Monday, July 28, 2008

The Golden State

It's been a very busy week. As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been in San Diego for a week for Comic-Con 2008! It was tremendous fun. I did a lot of networking, attended a lot of panels and parties and picked up a few nice pieces of plastic happiness (i.e., toys). Like the exclusive King Grayskull figure from Mattel:

Oh, he is a handsome fellow. I also got to meet Sam Jones, who you may remember from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. I loved him deeply as a child, so I quickly turned into a starstruck goofball upon meeting him and getting his autograph on my exclusive Flash Gordon action figure:

San Diego was beautiful and the weather was perfect. So perfect that I walked around all day one day and got a sunburn. California is bathed in golden sunlight and you can't help but feel like a movie star. Just don't forget the 70SPF. I fly back to Asheville tomorrow and will resume my new life in the mountains of North Carolina. But thanks to my sunburn, I'll be taking a little of Southern California back with me.

It's been a fantastic week, but I miss Michael and Henry and worry that they're not taking care of themselves. Hopefully, they've missed me a little, too.

For no reason, here's a picture of Red Fraggle, who had more security around her than the President:

See you next year, San Diego!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Week in San Diego

For my first trip out of the wilds and back to the West Coast, I'm heading to San Diego for a week for the International San Diego Comic-Con. It's a gigantic geek fest and I go every year. This year, however, I'm on my own. Michael is staying behind in Asheville, because coincidentally, his parents arrive today for a visit. Believe me, the timing was purely accidental! I will be back and will get to see them before they go, but I will be missing most of their visit. While I'm mingling with people in Stormtrooper costumes, they'll be seeing the sights of Western North Carolina.

I am comforted by the fact that Michael will be in good hands while I'm gone. As friends said goodbye, they promised to look after him, and I told them where to find his insurance card and where to reach me if he broke any other bones. But then I remembered that his own parents will be protecting him while I'm gone, so that made me feel a lot better. They will hide his skateboard and make him wear a helmet when crossing the street.

I'm curious to see how I feel by the end of the week. Will I be missing Asheville, or will I be longing to stay in the Golden State? Maybe it was too soon for a trip like this. Too soon to face Vader and risk being turned to the dark side.

To be continued...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Are You Sitting Down?

In the old days, people only had phones in their homes or at work. So, if you needed to convey bad news to someone, you'd most likely wait until they got home from work (unless it was an emergency), tell them to sit down, then deliver the bad news.

Now that everyone is on a cell phone, I've noticed that bad news can be delivered anywhere, anytime. For instance, today Michael and I went to Target because, well, because it was a day of the week. We love Target. Not the point of this story, though. So, we pulled in to Target and a dear friend from Los Angeles called to let me know he was being deported. I ushered Michael into the store and I sat down on a bench outside Target and started talking over this bad news with my caller. I sat down, adhering to the custom of receiving bad news.

A few moments later, a woman exited Target, with a cell phone held to her ear. "What are you telling me?" She said. Then tears began to roll down her cheeks and she asked for more information as she walked off to her car.

Yes, yes, cell phones have made our lives better and isn't it great that you can reach me at anytime of the day or night? But have we become so used to using the things, and so accustomed to 24-hour news and communications, that it's okay to tell someone the dog died while they're holding a carton of eggs at Safeway?

Now that I've noticed this phenomenon, I'm going to be on the lookout for people getting bad news on their cell phones in public. Will they sit down? Will they cry? Will they still reach for the low-fat salad dressing, or will they make a beeline for the cookie dough aisle?

I, for one, don't want to be on the dance floor, getting my groove on and have to yell into the phone, "My mouse burned down? What?!"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let Me Entertain You

Our very first visitor from the outside world left on Tuesday. It's hard to judge how it went. It's challenging playing tour guide in a place where you're just a step above tourist yourself. But I think it went pretty well. A few wrong turns, a few closed restaurants and attractions, but overall I think we managed to present Asheville in a positive light.

I do enjoy having visitors and entertaining and having parties and such. I don't know where that comes from exactly. I'm tempted to blame it on Martha, but even in my pre-Martha days, I was hosting little get-togethers in my college dorm room. I think it's because when people take the time to visit you or attend your party, they're validating your place in their lives and saying, "Yes, I like you enough to spend this time with you." In its most basic and primal form, it's proof of existence. "I exist. I'm here. Someone came and visited me." That validation plus a good party theme and cocktails makes for a very potent mixture.

Besides our recent visitor, we haven't had any parties or gatherings yet. I'm at odds with the house at the moment. I haven't succeeded in bending it to my will yet, and that's proving to be a big obstacle on the road to entertaining. At a glance, the house is attractive and nicely situated in a big yard on a small lake. Maybe it's because of the age of the house, or maybe it's just been used as a rental for too long, but the house itself seems to have given up hope and now just wants to jump into the lake and end it all.

No matter how much I scrub, the house still looks dirty. No matter how many lights I turn on, it remains dark. We can't put holes in the walls, so the walls are bare and cold, lending a spartan air of domestic ennui. Every day is a battle to keep the surrounding natural environs from reclaiming the whole lot. Still, I persist. If bleach won't clean it, I'll put a nice rug over it. If it's too dark, I'll get some high-powered flood lights to brighten it up a bit. And I can always prop our artwork up on bookcases or easels for a South meets SoHo kind of look.

"What would Martha do?" I ask myself. She'd tear down that bitch of a bearing wall and put a window where a window ought to be. Wait, that was Joan. I get them confused sometimes, especially when I'm holding a can of Comet and an axe.

Y'all come visit real soon, ya hear!"

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Asheville Kind of Day

Friday morning we had breakfast at the Over Easy Cafe with Ben and Gary. We were chatting about what to do that evening with Mike. Gary and Ben suggested we see Plays from Li'l Nashville which is playing at a local playhouse. We were weighing our options when a handsome and dramatic-looking sort of fellow swept into the cafe. Of course it was the author of the play we had just been discussing. Ben and Gary motioned him over and he joined us for breakfast, regaling us with tales of Asheville theatre people. Nothing beats a good theatre story. Naturally, we decided to go to the play.

Later in the day, we took Mike to the Friday afternoon drum circle in the center of town. It is a wildly fun and eclectic crowd of professionals and amateurs. Drums ranged in size and quality, from bongos to barrel drums to plastic bottles. We were sitting at the edge of the park, and I scanned the crowd, thinking it would be fun to see if we've been in Asheville long enough to recognize anyone. Of course that's the exact moment our friend Luke happened by. After a quick chat, he was on his way to dinner and we were on our way to the play.

Entering the lobby of the theatre, we saw Scott and Terry the owners of Sante, our favorite little wine bar. We introduced Mike as our California guest for the week. They then introduced us to a friend of theirs, a woman from San Diego, who was their California guest for the week. After comparing our sight-seeing and activities agendas, we went into the theatre to see the play.

At this point, it should have been no surprise to us (or you) that one of the stars of the play was our new hair stylist. It's part of the charm of a small town, I suppose. But there's something else. Something that's distinctly Asheville about it all. Everyone is so happy to see each other, to catch up and then tell the next people they run into about who they happened to run into that day. There's something old-fashioned and quaint about it, yet somehow also synchronistic.

Luckily, it's still more on the sweet side than the Twilight Zone-y side. But I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Special Guest Star

No one in Asheville watches TV. It's very odd. I was raised by television and I lived in a city where it's a major industry. I've encountered people who don't watch TV before. They talk about art and literature and theatre, which are all things I enjoy as well. But I wouldn't trade all the time I spent watching Alf for anything. I quote The Simpsons on a daily basis. They are just part of my vocabulary. A comedian once joked that Generation X could be defined by one phrase: "Oh my God, this is just like that episode of Bewitched." I find myself saying that a lot, too, because life is just like that episode of Bewitched!

Since moving to Asheville, we're watched almost no television. First, we didn't have a TV set. Then we didn't have cable. Then we were too busy. I've missed countless episodes of Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who and The Venture Brothers. Maybe that's why I've been on edge lately. Maybe television, in all its scripted glory, brings me comfort on some level. A frequency or wavelength from childhood that calms and subdues, like a mother's voice or a bowl of soup.

My mind works in TV terms. We have our first houseguest visiting us at the moment, and I can't help but feel that Michael and I got a spin-off with a new story and a new setting, but a character from the old show is popping in to boost ratings. It's like the Fonz visiting Joanie Loves Chachi. Well, not the Fonz. Mike's not that cool. But at least Doctor Huxtable visiting A Different World, even after Denise left the show. I mean, why would he visit his daughter's roommates after she dropped out? Ratings.

So, I'm keeping an eye on our ratings and on the studio audience. And if you didn't get the Joanie Loves Chachi reference then, truly, I pity you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I Was Once Crazy

Every town, city or village I've ever lived in has had its local crazy people. I know "crazy" is an insensitive term, but the people I'm calling "crazy" represent such a wide variety of mental disorders and charms, that it's easier just to use the blanket term. I'm talking about the local eccentrics, the raving lunatics and the harmless or dangerous folks who walk the streets talking to themselves or to God or to aliens.

Today, I passed a woman who was talking to herself, occasionally yelling at the sky or at cars going by. During the fireworks on the Fourth, a woman walked by and demanded to know why I was polluting the air with sulfur. Whenever I encounter these folks, for as long as I can remember, I've always thought to myself, "That's going to be me in ten years." Now, I've said this since I was a toddler, so really, I'm long overdue.

It never fails, whenever I see crazy people, I immediately begin to wonder how they got to this point in time. Were they always crazy? Are they suffering, untreated, from some mental disorder? Or did something happen? One day, did it just get to be too much for them? Did they just snap? This latter scenario intrigues me, and it's the reason I mutter, "That's going to be me in ten years." My mind starts to ponder what could push me over the edge someday. Will it be a huge, cataclysmic event, like in the movies? Or will it be some little thing. Some little thing that tips the scales and finally breaks whatever tenuous hold I still have on reality.

In my hometown in Oklahoma, we had a whole cast of characters who the townspeople alternately scolded and watched over. In college, there was a guy named Ludwig Plutonium, who always wore bright orange hunting gear and submitted full-page ads to the paper describing his latest discoveries in physics and time travel. In Los Angeles, any evening on Hollywood Boulevard reveals a wide array of the oddball or the forgotten. Here, too, I'm sure there are local characters who everyone knows by name and condition.

So why do I do it? Why do I look into the face of crazy and see a crystal ball? What could transform me from my safe life as a mild-mannered blogger to an unofficial, unsanctioned town crier?

I don't know. But undoubtedly, it'll be because of something you did.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Mother Nature is a Bitch

So it turns out that Michael broke a rib during his waterfall fall. And a week before our 2-month mark, I failed at the promise I made to his mother before we left. "Don't worry," I said. "I'll take care of him." Of course, Michael could easily have broken a rib in Los Angeles doing any number of crazy things. We are talking about the guy who managed to break his foot getting into a hot tub. At least his cell phone survived this time.

Still, it reaffirms my growing concern about the sinister forces of nature that surround us here. Around every corner, lurking in the shadows, nature stands ready to maul us. In addition to keeping Michael indoors from now on, I'm poised to wage my own war on nature. I'm calling the Orkin man.

One of our friends delighted in telling me about the horrors of various spider bites one can get in North Carolina. Then that same friend showed up later with a swollen arm where he had just been stung by a yellow jacket wasp. I don't care what it takes, but I don't want a single living thing to survive the mushroom cloud of toxins I intend to dump on our house and yard. Generations of bug witnesses will pass down tales of the holocaust at 157 White Pine Drive.

I know I'm supposed to be cutting down on the number of times I shake my fist at the dawn and make some solemn vow, but I'm not going to let nature break us, sting us or bite us. I'm going to keep Michael off the rocks and our lives free of bugs and bites and blight. Our first visitor arrives on Wednesday, which gives me plenty of time to fix everything, even a broken rib.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Fifth of July

Yesterday we went on a hike in Dupont State Park to see a few of the many local waterfalls. It was truly a beautiful and extraordinary experience. In fact, it was so singularly special, that I feel compelled to vow never to go hiking or camping or attempt anything outdoorsy again for fear that any future forays into the wild would only pale in comparison to this perfect day.

After being chastised by a park ranger, chased by bugs and exhausted by the near 90-degree climbs, Michael slid on some moss and face-planted onto the rocks, simultaneously getting a nasty bump on the head AND hurting his back. Once we made it out of there, the downpour began. Soaked and injured and fatigued, we finally made it back to the car and back to civilization. Our picnic lunch was very tasty, though.

That evening we headed downtown to take in the local fireworks show. The main square in town was packed, and the entire crowd looked skyward to the huge, open expanse of North Carolina sky. North Carolina is called "The Land of the Skies," you know. As we heard the first explosion, we waited in anticipation for the burst of color, only to discover they had somehow managed to arrange the fireworks display behind one of the only tall buildings in town. So the whole crowd moved from the square to the other side of the building, in order to see the show. We managed to push in enough to see a few errant explosions of light through the windows of the building.

But it all makes me laugh. Human error, human miscalculation, any attempts of humanity that turn into high comedy amuse me greatly. Especially when Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" is playing in the background. It's really an apt metaphor for this country. We are blessed with liberty and freedom and justice for all, but you really have to crane your neck to see them sometimes.

I was also amused to hear Martina McBride's song "Independence Day" played during the show, though they thoughtfully edited out the part where the mom burns down the house to kill her abusive husband.

All in all, an adventurous, death-defying and silly Fourth of July.

P.S. If you check out our Flickr page, you'll get to see my photos of the waterfalls with Michael falling down in the bottom right corner of the shot! Poor Michael.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Into the Wild

Tomorrow, some friends are taking us hiking. We're going to see a few of the many waterfalls that dot the landscape around Asheville and Western North Carolina. Since I'm the suspicious one, I think it could also very well be a trap to lure us into the hills where we'll be hunted for sport by the locals. Either way, I needed new shoes.

So Michael and I went to the Mast General Store in downtown Asheville to look for hiking boots. My immediate reaction to this whole hiking business was to go to LL Bean's website and order up some Gore-Tex. Having spent a few years in New England, I learned that if you're going outside, you need to go to LL Bean first. But here we have Mast. When we found the outdoorsy section, there was a helpful list posted of essential hiking items, like a compass, rain gear and a helicopter to airlift you to the nearest hospital. This part troubled me. I've seen Blair Witch and Deliverance and Harry Potter. I know that no good can come from outsiders traipsing off into the woods on an adventure. Luckily, we have our friends to guide us. That is, if they're not hunting us down like animals.

Michael and I ended up getting matching hiking boots, which wasn't our intention. Hopefully, the bears and mountain lions will be too busy laughing to eat us. Besides some socks and a new bandanna for Henry, we didn't get anything else from the essential hiking list. I decided I wanted a survival knife and my first instinct was to turn to LL Bean and order a Leatherman pocket tool, but then I found this:

Couldn't you just squeal like a pig? Of course, my online search for knives and swords also turned up another option:

Trusting that after all these years, I'm better with a light saber than a knife, I decided on the Luke Skywalker blue model from Episode IV: A New Hope. You just can't go wrong with a classic.

If we don't return, I want Matthew McConaughey to play me in the movie. And make sure he takes his shirt off a lot. I want the audience to see his/my abs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Air Supply

The other night we went to nearby Flat Rock, NC to the Flat Rock Playhouse to see a production of Meet Me in St. Louis. Michael was, of course, horrified, but I couldn't wait. The play was great, though the woman playing Esther could have sassed it up a notch. But I'm not here to talk about the show. I'm here to talk about the air.

The playhouse was set back in a very picturesque campus in an already picturesque village. Towering above the theatre and admin buildings were all these fir and pine trees. It had been raining off and on throughout the day, so when we stepped out of the theatre, we were hit with the most amazing fragrant mixture of pine and rain and fresh mountain air. It makes you just want to stand around outside, taking deep breaths.

In Los Angeles, the air isn't as bad as you might think. True, you can still see it, but it's much better than it used to be. But you'd never want to stand outside and just breathe it in. Except maybe at the beach. The point is that the air here is so fresh and clean, it makes me a little dizzy. You just want to bottle it or inject it or hoard it somehow.

This morning, Michael and I had breakfast on the patio overlooking the back yard and lake. One of our bunnies hopped through the yard, while various birds flitted from feeder to feeder and the squirrels and chipmunks began their daily games. A cool breeze blew through, carrying with it the clean, fresh smell of morning dew and woodsy bark and pine.

It's enough to make you a little sick.