Sunday, July 28, 2019


That backpack could be saying “I’m about to trek through the jungle for a Louis Vuitton photoshoot” but it could also be “could I get my cappuccino with oat milk and the WiFi password?”

MY NEW FAVORITE BLOG - it has Trek, it has Teh Funnay, it has the subtle joy of yaaaassss-queenisms. It has Picard. It even has the click beyond.

Beautiful photography in Appalachian Ohio. It's not the part of Ohio where I spent so much of my life. It's not where my dad came from either. But Ohio means a lot to me; and some of these are still and perfect and small and exquisite.

How have I never heard of Sapphire and Steel before? Terribly intrigued. DVRing some episodes, I'll report back if it's fantastic.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A story

"My dad used to take us camping," she said to the curious group at the booth in the bar. We began to quiet down to listen to her. "We would hike up this mountain all morning in summer. It took hours, and we would be so hot, and so tired and hungry by the time we got where he was taking us. You had to go up rocks, and through these trees. But then, breaking out into the sun ... there was this lake. Perfectly clear. The most amazing blue. It was beautiful..."

The story, as my friend K once told it, was actually several minutes long.

It's the closing line I can never forget.

"And that ... is the color of Diane's ex-husband's eyes."

All I ever managed, in praise of his startling, Nordic baby-blues was to say they were "like Windex." Even that I stole off of Carla Tortelli.

My mom once amusedly scoffed that he must wear contacts. I countered with Paul Newman. Even just a few years ago, I showed a somewhat recent pic of him to my Aunt, and the exclamation she made indicating how good he looked was a familiar, memory-claiming, "Those eyes!"

Beloved Ex's eyes are still that shade of extremely bright, clear blue. But it got weird, too. Not so long after that pic I showed my aunt, he was in an accident and injured, and suffered what he and I generally just refer to as Bowie eye. No eerie, glamorous alien rock god, BEx *has* been a hellacious front man in his day; even just last year, seeing him perform for (my) first time in 24 years was a revelation. He's a great performer.

Last year was also the first time I ever saw him with the eye dealio. Dear as our friendship is, neither he nor I ever pretends we're not exes, so we talk and email and text, but we haven't visited in many moons. He wanted to come for dad's memorial, and had car trouble, and so the last time we were in the same room before last year had been in 2002. (He did get to see dad before he died; maybe that is right, and better.)

The Bowie eye thing is cool, of course - but BEx isn't much of that opinion. What many of us might feel as a distraction to people we meet, he feels as an embarrassment - and, too, he certainly has to squint more than he used to. The shades stayed on a lot. And, not actually doing the rockstar thing after all, one does understand how he doesn't embrace the visual oddity. Like most things people dislike in themselves, or worry about anyway, this isn't as exceptional to see as it is to own.

Lately, I keep running by movies we saw together, when I flip channels. They take me back, not so much to Ohio, or even particularly the late 80s/early 90s, but just to him.

If it seems hard to understand why someone I like so much, and love so much, is in any case still an "ex", rest assured it's been brought up to me before. Given how he talks about those people in his life who haven't met me apparently respond to him talking about *his* ex, I assume that I am not alone. And, as old age with nobody but a cat and a dog in my life looms, the fact is I query myself whether I could live in Ohio again after retirement. Once mom goes (assuming I actually outlive her; it's just possible), I will be essentially alone in the world wherever I am. Of course, I don't expect to be able to retire before age 78.

At the end of the day, though - and as much as seeing him last year was GREAT - it also reminded me of a fundamental way we are incompatible.

BEx was not raised in a house of yes. Even going back to college at what he feared was the "old age" of like 28 came in part under the influence of my dad - not his. His default expectation is of frustration and failure.

During the year or so of our functionally being married, we ran up against ... me. I was restless. I wanted to see some "other side" to Ohio - to get out - to not be so poor we had to discuss, "Hey, can we afford toilet paper?"

I also saw myself turning into a pretty awful person. This probably owes to sabotaging us: I wanted out so badly I flailed. When a cherry business offer came from his then-employers - "Buy our music store, we'll make you a deal" (they were lovely people and really cared for him) - I saw two things. One, that I didn't want to stand in the way of that. And two, that it meant a pretty deep root in Ohio.

Restlessness turned to nagging and discontent and nastiness. I went home, got work, we stayed married and hoping, but I also succumbed to that most impossible of urges - I wanted "to grow."

That was 25 years ago, and I am still at it of course, but what revealed itself relatively early is the major problem between me and him. He is wary and wise, facing life with bets hedged and expectations low. This is completely right and fair.

But I became, somewhere along the line, not only a practitioner of gratitude, but actually spiritually invested in counting my blessings.

Last year, watching his progress through an iffy day up to that Really Big Show, I was powerfully reminded: BEx can't take yes for an answer. The weather was perfect, the crowd was GREAT, the band was tight. It all was sensational - and a good time. But even afterward, his focus was on details he wasn't satisfied with. As I said at the time, "He can't take yes for an answer." Never could.

Which means that BEx, as it turns out, is a striver. Maybe "a little depressive" as he and I actually used to have a personal joke about. But very much in service of his ambitions, his needs and hopes and expectations.

I am decidedly *not* a striver.

I need to be happy with what is (and, no, the irony isn't lost on me). In nearly twenty years' homeownership, this is why the hardwoods REMAIN un-refinished. It's probably why I abide in loving Mr. X, at that - someone who ruined all the other boys for me, but who also may literally never reappear, physically, in my life. The fact that I don't quite believe that doesn't mean I don't comprehend it's possible.

Not unlike BEx, Mr. X is not easily prone to taking yes for an answer.

Me, apparently I'll take "no" till the day I die. Pollyanna, just too busy to be distracted by failure, or insistently practicing that gratitude that keeps me focused on what actually does work in my life (think what you may about romantic delusions - what actually does work in my life is remarkably extensive). All of the above.

BEx is hardly monomaniacal on the subject of what doesn't work in *his* life. It's just that my need to thank my lucky stars makes his entire perspective irksome.

I would get in the way of his pragmatism and ambition. He would get in the way of my practice of gratitude - and it is, a practice.

And so, we are exes, and friends, and I actually do still think he is the ginchiest.

As, all those years ago, my friend K also did. Eyes like deep, still mountain lakes. Or Windex.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Paradise, Sugar, summer, and X-ness

The time was gone when we'd actually sit in someone's family room and watch MTV, but Paradise City's images still made up a big part of listening to that song. We knew Axl was a jerk, but the *song* was still summertime. That was the year we cruised DMV drive.

Val had taken me to Grace Street before, and I was used to venues, dating my rock star at college, going to gig after gig with him and all our musician friends. So cruising really seemed pointless to me, just driving around a wide block, traffic at a standstill, and only one stretch of it really populated. It was usually impossible to get a spot on that stretch; so you'd crawl through the crowded, merc-lit street, and then it was half an hour around a boring circuit to get back again. If you *could* get a spot, though ... it was a fun way to blow an hour before actually going somewhere.

That year, it was Paradise City - Axl in his white jeans; the ageless avatar of Slash stripped out of black and hat, actually sexy under there - and Pour Some Sugar On Me. Every idiot with a too-large spoiler and giant speakers rigged in a hatchback serenaded the entirety of the cruising audience, and I can't remember a single other track that dominated. Those two songs were THAT. SUMMER.

Valerie died to the strains of Paradise City. And Def Leppard was her favorite band.

It is my punishment, and my poignancy, that Axl's damned white jeans will make me cry forevermore.

I miss my girl. She was my sister. Her husband, now - I guess he's my brother.

The orangey light outside the huge HQ building for the Division of Motor Vehicles. Me and Val being cute and using fake names. I was Sabrina because I'd liked that cartoon as a kid, and the name seemed exotic to me. Valerie used Penelope.

Sometimes, now, loving on my dog Penelope, it's not just her I am hugging. She's my girl too.

I never did know why she used Penelope - just, it amused her. It was so unlikely. And boys. Boys trying anything will believe anything. I mean - Sabrina? We both dared 'em to disbelieve. They never bothered to; honesty beside the point, when you are cruising.

Pour Some Sugar On Me.

Both the songs are anthemic, and impossibly catchy. Cryin' is playing at me right now - and we loved us some Aerosmith. (Val had a story about being a groupie and chewing gum.) But Sugar and Paradise, that was all anyone ever heard. When your car was inching forward, and the heated dark breeze of a Richmond summer night carried the distant strains of either of those songs back to us on the long slog through the boring 75% of the circuit - that was the promise. "You're almost there." Almost to the relevant part. The part that is lit, and full of people (boys) and music. The interesting bit.

Scent of hot asphalt hanging in the air, and not a little exhaust, including diesel. Voices, shouting, unrestrained singing. That kid on the skateboard, the first person I ever TOLD I was named Sabrina.

Valerie's laughter.

My girl.

We'd make a few turns. Or park, if we could. Then the lateral move, more parking, more crowded blocks, and The Jade Elephant, or Newgate Prison (hilariously, a dive bar unbeloved by Virginia Commonwealth University Police - now their headquarters - I guess they won). Dirt Woman sitting on his porch. "You can get the dirt off Donnie, but you can't get Donnie off the Dirt!" The Lee X theater, I think defunct already by the early 90s. Grassy scrub lots. The 7-11, maybe convenient for some, but impossibly distant and useless for those of us in heels.

That guy who made his friends drive him around in an old limo. He was cute. He'd give us rides to our cars. Every boy Val ever dated, or was thinking about it. The night I brought The Elfin One, and she laughs to this day about how I zeroed in on someone and said, "I want THAT one" and got his attention. It's all in the wrist - you just pick the one who appeals and is most likely *to* pay you some attention. He was tall. Dilliest smile you ever saw. He was ... unfortunate. Sigh.

My Val.

It's funny. Since she died, I talk to her - "Vally" I call her. I NEVER called her this in life. Some part of it is necessary now, and some part of it almost offends me for being unprecedented. Too cutesy, perhaps. But she's so dear. She was so damned small, in her hospital beds. I miss her.

Summer nights.

Right now, it's so humid in Richmond you just feel WET. Even walking the dog at 6:45 a.m., the humiture is intense. Even at ten o'clock at night, letting her out for the last time, dark - maybe even breezy - it is HOT outside.

Summer used to be what my dad called "soft" nights. Oh, it was still warm, even back then. But it didn't seem punishing. Maybe nothing does when you're half the age I am now, healthy, and ignorant of the future. Not that our future was bad. Val found the best husband she ever could have had. She had joy and SO much love. She and he knew what could come, and agreed.

No regrets.

That summer. Not regrettable. Not even a guilty-pleasure memory. I'm not ashamed we were hair-band chicks, into that kind of guy, brash, loud, laughing. As much as Val's laugh still rings, I never ever faded beside her. Neither of us ever did second-fiddle. We were the Cinderella twins from their old videos. We were catty, and open, and good in our skin, and interested and interesting. We were the 80s. We were the 90s. We were good with it all (and, no - neither of us was ever into the big-hair thing for *ourselves*).

The one time V ever faded into the background around me.

She was with me when I met Mr. X. It actually took about a year or two, that meeting.

It was the crack of the new millennium, and as an 80s throwback we went up to a bar in Springfield, to see the Bullet Boys, who sucked and had ZERO crowd. It wasn't even any fun for making fun of those who'd never gotten the memo that the 80s were over, because almost nobody was there. One other table - us two girls, maybe three guys. I don't remember most of them, because a *CLICK* happened. Mike. It wasn't sexual, but I've rarely experienced chemistry like that. He was fun to talk to, we stayed in touch on email and by phone, tried dating ever so briefly, then he met his wonderful, gorgeous, immensely generous wife.

November, 2002. I've just broken up with the "should be good on paper" guy with the SOUL PATCH (good grief, I though I was getting old at 34, and shouldn't be "picky"), and Mike's band is playing that same club, opening for - I think - Blind Guardian. The line this time wrapped around the building, and it. was. cold. Val and I get out of the car and end up in an alley around back, walking by hundreds along our way, wondering why the doors haven't opened, and hearing lots of grumbles. Only one attractive guy in the whole lot, and he's probably way too young. We take our places. And wait. And wait. I actually sent her back to the car at one point, to get my big wool coat. I hadn't wanted to wear it in the bar, but out here, waiting interminably, a little plastic jacket is not doing the job. The cold stabs from below. Val and I are shivering, miserable.

It turns out, BG's equipment was not compatible with American electrical systems. Which one might have thought could have been solved before several hundred people ended up stranded in the cold, but so-eth these things go-eth. Once we are inside, I go to touch up my face, and find the blackberry lipgloss in frozen shards, bleeding, and recalcitrant about remediation. I feel annoyed and Of Constrained Attractiveness for the rest of the night. And just as well, for the most part I can't find that hot guy anyway. We hang with Mike and the lovely (seriously - she gave me a FOOT MASSAGE, that wonderful woman) Mrs. Mike, and the night ends up being a lot of fun. Good company goes a long way.

At the end, coming out of the venue itself, there is an outer bar. Pool tables, flourescent lighting for my already not-so-flossy-feeling self, and ...Val pulls on me, "Diane, get a load" - and it's that guy. Definitely too young.

I dither and linger, Val takes a bathroom break, I'm on my own by some pool table, make eye contact, smile. He still doesn't come over. When she comes back, I grab her and make a beeline because it is late and we've got a hundred miles to go.

And, not being but so selfish, I leave the opportunities (between chicks hitting on him) open. "We just have to know. Are you single?"

"Sure!" he says.

And, Val told me, she might as well not have been there. "He lit up." "He was only looking at you."

I got his email and we booked it.

That's how I met Mr. X. Who turned out not to be 25 after all. What his age *was*, relative to my 34 at that time, we shall not discuss, because he's a coy one. But I won't say I wasn't glad he wasn't a baby.

Ahh, my Vally.

She was fun.

Saturday, July 13, 2019


Haha - Tom Williams best book review I've read in a good while. Spoiler: it's atrocious!

Oh my gosh, Herculon. That's one of those words guaranteed to take me to a very specific period of childhood, like heatilator. Cool posts, both, and the first link is smart, warm, and very in-depth about the world as some of us remember it - scratchy, brown, not always forgiving, and warm.

 Strange Company has been a simmering new favorite for a while now. This post is a great example of why - a nicely written, in-depth look at one of the oddments of history - in this case, a look at the gruesome depths to which vanity can take us . Fun!

Edited to add more from Tom Williams - this post about Ely Cathredral is a wonderful piece of history. Part 2 here. Both have stunning photographs, and the architectural story, as it tends to do, is also the story of politics, people, and the land itself.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


While thunder rumbles and rain roars, I am glad to be "unable" to participate in any quasi-happy jingoism today. I spent time with my mother, and now am getting down to the most patriotic activities for the day. Doing something with my privilege, to share it with those being punished by our country for the temerity to wish to become a part of it.

I am embarrassed by my federal government. That we are run by bigots and charlatans.

This is what we can do.

Here is where I am going, to share the smallest pieces of my American Dream.

At the top link, there are these and MANY other ways to provide support to those on our borders who are in need.