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Election anxiety

I have self diagnosed myself with “election anxiety”. My symptoms include:

-a strong burning desire to leave the country for the election, in the event that the results are not in my candidate’s favor.

-an inability to discuss anything about politics without feeling hopeless and miserable and angst ridden.

-an profound ability to sound confrontational even when discussing politics with people who agree with me wholeheartedly.

-a roller coaster of emotions depending on which way the polls swing. If the polls swing in my favor, I am flooded with a sort of tentative relief. If the polls swing the other way, I spend a lot of time threatening to move to Panama and casting dispersions on our country.

-nervousness when speaking to anyone about anything if I don’t know how they stand within the political spectrum.

-a reddening of my face when driving in the country and observing campaign signs that are not for my candidate of choice.

-an inability to listen or watch any news at all. My sole news source is the NY times, which is in favor of my candidate, or a brief scan of cnn-dot-com headlines to see if there is positive news about my candidate. I only click on the news of which the headlines seem to spin my candidate in a favorable light.

-an overwhelming hatred of Track, Trig, Bristol, and whatever other ridiculous morons were produced by a ridiculous moronic woman with a bee hive. This symptom is accompanied by a very real desire to take this said person in question and, as Chris Rock would say, “shake the shit out of her”.

-strong memory recall of the last presidential election, after which I drank too much whiskey and ran around town screaming at people that they were apathetic.

If anyone knows of any cures, I’m on the hunt. Thanks.

Why I Love the East Coast

Maybe the title of this is misleading. I do not love the east coast. But I did grow up there, and therefore a certain element of sarcastic and cynical humor has been ingrained in me, and it’s not my fault. Just last night, I was lying in bed and picked up the “Four Agreements”- which was left for me to read by a friend recently going through a new age self help phase (don’t worry- he has only been in the phase for three weeks, so not quite long enough for an intervention). I read a brief summary of the agreements and put the book down.

“I have a problem with this kind of philosophy.” I remarked to my boyfriend. He looked up from his read.

“Why?” he asked. After all, I know he has been known to subscribe to such wholesome ideas as presented in the “Four Agreements” in the past.

“It’s just not funny.” I tell him. “There is just no room for humor.”

“Hmmm, maybe things could be funny, but there doesn’t seem to be an allowance for sarcastic humor. You could still have humor though.” he offers, and turns back to his book.

In my mind: humor = sarcastic humor. There is no in between. So if there is no allowance for sarcastic humor in that life philosophy, then my logical conclusion is that the philosophy is flawed, and is not funny.

This same friend who lent me the book is very serious about it. Another mutual friend of ours (who is, incidentally, also from the East Coast) has the Four Agreements as well, but she keeps it in her bathroom and “only reads it when she’s pooping”. Our “enlightened” friend was aghast at this. This book, which seemingly changed his life and was the catalyst for “enlightenment”, is only read by her while shitting. He fails to see the humor in this. Probably because there is no room for humor here.

Anyway, all this pontificating about the East Coast was triggered the other day while riding on the Max, which is our city’s light rail system. I was on a line that was eventually destined for the airport, and there was this early 20ish looking kid on the train, clutching his luggage and looking panicked. He was very fresh faced, maybe even too much so for early 20’s, he might have dipped into late teens, as he had this look about him that said he’d never been to a bar. Eventually somebody noticed how panicked he looked, and because this is Portland and not the East Coast, this somebody asked him if he was allright.

“I may be about to miss my plane!” he stammers helplessly and looks furtively at his watch. Somebody else leaps to attention.

“What time is your flight?” this concerned human queries. It’s in an hour and fifteen minutes from now.

“No problem.” another concerned human pipes in from a few seats down. “This train will be there in about forty five minutes, you’ll have just enough time.”

“Are you checked in yet?” another extremely concerned human chimes in from a few seats in the other direction.

“No!” exclaims the panic stricken young man. I have to admit, the situation looks grim.

“It’ll be ok.” the original concerned human says, “your plane is probably delayed anyway.”

“Yeah, definitely,” someone else chimes in. “Besides you’ll be there with time to spare.”

Now I am usually one to shut out all conversation on public transportation. But I don’t know whether it was my mood, or what, but I decide to contribute to the meaningless banter and overhelpful atmosphere with a few inane comments of my own.

“Where are you flying?” I offer. The answer is Phoenix. I keep going inanely, “oh, don’t worry, my brother lives there so I fly there a lot. There are tons of flights leaving all the time, so if you miss this one, they’ll put you on another one no problem.”

He doesn’t look convinced at all. Finally, the voice of reason comes in the way of another passenger who has been formerly silent. He is a mid fiftyish man with a busy mustache and dark hair.

“Excuse me.” he says, in a thick New York accent. “Because I’m from the East Coast, I can’t help but present the other, and likely true, side of this situation. You’re going to miss the goddamn flight- that much is certain. You’re not going to get on any other flights, because they’re going to dick you around at the airport. You’ll spend four hours walking from desk to desk from gate to gate, and then you’ll sleep sitting upright in a chair that’s so goddamn uncomfortable. It will be the start of many years of recurring and incurable back problems. When you finally do get put on a flight, you will be flanked by a screaming baby on one side and an obese woman who hasn’t brushed her teeth in days.” he pauses, and I am laughing.

“Just sayin’.” he said, “Just thought I’d present another side to the story.” The panicked kid is kind of laughing at this point too, and everybody feels better. See? A little sarcastic humor goes a long way.

The next time I see my “enlightened” friend and he tries to loan me another book that will also cause me to be enlightened, I am going to tell him that if there is no sarcastic humor in enlightenment, then there is no me in enlightenment.

Over the years I have tried on numerous occasions to get in shape and lose weight. Each time was a collasal failure due to my tendency to completely overindulge in everything, and my initial overzealousness would end up doing me in right away as I rushed into an intensive boot camp style of exercise combined with overwhelming restrictions on my diet. Often, I would successfully lose 5 pounds and then feel skinny, so I would resume my normal eating habits right away. Then gain 10 pounds. You get the idea.

I would kick off each “diet” the same way. Feeling morose about my appearance, I would head to the grocery store and purchase some kind of glossy fitness magazine. You know, the kind the says “Lose 8 pounds this month!” and “Drop a dress size in 2 weeks!” on the cover. The idea is that simply by purchasing these magazines, you are being proactive about the situation. Then I would fill up my cart with what I perceived to be “health food”: almonds and veggies and brown rice and tofu and organic cheesy poofs. The latter is still cheesy poofs for all intents and purposes, disguised in more subdued packaging and with less Red # 40. Then I would stock my kitchen, eat a measly salad, and head to the gym where I went through the motions on the elliptical trainer for as long as I could possibly stand.

After a few days of this regime I would be extremely weary of being on my “diet”. I would rather hang myself than get on the elliptical trainer, and would head out to the bar, the glossy fitness mag tossed in the recycle bin or stuffed in a corner. Visits to the gym eventually tapered off completely.

Another interesting facet of this process was that I seemed to fail to grasp an important concept- eating in moderation. I assumed incorrectly that since I was eating organic cheesy poofs and almonds, that I could eat as much as possible and it wouldn’t “count”. I also gave myself a free pass to eat whatever I wanted each time I successfully completed a workout. Case in point: yoga class. For nearly a year, I attended a yoga class with my good friend Beth. Immediatly after the class, we would head across the street to a thai restaurant and consume a giant vat of Pad Thai. Then we would move our little party next door to the bar, where I would drink 5 beers. It didn’t matter, because I had “worked out”. Never mind that hatha yoga practically burns the same amount of calories as sleeping! The end result was that I became fatter and more flexible. Awesome.

An especially fond weight loss memory of mine is when I was in my mid 20’s and having just moved to a new city, was spending a lot of evenings drinking beer and socializing with new friends. I must’ve been consuming a ridiculous amount of beer throughout my escapades around town, because when I decided to switch to light beer, I lost 5 pounds within a few months with no other dietary changes. If you think about it, it makes sense, if I drank 5 beers a night, that was a caloric savings of 250 calories/day. Since you need to cut out 3500 to lose a pound- I would lose about a pound every 15 days with this “diet”.

So I’m not really sure what happened. I don’t know what clicked in my brain that suddenly gripped me with the desire to get in shape. I don’t know how I managed to educate myself about portion control. I’m still not sure how all that weight came off and who this person is that I see in the mirror lately. But here I am, thirty years of age and completely addicted to exercise.

I am so addicted to exercise, that I work out six days a week, sometimes seven. I still go to yoga class, but I also go to spin class, strength training class, play on a soccer team, play tennis, swim a mile at least once a week, run, attend pilates at 6:30 in the morning. I still buy the glossy fitness magazines, but now I actually do the suggested workouts listed inside. I can do regular push ups like a man. I can hold side plank for several minutes without collapsing. I will run 5 miles during my lunch break at work, and horseback ride bareback all evening. I treat my body like I am in boot camp. If I am hungover, I force myself to run in the hot sun and sweat out the booze. It’s as if I am a college hockey player caught drinking too much the night before, and I am also my own coach who makes me run the morning after. I answer to myself, and only myself, and somehow myself keeps insisting that I keep up this regimen. And keep it up I have, for nearly 2 years now. I am gripped by a terrifying and irrational fear that if I miss one workout, that will be it for me and all those pounds will return instantly.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here, I am just completely amazed by my self discipline. Every now and then it strikes me. I wonder, how long can I possibly keep this up? My new muscles are demanding. They want attention, all the time. And I can’t believe I spent the good part of my 20’s, when my youth was all aglow, overweight and sucking down way too many microbrews. Hey, better late than never.

Splitsville

Is it just me, or is everybody you know traveling down heartbreak alley lately?

In the past couple of months, I’ve watched from the sidelines as couples of all walks of life call it quits. I’ve seen everything from the relatively benign “going our separate ways” scenario to the tumultuous “who gets the house/dog/car” scenario. Wow. Where is all the new love springing up? How can one find inspiration in the trials and tribulations of yet another sad story?

If you’re like my neighbor, whose boyfriend up and left last week giving her less notice than he provided to his job (as it turned out), you have a huge raging party. You invite all your friends and random boys you met on the internet since the tragic departure of the man in question. You start a huge bonfire and tell stories, you blame everything on that “fucking asshole”. You show all the people at the party a particularly pathetic polaroid shot of the fucking asshole in question, standing in the nude (unaroused, I might add). You provide partygoers with ample quantities of cheap whiskey to wash down their sorrows.

At some point during the evening, someone suggested that we share the story of the worst time we ever got dumped with the group. Fueled by the cheap whiskey, we went around the circle and revealed what used to be private moments of humiliation and heartbreak with strangers. As each person exposed thier story, it became abundantly clear that everyone is getting burned, all the time. Getting burned appears to be a fairly normal experience… for everyone. Not only is it normal to get burned, but it is normal to get burned badly. I thought I would share some of the getting dumped experiences so that the people of the world can feel better about that time they came home to find their significant other packing up their shit or screwing their friend.

-Someone actually got dumped via a letter, from prison. Then it turned out he had started a relationship with her friend, also via letters from prison.

-One guy was heading home with his girlfriend to visit his parents for a week. On the very first night they were there, she dumped him while watching The Breakfast Club in the basement of his parents house. He then had to spend 7 days with his family while they pretended to still be together.

-A girl met a super hot guy in Mexico and had a passionate whirlwind romance that lasted 2 months. Later, back in the states, he was coming up to see her the same night she was having a party. He rode up on his motorcycle, with a super hot chick in black leather on the back. The chick in black leather proceeded to dance to the band provocatively all evening while motorcycle man decided to tell the brokenhearted girl he had a new girlfriend.

-Someone got pregnant and her and her boyfriend decided to plan a shotgun wedding. Before the wedding took place, she lost the baby. In the throes of her depression, her boyfriend decided to tell her about his addiction to $400/hour hookers. Needless to say, they did not end up getting married.

-Someone else got dumped during the first hour of a 16 hour plane flight to Australia. Enough said.

-Any now for yours truly. In college, my boyfriend who was living with me at the time decided to go visit his mom for the weekend. Three weeks later when he hadn’t come home and I was worried sick, I received a 4 page long “we seem to be going in different directions” letter. Then at the very end of the 4th page, it said “And I got drunk and slept with somebody else“. It was crossed out a couple of times, but not enough so that it was illegible. After drinking an entire bottle of wine to my head and crying into most of it, I dragged all of his stupid crap out into my front yard and set it on fire.

I think the moral of the story here is that inspiration can be found in heartbreak. The stories, when shared all together, became hilarious. Hilariously awful, but still hilarious. So buck up little campers, there will be more good things to come.

Adult Sports

I have always been opposed to team sports. Throughout much of my childhood, I consistently chose individual sports to pursue when given the choice. My parents, having led somewhat melancholy and underprivledged childhoods, bombarded my schedule with activities that they wished they themselves had the chance to participate in. The end result was an extremely overstimulated child being rushed around in a frenzy to tennis, gymnastics, ice skating, soccer, softball, swim team, field hockey, horseback riding, violin lessons, tap dance, chess, nature camp, skiing. In the end, I only enjoyed the horseback riding, perhaps the most expensive of any of the pursuits I could have chosen. I was underwhelmed by the remainder of the activities, and regarded the team sports activities with emotions that ranged from extreme terror to complete apathy. My parents, enthusiastically hollering from the sidelines during softball and field hockey games, were disturbed my by utter noncompetitive nature. It didn’t help that my dad is the type to yell at referees and parents of kids on other teams.

I remember lying in bed during the summer, dreading tennis camp. Completely paralyzed by disgust for the sport, I would curl into the fetal position and pray for rain so that the courts were too slippery. I don’t remember why I hated it so much, but I hated it. The ball machine richocheting balls of neon green fuzz my way, the patronizing tennis pro commenting on my backhand, the smell of the courts baking in the August heat, it makes me queasy even now to recall. And the gymnastics. Probably the worst of the worst, I lasted only two years before my mother sympathesized with my protests. Perhaps she realized I was having a terrible time. Perhaps she realized I wasn’t going to be a gymnast like my dad always dreamed I would be, me leaping around in leotards, my hands covered with chalk. She was right, I ended up tall and top heavy, and my earlier dislike of gymnastics was probably connected in some way to a complete lack of predisposition for the sport.

The painful memories of failed after school activities are almost too many to list: playing the violin blinded with my eyes swollen shut from posion ivy, traipsing hopelessly around the field in a plaid field hockey skirt (our rather unfortunate school colors of orange and black not making this any easier), falling off the block at swim meets due to terror of the impending gun shot that started the race, a softball smashing my glasses at second base.

I escaped into my world of horses and didn’t come out. Actually, I’m still there. However, lately something interesting has been happening. I’ve discovered the world of adult sports.

Adult sports are trendy these days, particularly in the trend setting Portland community where people reproduce later and later in life. Faced with additional spare time from the absence of driving kids around to activities, people decided to drive themselves around to their own activities. What better way to provide a forum for bringing back everyone’s insecurities, playing out all those deep seated junior high anxieties, showcasing dormant athletic abilities, and addressing all those feelings of inadequecy that developed over the years?

 It began, innocently enough, with a desire to “hang out with my friends” and “get more exercise over the winter”.  I couldn’t do the whole “dodgeball” or “kickball” crap that composed the intial adult sports craze. It started for me with an indoor soccer team that someone talked me into joining. After the first game, I was horrified to discover some sort of animal inside of me. That asshole was NOT going to get the ball from ME if I could help it. Later I hovered around his ankles, threatening a swift kick when the referee wasn’t looking. I earned the name “Mad Dog” from my teammates. We celebrated every win by hitting the pub across the street, making the exercise obselete by washing down our fitness with copious amounts of beer. It took longer to relive every moment of every stupid game than it took the actually play the game. My mom came to visit and watched me play, openmouthed. “If only your father could see this.” she mused afterwards, still astonished.

By the second season, my first adult sports experience had deteriorated. The team began gossiping about each other. Some people were too controlling. Some people stayed on the field too long and didn’t sub out. Others subbed out too quickly. Some came to games intoxicated. And some people just plain old sucked at soccer. It was suddenly apparent to me that although we were in our 30’s, the team sports experience had not changed from junior high. And what’s worse, the men in the league were constantly trying to show everyone how fucking great they were at sports. It didn’t help that our team was composed of 5 couples, so not only did we have the junior high dynamic going on, we also had couples playing out their relationships on the pitch.

So I did what I do best when it comes to team sports, I quit. Ahhh, that felt good. Now, that felt more normal! Nothing comes to me more naturally than quitting a team sport. Over the years I have quit enough sports to know how to quit in style. I prefer to go out with a bang, too. You know, make sure everyone knows why I’m quitting. Miss the last game, make a statement. Nobody seemed to notice my absence and they continued the saga, and I experienced secret heartbreak over this matter.

Then it was softball. Whad’ya know, somebody got injured and they desperately needed a female replacement. So desperately, in fact, that they would consider me for that job, somebody with ZERO softball skills, bad eyesight, and who hadn’t physically thrown anything anywhere in 17 years. Softball sounded kind of good, however. The reason: this is bar league softball and it involves beer drinking in the park on Sunday afternoon. Can you beat that? So I joined. I tucked away the Mad Dog tendencies, and I had a great time. I smiled at everyone, I didn’t get worked up. I swung the bat, drank a beer. Tossed some softballs around, cranked up the 2 stroke blender my boyfriend fashioned from an old weed eater engine and made everyone margaritas. I had a fantastically amazing softball attitude.

Eventually though, adult sports got the best of me and the Mad Dog reared her ugly head. I suppose, retrospectively, that it was inevitable given my sordid team sports past. On Saturday, some fucker plowed me over at home plate. I had caught the ball and tagged him out, so he braced his elbows and launched into me in an attempt to get me to drop the ball. I fell backwards, my neck snapped back, I hit my head, the ball dribbled out of my glove, and the Dog was released.

“YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER!!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, oblivious to the kids playing behind the field and my friend’s mom visiting from England nearby. “YOU’RE OUT YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!!!!!!!!!!” I writhed on the ground in pain, shaking my head in some kind of whiplash induced daze. He was not out, because you’re apparently allowed to do that. Even though it’s a co-ed bar league with chicks as catchers that wear no body armor or any sort of protection, and his team was already up by ten runs. It certainly doesn’t make him any cooler that he was playing for the dorkiest team in the league, the Willamette Week, which is a substandard old people’s weekly. I’m not even sure how they got into the league anyway, since they are NOT a bar and don’t drink beer.

I subbed out and sat wiping tears of embaressment and pain on the sidelines, nursing my whiplash with an ice pack. I accepted the sympathy of my teammates, pulled myself together, and cranked up the 2 stroke blender. Sipping my icy margarita, Mad Dog left the building and regular Katie returned.

I’m still going to have another go at adult sports. I don’t have any kids to drive to any activities and I do like the exercise. I’ve signed up for another soccer team, this time one where I don’t know anyone so I will feel embaressed if I try to kick anyone’s ankles. And in the meantime, you’re not going to believe this, but I’ve played not one, but several rounds of tennis this summer. I even caught myself hoping it wouldn’t rain one night, because then the courts will get too slippery. What’s happening to me? Who am I?

On Hangovers

I woke up this morning and I had that persistent dull thump on the side of my head that only says one thing- I Had Too Many Vodka Sodas Last Night. You know the feeling. I am rather unsure why I elected to replace the drink that I spilled on my lap last night at the Low Brow. And it was a bad spill too, THWACK, and the entire contents of the glass, ice and all, went directly onto my skirt. Not one of those spills that partly ends up on the floor, partly on someone else’s lap, and partly on the table. I smile extra sweetly at the bartender, hoping he is wowed by the dimples and does not cut me off, aka Katie’s old standby manuever. At the time, I recall being pleased that the entirity of the drink ended up on my lap as opposed to the lap of one of my companions. It was if I had won some sort of social prize. However, I am left this morning with an empty feeling. What did I win? Where is this prize? I have only bags under my eyes and a scratchy throat to remind me of my heroic efforts.

When the alarm went off, I was gripped by an unsurmountable feeling of doom and dread. From my vantage point of Face Down on the bed, I felt as if rising and getting dressed and making it to work on time was some sort of grand impossibility. That kind of thing was meant for people other than me. This feeling was seemingly confirmed by my comparatively chipper boyfriend who was bustling about and already dressed for work.

“I have a headache.” I moaned.

“Me too.” he agreed as he continued bustling.

“I can’t get up.” I complained.

“I’m only up because we’re out of coffee.” he admitted. For some reason this fails to make sense to me. Then I realize, he’s motivated to depart our marvelous home this morning because he must obtain some coffee at an outside locale. Then I realize, with the darkest and dreariest feeling of dread, that we are out of coffee.

Dun Dun Duuuuun.

Miraculously, this manages to get me moving, and I have a Starbucks gift card in my car. Although I am a certifiable Coffee Snob and only purchase my coffee from local roasters with crummy couches and excessively tattooed baristas, I am not above utilizing a gift card to obtain what I need. I spend the duration of my time in Starbucks with my sunglasses on, despite getting funny looks from three uniformed police officers who are sucking down fancy coffee drinks instead of fighting crime. I feel like yelling “Go Fight Some Crime, Assholes!”, but of course, I don’t.

Moving again. Here I go, driving out to the island where I work. Then I remember, in my hungover haze, why I had the gift card in the first place. It’s because I am taking care of ten horses this week. With that, I veer right and pull up to the barn.

In case you were wondering, taking care of ten horses is no small feat. They weigh 1200 pounds, they eat massive quantities of dried grass (AKA hay), they continuously release massive quantities of the digested hay out of their anus (AKA manure), and they drink massive quantities of water when it is 100 degrees out, which it is here lately. They need to go out into the pasture in the morning and come in at night. They try to kick and bite each other. They get fussy, and they get kind of snuggly, breathing on me with their big soft noses, flared nostrils assessing my motives. It’s all a giant power struggle and it plays out every day in the pastures of the world. And today, one pasture of the world is being tended to by one extremely hungover woman who was up too late drinking vodka sodas and talking shit. If you need me, you know where to find me.

My co-worker and I pulled into the roadside liquor store along the side of the Richardson Highway, Milepost 183, outside of Glennallen, Alaska.

“Oh my fucking god, what does that dog have?” he exclaimed. I cast a glance sideways at the black lab in the gravel parking lot. It was carrying around something. Oh, just a leg of something. Something’s leg. It was awfully stiff already, it looked old, but was severed off of whatever it was it came from. Oh, a rabbit. It just looked bigger, because the damn thing was all stretched out in rigamortis.

We went into the store, a little hole-in-the-wall kind of place. Outside, the siding was plastered with posters of bikini clad women posing with beer, seductively. From the looks of it, you’d think they were selling women instead of liquor. I mean, if I came over from Japan with no English and no idea what was going on, I just might think I could obtain a hooker beyond that door threshold. With that kind of advertising, the heavyset, sixty-ish, toothless wonder behind the counter was a bit of a contrast. An additional shocking contrast came from the fact that the women on the outside of the building were bikini clad, whereas the current climate conditions in Glennallen, Alaska in mid-July where pouring down rain and a balmy 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Your dog’s got a leg in it’s mouth.” I decide to inform her, as we set our $15.99 12 pack of Miller Lite on the counter. She grinned wildly.

“Oh, she’s just been such a puppy since the knee surgery!” she exclaimed, showing me her toothless grin again. At this point, as she punches in the $15.99 into the cash register, I snap into some mode of mine where I feel like making small talk. I don’t know why it happens, perhaps to flex my muscle of sociability, perhaps to glean some small bit of information that amuses me, perhaps to make some sort of connection with another human being that spans cultural separation, perhaps to make me more accessible and less of a random nameless Miller Lite drinker in a remote corner of a forgotten place.

“Wow, knee surgery!” this new mode of me makes me exclaim.

“Yes! She had the first knee done six weeks ago, and the other knee is getting done on Tuesday. It’s changed everything. You know, they always tell you with these old dogs that it’s the hips, but don’t believe them. That’s right, don’t believe them. It could be the knees.”

“How old is she?” I remark. The new mode of me is running strong, but I have to admit, the heart strings are tugged a bit. I have an old mutt too. She’s at home, I am currently missing her a bit, and my boyfriend had just called to say she hadn’t felt like eating that day.

“Oh, she’s just 10. Cost a fortune, it did, but it’s darn well worth it. $1300 a knee, can you just believe it. Had I gone to Anchorage, it woulda been seven grand!”

The heart strings are no longer tugged. Instead, as I fork over a crumpled twenty dollar bill in order to procure my Miller Lite, I am attempting to grasp forking over 2600 dollars on knee surgery for a ten year old dog. And, if I may be so bold, this proprietress of a run down liquor store on Milepost 183 looks as if she could’ve used the money in other places. Still, I can’t shut down the new mode once it’s started, at least for ten minutes.

“Oh, I totally understand,” I lie. “I have a 12 year old mutt.” While I do have a 12 year old mutt, I don’t comprehend the knee surgery part. She grins again as my change is dealt to me.

“Ha! If it was my son, I’d probably just shoot ’em! Ha!” she snorts. The new mode of me laughs, but is wavering on being the real me now. I can’t tell. Could the new mode and the real me be one and the same in this instant?

“I hear ya!” I yell, as I head out of the store, Miller Lite protectively under my arm. The black lab saunters across the parking lot, stiff old rabbit leg extended haphazardly. Because I have an old mutt, I know that the dog wants me to see that she has a leg. She wants me to want the leg too, but I can’t have the leg, because it’s her leg. I know this, so I make a few faltering moves towards the leg, and her tail wags faintly as she trots off on her new knee.

Today is Tuesday, and for some insane reason I am stuck in my cabin, wondering how the old knee surgery went. Both the new mode and the real me are wondering together, as in I am wondering.

I sit here in my Anchorage hotel and there is a dreary gray light outside. It comes with the persistent daylight that is here this time of year: that twilight that never goes away. On a cloudy day like today, there is no telling what time of day it is at any time during a 24 hour period. On our drive into the city shady characters lurched about the sidewalks: an old man hanging up a banner at a park with a cigarette dangling from his crusty lips, pre-teens with bad acne and even worse mullets amused themselves by balancing on a guard rail, an overweight man in a too-small filthy wife beater pedaled a recumbent bike towing a child trailer full of trash. I don’t know if it is because I drank too much last night or what, but this place began to creep me out. I have retreated to my hotel room and am now eyeing the outside world somewhat skeptically from the comfort of my queen size bed.

Aahh. My own queen size bed. This is a luxury that I have not had in the two weeks since I have been “deployed” up her for work. Much to my great astonishment, the project manager crammed 6-8 people in 2 very small RVs for the duration of the time. It didn’t take long for the RVs to become pits of despair and misery. Existing in there became a challenge as people attempted to put their hang ups aside and try to live and work in the same 150 square foot space. My bed was also a couch of sorts, and I had to wait for everyone to go to bed so I could fold it out and roll out my sleeping bag, situating myself between the crease and the seltbelts which dug into my back in all the wrong places. I was also a good five inches too tall for the bed, and my feet dangled uncomfortably over the edge.

During the days it was easy to forget the cramped quarters. We hiked through unforgettable terrain mapping wetlands and identifying plants, with sweeping views of phenomenal mountain ranges, glaciers, and the subarctic tundra. I stomped about on 6 squishy inches of peat moss atop permafrost, surrounded by plants that were occupied with ekking out an existence in this relentless climate. I got used to my shovel hitting frozen soils again and again as I searched out soil profiles. I blazed trails through seas of willows, imaging that I could be the only human to have ever taken that particular route across the slope. All the while I let my voice ring out every few minutes in a hope to avoid any “wildlife interactions”. I was gripped by an anomaly- an intense desire to glimpse something exciting coupled by the intense aversion to encountering wildlife. There were days when we heard wolves howling, stumbled upon old carcass after old carcass, and the bear sign got thicker and thicker with each step, and I felt pursued and frightened, yet exhilarated. I know I was being watched time and time again as I bushwhacked around the forest and tundra, and I wonder now how many bears lay silently, watching me go by like a clown in a bright orange vest, hooting and hollering and thrashing around.

Then it would be back to the too-small trailer, where I mediated my space threshold with generous helpings of beer and wine as I jockeyed for a space to process my data. Fall asleep mildly drunk, wake up thirsty and groggy in the tiny trailer, and jockey to get over to the coffee machine and then jockey again for a private place to change back into my field gear. I’m glad it’s all over, and tomorrow I leave this place of conflicting emotions and rugged landscapes for something a little more navigable.

I was delivered to Anchorage this afternoon without enthusiasm. The baggage claim felt oddly familiar, with people’s coolers and cardboard boxes wrapped in duct tape and army style duffles and rubber kayak bags going around and around and around the conveyer belt. The men around me were unvariably dressed in T shirts from their favorite brewery clasping around their beer guts, rugged looking khakis, and Keen shoes. They talked about shotgun shells and whiskey, and lurched in to grab onto their luggage when it came by with quick, jerky, aggressive movements that entered into my personal space.

It feels so bright here. I don’t get it, how could it really be that much brighter than Oregon? But the northern climes with the neverending daylight almost seem brighter. There is this eerie feeling that overcomes the people as the weather moves from one extreme to the another in a great pendulum swing from dark to light. I longed for my sunglasses during the brief walk we took around the block to an eating establishment. It was our hope that the prices around the block would be cheaper than the upscale hotel we are staying in, and we were indeed rewarded. Our sacrifice? We had to sit in a gleaming brushed aluminum environment with Ace of Base blasting on the loudspeaker as the servers moved around tables to prepare for the evening’s upcoming event- a “model search”.

So 15 nights to go, 0 nights down.

North to Alaska

I can’t get away from the state of Alaska. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it has been haunting me for the past three years. Every time I turn around, there it is, with all of it’s gray icy mystique, persistent odor of fish and damp underbrush, drunk leering bearded men, millions of pairs of brown rubber boots strewn in millions of piles, and thousands of partially completed cabins wrapped hastily in Tyvek before the approaching winters.

When I first went up there to work for the summer my head was filled with the classic dreams of wilderness. Alaska. The very thought of it entices some people, and I counted myself among the enticed. I traveled north on the ferry, eagerly attempting to spot wildlife through the rain streaked windows and gray gloom.  I spent ten weeks on Prince of Wales Island, a crummy, desolate place receiving over 130 inches of rain a year and popular amongst Texans who come all the way up there to blast away black bears and presumably hang them on their walls back in Texas. That ten weeks of camping in the rain quickly assassinated the Alaska mystique; in fact I cursed the state as I painstakingly set up big blue tarps over my campsites.

One pretty much needs gills to breathe in Southeast Alaska, and I found this out the hard way as I wiled away portions of three consecutive summers on the saturated forest service roads of islands in the Inside Passage. I was inventorying invasive plant species, and we would drive 0.25 mile, get out of the vehicle in our rustling rain gear, and walk 25 m in either direction as we wrote down every plant we saw. Back in vehicle, and repeat. 3000 times. Along the way we saw bears, moose, millions of Sitka spruce and hemlocks dripping with the weight of the incessant rain, muskeg, insane people residing in incredibly remote communities, totem poles, and the northenmost occurrence of a Douglas Fir (as far as I know).

Every year I come home to Portland, Oregon and kneel down and press my hands thankfully on the sidewalk, grateful for sidewalks and concrete and Tofu Scrambles and traffic lights and sunshine in the summertime and cultivated gardens and affordable apples at the grocery store.

And now I find myself faced with yet another work related trip to Alaska. I depart one week from today for several weeks of field work, looking for rare plants and wetlands along a proposed natural gas pipeline. It is time for me to put aside the thoughts of doom and gloom and gray liquid misery. I must grasp onto the good- the glittery Alaska gems that give people the itchy desire to go there in the first place.

Nobody can argue that Alaska is not beautiful. Come to think of it, I could maybe argue that parts of it are ugly (the rickety canneries, the vomit around every corner when the bars close), but I would be hard pressed to discount the majesty of the glaciers, the wild forests, the great expanse of tundra, the sight of a great turquoise iceberg against a emerald green spruce forest. So there I have it: Alaska is beautiful. It will be a privilege to feast my eyes on such sights.

Nobody can argue that drinking in Alaska is not fun. Particularly in fishing communities, when the men roll in and stupidly squander an entire week’s worth of pay on increasing the drunkenness tenfold of some small speck of a crusty bar, the only place in town. It never gets completely dark in Alaska this time of year: the sun goes down but a murky twilight remains for a few before the sun pops up again. The dark dive bar will be your solace, your escape from the relentless daylight and the endless hours of possible work time. When the bars close, the inebriated patrons spill into the streets, blink in the sunrise, and kick the living shit out of each other. In Alaska bar brawls are alive and well, and since I haven’t been directly involved in one, I enjoy them for the entertainment factor they provide.

No one can argue that Alaska is not tough. In a pansy city full of pansy city boys that wear Carharts to look cool and can’t even change their own oil, it is extremely refreshing to become surrounded by rugged hairy people who are rugged and hairy because they have to be, not because they are Gay Bears or indie rockers that don’t even own a tool box. There is something nice about capable people, and the people in Alaska are remarkably capable.

There I have it, Alaska is beautiful AND provides for some good quality drinking around extremely capable people. I will put aside my Alaska bashing until I return, once again extolling the virtues of sidewalks and incapably hopeless indie rockers.