17 October 2012


One of those rolling, sickening earthquakes. I could see the walls shuddering. And the sound made it worse.

New England reported little or no damage over all, but here in Portland, Maine, there were some signs to be seen:

Postcard La mano poderosa, where it fell during the earthquake. (Location: tapu's kitchen.)

Wall from where La mano poderosa fell. (Location: tapu's kitchen.) X marks the card's original spot.

No injuries have been reported.

14 October 2012

I don't see how this counts as winning.

dateline Florida: 

None of the other contestants
showed any signs of illness
after the contest, Siegel said.  <snip>

Geez, if ever there was an appropriate time to be a sympathy puker....

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/09/3040873/man-dies-after-winning-roach-eating.html#storylink=cpy

None of the other contestants showed any signs of illness after the contest, Siegel said.
Geez, if ever there was an appropriate time to be a sympathy puker.

13 October 2012

Gone a-Missin'

I may have mentioned that Mary Belle, my mother, was one of 12 siblings -- 9 girls + 3 boys. Given the age-spread, there wasn't a lot of time they lived together under one roof, but home base for all of them was Lore City, Ohio (pop. 305 in the 2000 census).

What would 12 kids be like? There'd be these 5 here...
and 5 more like them...
and then another 2 like these.  Imagine...

Not my Grandma Littleton, but like her.
Like the place and time, too.
The siblings were all full sisters and brothers. Their mother, whom I like to call Grandma-Littleton-may-god-rest-her-soul-how-in-god's-name-did-she-do-it raised them in a big old falling-down miners' house in Lore City. Sometimes another relative or an older sibling themselves took in one or two of the younger ones for a spell. The father of all these kids, whom I like to call Who's-that-old-man-at-Grandma's-funeral? (since that's the only time I ever saw him), was apparently around mostly for conception intervals. 

My mother stayed admirably close to her siblings through younger adulthood, though they were far-flung and always falling in or out of various states of poverty, illness, domestic crisis, or incarceration. She was particularly caring toward my Uncle Donald, her younger brother. He gave her the nickname "Gunk" when they were little. He could always make her laugh with that.

Uncle Donald was a drifter, I realize now. One time he visited, he was coming off work as a lineman out west. (Hey, maybe Wichita, yuk, yuk. That song was popular right then.) 

They were insulators, off the line.
I remember he brought me two glass "doorstops," one a clear blue, the other milky white. I loved them instantly -- the shapes, the weight -- but I was unsure how to use them. Since I revered Uncle Donald, I probably placed them around my bedroom door even though I didn't need to "stop" it. 

It sunk in what they were a couple of years later; I don't remember being told or anything. I do remember noticing them everywhere after that, being used for all kinds of things and especially for decoration. That's what people lined up on their shelves, to show off something pretty. They still do.

It was during this stay that things started going bad for Uncle Donald. He was staying with Grandma Littleton for a while, but my mom saw a diary where Grandma was writing that she was afraid of him when he come home drunk at night. My mom made everybody agree that Uncle Donald had to leave there. So then there he was at my house for a while. I was scared sometimes too. Just afternoons and in the evening. I was afraid what he was going to yell when I went through the dining room to the back door.

One day my dad showed me something that felt strangely dark and icky. I didn't all the way get it back then but I understand now. Even then it seemed just... icky. There were 5-6 bottles shaped like Elvis and they were all hidden back behind the wood pile.
The Elvises had had whiskey in them before now. I knew where my dad kept them, up in a cupboard over the sink. I don't know why he had them, just to collect them I guess. I didn't know at all what it meant that Uncle Donald had drunk them.

What it seemed to mean in the bigger picture was that Uncle Donald wasn't going to be staying any longer with us either. Mary Belle "had had it." My dad found someone who would give Uncle Donald a garage to live in on the edge of town. I used to go by it and think, "My uncle lives there." Of course, it's not all that bad or unusual a thing back there. 

And now for the final (maybe) chapter in Uncle Donald's saga. When Uncle Donald was in his late 40s, I think, he was back in town living in that same garage again. (Guess that worked out pretty well for everyone.) 

One morning early, the Sheriff came by to see my mom. He said that Donald had been driving drunk as a skunk the night before, caused an accident that hurt the other person pretty bad. A couple deputies chased Don down Wills Creek but they lost him. 

I forget how much time passed with no word or sighting of Uncle Donald, but the deputies felt sure that he had died out on the creek. You see, it was winter and there was a lot of snow and ice and somebody said maybe Don had a heart attack or something. 

We would hear once in a while that Don had been seen by someone, in another town and with a woman, or whatever. One time, about 10-12 years after he went missin', my mom swore that she saw him in the mall in West Virginia and she ran me around there for an hour or more. But no Don. 

Not too long before my mother died, she had her Brother Don declared dead. She had to for several reasons and I know she did believe he was dead. She loved Uncle Donald so much. We all loved him. 


10 September 2012

I killed a hamster. Sorry.

 I've never substantiated it myself but I've heard that you can accidentally bury your pet hamster, thinking it's dead, when really it's just hibernating. Regardless, that's not how I killed a friend's "Mr. Hamster."

Five of us, college students, lived in a cool 60's beach house on the cliffs above Del Mar, CA. One of the guys had a girlfriend who had a hamster named Mr. Hamster. Clever, no? Technically, Mr. Hamster wasn't our hamster, but he shacked up in a cage in one of our hallways. He was a fat, lonely, and possibly confused hamster. Neither the girlfriend nor the boyfriend did much more than feed it.

Though our house had no flea-hosting pets, we somehow got infested at the beginning of a summer and decided, Fuck the environment, chemicals, whatever, we're flea bombing! We'll get the biggest cans we can find.

So we planned a day when we would set off cans in the morning, close up the house, and go about our day to come home to a pest-free home in the evening. With much hoopla, we launched, jumped in our cars, and careened off down Pacific Coast Highway, free birds.


25 minutes later. 

I was humming and thinking idle thoughts, a passenger in a car driven by my roommate Cristina. We had the top down. It was the usual sunny and beautiful Southern California day. 

Suddenly... MR. HAMSTER!!!, I screamed. OMIGOD, OMIGOD, MR. HAMSTER!!

Cristina sped off the next exit and back up northbound and we were at the house in maybe 15 minutes. Whew! Then we spent 2-3 minutes freaking out about who was going to go get Mr. Hamster, then I ran in and grabbed the cage.


Mr. Hamster was breathing! He was sleeping, but still breathing. And he was always sleeping so who knew? Maybe he was just fine. . . .

But, no. Mr. Hamster died. After four days. Think he suffered? 
20 years ago and I'm still sorry, I tell ya.    

07 September 2012

Remember Silas, my dog?

He's a reactive kind of guy so I can't walk him anywhere there's even a chance we'd run into another dog. Which effectively means I can't walk him anywhere. Then I found this 1700s-1800s New England-style cemetery, and at night it's completely empty. . . .

I can't get anyone to walk here with us. It was hard even to drag Silas in there the first few times. My dog believes in ghosts? I thought he was an atheist.

Actually I've found that even atheists are afraid of cemeteries at night. What's up with that?

If you don't believe in an afterlife, then you wouldn't be afraid of ghosts. If you're afraid of live people, like maybe a homicidal maniac coincidentally hanging out in there while you are, I feel confident in assuring you that if they're homicidal then the last place they'd be is in a cemetery. Who wants to come in second? If they were there, for whatever reason, they probably wouldn't even have a knife or an axe with them. Why bother? Plus, all that's bulky.

Let's all—including my dog but not me—reach deep inside. What makes you reluctant to walk in a beautiful cemetery in moonlight and fog? Are you any more likely to do it now?

06 September 2012

You can ruin an old film plot by adding cell phones to the story.

Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, Peter Lorre

Dr. McKenna, his wife Jo,* and son Hank
on the way to Marrakech.

The pivotal moment is when Doris Day sings Qué Será Será really loudly from the theater stage, and kidnapped son Hank reunites with her by following her voice.

Really really loudly!

It wouldn't have been the same if she'd called or texted him and said, Hank, where are you? Get down here to the theater right this minute!

* This film has one of my all-time favorite lines in it. Doris Day's friends visit and are eager to meet Hank. One exclaims brightly, "Let's hope he has your looks and the doctor's brains!"

On my personal street corner

 My first reaction:  Oh my! Okay, thanks!

Then I got to thinking . . . if they were break-ins, why lock your car? The thieves will just break in, geddit? They can only steal whatever is in it either way, but if it's unlocked they won't damage your car breaking in.

I think better:

Trust us on this.

01 August 2012

Thanksgiving, unplugged.

I've had occasion to discover that people who go camping on Thanksgiving aren't, by definition I suppose, really into the holiday. I fit in with that. I think it's a stupid holiday. Possibly the stupidest, but you can't disregard Easter. I'm really not into any holiday's traditional celebration. E.g., I enjoy, on Christmas, taking Amtrak to Boston to have dim sum in Chinatown. We've done so for the last ten years or so. Oh, except for that year when Asa insisted on a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. The next year we renewed our Thanksgiving dim sum tradition.

My non-festive feelings about the holiday once led me, my partner, and another couple to go camping in Big Sur for that year's Pilgrims vs. Indians game. I convinced the others that it beat cooking the big fat turkey and the big fat fixings, and then sitting around the living room feeling bigfat as we fought to stay awake, drooling.

We camped in a California state park called Bottcher's Gap, in the north of Big Sur. It's an isolated place—eight miles off PCH, no amenities, not even potable water. Because of the latter, the campground doesn't appear on state maps and the state can't charge a fee to stay there. But who cares about such frivolous amenities when you practically have a private space and the view looks out deep into the Ventana Wilderness.

There were never more than a handful of campers—and sometimes fewer—at Bottcher's Gap. No RVs or trailers could get there. There were three sites for car camping, and two or three more walk-in sites out of view. One really strange park ranger, surly and scary, lived up there. It was an odd setting for his obsession with obscure park rules. But meanwhile, plenty of space, air, silence, and unadulterated nature for everyone. Bottcher's Gap was one of the little gems that sparkle in the beach and desert sand and in the long grasses and redwood forests, all over California, for you to find along your travels and then cherish for the rest of your life.

Back to that Thanksgiving. The day before, we started picking up that the people camping around us were a little odd.

At one of the three car-camp sites, there were some men who looked like they'd come out of the dust bowl. Grapes of Wrath types. Their faces were creased from worry and sun, and their clothes were nondescript in the way that you'd never remember them if a police witness statement ever came up. (One had greenish-blue gray pants and a grayish blue-green shirt, Officer. ) These "campers" didn't do much—just sat around the campsite,  playing cards and smoking cigarettes. No tent, they seemed to survive out of a huge worn-out Lincoln sedan, packed with all sorts of things but not necessarily for camping. What were they doing there on Thanksgiving? What were they doing at all?

The second site was ours. Four women, in their 30s–40s, we looked like a sit-com version of ourselves camping. We'd driven down Pacific Coast Highway for less than an hour from where we lived—Monterey/Carmel. Our lives were beautiful, and we had all the best camping clothes and equipment. We were a catalog ad, all set to build controlled fires, cook planned meals, and sleep in roomy tents. Sing along! If you're happy and you know it . . . 

At the third campsite was this mysterious dude. He was camping alone. (I'm sorry but that's just weird.) His car looked to be a 1976-77 MGB soft-top. It was a mess. It had New York plates—the old black and yellow ones. Like the colors of crime scene tape.

Anyway, the dude. Notably skeevy, in attire completely ill-suited for camping. He ghosted around Bottcher's Gap all day in a kind of overall. (Someone slip this guy a Bean's catalog.)

In a hushed voice, I started working up a story for my friends that this guy could be the Zodiac Killer. That's what he seemed like. Serial killer "actions," Zodiac's strange M.O., psychopath with flair, now on haitus, camping all by himself at Thanksgiving. We were just a few hours from San Francisco.

We didn't really think the guy was really the Zodiac, really. It was just the circumstances and how he acted and dressed, while camping all by himself at Thanksgiving. Have I mentioned that he was camping all by himself at Thanksgiving? It was a weirdness beyond the Dust Bowl guys and the four lesbians all camping on Thanksgiving. Oh yeah.

When we turned in that night, we saw he was at it again: He stood among the trees, staring out at the wilderness. And this time, he had on night-vision goggles.


What could cause that??

I was just reading that there's a huge power outage across India...

22 July 2012

Happy New Year! Now go to bed.

When my kids were 5 or 6, they wanted to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve.  But we'd seen them before when they'd been up long past bedtime. No thanks. 

So rather than crushing their New Year experience I started bumping the clocks ahead a half hour at a time on New Year's Eve.

The clock said it was after 11 when I pointed out how close we were. At 10 seconds 'til "midnight," we started the countdown . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

Yay, Happy New Year!, we'd shout and whoop. Little hats and horns, confetti, poppers, a toast with sparkling apple juice! Yay! Yay! We stayed up 'til New Year's! 

Each year, they'd start early reminding us that they had stayed up the last year. Yes, yes, you can do that again this year. In a few years, of course, they could not be so easily fooled so we started letting them stay up for the real midnight. Finally, when they were about 11 or 12, I told them our trick.

They were far more incredulous than I thought they'd be. (They underestimate me.) They might have been a little miffed, too. You know kids. . . .

Not really tapu's kids,
but their expressions serve.

10 July 2012

Turns out, April really IS the cruelest month.

Adolph Hitler as a baby.
I can't remember when I first learned that I shared Adolf Hitler's birthday. My birthday always seemed so special to me because . . . well, because it was in April and it had a 20 in it. I thought that was a pretty nifty month and number.

But yes, as I found out, my birthday was Hitler's birthday. That tarnished it for me.

As I went through life, it would sometimes come up. I was always a little wary of the person who, upon learning that my birthday was April 20, said, "Isn't that Hitler's birthday, too?" Um, yes, yes it is . . . Person Who Knows Hitler's Birthday.

Fidel Castro at the time
of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
When I was in elementary school, my dad told me one day that April 20, 1961, was the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Oh, okay, Dad. I didn't really know what that was, but it had failure, pigs, and invasion in it. Didn't sound good. . . .

Kennedy and Eisenhower
as the invasion fell apart.

Waiting them out was taking too long?

In 1993, the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, TX, was destroyed over April 19–20. When the ashes settled, 83 Branch Davidians (including 20 children) and four ATF agents were dead.

People were outraged that the government had let it get so out of control that none of these people could be rescued. It was seen as an ill-advised and brutal raid on our own citizens.

That event triggered an unprecedented build-up of anti-government militia movements in the U.S.

For my birthday in 1995, I met some friends at a movie. Someone walked up and said, "There was a bombing in Oklahoma City. They blew up a federal building—at least a hundred people are dead!"

That became 163 people—19 of them under the age of six—and the largest mass terrorist killing in the U.S. before September 11.

The person directly responsible was borne of the post-Waco militia movement. He explicitly connected his heinous act to the anniversary of the siege at Waco. The concept of the "domestic terrorist" came into the zeitgeist.

In 1999, I had a baby boy on March 11. So in April, on my 40th birthday, I was lovingly breastfeeding my one-month-old. I turned on the TV—and saw the shootings at Columbine going down. Children, really, shooting other children. I rocked the baby in front of the television all day long, and wept.

It was suggested later that the shooters had chosen the date because it was Hitler's birthday.

We watched this unfold in real-time. My god, my god.

By this point, I had gotten the drift. I'm not superstitious, but for practical reasons I stopped checking the news until after I'd celebrated my birthday. There was a lull during that time anyway, although several bombing and other terroristic plots were foiled on the date. But who recalls those?

In 2010, I mentioned to a friend that nothing terrible had happened on my birthday, and she pointed out that on April 20 of that year, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. It was the second-worst environmental disaster in history, after the Dust Bowl.

Now, I don't mean to imply—nor do I believe—that there is meaning in my birthday being the date of these disastrous events. That would be a bit solipsistic.

It's all a little strange, though. I still put headline news on hold every April 20. Even though, again, I'm not in the least superstitious.

Rabbits, rabbits.

03 July 2012

I walked right out of a movie once.

It was over . . .  <ba dump bump>

I really did walk out of Looking for Mr. Goodbar. In—what?—'78. And sure, it was over. But I made a good show of how displeased I was. That movie was anti-women and anti-gay. Diane Keaton, how could you??


02 July 2012

Overheard on the Golden Gate Bridge

MAMA:  Do you think you're going to want kids someday?

ASA:  Yeah, but I don't want to have sex!

The Pottses—Murder in the Hills

Part 3

(parts 1 and 2 appear below)

July 1987. Interlude.

My mother calls me to talk about this and that. At some point, we get onto Mrs. Potts: You know, honey, something just don't seem right down there. She's at that house just going about like nothing ever happened. She rides around the yard on that old mower like she don't have a care in the world. And she's there all alone in that house at night. Now wouldn't you be scared after what happened?

Hmm. Well, Mary Belle always was up for a good story and—I don't know—how are you supposed to act if your husband was murdered and now you were alone in the house? Back there, people aren't too keen on jumping up and leaving a house they've lived in their whole lives, no matter what. It doesn't much occur to them.

* * *

October 1988. A year and eight months after Mr. Potts' murder.

Mary Belle calls. More news about the Pottses, she says. Last night, somebody came in the house again and killed Mrs. Potts this time!

Skin crawl.

Yeah, they chased her all over the house, stabbing her, and then they stuck a screwdriver right through her temple while she lay dying on the bedroom floor.

I learned later that there was a crucifix sticking halfway out of her chest. Who stabs an old woman with a screwdriver and a crucifix??

* * *

After that, there was gossip about Patty Potts and one or the other boyfriend and drugs. For a while, Patty was living there. That didn't sit right with a lot of people.

Some of the villagers suggested that bad men from Cleveland had come down I-77 and found the place the first time by accident, and then came back to "silence" Mrs. Potts. I think those bad men would have more pressing things to do, right there close to Cleveland.

Once when I told a friend about all this, as I finished she said, I think your mom did it. 

Good grief.

But here the story stretches into the distance, seemingly without end. There haven't been any leads in the case since. People stopped talking about it long ago. What do you think?