Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricanes Blow

As you may or may not know, I am in New Orleans right now. And as you may or may not know, there's a big ol' hurricane named Gustav heading this way. My main goal for this weekend was to make it to Friday night. The group I'm traveling with has a big party every year on the Friday night before Labor Day. This year, I did a little help with the planning, so I was especially invested in seeing it succeed.

Thankfully, the party was a big success and the majority of our group members made it. (Almost 300 people!) Additionally, we raised over $1,500 for a local AIDS charity, so I'm very happy about that.

Then this morning, the hotel slipped a letter under my door advising me that the city had called for voluntary evacuation of visitors today and mandatory evacuation tomorrow. Thankfully, Ben and Gary drove down from Asheville, so they will heroically whisk me out of harm's way and back to Michael and Henry. Henry is recovering nicely, by the way. He had a few scary hours on an operating table, and we almost lost him. But the amazing doctors and nurses stitched him up, gave him a blood transfusion and now he's resting comfortably at the feet of his beloved Michael.

So now I'm packing up, grabbing a few more photos and souvenirs and will start the trek home this afternoon! New Orleans is a city of very strong, very resourceful people, and I know they're going to be fine. I love this place and look forward to coming back again next year.

Gotta go! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Poor little Henry. He may be 120 pounds, but when he's cradled in Michael's arms with his nose buried in a towel, he looks so small and fragile. It was a rough morning, so we decided we'd better take him to the hospital for some help. In the lobby of the hospital, he decided he wasn't going to move anymore willingly. So Michael, a nurse and I pushed and slid him into an examining room.

After two hours, some epinephrine, a tranquilizer shot and some acupuncture, Henry was subdued and no longer bleeding. We decided not to wait and see if it gets better on its own. Instead, we're taking Henry to South Carolina tomorrow morning for a CT scan. Everyone thinks it's most likely a nasal tumor, which will probably require chemo and radiation treatment.

Luckily, we've had several opinions all pointing to this same diagnosis. Which is good, because like I told Michael as we sat on the floor of the hospital, I don't entirely trust our doctor. "She's too pretty," I told him. "You can never trust pretty people." You know those beauty pageant candidates that always say, "I want to be a veterinarian, because I love animals!" And you think, "Sure, honey. Who wants a modeling career when you can be taking a cow's temperature?" Well, apparently sometimes they really do become veterinarians. Still, pretty people will kill you where you stand, especially if you're blocking a mirror.

The confusing part is that she seems so nice. In fact, everyone at the hospital has been extraordinarily kind to us. Technicians who weren't even involved in Henry's case popped in to see how he was doing and to ask if we needed anything. The tech who was helping us couldn't have been sweeter. She helped shove gauze up his nose, which is something we haven't been able to accomplish. Plus, she didn't even blink when Henry bled on her shoes. The guy who came in to twist the acupuncture needles spoke softly to Henry and stroked his fur. Even the pretty doctor, who first told us there was nothing else we could do, came back a few minutes later with the acupuncture needles and said, "We might as well give it a try!"

The tranquilizer shot and the acupuncture did the trick, but left him pretty much immobile. So we loaded him onto a stretcher and carried him back to the car for the ride home. Just as we were loading him into the back, a woman who had been in the lobby when we left stopped by the car and handed us a bag of M&Ms. "I keep extra bags in my car," she said. "You look like you could use some cheering up." Of course, I'm thinking, "Great. Some crazy serial killer drives around looking for gay guys taking their dogs to the vet and gives them poisoned M&Ms," but I just said, "Thank you."

People are nice here. They're nicer than I am. If I walked into a room and saw two tired, frazzled guys, splattered with blood, holding down a monster of a dog, I think I would just say, "Sorry, I must have the wrong room" and keep on walking. But here, they come in and try to help. It's humbling. It makes me think of The Color Purple, when Miss Celie helps Sofia in the general store, and Sofia tells her, "I want to thank you, Miss Celie, fo evrything you done for me. I 'members that day I was in the store with Miss Millie - I's feelin' real down. I's feelin' mighty bad. And when I see'd you - I knowed there is a God."

Clearly, I need some sleep.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Boy and His Dog

Though Henry made it through the rest of the day yesterday with no further incidents, he had a very rough night. Like an idiot, around 11:00PM, I told Michael, "Everything's going to be okay." As if on cue, Henry sneezed and his nosebleed started again. For the next few hours, we managed to stop it, then it would start again, then stop, then start. I say "we," but "we" all know that it was Michael. My main contribution was handing Michael the medicine and stroking Henry's head.

Even I couldn't be insensitive enough to take a picture, but I wish you all could have seen the tableau taking place on the floor of our bedroom. Michael sitting cross-legged, Henry's head resting on his knee, while he applied pressure to Henry's nose. It was one of those rare and pure moments where you understand what love is. I had been wanting to take him to the hospital and let them do all the work. But they couldn't have done it with such love and compassion. Henry trusts Michael completely and I couldn't help but remember our second trip to Asheville back in December. We managed to pick up a nasty flu on our flight and got off the plane feeling miserable. Our illness worsened every hour that we were here. At one point, I was just lying in bed, too sick to move, too nauseated to throw up, too feverish to sleep. Michael wasn't in much better shape, but I said, "Will you just rub my head?" He didn't hesitate. And strangely enough, within a few minutes I was feeling much better and fell asleep.

Michael stayed up all night with Henry. I finally went to sleep on the couch in the living room, forgetting that we have two other beds in the house. At 7:00AM, I woke up and found them both asleep, only a few feet from each other. Just last week I was joking that Henry only sees the world as "Michael" and "Not Michael." Which means that maybe Henry and I have more in common than I thought.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Blood and Milk

"So," I said out loud to myself. "I'm mopping up blood at six o'clock in the morning." Poor Henry woke up this morning with a nosebleed. Like with people, it's not terribly serious, but there's just so much blood that it looks like a crime scene. As Michael whisked Henry off to the emergency animal hospital, I did what I always do in a crisis. I cleaned. I find the smell of 409 strangely comforting in times of trouble.

I don't come in contact with blood very often. Sometimes I cut myself shaving or lose control of a serrated knife while trying to saw cans in half or slice tomatoes. And I most certainly do not see buckets of dog blood spilled across the house all that often. A guy in a bar once told me that the only two words that exist in every known language are blood and milk. It's bar information, so who knows if it's true. But I always thought Blood and Milk would make a good title for something.

Henry is home now and resting comfortably. But then, he's always resting comfortably. I tossed the bloody stair treads into the washing machine. I searched the world over for those treads, so that Henry could climb easily up and down the stairs. I moved his fan, so I could spray his rug with cleaner. He likes to sleep with a fan positioned just right on the floor, so he can move around and cool off whatever needs cooling. And the rug is there because he had a hard time getting his bulk up off the hardwood floors.

So add "blood mopping" to the list of things I never thought I would do for a pet. Once my last childhood pet died, I swore I'd never have another. So here I am. Watching his every move, monitoring his breath. Clutching a bottle of 409 and my breaking heart.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Weighty Issue

As a rule, there are three things I try to avoid talking about: money, religion and weight. You thought I was going to say politics, but the truth is that I don't mind talking politics. It is much more awkward and horrifying to talk about dieting than who you might be voting for. But I'm going to break my own rule here, and I won't do it very often, I promise.

Before we moved to Asheville, I admit I had a stereotype in my head that people in the South were probably overweight. I thought, "Finally, I won't be the fattest person in town." In Los Angeles, everyone is a fitness model and everyone talks non-stop about what they're eating or not eating or what diet they're trying or personal trainer they're doing. Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the people here in Asheville are really in very good shape. They're active and physically fit, and I'm still the fattest person in town.

If you are overweight in Los Angeles, people will avoid eye contact and turn away. It's not unlike the Amish practice of shunning. I thought that was bad, but didn't realize how good I had it until I moved here. In Asheville, people want to poke my stomach. I don't know why. I guess they think there will be some sort of Pillsbury Doughboy reaction. Or maybe they've seen people rubbing the bellies of Buddha statues for luck. For whatever reason, people here have a compulsion to poke the fat guy.

It's gotten so bad that I've developed a whole system for heading it off. I can usually detect when someone is coming towards me for the sole purpose of poking me. They come at me, arm outstretched, finger pointing, eyes transfixed on their target. I've learned that if I turn quickly and catch the poke in the ribs, it will deter them or give me enough time to get away. Anyway, it's extremely humiliating. It's like they're saying, "I don't know if you've noticed, but you're fat."

I've noticed, thanks. But who knows? Maybe my weight is as novel to them as my being from Los Angeles. Or maybe it's an old Southern sign of respect. In either case, at the next social function, I'm wearing a suit of armor.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Weekend in Chattanooga

Ben and Gary decided it was high time we visited Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since John and Heather had just been here and had just passed through Chattanooga unharmed, it seemed like a good idea to go check it out. Of course, we had to stay in the Choo Choo:

It was cute and definitely a novel way to spend the night, but I wouldn't stay there again. Not when a shiny new Marriott and Hilton loomed over us a few blocks away. The hotel boasted that the train cars had been restored to their Victorian era splendor. That also appears to be the last time they were cleaned.

On our first evening in Chattanooga, Gary took us to Rock City, a local attraction with towering rock formations and stunning views of the Tennessee River Valley and Chattanooga. It was a beautiful sight and a gorgeous way to experience the sun setting over Chattanooga. It didn't start getting weird until we were exiting the park and they route you through a series of caverns where they've installed these creepy neon-painted statues depicting various fairytale scenes. Under black lights, they glow ominously in their frozen positions, mouths agape, almost as if in mid-scream. It was truly a bizarre end to a beautiful natural setting. Gary says it's much improved over what was there when he was a kid. I wonder if he brought us here to share this nightmare, like the victims in The Ring had to make other people watch the videotape in order to escape the curse. In that spirit, take a look a this:

When we finally left, we encountered a young man who had just proposed to his girlfriend during their tour of Rock City. I sincerely hope he did it during the scenic part and not during the neon cavern of horrors.

On Sunday, we headed downtown to the Tennessee Aquarium. I had never been to an aquarium before, so it was a valuable reminder that nature is best when it's organized and labeled. After the Aquarium, we stopped at Ross's Landing, a strangely sterile piece of waterfront property marking the beginning of the water route used to remove Native Americans from the East Coast and set them on the Trail of Tears. Part of the property was closed, though the signs didn't promise renovation. Hopefully, it will be reopened soon. Since some of the signs were in Cherokee, Gary asked if I had been making good on my promise to learn Cherokee this year. I informed him that I had indeed recently found my Cherokee language books and put them in a spot where I would be sure to see them every day. I think that's progress.

Driving back to Asheville from Chattanooga, we took a more scenic route. It's beautiful countryside, but I couldn't help feeling melancholy. Much like our drive across the country, we encountered a series of little ghost towns where better times and the highway had since passed them by. Then we spotted a group of cute, shirtless Christians with tattoos lugging rafts into the river, so that cheered me up. Braving the rapids for Jesus. I wish I had taken pictures.

We got back to the house in Asheville and collapsed. It was a lovely weekend and I'm glad we've started planning these little trips around the area since that was part of the grand scheme plan in moving here. America is a vast and diverse place, with a lot of beautiful, historic and kooky sites to see. In fact, beautiful, historic and kooky sums up a lot of what we've experienced in the South so far! So maybe I'll start providing pie charts illustrating each adventure and where it falls on the beautiful/historic/kooky scale.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wild Kingdom

This morning we woke up to find 20 Canadian geese strolling through our back yard. We also had one of our bunnies scampering around, a squirrel, a white egret and the blue heron. Just another morning in the mountains of North Carolina.

We grabbed our cameras and snuck around, taking pictures, until we realized they had no interest or fear of us. So we made breakfast, sat on the patio and watched them waddle around and honk at each other. After about half an hour Henry emerged from his morning nap and sauntered outside. He went down in the yard to investigate and 20 geese took to the air and plunked down in the lake. Henry seemed pleased that he protected us and his territory, but it's often hard to tell with Henry. With his bad eyesight, he may not have seen them at all.

Our neighbors tell us that the geese and ducks on the lake will be using our yard frequently as a resting and meeting place. Right now it's a delightful novelty and lends credence to this whole adventure. But I wonder if it will ever get old. Will I ever look out in the yard and say, "Ugh. The geese are back." It's all so surreal and beautiful right now. There were 20 Canadian geese in our yard this morning!

That almost never happened in L.A.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"U-S-A! U-S-A!"

I don't know anything about sports. I never played sports. I never watched sports. A few years ago, I inadvertently got swept up in the Winter Olympics and became fairly obsessed with it. And it wasn't so much the sports angle, though the feats of athleticism were impressive. It was the little mini-documentary profiles they show about the athletes that manipulate you into caring about them. I'm a total sucker for that crap. Triumph of the human spirit and overcoming impossible odds and all that rot.

I still prefer the Winter Olympics over the Summer Games because I like my Olympics cold with a cup of hot chocolate and a chenille throw on the couch. But I give the Summer Games a chance, too, and usually get swept up in the drama. So far, we've mainly been watching swimming and gymnastics which, besides wrestling, are the closest things to figure skating available. I'm happy for Michael Phelps and all, but now he strikes me as just greedy. Plus, his mini-documentary was mostly about no matter how much he eats, he can't gain weight. Sorry, that never elicits sympathy from me. So I've been rooting for whoever is bucking the system and refusing to wear those crazy full-body swimsuits.

The gymnastics have been pretty amazing, too. And I couldn't help but get wrapped up in the story of the 33-year old Russian gymnast who defected to Germany to save her son's life and ended up on the German team. Take that, you little 16-year old bitches. Then we watched the men's gymnastics team win the bronze last night. The big tear-jerker was the guy that didn't make the team and was put on the alternate list, then some other guy got injured, so they let the alternate guy on the team, but only in one event. Then all the team members screwed up their events, so it came down to the alternate guy (who was going last, of course) to save the scores and win the medal for the team! It was like an 80s teen sports movie with Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe and I couldn't get enough of it.

So what does any of this have to do with my year in Asheville? Nothing, really. Except we're watching it for the first time in HD, which is very cool, except it proves once and for all that concealer isn't fooling anyone. Sorry, Bob Costas.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lazy Southern Summer Days

Ever have one of those days you just want to fold up and put in your pocket and save forever? When weather and people and activities join together in the loveliest of combinations. This week, our friends John and Heather and their 9-month-old baby Django visited us from Memphis. We strolled through the farmer's market, went hiking at the NC Arboretum and took in the Friday afternoon drum circle downtown. Then on Saturday, we put them to work and welcomed our Asheville friends over to the house for the first time for a backyard BBQ and party.

The early part of the week was pretty brutal in terms of the temperatures. Mid-nineties, no breeze, no relief. I was beginning to worry that the party was going to be sticky and uncomfortable. Then suddenly the heat broke and Friday brought a slight chill in the morning and a lovely cool breeze throughout the day. Then Saturday couldn't have been more perfect. In an odd clove of events, I was busy sight-seeing and catching up with John and Heather and never got around to obsessing about the party. I didn't even make a list until I dictated one to Michael the night before the party!

It was a relatively painless lesson in letting go of some of my control issues. Michael handled just about everything and delegated chores and tasks on the day of the event. Normally, I would have a well-worn, highlighted and criss-crossed spreadsheet leading up to a party, but I just followed orders, supplied the manual labor and had a blast. So Saturday materialized as a perfect summer day. We set up the ping pong table outside, horseshoes and this new (well, new to us) Southern sensation called "Cornhole," which is an addictive bean bag tossing sort of game. Our neighbors paddled over in their pedal boat and canoe, then generously let our guests take them out on the lake throughout the party. Michael blended up his famous peachies and the peachie fan club took root in North Carolina.

We've been tremendously fortunate here, meeting a group of warm and welcoming friends. Add to that the perfect kind of summer's day you usually only see in movies or read about in books, and you've got a couple of very content, very grateful guys from California in the mountains of North Carolina.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pass the Puffs Plus, Please

Well, I'm sick. Actually, it's just a cold. I hate being sick in the summertime, because I'm already uncomfortable from the heat, so who needs to be hot and sick, too? I feel a little better than I did yesterday, so hopefully I will be well again tomorrow. The cold medicine, however, has given me new clarity and I've realized something.

This is the first time I've actually rested since being in Asheville.

Yesterday, I stayed in bed and read comic books, watched TV and played World of Warcraft all day. I've done each of those things since moving here, but usually only in 15- or 20-minute bursts here and there. Somehow, we are just always busy here. Always going somewhere. Always doing something. We really haven't watched more than an hour of television or a single movie at a time. Yesterday, I watched a movie, two episodes of the "so bad it's good" series Dante's Cove, three episodes of Doctor Who, two episodes of stupid Bobby Flay, then a documentary on how much life sucked in 10,000 BC. I promised my World of Warcraft girlfriend that I would level up to at least 35 by the end of the weekend, so we can go on a quest together. But even after playing all day, I'm still at level 32. I can't help it. I'm much better at shopping in the villages, than I am at fighting orcs.

Where was I? Oh yes, cold medicine and clarity. And forced relaxation. There's lots to do around the house. And I have lots of other various projects to work on, including retouching about a zillion photos. But here I am. Still in bed. Headache, runny nose. Comics books. Orcs. Poor Michael. I'm the worst sort of patient to take care of. I'm demanding, moody and emotionally unavailable. And that's when I'm not sick! So now add a fever to that and you've got me throwing glasses of tepid water at him and demanding more ice. Pray for him.

I'll be better tomorrow and all this resting will end. I will try to use this time today a little more wisely. Maybe I will read a book. Or try to do some writing. Or just sleep. When Michael asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I said I wanted to read comic books, play video games and maybe watch a movie. If I had known my birthday wish would come true, I would have added "but no cold." Learn from my mistake, and add that little caveat the next time you're blowing out your candles.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Nice Day to Be Alive

Back in Asheville! I arrived back in time to spend a couple of days with Michael's parents and join in the sight-seeing. We went to the NC Arboretum off of the Blue Ridge Highway, and it was beautiful! It was the best kind of nature: neat, tidy and well-organized, with a snack bar. There's a quilt show there this weekend, so I might go back and enjoy the air-conditioned hiking through the exhibit hall.

Our next guests are our friends John, Heather and their brilliant little baby, Django. We've never had a baby visitor before, so it will be fun to learn how truly dangerous our house and yard are. Though I don't think he's crawling yet and is probably rarely unsupervised. I wonder if I should get some blocks, or if he'd prefer the Wii.

It's fun having people visit us, and I'm feeling less pressured to convince everyone why we did this crazy thing in the first place. On a personal note, we weren't going to exactly publicize the fact that we're only staying a year to the locals. We didn't want people to dismiss us as tourists or be afraid to invest time in us. But the cat is out of the bag. I mean, this goofy blog is called A Year in Asheville. But it's still a touchy subject and we've only been here three months! As someone who likes to catastrophize, I'm not looking forward to the eventual painful departure. I thought a year was a long time, but the past three months have gone by in a flash. We'll cross that rickety bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of rickety bridges, we're off to Old Forte this morning to pick blueberries. I kid you not. It's blueberry season! I'm going to make Michael bake a pie and then let it cool on the windowsill for some Huck Finn-type ne'erdowell to come by and whisk away, while I chase him with a broom and yell, "You come back here, you ragamuffin!"

What Southern Gothic treasures are you re-enacting today?