong, but I won’t say anything. I know there’s no way I can explain why I didn’t get into it. I’m afraid of what I’ve seen and what it means. I’ll never be able to tell him why his God frightens me.

“I’m not going to see you again,” Joe says.

“You’ll see me.” It’s the first time I’ve ever lied to him.

“I’m not going to see you ever again,” he says.

“Yes, you will.” But, as always, he knows me too well. He knows.

No, you won’t.

Someday, some sunny day, I’ll go downtown and buy a flower because God told me to.

I’ll walk around with no particular place to go. I’ll nodding acknowledge all the flower-sellers, I’ll grin at anyone I think might smile back. Maybe I’ll go in Dunkin’ Donuts.

I don’t know what I’ll say, but I know who I’m looking for.

Funnybone, funnybone.


(What was I looking for? Closure? Forgiveness? Redemption? I still don’t know.

Two years later, in 1989, on a fine spring day, weeks before graduation, I went downtown and found Joe. I brought him a cute porcelain bowl I made in ceramics class. 

    He invited me to take the bus with him to his house in Warwick. It started out as a nice visit, but he soon became very, very angry. My disappearance and prolonged absence, he said, was extremely hurtful to him. He put his trust in me and I betrayed that trust. I was a coward, a false friend.

Things escalated from awkward to uncomfortable and I got on the next bus. Unfortunately, I had given him my phone number and he took to calling me repeatedly to belabor his points, shouting and slurring. I took to hanging up on him. A few weeks later I graduated and moved back to Virginia, disappearing again, this time for good.)

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Now a world apart is an hour away.

Pass the hulking aircraft carriers in the Bremerton shipyard, enter the dick-boy-danger-driving vortex of Belfair, and turn right by the Safeway to Hood Canal.

First is the the menagerie. Baby goats are cute, and I officially have a little crush on a large pig. He wags his tail so fetchingly, like a puppy, creating bacon conundrums at BLT time. The ram is also quite handsome. I am thankful that there is some distance from their roosters, whose early morning shenanigans inspire my murder fantasies. There are countless chickens and ducks, and also turkeys, some of whom are destined for what their owner calls “freezer camp.”

After the hilarious critters, head further uphill.


You will recall that I had Mustard Seed, a trucker couple, move my fragile 1960 Airstream on a flatbed 118 miles from Washaway to Tahuya back in February. The truckers in question, Curt and Tracie, can do anything, but I didn’t know that yet.

In Japan “forest bathing” is a thing. It’s said that trees talk to each other. To be in their mighty, mammoth presence, here, I feel and hear it. I decided I needed an appropriate get-up. My costume designer friend Ute stepped up to realize my Wood Nymph vision.

Oh, I had big ideas. I bought a plan for a cabin with a wraparound porch. There was septic design, (wouldn’t running water have its charms?) and a “geotechnical report”, which is a fancy way of saying “will a tree fall on me?” (No.) Are there “seasonal streams” with little fishes? (Yes, and no). I asked Derek, who built our deck in Bremerton, to build our cabin. He’s known for his impeccable craftsmanship, and also for high flakiness and drama. But then he got Covid, and while he was sick, the price of lumber tripled, the bids for a well were almost as much as the land, and I commenced to lower my expectations.

Meanwhile, Mustard Seed casually mentioned that they could bring a backhoe, trench a massive ditch, get the permit, lay conduit and save me thousands on a “real” electrician. It came to pass. It passed inspection. I love electricity.

Like many trailers that have spent time in the salt sea air, the Airstream leaks. Thus, its cuteness, like hiding a light under a bushel, has always been tarped. I decided that while the cabin was not happening, a carport would be nice. I ordered one from Carports For Less in February. Alas, China has its own supply issues with steel, and I became impatient with flakiness. Mustard Seed said they could build me a carport.

They built me a pagoda.

While we were twiddling our thumbs with big ideas, back in February, we ordered an “Old Hickory Shed.” After many months, it was magically delivered.

I have a doctor friend who visited Washaway in 2010. Like many doctors, she is impossibly bossy and prone to pontificating. “Erika!” she lectured. “The shed needs to be the Cookhouse! You need a wood-burning stove, a table and chairs, and a record player!”

“For once, you’re right,” I said.

Mustard Seed is making it so.

I realized that all I want is what I used to have. A trailer, a Cookhouse, and an outhouse.

And, actually, I want less. I can handily do without what the South Beach Bulletin used to call “Mother Nature’s Wrath”, the angry ocean, redneck neighbors burning their garbage and plastics, gullible neighbors enabling the local con artists, thieving tweakers, and Farcissistic false friends. I have lost my taste for drama.

I have not lost my taste for joy.

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Last Rites

How do you break up with a place?

How about Seattle? I woke up one day and everything I loved in our city-home had been demolished. The place that raised me for half my life had basically packed my bags for me. Luckily, I landed someplace better. And now my old hometown of Arlington, Virginia is Amazon’s new frontier. There’s no going home again.

There are places that I can never visit again, yet they will never leave me. My doomed beach property, my great-aunts’ house. I always knew they were perishable. My photographs are proof of them, and a comfort. I remember their musty, friendly smells.

Washaway Beach has always been complicated.

Vagabond at sunset

I bought 3 lots there, with an old boyfriend, in 2002. There, on that land we knew wouldn’t last, we built a compound of trailers and shacks that was, to us, magical. It lasted until 2014, longer than our relationship. Washaway Beach was a place that made me feel something. Of course, I am notorious for feeling things.

I got the Airstream in 2004 for $400 from some junk-collecting friends with a penchant for scrap metal in Grayland. A young guy had mysteriously died in it. It needed some serious work. You can read the strange story in my blog post, “Birds of Prey.”

By 2012 the ominous Washaway Beach falling-into-the-ocean nip was in the air. My local friends, my Hosts, offered to put the Airstream, the hippest and most labor-intensively, expensively restored of our three trailers, on their property, for safekeeping and as a cool guest cottage for them. Were it not for their generosity, it would not live today. Despite later complications, I will always be grateful. Local legend Les Strange moved it those few blocks to their place with his pickup at top speed. It made it.

In December 2014 my property did, indeed, fall into the ocean. I always stayed in my ancient and beautiful Vagabond trailer. That’s a place I visit in my mind to keep it alive. I hired Les Strange again to move the Vagabond to the seemingly-less doomed 3rd lot of my three lots. “May we be gypsy wagons,” I wrote, “transient as the beach itself.”

Gypsy Wagon Fail. The Vagabond broke. The hitch broke off, about 10 feet onto the road. Then people came and trashed it. Shot holes in it, broke windows, broke in, peeled off the golden paneling. Why would you destroy something that someone had loved, shortly before it falls into the ocean? Is there really nothing left to lose? I took the windows and doors off the Cookhouse to convenience the thieves. You can’t rip me off if I give it all away.


It hurt. Badly. All of it. Losing my sanctuary, losing my fearlessness, having everything either ripped off or trashed. It also clearly indicated that what sucks about Washaway Beach is not the ocean’s wrath, but its people.

The grief and loss of my compound was greatly softened by having the Airstream already tucked in at the home of my Hosts. The Host is a great guy, a good egg, handy and generous. He built me an awning and an outhouse and ran power to the trailer. He was always more than willing to help.

The Hostess is an artist, and she and I share many similar interests, yet have very different personalities and styles of communication. She is funny, but with a prickly manner, a coldness I ascribe to Michigan. She would routinely make blunt, insensitive remarks that often seemed disrespectful, even hurtful. She called me the “Queen of Unemployment,” then wanted to know how to apply.

“She doesn’t mean to be mean,” my love explained. “She’s just not nice.”

A Guest is beholden. In recent years, on my beach visits, it seemed that the Hostess was almost always in a bad mood. Was it personal, or just the daily travails of a princess?

In an effort to ingratiate myself I made a point to come bearing gifts, every time: nice bread from the city, tomatoes from my garden, gazpacho, birthday cake, Jim Beam. My goal was to be the most generous and low-maintenance Guest ever.

“Hey, can we talk? We’ve had a good run. Nothing personal, but we’d like our privacy and this back corner of the yard back. What do you think about moving it? How can we help? Give it some thought. Let’s have some cake and adult beverages.” That would’ve been a diplomatic way to bring up moving the Airstream. This did not happen.

It was August and we were tarping the Airstream on a fine summer day. I had just bought $200 worth of new tarps, at the Host’s (correct) suggestion, to batten it down for the winter from leaks, planning for the future.

“So,” Hostess asked, as we worked on our project on a golden afternoon. “What are you gonna DO with this thing?”

“Do?’ I asked. I didn’t understand the question. “We’re tarping it,” I said, by way of explanation.

“It’s been eight years. It’s time,” she said, and said that she wanted it moved “by spring.”

I was shocked by the out-of-nowhere timing, the tactlessness, her careless summoning of the old gypsy wagon Washaway dread, and the fact that I’d just brought her a very nice goddamn cake for her 60th birthday.

  1. Will it move? Ancient, beloved trailers have been known to break.
  2. How would it move?
  3. If it moves, where to?
  4. If it breaks, what then?

Good thing I had that corporate gardener job, whose HR department taught me phony but effective phrases.

“I am sensitive to your concerns,” I said. “We’ll be looking for property.”

It was only half bullshit, as I AM sensitive.

So we started looking for property. Our friend Steph, a real estate agent, had some ideas around here on the peninsula. Elfendal Pass. Toanados Peninsula. Dabob Bay. Tahuya. All fun names to say.

We checked out assorted “vacant land” and found something beautiful in Tahuya, on the north side of Hood Canal. 2.5 acres of mostly ravine. Through the ancient trees, you can see the sparkle of the water. The serenity, privacy and beauty are intoxicating. We found some land that makes you feel something.

A friend told me about a company called U-Ship, where truckers with trucks look for side jobs. I ran an ad, posted decrepit photos of the Airstream, explained the fragility, flat tire and rusty hitch, the need for a flatbed.

I got a response!

I emailed the trucker, and reiterated the fragility, the fear and the sadness of having trailers break.

“I have faith,” the trucker replied, “that we can move this easily and safely.”

On a trip in December to move out some nonessentials, I had a run-in with the Hostess.

“What are your plans?” she pressed. She was seemingly trying to pick a fight. It was not helpful.

“They’ll never get a truck down here,” she insisted. “It’ll never move.” And then there was the matter of the Airstream needing to be moved out through the neighbor’s lot, due to the Hosts’ zealous fencing.

“You’ll mess up the neighbor’s grass!” she cried. “He’s my Facebook friend!”

“Too bad,” I said. “Do you want this thing moved or not?”

She went storming off. I was touched that I had never known about her caring sensitivity and concern for the neighbor and his grass, after all these years, taking, as it were, priority over helping out an old friend like me.

I quickly remembered that money greases all wheels. I contacted the Facebook Friend-Neighbor (FFN) and offered him $100 for grass seed and to soften the blow of general inconvenience. He was keen. He is a reasonable person. He would drop off the key to his gate. We had a nice chat.

I don’t know why she thinks FFN is her new BFF. During our conversation FFN and I had some catty good fun at her expense.

Todd and I rented a U-Haul and got everything out of the Airstream. U-Haul is only 24 hour rentals now, so we drove 3 hours, unloaded 24 ft. of heavy stuff into a 15 ft. trailer, drove home 3 hours, unloaded it, returned the truck. It was exhausting, expensive, and overwhelming. But it did not rain, and I’m grateful we did it. We got everything out.

“Think about everything bad that can happen,” my buddy V advised, while suggesting getting supplemental insurance. (Ultimately, I didn’t). “It could be dangerous. A part could fly off. someone could be hurt. You could be sued.”

He had a gig on a movie set a few years back, and was tasked with driving a box truck to a marina for a delivery in the very early morning hours. He fell asleep at the wheel.

“You’re just jumpy because you drove a truck into a boat,” I teased.

“It was six or seven boats,” he replied.

“I’d like to see it taken further.” Throw around this handy phrase and save yourself a trip to art school! Obviously, I needed to take my worrying further, though it has been proven not to change the outcome.

As our move drew near, I was brained by anxiety. Sleepless, heart-pounding, brain-racing nights led to stressful days. I cried. I threw up. I hyperventilated. I had chest pains. I noticed I was doing this conspicuous, involuntary, annoying loud sighing. “HUH!” I remembered having made this noise before, and I suddenly remembered:

This is grief!

And why not? I’ve been going to the area since 1993. I bought my Washaway compound in 2002. I have beach keys, a beach purse, beach hat, beach boots, dedicated beach-walking socks with permanent sand. Why wouldn’t this hurt, again?

I knew that if I had to deal with being bullied by the Hostess during the move that my head would explode. I requested her absence, and my wish was granted.

It must be noted that our Host, once again, meanwhile, was going out of his way to help, weedwhacking FFN’s blackberry brambles that were in the way, borrowing an air compressor to try, but sadly, fail, to inflate the broken tire, taking down fencing. He was a true diplomat between warring factions. A rare breed.

Deep in Washaway, on February 9, Mustard Seed Trucking showed up. They are a husband and wife team that have worked together for 40 years.

When I worked in building salvage, we had what we called “the Chatter”, whereby, using a secret language with coworkers, you could move very heavy things through excellent communication.

“Tip it up.” “Tabletop.” “Vertical.” “Rotate.” “STOP!”

Mustard Seed’s trucking Chatter was evolved to the point of telepathy. Tracy drove the massive truck. Curt was outside, talking his magical Zen Chatter. It was astonishing to witness.

“Turn left 2 inches.”

“Hard right all the way.” And there Tracy was, right precisely where my rusty hitch needed to be to connect to the ball of the truck.

It made frightening and terrible sounds as it began to roll, creaking and cracking.

I think I was either in shock, or in some kind of sleep deprived trance, but it was like watching a brilliant chef, or like watching Regnor throw a beautiful pot out of clay on the wheel. The undeniable presence of mastery, a lifetime’s work. “Wow,” I said, to no one in particular. “Wow,” as Tracy rolled the Airstream, its flat tire shredded like the fringe of a go-go dancer, in reverse up the ramp of the flatbed.

“You are artists!” Todd shouted.

They demurred to have us follow them to Tahuya. “We need some coffee,” Curt explained. So, sadly, we did not get to follow them while singing the 1978 hit “We’re in a trucker’s convoy! Ain’t she a beautiful sight!”

As a consolation prize, we went to Big Bubba’s in Shelton and got burgers, fries and shakes. “We earned this!” I declared, sucking down my 3,000-calorie peanut butter shake.

110 miles later, Mustard Seed arrived in Tahuya. Our property is 700 ft. up a very, very steep, narrow hill. For those wondering if/ when I’m going to fall into the ocean again, I say “NOT TODAY!”

I had delegated part of my worrying nights wondering how the trailer, if, having survived all other initial perils: breakage, wheels breaking, hitches breaking, crumbling rust, parts flying off on the freeway, hurting someone, getting sued, after all that, how would it make up that last leg of the journey, going up that very, very steep, serious hill?

Masterfully. Tracy and Curt unloaded it off the flatbed on the scary hill, hitched it to the pickup and pulled the truck and trailer in. Then they needed to do a multi-point U-turn. One of many tricky maneuvers for the day. Our 2.5 acres are mostly ravine.

I’m going to drive off the cliff,” Tracy protested.

“No,” Curt said. “You’re not.”

They got the Airstream set on the new property, and spent time carefully finessing its parking, much longer than I would have. I tipped them $100, which Curt tried to refuse.

“Guess I’m buying her a nice dinner,” Curt conceded.

“That was a miracle,” I said as we drove home.

“Mustard Seed,” Todd mused. Think they’re religious?”

It did sound familiar, so I checked. It’s from the book of Matthew.

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.”

Well, that’s a mighty good ad for a trucking company.

I’m sure I’ll go back to Washaway Beach now and again. I have some nice friends with a cabin there. What’s different is that there’s nothing of mine left anymore. I wonder if, as with my vanished old property, I’ll keep wandering around the grounds where there’s nothing, looking for me.

The sign to the woods by my childhood home in Virginia used to say, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but tracks.” Maybe it still does.

There are new adventures afoot. Join me.

Tahuya, 4 days later.

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Robertson’s Revisited (1987)

(This photo essay about the closing of Robertson’s 5&10 surfaced in the recent cleaning out of my parents’ house in Arlington, VA. Edited for some reveries about 1970’s candy.)

Red, white and blue plastic fringe rustles in the wind. As always, Robertson’s is hysterically festive, even in its dying days. Everything! Must! Go!

Robertson’s is a tradition, an eccentricity and an oddity in an ever-changing Arlington, Virginia. The highway is becoming a corridor of banks and fast food chains, and here, around the corner, is the Little Engine That Could. The Five and Ten! We’re talking about squirt guns, Silly Putty, plastic fingernails and rubber spiders. A whole aisle of “Fashion Jewelry,” plastic rings with fake birthstones, one for everyone. Sequins, pipe cleaners, and unlikely, unflattering polyester clothing. A splendid array of buttons and spools of ribbon. Iron-on name tags (as one might wear in a jumpsuit, pumping gas, if pumping gas was still a thing) with bygone names: Dawn and Vinnie and Connie and Marla and Ricky.

The store always seemed to be in a time warp, even in its glory. Especially because of the three elderly women who ran the store for three decades. These ladies were legendary. When we were kids, we used to dread them. They were always hovering, watching, hawklike, keenly observant. They would blatantly follow you around. They believed all kids were shoplifters.

Truth be told, they had a point.

One time, I must’ve been about eight, my Mom was buying some stuff and I pocketed a roll of WintOGreen LifeSavers. A bold move, considering the proximity to the cash register. As we drove home, I covertly unfurled my prize. I should have just savored that wintery goodness, but no, I commenced to crunch.

“What are you eating?” Mom asked.


“Where did you get it?”

“Found it.” Pretty slick, huh? I remember quickly location scouting in the back seat. Surely one could find an intact LifeSaver in the wells of the seat belts.

Mom did a swift U-Turn in the Chevelle and marched me back into Robertson’s, had me pay for it, apologize and swear to never do it again. Oh, the burning shame!

Not only did this cure me of shoplifting, but I can safely say it was my last time having a WintOGreen LifeSaver. So, if anyone has tried chomping on them in the dark, in front of a mirror, and seen minty sparks fly out of one’s mouth, please share your work.

I am not excusing my early foray into petty larceny, but it’s important to note how seductive the candy packaging and advertising was. (See also: sugar cereals). To my way of thinking, the candy fell into four distinct categories. Note that I am not including bubble gum, which is its own thing, or chocolate, which was, and remains, delicious.

1. Hard As A Rock For No Good Reason: Tootsie Roll and its evil twin, the Tootsie Pop. The dreaded Bit-O-Honey. Mary Jane, the rock-hard caramel on a lollipop stick. All the taffy.. All of this candy must still exist, since no one ever ate it more than once, and it helped create discerning palates for young children on Halloween.

2. Hard As A Rock On Purpose. Here you have all the hard candy: Jolly Ranchers, with the “fruit” flavors found nowhere in nature: Green Apple, Watermelon. (shudder). They were so hard they could cut your tongue. The aptly-named Jawbreakers and fireballs. Zots, I would still eat those. The aforementioned LifeSavers.

3. Weird/ Exotic. This is a vast category. Wax vampire teeth filled with red liquid. Candy cigarettes, two kinds: the candy ones, and the gum ones, which would blow out powdered smoke. Candy necklaces. The ‘Ring Pop”, a jewel of hard candy on a plastic ring, so you could walk around sucking on your finger. Nothing weird about that. Lik-Em-Aid, also sold as Fun Dip, where you’d have three packets of a sweet-tart-like powder, into which you would dip the included stick, moistened, which was also made of candy and you could also eat. The Sweet-tarts and Pixie-Sticks helped us develop our sour palates.

No discussion of Weird /Exotic ’70s candy is complete without Pop Rocks and their early predecessor, Space Dust. They were artificially flavored and colored granules that would crackle, loudly, in your mouth. Not long after their appearance on the scene, an Urban Legend ensued, concerning Little Mikey of Life Cereal advertising fame. (“Some cereal, supposed to be good for you / Let’s get Mikey, he hates everything /He likes it, hey Mikey!”). As the story goes, Mikey had some Pop Rocks with a Coke and blew up his stomach. This is not true, but at the same time, the candy disappeared, due to supposed problems with “out-of-date product”. What could go bad with a bucket of chemicals from space? It just seemed to lend credence to the Mikey story. I’m told that Pop Rocks still exist, that you can have them with Coke and not explode, and that they are used by trendy chefs in desserts.

4. Inedible Product, Toy Surprise Inside. CrackerJack blazed this trail with its stale popcorn, rotten peanuts and very fine toys. Bazooka gum was rock-hard and inedible, but featured charming Bazooka Joe comics (“A man with one foot nailed to the floor walks only in circles.”) And lastly, my beloved, the Wacky Packages. “Collectors,” Wikipedia notes, “reportedly did not chew the gum.” Hah! Nobody ate the gum. It was cardboard. The point was the stickers, which were spoofs of popular products, making fun of advertising. “AllPoo” dog food, “Gulp” oil. They were subversive. Parents didn’t like them. Their artistic style was the early Mad magazine/ R. Crumb/ Keep On Truckin’ ’70s nastiness that was, and is, so compelling. Here are my last two surviving Wacky Packys:

These many temptations made kids hard to police. Betsy would corner you in the Aisle of Ribbons with her scissors. Eleanor would command us not to play with the toys. But we did, we always did. Cap guns and Yo-Yos and Slinkys and gyroscopes. We were not subdued. We were brats. In retrospect, it must’ve been a challenging customer service job.

Now Robertson’s is going out of business. Ethel and Eleanor have been here twenty-seven years, Betsy, seventeen years. They pace the aisles as though their kingdom is about to be repossessed, which it is.

Sharon, too. is in shock, though she’s only been here two years. I remember when she first appeared. I was shocked that Robertson’s had hired a young person. Somehow she fits, though. She is seen and not heard. She is wearing a fancy purple dress, as if on her way to a party, and tells me the scoop about Robertson’s in the Aisle of Ribbons. Mr. Robertson, the owner, passed away and his son, Ricky, sold the store. Even sacred sites have their price.

I am buying an armload of ridiculous items, precious junk I won’t find anywhere else. Relics. I have plastic flowered magnets, a pencil sharpener in the shape of a clock, vintage ’50s window decals, a piece of “Fashion Jewelry”, a small plastic flag, and a candy necklace. Standing in the checkout line, I am gravely nostalgic.

The cash register, you see, would open and shut, but not add. So one’s purchases were tallied by Ethel doing the math in pen on a brown paper bag. Time not only stopped at Robertson’s. It sometimes seemed to be going backwards.

Ethel writes out the long slow line of calligraphic numbers and tallies them. Then she can’t remember if she included the flag. The only thing to do is to start from the beginning and add them up all over again. This fills me with a sweet grief, as when you realize the moment you’re in is already the past.

“What will you do when Robertson’s is gone?” I ask Ethel.

She pushes her cat glasses up her nose and gives me the special, sharp look reserved for potential shoplifters. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

“Gonna sit down and relax, what do you think?” she snaps.

She scoops my change into my outstretched palm, but I’m too sad to count it.

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Free Fall

“I’m like a cave man,” my friend Ron told me. “I’m staying in my cave, avoiding the T-Rex, licking rain water off a rock.”

“Shouldn’t you be grilling and chowing down on his big ol’ thigh?” I asked.

“We can only hope,” he said. “I’m going to take my hammer and chisel and make a chair out of the side wall. I’ll use the scraps for arrowheads. You use everything when you’re a cave man.”

I called Ron because of the spiral staircase. Ron lives on a ski slope, and his condo has those steep ski-chalet ceilings. There is a spiral staircase to one loft, then a pretty serious ladder to the next. A former ski racer and REI gear-tester, Ron is the spryest 82-year-old of all time. His place is decorated with ice axes and pennants and skis. He walks up the ski slope every day. “I’ve got an ass like Cher,” he remarked with his usual modesty.

Last time I went to visit him, which was last winter, we stayed up late, laughing and drinking wine, after which I found the spiral staircase quite sobering, something to be treated with the utmost, consummate respect, like a chain saw. So what was I thinking here?

That’s right, there was a house for sale at Washaway. A place with water and sewer, can you imagine? It was an A-frame with a spiral staircase. There was a real estate agent there, providing booties for your shoes and disposable masks. Which just goes to show you that the erosion, like a miracle, must be gone! They were asking $179k. I offered much less. “No,” they said. And that was that.

Anyway, I hate spiral staircases.

“No, no, NO!!” my friend Julia told me. “You can NOT buy another place at Washaway!”

“Fool me twice,” I conceded.

I’ve been to the beach twice in the last few months. My new Husband and I spent a week in our friends’ cabin for our honeymoon. As it turned out, the hottest day ever was happening in the city (97 degrees) and cooling off at the coast was a popular idea. The beach was packed!

We made a bunch of great food, went for long walks, and took naps. The beach had all the hallmarks of late summer: the inland waterways, the mini lumpy islands I call the ‘turtles,” warm sand, warm-ish water.

Then in the fall we went back down, and the beach was back to its old cloudy, spooky self. Indeed, it was October when I bought my ill-fated compound, and there’s a nostalgia to the gloom. That’s probably why I lost my mind and was checking out Washaway real estate, I figure.

Now I’m thinking it’s time for a new adventure. After many years, my hosts want me to move my Airstream off their property. I predict it will break apart, like the Vagabond did. So the end of an era is coming.

What if there was a new place to explore? Kitsap Peninsula and I are still just getting acquainted. It would be closer. I hope you’ll join me.

I can rarely sleep. Sleep is a drug and I can’t score any. Believe me, I’ve tried. My mind races, my heart pounds. I spin apocalyptic scenarios.

As a crazy landscaping lady I used to work for liked to say, “OOOOHH, THAT’S UP IN MY WHEELHOUSE!” It turned out she had a brain tumor, which explains a whole lotta crazy. We never know another’s struggles, I suppose.

While I was at the beach, not sleeping, it occurred to me that this is much like the old familiar Washaway dread. To ruminate on the bad things that will most certainly happen, or to savor the moments when it hasn’t yet? I am an expert-level worrier, yet it doesn’t change the outcome. The difference now is that I worry that the whole country, the world, is going to fall into the proverbial ocean.

I’m sitting here while the ballots are being counted, feeling like this image. Is the flower getting squashed by the tire, or is it blooming in spite of it?

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I’m not a big fan of most holidays. I especially dislike Christmas, with its consumerism and false hope. I really, really despise Fourth of July. Labor and Memorial Day have lost their original meaning. Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day are for beer companies.

I do like my birthday, which is in June. I have been collecting art depicting hearts, so I treated myself to this work by Port Townsend artist Loran Scruggs, “Silver Heart.”

I look at this every day, and remind myself that I left my Catholic upbringing behind to follow my heart, go West, and live among mountains and flowers. There have been some crowns of thorns along the way, but it has all been worth it.

One holiday I absolutely love is Bastille Day. Storming the barricades to roll some heads, smashing those monuments to greed. How timely! In the interest of starting a revolution of love, Todd and I got married on Bastille Day, on our deck, socially distanced, with a handful of our neighbors and friends, with Seattle legend Lamar Van Dyke as our Vicar.

The best best man.

If you want to see the video, you can watch it here:

Someone asked me if being married felt any different. I’ll say that despite the state of the world, the global pandemic, the Hellbeast, and general uncertainty and dread, I felt joy. To be married to the man I love in front of some of the people who mean the most to me on a perfect, beautiful day in the Great Northwest, Mount Rainier shimmering in the distance like a mirage. To enjoy the satisfaction of throwing a really great party. We had baguettes and Brie and Champagne and smoked salmon and big fat raspberries and beautiful pears and cake, of course.

As my Mom said about Paris, “It should be bubbles!” And it was.

But, as Robert Frost warned, “nothing gold can stay.”

About a week later, as I was enjoying my state of joy, my rabid, raving, ridiculous aunt thought she’d call me with some unsolicited advice, left on my voice mail. “I know this is none of my business,” she whined, “but I think you should reconsider your ATTITUDE towards your father.”

Pro tip: if your pontificating lecture begins with “I know this is none of my business” it’s probably none of your business.

Voodoo Daddy, 2018

The last time I saw my Dad was in 2016. As usual, he mostly ignored me and didn’t appreciate all the meals I made and nice things I tried to do for him. Later in 2016 he was generous enough to inform me, via a four-page letter, that what I always thought was aloofness was actually hatred, and that everything I’ve ever done in my life is wrong. You can read it, with my illustrations, in the post “My Heart Belongs To.”

I love how no one remembers how I had 10 holes drilled in my lower back to donate bone marrow to my Mom (see “Harvestland.”) All they remember is that she died anyway. My mom was bossy, but also caring and creative and loving and kind. She cared about me. I miss her.

So this advice didn’t go over so well. My aunt then proceeded to ramble about how I’m a “bridge burner, not a bridge builder.”

“Fuck off, honey, I can swim.” I wish I’d said it 30 years ago.

You have to hand it to my Dad.He photographed well. Doesn’t he just look so cute and professorial? He was a selfish, bitter, damaged, unkind man. Of course, everything comes from somewhere. His Catholic childhood featured such sadism and cruelty, he had no idea how to be a Dad. I don’t know why he bothered, except to breed more little Catholics. So of course I was a disappointment. I’m so glad to be childless, for many reasons.

Giving me unsolicited advice about my father is a popular pastime. In June, my uncle wrote to tell me: “Your father loves you but doesn’t know how to reconcile the difference between you. It’s up to you to mend the fence. Write to him, compliment him on his wisdom and skill, and ask him for his advice. Don’t argue! Tell him he is the smartest you’ve ever known and you would like to reconcile your differences. Time is short. It doesn’t matter who is right. Promise to do better and compliment him. Ask what kind of car you should buy.Remember a time together that was pleasant. Steer clear of conflicts. No father wants to be at odds with his daughter. Don’t argue, be polite, seek his advice. Time is short. Take the lead. Time is literally short.”

Dad with pocket watch

When would you ever tell a man to be polite, get down on his knees, offer some empty flattery and beg for forgiveness? Never. That’s the patriarchy and Catholicism for you. What, exactly, do I need to be forgiven for? For being me,and thinking for myself? Whose life is it? So I’m supposed to go full-on Mary Magdalene, wash his feet with my tears, and dry them with my hair?

Well, needless to say, that didn’t happen. Nor could I “remember a time that was pleasant.” One thing my uncle was right about was time being short. My Dad died on July 29.

I wish I was proud of him, or that he understood or cared about me. I am not sorry about any of my healthy choices. I’m 3000 miles away, living my life, freely and happily, with the family I chose, who don’t try to emotionally blackmail me. It’s good to be free of the prison of false family. I can count the relatives I care about on one hand.

My friend Izzy left me a message: “Wow, I’ve never had to say major congratulations and condolences in the same minute. Lotta stuff going on.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea of forgiveness. I don’t think it means groveling self-loathing and apologies. I think it means meeting halfway toward acceptance. I think it means making good, healthy choices with the people you surround yourself with. I’m so proud of my impeccable taste in my large chosen family. I thank them all the time. And I thank you, my fabulous readers.

In Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, the vain old King asks each of his three daughters to express their love for him. The oldest two are classic Ivankas, fawning and obsequious, trying to outdo each other.

The youngest says, “I love you as much as a daughter loves her father,” and that she’s saving half of her love for a future husband.

Whoops! She forgot to say “You’re the smartest I’ve ever known! What kind of car should I buy?”

So she gets disinherited, and the other two take full advantage of him, and he goes crazy, tearing his hair out in a storm, realizing he’s been played. This is basically what has happened with my skimming, scamming, grifting, grafting weasel of a brother. (See my post “The Bad Seed.”)

But as my reader Howlin’ Hounddog put it to me, some years back, “Do not drink the poison called Resentment and think others will die from it. They won’t, and you will.”

I do, in fact, seek advice, from people I trust. There’s a difference. My fabulous next-door neighbor, Betsy, just had to deal with the estate of her 101-year-old Dad and his gold-digging new wife. Here’s what she had to tell me:

“Focus on the things you can control. Not their behavior. Take your joy in whatever you can find. The challenge is finding out the truth.

“I need to live within my own skin, within my own soul, so I can sleep at night. My whole life has been based on being able to sleep at night.”

I started feeding crows last winter, again, hoping to court good luck, starting with unsalted peanuts in the shell. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that the bent-branch fencing (aka “Wattles”) that I made were getting all their bark peeled off. Deer? I thought. And then these tiny sculptures started to appear.

I told you about my collection of art depicting hearts. Needless to say, I was dazzled and astonished when they left this piece for me. I framed it with the red leather from a glove of a glamorous, departed friend.

So, tempting as it was to get some Jackie O sunglasses and a black veil, the idea of getting on a Covid plane for my Dad, so I could be some Black Sheep Prodigal Daughter spectacle for my relatives had no appeal. So I didn’t.

Yesterday was the “viewing” of an open casket waxy-taxidermied 95-year-old dead guy. It was a day of anxiety, grief and queasy dread, as well as palpable relief not to be there. The funeral is today, as we speak.

I hadn’t gotten any crow presents in awhile, despite making them little omelettes and other tasty snacks. I had the old, complicated, vise-grips-on-the-heart grief feeling until I found this top-shelf work of art in the driveway.

Is it a crucifix? A heart? It felt like an affirmation for just being here and now, on my own path. Proof of compassion, true mysticism and magic. I’ll take an artistic Crow over an impossible parent any day.

With “family” like this, it’s good to have friends.

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Erotional Rescue

Back when we could still go out and make merry, Todd played a Tango gig up in Port Townsend. After the show I was chatting with Andy, the piano player.

With a prankster’s glee, he whispered, “I heard you thought the Seattle Times story about Washaway Beach was BOGUS!”

Play it again, Andy!

The clunkily-written piece was a soggy re-heating of the story you’ve read here (see “Dynamics”) and elsewhere, about how $650,000 of rocks will stop the ocean, a century-plus of coastal erosion, mismanagement by the Army Corps of Engineers including the damming of the Columbia River, the fickle way sand moves around (that’s “sediment accretion”, as the coastal ecologists say), the way the wind roars across the Pacific from Alaska (that’s “fetch”, to you), all through a magical mojo called “dynamic revetment”, or as I prefer, The Rolling Stones, as prescribed by a cranberry grower.

Mmm-hmm! Well, now I have softened my tone, pandemic and all. I am full of harmony and goodwill. By all means, bring on the rocks, leprechauns, healing crystals, bleach, and assorted general woo-woo. I never said I wasn’t superstitious!

As Rushad Eggleston expressed it in his composition for Cello and jazz kazoo, “Borona Virus”, about how quarantine is boring:

“And who cares if it’s real or not? If you believe it to be real, it’s as real as anything that is real and believable, for real, it got real, it got real, it got real real quick in here.”

But, speaking of print journalism’s declining fortunes, it is with the heaviest of hearts that I must report the demise of my beloved. Yes, my SBB, the South Beach Bulletin, Washaway’s newspaper of record, has SUCCUMBED TO MOTHER NATURE’S WRATH!

Was it Wrath or Fury? I think it was both, depending on the occasion. Who could forget the headline for Roberta and Dave’s house falling into the ocean in 2012, “Washaway Couple’s Lifestyle Dreams, Going, Going, Gone!”

It’s such a ripoff that my compound just looked like a ragtag group of shacks and trailers, that fell in at their own pace over a month, and I never officially got to SUCCUMB! Though I did.

The paper’s signature style was guided by the fearless and intrepid captain of Wrath/ Fury, Barb Aue, whose retirement left a heartbreaking hole, lacking the torrid and juicy details of “Westport Police on Patrol”, with its domestic disputes, stolen dogs, and all manner of public and private drunkenness. Rest in Power, Wrath/ Fury!

I challenge you to write a better headline.

Well, what’ll it be? Relief, rejoice or regret? A frittata of all? I’ve been on a little tear for frittatas.

One of my hobbies is correcting the spelling errors I find on the internet. What a renewable resource! If only vast wind turbines and solar panels would be fired up by correcting “your” to “you’re”, and parsing out “their”, ‘they’re” and “there.” I know this is one of my weird kinks, and I’d like you to know it’s from having my name misspelled for my entire life. Half a century plus, and notoriously by my own relatives. Everyone wants to throw the letter C in there. DON’T DO THIS!

But I do think that if you’re going to form an organization, and promote it, for the public, it might be good to do a little ol’ spell-checky-poo. “Independance” Day Parade, here’s looking at you, kid. (I had to fight the machine to duplicate your work. Founding Fathers, put it on my tab.)

So when I saw this, I had to wince, laugh and groan, concurrently:

Erotion? And “controlling” coastal erosion is your bag? Oh, dude.

But, the more I thought about it, I came to really like Erotion. Like a hybrid-fusion of Eroticism and Emotion. Let me tell you, based on my own long, boring, and entirely ineffective Catholic upbringing, these are things that people, men, and every organized religion, would like to control very much! And, based on the story of my life, you can’t control these things. Stomp on it here, it blossoms over there! This is a game of whack-a-mole for the ages!

This just in. News flash. Louder for the people in back. HA HA! You can’t control Erotion. Or ErOcean. Or MOTHER NATURE’S WRATH/ FURY. I’m sad that I lost my beach property, but I’m glad that She wins every time. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Words For KK

Fun. Funny. A funny old bird. So inspiring, so fun, so funny and so exciting. A force of nature. Larger than life. An actual acid trip. They broke the mold. Remarkable. Eccentric. Unique being. Truly an original soul. Artistic crazy Norwegian. Bombastic in a good way. Bohemian with a capital B. A delightful force. A cool zany guy you could talk to. Seattle’s notorious prolific independent filmmaker. One of the most memorable characters I’ve ever met. An undeniable original. Truly a visionary artist. A creative genius, very much himself, and friendly to all. Absolutely bonkers. Mind blowing. Strange, but with a good heart, he made Seattle unique. He made life so much more exciting, and he seriously seemed like the most fantastic character from the most fantastic play. The word “legendary” is overused but in the Northwest he was truly, actually, legendary. Like a firecracker with wit and direction. Unconventional. A frenetic demeanor. The most human and useful insight on cinema. Neither pretentious nor patronizing. A true creative genius with classic maniacal sarcasm. A wizard atop his flickering castle. Without any exaggeration, I can say that he was one of the most exciting and inspiring people I’ve ever met.


Oceanfront Carnival, 5/9/05, ©Karl Krogstad

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No Strings Attached

True Tales of Terror From a Bow Re-Hairing Workshop in Ohio.

In an effort to get off my knees (gardening) while still working with my hands, I find myself in Ashland, Ohio, for a week-long workshop, learning to replace the hair on the bows that are used to play string instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass). Seemingly no one wants to do this job, possibly for a reason. Maybe I can work by myself and not with other people! Unfortunately, this experiment requires 0ther people.

Cast of characters:

•The Bowmaker and his Wife

•The Bowmaker’s Narcoleptic Daughter

•Texas Brown-Noser, who already part-owns an instrument repair shop. This class is supposed to be for beginners and newbies to hand tools. TBN is seemingly here to ask esoteric questions about varnish and tuning pegs and violin makers and talk non-stop, rivaled only by Narcoleptic Daughter, whose leg he wants to hump.

•Two more professional instrument repairmen, with ascending ratios of less talky = cooler.

•Junior Philharmonic, a Violin Weenie brown-noser from Erie, PA with a ZZ Top beard.We are not going to run out of hair this week. Conductor of the Erie Junior Philharmonic, whatever that is.

•Silent San Diego, tattooed cyber hacker, as sleep-deprived and aloof as I am. We could be colleagues, but neither of us wants to talk to anyone.

•Cleveland Man of Mystery, bearded man in his ’60s, firmly adhering to a vow of silence, says only, “I work in a lab”.

•A nice, quiet bluegrass bassist from Colorado. Three other women, from NYC, West Virginia and Arkansas, and me. These are mostly non-speaking roles, as we can’t get a word in edgewise.

Silent San Diego, Junior Philharmonic, Nice bluegrass bassist, Texas Brown-Noser, Bowmaker, Instrument Repairman #3.
Arkansas, Me, NYC, Cleveland Man of Mystery.
West Virginia, Instrument Repairman #2. (Photo by Narcoleptic Daughter).

Sunday: Pizza day. According to the syllabus we are to ‘meet our bench mates”. Prior to pizza, within 3 minutes of saying hi to the Bowmaker’s Wife, she has told me about her early career as a violinist, then becoming office manager for some B-list Ohio symphony, but it was so stressful she had to get on Paxil, and then she had to go to the ER because she thought she was having a heart attack, and depression and anxiety are not the same thing.

I put my face on its default setting and park my brain in a faraway land. It will not be the last time this week.

Over pizza, we go around the table, giving our stories, much like an AA meeting, I would imagine, if I had ever been to one.

“I’m Silent San Diego, I have a tech job and I’m interested in Bow Rehairing.”

“I’m Junior Philharmonic, I’m a violinist and conductor.”

“I’m Texas Brown-Noser, I went to Oberlin blah blah, I live near Denton, Texas where (name-drops Todd’s Bass teacher), I bought into an instrument repair business.”

Lest anyone doubt his not-beginner chops, he leaps up and, on the white board, diagrams the thickness of neck to strings of Sartory, Tourte, and Peccate violins. We have not yet been introduced to our chisels, but I taste blood.

NYC Woman says.”I live in New York City, I play bluegrass fiddle, and I work as a Chinese translator.” She has tattoos of the Treble and Bass clefs on her wrist.

“Oh, like ‘Godzilla’?” the Bowmaker’s Wife asks, irony-free.

Wince. That would be Japan.

“I’m Erika, I live near Seattle and I have an art background. I’d like to work with my hands and work for myself. My *husband* (slight massaging of the data there) is a bassist and teacher and says no one does this, and there’s a market.”

Thud. Perhaps my once-removed proximity to string instruments is uncool. The Bowmaker remarks that there are great Bowmakers in Port Townsend, WA, Bowmaking being an elite fine-furniture type thing, for whom re-hairing is beneath them. Port Townsend! One Bowmaker moved there, and invited all his pals over, and they all moved there, and now they live in groovy Victorian houses and spend their days making bows and cruising around on their sailboats.

There are some changes to the syllabus. We’ll be starting at 8:30, not 8 (5 am Pacific). It said we can’t leave for lunch and must order in, but now we can leave for an hour. (These are excellent developments.) And that business about how dinner’s at 5 and then you come back for “practice and troubleshooting” afterwards and if you have a drink with dinner you’ll be sent home and/or expelled has been amended.

“You can have one beer,” the Bowmaker says. “Not six.”


Monday. We are going to learn to cut the piece that fits in the pointy “head” of the bow.There’s another piece that goes in the ‘frog”, where your hand would go, if one played a string instrument. The “frog” can get pretty gnarly, Narcoleptic Daughter says.

“Hand cheese on bows is disgusting,” she says. “Bass players are the worst.”

Narcoleptic Daughter likes to make grand pronouncements. “I hate all modern art and all performance art.” No broad brush, there. She lives with her parents and knows her way around Bowmaking, Repair and Re-Hair, but prefers to talk than teach.

Narcolepsy, she says, is such a big bummer! You can never sleep well, so you’re tired all the time! (This sounds to me like menopause, but I would not dream of boring a roomful of strangers thereof.) Fortunately, she tells us, she has a new prescription! She asks the West Virginia Woman, who works in a clinic, “Do you know anything about Schedule B Medicaid pharmaceutical benefits?”

“I work with patients with Lyme disease and shingles,” West-By-God says.

(Editor’s note: if one grew up in northern Virginia in the ’80s, and listened to DC-101 on the radio, there was a redneck shock jock who referred to our neighboring state to the west as “WEST BY GOD VIRGINIA!”, which became as imbedded as classic rock itself, not to be confused with “NORTH KAAAAKALAAAKEE” for North Carolina, to the south).

Now we are going to remove some parts and cut a “mortice” for the “head” (the pointy part of the bow) with our chisels. The Bowmaker cuts a complex 4mm angled piece that looks like an upside-down flat-topped pyramid with asymmetrical sides in approximately 20 seconds. Is he teaching, or showing off? He remarks that he has done this “at least 40,000 times.”

I can’t wrap my head around it, nor have I ever used a chisel before. He gives me a tiny display model to copy. I tape it on my cutting board with blue tape, like a tooth of God.

This is tedious, tiny, frustrating, tricky work. It would be so, so nice to have some quiet. The Texas Brown-Noser is like some barky-dog-baby, and you sit there thinking, surely they will run out of breath? But he, like the dogs and babies, never does. He, the Bowmaker, and the Narcoleptic Daughter have this gross, esoteric cooler-than-you, name-dropping banter. He follows Narcoleptic Daughter to lunch like a puppy dog.

“How long does a re-hair take?” someone asks.

“As long as it takes,” the Bowmaker says. “Some are hand-to hand combat.”

At no point does the Bowmaker go around the room, as a good waitress might, asking, “You doing ok? Do you have any questions?”


“I had a professional fiddle player bring in her bow. She said she was careful, but I hear she smacks guitars with it.”

“Daniel Majesky, principal of Cleveland, played 24 caprices with one intermission!”

“Cleveland, Chicago, Boston. I think a lotta symphonies hurt themselves with endowments. Pittsburgh had a $100,000 endowment.”

“There was a tone winner, but his craftsmanship was lacking.”

After (not-beer) dinner, we return to the classroom for “practice and troubleshooting”, and the Bowmaker HAS THE TV ON. And leaves it on, ignoring us. A large-screen TV, with a program about a guy who makes rockets. Not having, or watching, TV, I feel immediate shock and profound irritation. So we just paid $1100 to watch the Bowmaker watch TV!

Like the rockets themselves, we’re just gonna sit here and wait for the trickle-down glitter.

Tuesday. Narcoleptic Daughter’s recurring, daily dramatic monologue is about two things: Narcolepsy and Greyhounds.

I picture Narcolepsy as a funny Monty Python thing where  you fall down randomly at parties and the grocery store for 40 winks, but her stories are always about sleeplessness and prescription drugs. I could weigh in on this, being on Pacific time, and I can’t sleep either. I asked my nice naturopathic doc for a week’s worth of some Judy Garland-grade sonic-boom pharmaceuticals, and she relented, but they don’t, in fact, work.

As for Greyhounds, well, people are trying to shut down Greyhounds because they’re worried about gambling, not animals. Besides, Greyhounds are meant to race! It’s about gambling, not animals! I am getting so, so, sleepily very tired of her talking. Maybe Narcolepsy is catching?

Today we are learning the ‘frog” mortice, another wood 4mm flat-topped inverted pyramid, but narrower and different. I ask  for another display model, and the Bowmaker gives me one, with a “T” for top and an “H” for where the hair will go. But alas, a capital H, upside-down, still looks like a capital H, so I spend the morning making it upside-down. I have been imagining it backwards. I try to explain the honest mistake of the H. Now I see that this flat-topped pyramid, inverted, has a ski slope in front and not much going on in back. The Bowmaker, clearly, thinks I’m an idiot.

Junior Philharmonic, one of my bench-mates, must leave early today to go conduct the Erie Junior Philharmonic. Foolishly, like a journalist asking a boring person questions hoping for a good quote, I ask about it. My sweetie Todd coaches the Junior Symphony, which is part of the Seattle Youth Symphony, so,  I ask if  Junior Philharmonic’s orchestra is high schoolers?

“IT’S THE ERIE JUNIOR PHILHARMONIC!” Junior Philharmonic says.

I still don’t know what the hell that is.



“If Stradivarius was a blend of coffee,” Narcoleptic Daughter asks, “what would it taste like?”



“Notes of tobacco and perfectionism.”

“No subtle notes of anything.”

“Wine. Anxiety.”

“Would you drink it?”


Later in the day the Narcoleptic Daughter brings in her Greyhound.I love dogs, but I’m so annoyed, I won’t look at, or acknowledge, either one of them.


Wednesday. Junior Philharmonic is furiously recapping the events of last night.

“And I’m like, you’re playing accidentals! This is MINOR! You’re in MAJOR!”

It is 5:20 a.m. Pacific.

Green Tea time. Silent San Diego also drinks green tea. We are waiting for the mysterious hot water heater’s red light to come on, which, on this particular day, it never does. So I have trapped potentially the only cool person.

“Does it feel like 5 am?” I ask. “Because it is.”

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle thing. I like to get up at 9.”

9 would be early for what I like.

Silent San Diego says he works as a computer hacker, helping companies find holes in their systems. I ask if he gets to travel anywhere exotic. “Korea,” he says. So I ask about Korean food, which I know nothing about, and what exactly is Bimbimbap?

He says he has Celiac disease, the unfortunate gateway to a boring gluten-free diet, so this mysterious meat-egg-rice concoction served in a sizzling stone bowl remains a mystery for now. Sigh.

The young woman from Arkansas bursts into tears with no notice.

OH NO, are you hurt?

“I BROKE MY PLUG!” she says, sobbing.

Narcoleptic Daughter thinks it would be fun to hip NYC’s ‘Godzilla’ woman, who grew up in China, to the worst American ear-worms. She puts on the Muppets’ “Mahna Mahna”, on the big, loud TV, while we are chiseling tiny blocks, and then endless variations thereof including the Apricot Hellbeast.

I remember my OUTSTANDING  BoseTM Noise Canceling Headphones, possibly one of the best gifts I have ever received, from Todd, and I put them on, with a little Charles Mingus ‘Blues and Roots”.

Todd and I had traveled to Guyayabitos “Little Papaya” Mexico, and on the flight back from Puerta Vallarta, in the seat behind us, was this drunk, loud-ass, talky-ass guy with two cute-as-hell little exotic puppies under the seat in front of him, thus enabling endless chatter. And then, on the next flight to Seattle, he was behind us ONCE AGAIN, after now-unrelenting Jack Daniels,  And I went, embarrassingly, I suppose, off, on his ass, East C0ast style, and asked him if he could keep his  voice down, which did not work, and the third person in our row, a smart woman, immediately snapped on her BoseTM Noise Canceling Headphones in a stroke of sheer inspirational brilliance. Allow me to suggest we all do the same.

In the way that you mention something in the presence of your phone and then start getting ads for the thing, Narcoleptic Daughter says, “I have sound-isolating headphones because my ADD’s really bad.” And I think, I have them for you.

“It’s a Bowmaker thing,” she says, randomly. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Having figured out the Frog Mortice, it is time to put hair in our bows. The tail-hair of the massive tail-hank is clamped with a pipe clamp and glued, looking exactly like a horse’s tail. Most would-be client people want white hair, but real white hair is yellow at the ends, old hair. So, you know if it’s perfectly white that it has been bleached. Beware.

Sometimes people want “salt-and-pepper” hair. They are dumb, as textures vary.

I forgot to tell you about the flies. This is some Plague Of Locusts shit. It is October, but it is weirdly in the 70s in Ohio (I had to go to Goodwill and buy T-shirts, having packed sweaters) and there are these flies. They land, itchily, on your arms in droves, as if trying to cut tiny 4mm blocks with a chisel while listening to endless yammering is not irritating enough. They especially favor Junior Philharmonic. I switched back to long sleeves yesterday.

“These flies!” Narcoleptic Daughter says from time to time.

Now dig this: as opposed to Fine Woodworking, I actually have done lots of hand sewing and embroidery, and now it is knot-tying time and I slay like a Girl Scout while these fat-fingered guys flail.I comb the hair, dampened, out like Barbie. In fact, I RE-HAIR A BOW.


I show the Bowmaker. “You have hair in your bow,” he says.


“So,” the Bowmaker asks Junior Philharmonic, who is some sort of music teacher, “do you have to use, like, 70 special pronouns now?”

A few white men cackle about how we’re just so oversensitive and PC nowadays.

“Can’t we just break people up into Musicians and Singers?” Texas Brown Noser cracks, to snickers.

The flies are too fast to slap, but don’t bet on the rest of this group.

My mantra is There is no wine in prison.

Narcoleptic Daughter shows up around lunchtime and starts talking about Greyhounds in .05 seconds. Silent San Diego has some pretty major allergies, perhaps she might have thought about that before bringing her dog to the classroom.

“It’s not the hair,” she says. “It’s the dander.”

But here it is, after lunch, and there still has been no talk of Narcolepsy. My little Bic lighter from my toolbox, for burning off the ends of my impeccable knots, is seemingly dead, however.

Narcoleptic Daughter shows me a trick where you rip off the silver head of the lighter and a tiny adjustable wheel resides within. A life hack, but with a price, as ever.

While she works her magic, she says, “I’m going to be in a sleep study. I have Narcolepsy. Possibly Sleep Apnea.”

Narcolepsy is now 3 and 0.

Thursday: This is the BEST day, for the Bowmaker has taken the majority of the class to see some Amish woodworking, and Silent San Diego, the Cleveland Man of Mystery, and I, have demurred, preferring to practice than be in a car for an hour plus with the rest of the class, and Narcoleptic Daughter says “I will honor that.”

She has brought two boxes of Danishes, a box of donuts and a bag of Halloween candy, although it is just the four of us until noon. That stuff gives me heartburn, and Silent San Diego is, of course, gluten-free.

“If I eat that stuff,” Cleveland Man of Mystery says, “I’ll go to sleep.”

“I can sleep anytime,” the Narcoleptic Daughter sighs.

And now I must tip my hater hat, because without the pesky distractions of her father and the Texas Brown-Noser, Narcoleptic Daughter is actually VERY helpful. And she asks if anyone has any questions, and here is my chance.

“I have concerns,” I say. “This is supposed to be a beginner class, but there are working professionals in this class. They should have their own class. Texas Brown-Noser and his endless brown-nosing, grandstanding and name-dropping is very distracting, yet you pander to him, constantly, to the detriment of all the other students who paid a lot of money to be here, plus travel and lodging.”

“He paid a lot of money too, and we can’t control the personalities,” she says, which is some classic HR bullshit, right there.

“No,” I say, “but you can manage your classroom dynamics. A good waitress would go around the room, checking on people.”

I’ve decided to re-hair a dreaded Bass bow. The Bowmaker hates them. But at least it’s big and beefy and not some wimpy little Violin thing. And this venture is made grander by the rare gift of conversation with the silent ones.

Cleveland Man of Mystery, the quietest guy, is my bench mate that sits to my right. He said that he “works in a lab,” but he casually drops, in an offhand way, that he also MAKES Violins, Mandolins and Guitars. The Guitars are his favorite. He worked in a Guitar factory for awhile and there was a guy who was making counterfeit Les Pauls as part of a big crime ring and that guy got spectacularly busted and went to jail. I ask if he has a shop in his house, and he says, “my house is a shop.”

If anyone should be some preening, cock-of-the-walk String Weenie, IT IS THIS GUY. But that is not how the Cleveland Man of Mystery rolls.

He says that he is from Ohio, and went to college in Cleveland. He tells us that during the steel-car-factory boom, which has now died and left Ohio as a desiccated old husk of a dead locust, once upon a time, there was a rubber factory in Akron, for tires. Lots and lots of people moved up from the South. Lots of Baptists. And this would explain Ohio’s religious, women-hating, Mississippi of the Midwest political values, which I’ve never understood, geographically or otherwise.

Cleveland Man of Mystery says that when he was in college he took a class on Comparative Religions.  He had to visit, and report on, a variety of Ohio houses of worship. There was one church where the ministers were handling snakes and people were speaking in tongues and writhing in the aisles. He quickly determined that he could write a good summary without needing to stay. The faithful gave him the stink-eye as he walked out.

Over lunch, which I don’t eat, because I’m so excited to be finally turning a corner on this Bow Re-Hairing process, and digging, for once, the conversation, Silent San Diego talks about crows. I love crows too. He says they love peanuts in the shell above anything else, and that they and Blue Jays are both Corvids, and are known to be backup for each other in times of trouble. He has a Crow call whistle. See, I knew he was cool.

And then everyone comes back from the field trip at noon. Sigh. The silence was golden.


Now we will talk about Homeschooling. Narcoleptic Daughter, it turns out, was Homeschooled.( And your parents are…mmm-kay, copy that.) Come to find out, Texas Brown Noser and his quiet Instrument Repairman bench mate were also Homeschooled.

“I’m hearing a lot of people in this industry were Homeschooled,” Narcoleptic Daughter says. This would explain a lot.

I hate the way I have to approach the Bowmaker’s bench, meekly, him not looking at me, and be like, “Excuse me?” to ask a craftsmanship question. To which he likes to respond, “Look at your booklet.” Our “booklet”, a “Step-by-step guide” features too-dark photos and the vaguest language. So, it’s like I have to learn this by just sitting there doing it over and over and over. 

Like music itself.


Friday. Now, all of a sudden, on the last day, I’m a rock star, because I’m the only one to Re-Hair a Bass bow. I’m not having it, that I’ve all of a sudden dazzled the Bowmaker with my magnificent craftsmanship. Obviously the Narcoleptic Daughter told him I complained.

Waiting for the Green Tea red light to come on (today it works), I hate to make conversation before caffeine, but our time is short.

“So,” I say to Silent San Diego, “you’re a computer hacker. Are we hosed for the next election?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It started with the printing press, spreading information, then disinformation, then propaganda. That’s how we got World War II. Now we have the internet.”

“Is it Russia?”

“It was, but China and Korea saw how easy it was and how well it worked,” Silent San Diego says. “We’re in for a good half-millennia of strife and warfare.”


Don’t you wish you were as cool as my cool-ass Bass Bow? “You’ve done a yeoman’s job,” the Bowmaker says.

That’s like something my Dad used to say. “You’ve done yeoman service.” Like the Junior Philharmonic, I still don’t know what this means.

Texas Brown-Noser has begun to kill flies. He’s gotten six so far in about as many minutes. The random WHAM! of the kill is a little disconcerting while handling a chisel, but as always, he is a super-achiever. There is something wrong with the Texas Brown-Noser.

“Why,” asks Junior Philharmonic, the first and foremost favorite victim of the flies, “didn’t you do this, like, eight days ago?”


“Anyone want to go in on goat skin?”

“The stuff I’ve been getting is not as nice.”

“Wurther’s shop sells kangaroo grips.”

“He thought it was Oak, but the box was beautiful.”

“What’s your ratio of shellac flakes to alcohol?” the Texas Brown-Noser asks.

I waste a lot of time trying to psychoanalyze my bullies, like the Bowmaker. What was it about me that made you hate me on sight? What was it that you perceived as weakness? Why rudely condescend to me all week, so that I had to learn Re-Hairing to spite you?

And then it comes to me! Ohio.


Descendants of the rubber factory snake handlers. The twin poisons of bad religion and bad food, constipating. The aforementioned Mississippi of the Midwest “values”.

And I’m a woman, artist, gardener, from the West Coast.

He thinks I’m a witch!

He is not wrong.

One thing I will say for myself is that I am seasonally appropriate.







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Costume changes

We can do this, my friends. There is a stain among us, and we need to rise above it, and join forces to do better. This thing has become so overexposed and bloated, it is an absurd mockery of itself. This is a time for precision, not laziness. Every time I see it, I wince. It needs to be removed from the main stage, post-haste, and put in solitary confinement.


I am referring, among other things, to the overuse of “y’all”. It’s just not cute anymore.

Still cute…unlike..


A psychotic Georgia coworker turned me against this turn of phrase, for in her mouth it became a signal marker for “EVERYTHING I’M SAYING IS BULLSHIT.”

As far as Georgia goes, I much prefer the Jameses, Carter and Brown. “I may not know Karate, but I know Ka-RAZY!” as the Soul General would say. End of rant, you all.


So, I went to the beach for my 52nd birthday, as I have done, minus a couple, for the past 25 years. In 1994 my then-boyfriend Dave and I went for dinner at the nearby Tokeland Hotel for dinner. We were the only young people in there (25 years ago), and our waitress was bursting with breaking news. “Guess who was here yesterday?” she asked. “The greatest rock star ever!”

Tokeland Hotel.

“Jagger?” we wondered. “Michael Jackson?”

No, it was Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, who had just played with Jimmy Page at the Gorge. How, or why, he wound up at the Tokeland Hotel is still one of the eternal mysteries, as it is well out of the way of ANYTHING, and…shared bathrooms? But the story is true, for there’s a picture of him wearing some sort of purple cape with his famous hair. Like a bird of prey clutching a fresh and tasty morsel, our server was eager to show off the bag of “tea” Plant had given her, which looked like the succulent green buds befitting a different High Tea.

I was feeling strapped for cash this time, but traditions must be upheld, so I went to the Hotel for my favorite breakfast, a Crab Benedict and a mimosa. I saw a couple friends there and we chatted briefly. I decided to get a slice of cake for later, too. And then, when I was ready to pay, I was told it had all been taken care of.

“Maybe Robert Plant bought you those treats,” my friend Ed suggested. And then, riding high on my excellent, if mysterious, good fortune, I went for a long walk on the beach.


Traditions must be upheld, and it was clearly evident on the beach that the time-honored Erosion Control Techniques are still being faithfully deployed, effective as ever.

Scenic as Stonehenge.

“Pitch in! Put trash in its place.”

The crabs, ever classier, have done their miraculous costume change. Imagine being able to crawl out of your pesky exoskeleton and start afresh. Which, I suppose, is a thing for us too. We just don’t know what fresh is.

My Mom showed up in my dream last night, in a black-and-white checked suit and pearls, coming out of Grammy’s apartment, #202, at the Letterman House in DC in the ’70’s. She looked beautiful.

Some traditions will not continue unless we remember to celebrate them.


Don Pickinpaugh, Washaway local legend, driftwood chain-saw furniture maker: “Stump Tables and More! Oceans Of Fun!” recently passed away. He would drive on the beach in an ancient Jeep Cherokee collecting logs for his pieces. His license plate said “PIC-N-PA”, which is how he signed his work,  He was in his 80’s but spry and sassy, and he had a way of making you laugh and making you feel special and important at the same time. He was the driving force behind the relocation of the Pioneer Cemetery in the 70’s, whose tenants had begun to fall into the ocean. He wrote many letters to the Army Corps of Engineers, state officials, the Governor and the Seattle Times, trying to make anyone care.

Pic-N-Pa and Mildred, 2011.

“You and your family enjoy our beaches as much as anyone else in this corner of our great nation, and I know we can’t let this happen,” he wrote to then-Governor Dan Evans.”To clam or picnic in this area with headstones, bones and bits of caskets protruding from the sandbank just sickens me.”

Pic-N-Pa bench at Pioneer Cemetery.

Evans was replaced by an eccentric woman Governor named Dixie Lee Ray, who paid the Boy Scouts $25,000 to relocate the pioneers across the highway in 1977, and Pic-N-Pa maintained the site and cut the grass ever since. (You can read more about this on my “Erosion Control Techniques” post). I am very happy to own one of his pieces. Like the man himself, it is an irreplaceable treasure.

Shifting sands.


Another great loss is my friend Teva Harrison, who recently died of breast cancer at 42. When she was diagnosed she vowed to “live like a tornado”, and she did, traveling the world. She drew and wrote a graphic novel called In-Between Days  that became an award-winning best-seller, for its beautiful message of living fiercely with the gravest of uncertainties, the Washaway of the body, and still finding joy in life, in living.

Her husband David sent me a message. He’d been looking through her notebooks for a phone number, and found this note to the future:

“I am the earth beneath your feet. I am the flowers and the trees. I am eternal. When I go, I’ll slip away carried out by one last rasp–one last gasp–before the air goes out forever. When I go, hold onto these moments, walking in the bright of the morning.”

I am not a morning person, but it might be time to start.


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