Archive for the ‘Adventures in Travel’ Category

Back from Wilbur, and More Books to Show for It

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

I don’t want to crowd our beloved Wilbur Hot Springs with teeming hordes, but I do have to recommend that you go. At some point. And not in the summer, when the heat will slay you dead. See how beautiful it is? I kind of want to move there. Forever. Because four days in the glory of that place were not quite enough, even though I was excited to get home to see the latest episode of Mad Men.

Here’s something fun that happened: We played a lot of ping-pong. Unlike pretty much every other game/sport/endeavor in this world, at ping-pong we are evenly matched, also known as “John could potentially try a little harder but is happy not to.” We tend to have a lot of exciting rallies, and because we don’t keep score, everyone leaves a winner. (Helpful exposition: I am not a good loser.)

Pool, which we also play, is another story. John is good at pool. I am not. He likes to give helpful hints as to how I might improve, but I don’t want to hear them. All I want to do is hit the white ball and have it hit other balls which then go into the pockets. Which doesn’t happen nearly often enough when I’m at bat, although he pretty much has it nailed. On the other hand, if I use my time-honored strategy of “clog and wait,” I can sometimes win by default—i.e., when he sends the eight-ball into a pocket. It happened twice!

ANYway, I still get grumpy, because it’s not fun to have your opponent dominating the table, even if just moments before, your heart was leaking all kinds of love for said opponent, whom you find eminently nuzzle-able. At one point, we were negotiating the rules (Do you lose if you scratch? etc.), and John was trying to make up all kinds of lying bullcrap that would put me at an advantage. I kept telling him to stop it.

J: What? Rules are just there to make sure you have the best time possible.

M: Are you freaking KIDDING ME? Rules are there to make sure that you WIN WITH DIGNITY.

And there, my friends, is yet another diagnostic for our marriage.

Anyway ANYway, I read some books:

1) The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. Really good. Gripping, obsessive, angry, fascinating, and exceptionally well conceived. I love the concept! And very well executed, too. Yay, Claire Messud! Keep writing things! I will read them!

2) Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris. I know, I know, it’s David Sedaris. There’s a temptation to be all, like, more of the same, but with David Sedaris, “the same” is largely irresistible. And I think that this book is his best in a long time, absolutely hilarious. If you refuse to read it because it seems like such an obvious thing to read (which, maybe only elitist idiots like me do that, but just in case), you’re only denying yourself pleasure.

What I’m puzzling over is his recent interview on Fresh Air. On the one hand, he sounded more emotionally present and open than I’ve ever heard him. He spoke a lot about his alcoholism, which I’ve never heard him mention before—although it took him an awfully long time to get to the actual word. (There was a lot of “my drinking.”) And he revealed that the persona who speaks in his work is a much more cheerful version of himself, and that he doesn’t share any of the darker stuff he goes through, which I was surprised by and a little sad about. Sure, it’s a hilarious persona, but I care about his actual self, too.

But the thing that most concerned me was his attitude toward his father. Almost everything Sedaris writes about his father—or, actually, everything—makes him sound like an abusive asshole. And Sedaris just doesn’t seem to get that. Whenever he’s asked about it, he says something like “It was a different time,” or “It’s what motivated me to get up out of bed in the morning,” but to me, that just sounds bizarre. I mean, he’s talking about a man who regularly assured him, throughout his childhood, that was “an absolute zero.”

It could just be that Sedaris’s father is still alive, and Sedaris doesn’t want to stir anything up, which I would understand. But in that case, it’s weird to be writing about him. I find it disturbing, and it undermines my experience of his work. It’s as though something very bad is happening in the room, and nobody is saying anything about it. Worse, they’re laughing it off. Don’t like.

Otherwise, though, hilarious book.


Monday, April 22nd, 2013

We were just in Monterey for 4 days, which, yeah, lovely but touristy and not terribly interesting.


Unless you go kayaking with sea otters, sea lions, and seals in Elkhorn Slough. Then it is magical and mind-blowing and not quite capturable in blog language.

But I’ll try.

Here’s one thing about kayaking: You are very close to the water. You are practically IN the water, except you’re not getting wet. It’s an intimate experience, and when you’re out in the middle of a big slough, with tides and wind and whatnot, it’s both vulnerable and thrilling. When a seal pops up and says hello, you want to scream with pleasure. (“Try not to scream,” our orientation leader said.)

The place where you launch is just a short paddle away from a beach where harbor seals are hauled out, and your first move is to speed across the shipping lane, straight over to them. So, there you are, in a kayak, yards away from the beach. And there they are, resting on the beach, some of them nearly in the water. Let me say that again: You are there. They—blorpy, calm, speckled silver—are there. You are on the same level, yards away, in their habitat. Did you know you could get so close to seals?* And they wouldn’t seem to mind?

*You’re supposed to maintain a polite, non-harrassing distance. We tried (hard) and generally succeeded. But at this particular moment, the wide arc around the shipping lane pretty much put us in the seals’ laps.

Then you swing by a group of male sea otters, rolling gracefully in the water or resting on their backs, hands and flippers up. I love, love, LOVE sea otters, and there are only about 2700 of them on the California coast. It’s breathtaking to see any, let alone 30. I know they’re wild animals with sharp claws and teeth that can rip into hardshell crabs, but DAMN if they aren’t heart-meltingly cute. (I apologize to naturalists who hate this approach to wildlife. I can’t help it.)

After you pass the otters, you swing left into the Slough, at which point you circumvent a pier where the sea lions like to haul out and rest in the sun. Problem: There are too many of them to fit. Charmingly, they just pile on top of each other in a massive sea lion blanket and attempt to make the best of it. This goes reasonably well until a new one swims up and starts mounting the pile, and everybody affected throws his/her head back and starts barking, and half the pier is suddenly a roiling mess, until they calm down again.

Okay, but. We learned from a volunteer at the site that there’s one sea lion who hauls out there who is a different species, called a stellar sea lion. And this dude is about 15 TIMES the size of the others. It’s like the difference between a cocker spaniel and a young elephant. The first time we saw the stellar otter, he was lying on the pier already, and all of the other sea lions were basically piled around him, except for one intrepid youngster who kept trying (and failing) to climb the Big Guy. That was Thursday, when we were just walking on shore. On Saturday when we went kayaking, the stellar sea lion wasn’t there—at least not when we paddled out.

When we paddled back in, we noticed a lot of commotion at the pier. There were sea lions everywhere in the water, splashing, porpoising, barking, and just generally making a ruckus. We didn’t understand it until we got close enough to see that the stellar sea lion had returned and commandeered the entire middle section of the pier. Everyone else had jumped off! And now they were in the water, clearly agitated (adorably so, I have to say), but not daring to go near the Big Dude.

“I guess in nature, size wins,” I said to John.

“Yeah,” he said. “But strength and sneakiness sometimes do, too.”

The water by the pier was shallow, and I watched as some of the smaller sea lions swam around and beneath our kayak. My heart was THRUMMING with excitement and with joy. Nellies, I know a lot of people have had this experience, but I’m here to testify: It is as remarkable as you think. To be in a wild animal’s habitat, and to have those animals carry on about their business right in front of you—well, it’s a gift. And in the case of the friendly seals, who like to pop up behind you and follow you, they actually seem to enjoy kayakers. Which is so playful and generous, I only wish there were some way to thank them that they could understand. Thank you, harbor seals! And thank you, all the animals in Elkhorn Slough. What a day of wild joy.

I Don’t Know Why You Say Hello

Friday, March 8th, 2013

So I was all, like, I haven’t blogged in a week; maybe I should blog, and then I looked at my blog, and I was like, What the horking who? I haven’t blogged in three weeks? (Give or take.) How is that possible?

But I know how. I had a work thing happen. A work thing that was essentially:

  1. Exciting new project!
  2. Scribble scribble scribble scribble!
  3. Turn it in cross fingers hope for best!
  4. Client not happy! Client opposite of happy!
  5. OMG freak out wish I could explain not really my fault! Bad direction! No direction!
  6. Anyway doesn’t matter scramble scramble scramble scramble!
  7. Pant pant stress stress don’t sleep write write!
  8. Client very happy! Client immensely happy! Client loves!
  9. But meanwhile other projects! Many other projects!
  10. And edits from client! Always more edits!

And so on. I don’t know what’s happening with the San Francisco economy, but have I ever had more work? Possibly not. I’ve had to turn away more projects in the last few weeks than I want to count. Let’s leave it at: lots. Many words are going unwritten by me! And many dollars are going unearned! Although I am managing to fold other money into the nest—quite literally, since the house is what eats up most of the funds these days.

Anyway, work is officially on hold for a week. Because on Sunday, we’re headed to Ashland to be with and help and love one of my closest friends, who is recovering from a very, very shitty 6 months of cancer. I can’t wait to see her. Beam us away, Honda Element!

80s Culture Roundup + Holiday Goodbye

Monday, December 12th, 2011

We bought a house. And we are renovating that house. And moving in on Thursday. And getting on a plane for New Hampshire on Sunday.

Short version: Crayfish.

Longer version: No time to blog, or to do much of anything that isn’t work- or house-related.

However, I’m finally taking a moment to say hello and goodbye.


I’ve been reading Wendy Wasserstein. First the early plays (Uncommon Women and Others, Isn’t It Romantic?, and The Heidi Chronicles), then a later play (The Sisters Rosensweig), and now Shiska Goddess, a collection of essays.

It’s been interesting to see her work develop. Uncommon Women isn’t really a play so much as a collection of not-terribly-well-written scenes, and Isn’t It Romantic? also feels young and awkward and somewhat slight. But by the time she gets to The Heidi Chronicles, Wasserstein has learned a lot about dialogue and structure.

And yet . . . I don’t know. I don’t love her work. I suppose I have the complaint I have about most things in life, which is that it isn’t deep enough for me. The Sisters Rosensweig does dig a little, and there are real moments of pathos in that play, which thus far is my favorite. But the sitcom feeling just doesn’t leave me.

One thing I am very struck by is the gigantic chasm between Wasserstein’s generation, in which the university experience included what amounted to hostessing classes and women were still fighting for the legitimacy of having a non-mothering career, and mine, in which there was absolutely never a question.


I’ve also been watching the first season of thirtysomething, which I devoured at 15, when it first aired. I’m amused to see how relevant it both is and isn’t, and how so much of what it helped introduce to television—whitey angst, banter, the “group of friends” thing—is still there.

I’m also pretty shocked to see how every episode is about the exact same thing, which is how hard it is to work and/or parent. I don’t begrudge them their struggles, and I even share some of them. But my, how they pratter on.

I’m glad to see that by episodes 5 and 6, we’re moving away from Michael and Hope and into Melissa and Ellen, whose struggles are at least a little different. At the same time, the writing is getting stronger, not so mannered and awkward.


And, this’ll be all until, I imagine, somewhere in mid-January, when we’re back and I’m unpacked enough to dedicate time to whispering into the void. Also known as blogging.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Beings of Cat-Dog Composure

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Every year at the beginning of Thanksgiving week, John and I head to Calistoga for fall foliage, wine-redolent air, and steamy outdoor mineral tubs.

(I’ve written previously about the cheese and the snow monkeys.)

And every year, we do mainly the same things—visit the same restaurants, take similar walks, and loll luxuriously about. As far as we’re concerned, there’s pleasure in routine, and we’re always happy to be deepening the grooves of familiar enjoyment.

But thanks to John and his spirit of adventure, we’re also likely to toss in one new thing. In 2009, it was a geyser. This year, it was a new route in our walk—which led us to an astonishing find.

This time, rather than heading directly north from our spa, we first went west. There’s a little more history closer to the highway, where the houses are older and some of the buildings historic. So for the first half hour, we kicked through fallen leaves and noticed what we liked best about the architecture.

A couple of miles in, the road took a sharp left, but a running path continued into the woods ahead of us. We saw someone head into it, so we followed.

And there we entered another world. There, instead of walking beneath a bright and open sky, we were shrouded in shade. And to our right, behind a rickety old fence, was an Italian villa. Or rather, there was what looked like an exact replica of an Italian villa. It was almost as though it had been disassembled, carted over on a ship, and reassembled in the middle of Calistoga.

There was no driveway or road access that we could see, so while we figured that we were simply looking at the back—complete with vineyard, carriage house, and iron filigree balcony, a la a certain pair of star-crossed lovers—the effect was even more surreal, like a fairytale castle plonked down in a cloud.

Nothing about it seemed to belong in America. It didn’t even seem to belong in this century. There was a grandeur-in-decay feel to it, as though it had been long abandoned. It was almost as though nobody could see it but us.

And then John said: “What are those animals?”

I was busy marveling at a grotesque tree, which had bulbous growths along the branches.

“What animals?” I asked.

J: Those animals.

M: Hmm?

J: Those cat-dogs. Sweetie, come here. You have to see this.

I tore myself from the tree and walked over to an opening in the fence, where he was standing.

He pointed.

And I saw them: two very still gray-brown animals, each sitting on a fence post.

M: Are they—real?

J: They look like statues, don’t they?

M: But they’re real?

J: What are they? I can’t tell.

They sat, patience on a monument. At the same time very alert, watching us as we watched them.

They sat. We watched. They sat. We watched.

What were they? They were like nothing we had ever seen.

And then one of them stood, swished its tail, and began walking away from us, along the fence.

It was lean and long, nothing like it had looked sitting, furry and full.

J: They’re foxes!

M: Wow.

J: They’re incredible, aren’t they?

M: Absolutely.

J: I couldn’t tell until it moved. Because the nose didn’t look narrow enough from the front.

M: Or the ears pointy enough, I agree.

J: But wow, huh?

M: Definite wow.

The other sat for a while longer, and then it, too, stood and turned to leave.

Thank you, wily and elegant foxes. And thank you, John Diller, for routinely bringing wonder to my world.

The Rundown

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

I once had to watch a movie called The Rundown, all by my defenseless selfie, and review it as part of a job application process. (To be a film reviewer.) It put me off the term for seemingly ever.

Except today I have a lot to report, such that I can’t go into detail about anything and need to substitute pithy remarks in a web-friendly list. Is that, in fact, a rundown?


1) Back from Monterey. Note to travelers: The Holiday Inn Express at Monterey Bay is not, as I should have known by the prominent and pretentious employment of “at,” in Monterey. There is a drive involved. Happily, a short drive.

Highlight of the trip: penguin-feeding at the aquarium! Highlight of the penguin feeding at the aquarium: A kid in the audience asks how to tell male from female. Presenter says: a) Males are often bigger; b) The females lay eggs; and c) Males have black namebands, females white. Belly laugh!

Also-ran: Happy, lazy time at the beach. The empty-ish, pristine-ish one in Seaside, NOT Monterey. Take that, Actual Place We Meant To Go.

2) Babies. Funny, sweet, and a smidge mind-exploding. Namibians, you rocked it. I think, if given the choice of the four destinations and a this-lifetime do-over, John might choose Namibia. I’m going with San Francisco. Good thing! As I am already here. Ish.

(I prefer Berkeley anyway. Speaking of which, there is a scene in the movie that takes place TWO BLOCKS from our house. It’s the one where Hattie face-plants in the sand at the playground.)

3) The Ask. Is the problem with the hapless, hilarious, failure-at-everything narrator that there’s nowhere to go but a) sentimentality in awakening to responsibility or b) down? I think I’ve now read enough of these books to know that there is never a satisfying payoff. But oh, the first 50 pages! I was nearly screaming with laughter.

4) And another question: Is there anyone who can balance irony with sincerity quite so perfectly as Jonathan Franzen? Or maybe, is there anyone who can balance them at all, other than Jonathan Franzen?

I am in love with his latest story, such that I have launched into a third-time reread of The Corrections, one of my favorite novels of all time. Oh, my little (big) Corrections, we have been apart for far too long. (Although the preamble might be a touch overwritten. Shh! Don’t tell Jonathan!)

5) I finished Season 3 of Mad Men. While I don’t always love it, I am always interested, and I did adore the finale with a pulsing passion not evinced since the Season 2 finale of The Office. And the recent Berkeley Rep musical. But nothing else! Thank the fates and furies that my Personal Cable Liaison and Friend Forever Vicky will record Season 4 as it airs, so I don’t have to wait for the DVD.

6) Three weeks until Wipeout. It seems to be calling itself “Reality TV’s guiltiest pleasure.” A thousand times no! There’s so much that’s guiltier—and not much that’s as pleasurable. It’s more like, “Reality TV’s pleasuriest guilt.” Or maybe: “The highest pleasure-to-guilt ratio in summer 2010 major-network reality TV programming.”

And you wonder why I get the big bucks for copywriting.

Consider yourself rundowned.

Shut Up, Sheets!

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Whenever you tell people you’re going to Santa Cruz, they ask where you’re staying. That’s because Santa Cruz has a heaping shovelful of crappy suicide motels, two or three expensive B & B’s, and one swanky beachside hotel at $350/night.

And nothing else.

We have our favorite suicide motel, distinguished mainly by its perfect location and frequently functioning hot tub, but this time we went for the beach joint. Why? John had a two-night credit.

It was awesome.

It was also hilarious.

Case in point: We arrive, pull the car up to check-in, and immediately don’t know what to do. There’s a valet there, and he wants to unload our baggage and take it up to our room while also somehow simultaneously parking our car. We’re so used to unloading our own baggage and parking our own car that we ask to borrow the luggage cart.

“Sure,” he says, “I can take your luggage to your room.”

No, we want to take it. We love loading the luggage cart, and even more fun is driving the luggage cart down hotel halls! Plus maneuvering it into the elevator! Plus making jokes about how much luggage we pack for three days away!

But it’s not to be. The valet rules the cart. We apparently can carry the luggage up to our room (requiring several unseemly trips, as we pack in multiple smallish bags and have a 27-lb. portable freezer for my ice), or the valet does it. We go with the valet.

Who is humorless! While John parks the car, the valet and I travel together up to floor 7, where he unloads our stuff without once laughing at my hilarious jokes. Sigh.

Our room is a suite (gorge) with sliding glass doors and a balcony overlooking the bay (gorge), styled in chic mid-century modern, with accent colors of lime, lemon, and tangerine. Love! We even have a chocolate-colored bean bag (brand: Fat Boy) which John attempts a seat-dive into, only to be instantly spat out. (Hilarity.)

The bathroom mirror has two parallel strips of gray that turn out to be lights. The shower has a wand. The wallpaper is the exact same color as the ceiling paint, only textured. I didn’t even get that it was wallpaper until the second day!

Immediately I feel that all my clothes are wrong. To compensate, I change into sweats and get into bed.

This is where things get kind of sad. The sheets! Are loud! Very, VERY loud. They’re starched to such a crackly crisp that it’s impossible to make a move without creating a cacophony of rustling and crinkling noises. LOUD rustling and crinkling noises. GARBAGE-TRUCK LOUD rustling and crinkling noises. On the first night, I spend pointless minutes lying awake, afraid to change position for fear of waking John. And when he turns over, I bolt awake in earthquake hysteria!

Who could have predicted sheet-induced loss of sleep?

Anyway, we had a fantastic time, including two pay-per-view movies (more in a future post), an 11 A.M. hot fudge sundae, and some primo hot-tub-on-the-beach relaxation.

Thank you, Dream Inn. And please quiet the sheets!