Sunday, September 27, 2009

And now, a look back at Hot for Teacher Night (yes, that one):

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I covered Hot for Teacher Night at a craptastic sports bar in Seattle's historic Pioneer Square district for sexual anthropologist, Susie Bright (Esquire, Rolling Stone, Salon), of whom I've long been an admirer.

Said night featured the infamous Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau and its announcement received nationwide attention. Bright and I are Facebook friends and she asked if any of her Seattle compadres would be willing to attend and report for her blog; I tossed my hat in the ring and was one of two she chose.

I've attached the link (see below) to the version that ran on Bright's estimable site. Also, I've included my original, longer piece, which Bright herself suggested I post here. (When you read her intro, you'll see why elements of mine became superfluous.) While I observed the festivities, as it were, I experienced a twinge in my shoulder for the second day in a row. And when I wrote the following evening, I developed the most excruciating headache of my life. I thought perhaps it was akin to a migraine or maybe something worse. One could make a case I should have gone to the E.R. immediately, and if it had occurred during 2004 to 2007, when I had dozens of pieces come out in rapid fire, I would have. But due to the perniciously long recovery time from the pneumonia in '08, this was the first deadlined assignment I had taken on in over a year and I was so fucking furious that my health presented yet another obstacle, that I plowed through and handed it off to Bright a mere hour late. Of course, by the next day, a rash had developed along the pain's neural pathway and when I told my mom she said, "Honey, you've got shingles. Get to Dr. Harris' office immediately and I'll meet you there." And there went most of summer of '09. Hence, not posting this sooner: like most aspects of my life, it got lost in the shuffle of what transpired next.

Bright and I reached somewhat varying conclusions regarding Letourneau and Fualaau's relationship, but she was a joy to work with and is a perfectly delightful human being, to boot.

The version that ran on Bright's blog (the headline is not mine):

My original version:

A blonde woman in garnet red lipstick, a black strapless dress and gold flip-flops laughs and poses for pictures with a cadre of drunk college girls. She is toned and tan and appears younger than her 47 years as she waves to a man onstage in his 20s wearing a backwards cap and gold medallion who cues Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” on his MacBook under the auspices of DJ-ing. A nearby reveler points at the woman and asks his friends, “Can you imagine if she had been a guy teacher? Alcatraz, baby! Al-ca-traz!” His female companion answers, “I know it sounds weird, but I always thought she was hot.”

“Really? Why are you headed there?” my cabdriver asked, perhaps sensing I’m not the sort to frequent Seattle’s cheesy downtown sports bars, Fuel.

“I’m going to Hot for Teacher Night, that thing with Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau,” I replied, referencing the infamous convicted Level 2 sex offender and her onetime underage victim, now adult husband of the past four years. “I’m covering it, though. It’s not like I plan to make new friends tonight.”

“I don’t know,” he said contemplatively. “If you look at the fact they started over a decade ago, they’ve lasted longer than most marriages I can think of. They really seem to want to be together.”

For the rest of the ten-minute drive, I mulled over what he said. True, Letourneau met Fuluaau when she was his second grade teacher in 1990 and, according to court testimony, first sexually assaulted him in 1996 when he was 13 and she was 34 and married with four kids, after having been Fuluaau’s teacher again, this time for seventh grade. They began what they viewed as a relationship and even during her second subsequent prison stint, she was held in solitary confinement for six months after caught smuggling letters to him.

So, sure, in the aggregate, they had been “together” in some form for over a decade, no small feat. But most great love stories don’t involve one party’s family suing the school district and police department for failing to protect their son and for child support of the two children the couple in question now has.

We arrived at Fuel; I paid my fare and hopped out. A truly vile dance mix of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” blared from inside and engulfed the sidewalk, nearly drowning out the commotion gathering outside the entrance. A man in his 40s wearing a softball shirt and wire rim glasses yelled at three security guards while two local television stations filmed the exchange.

“She’s a child rapist!” the man shouted. “You’re making money off of sexual assault! If the genders were reversed, there’s no way you’d be hosting this thing!”

“She served her time, man! She served her time!” the security guards, all of whom were bald and clad in black leather vests, shouted back.

“You guys could have had One Dollar Beer Night instead! There are other ways to get a crowd!”

Two of the guards lumbered to their motorcycles parked on the street a few feet away and summarily revved them as loud as they could, obliterating the man’s words and ruining the stations’ footage. “We own the sidewalk in front of the club and I’m telling you right now you have to get off it,” the third guard said, the threat implied.

The man appeared sad and disgusted and moved a few yards away. The guards, none of whom seemed to realize the extent of their cliché-addled douchebaggery, finally ceased the revving and menacing and I asked the man if he would like to discuss the evening’s theme. He said his name was Joe and that in the course of his career as a police officer in California, he had worked with dozens of sexual assault victims of both genders. “This whole evening is an atrocity toward domestic violence and rape. They’re profiting off the pain of others.”

I thanked him for his time and got in line. When I arrived at the front, I saw a sign reading, “No media or press not approved earlier this week.” A guard asked for five bucks and my I.D. “I saw you talking to that guy. Are you a reporter?”

“No,” I fudged, neglecting to mention that, also, I thought he was an asshole.

“Then why were you talking to that guy? I saw you asking him stuff.”

“I felt like talking to him. That’s allowed, isn’t it?” I replied, my sarcasm thick as his skull. A second guard checked my bag and eyed my notebook suspiciously. I met his gaze and said, “I carry one sometimes. So?”

Stumped, or maybe deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle, they took my money and let me in. Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blasted from the sound system and I edged towards the mostly empty dance floor and spotted Fualaau onstage with his MacBook, ostensibly serving tunes but mostly providing spectacle. Patrons sporting a stunning array of crunchy and outdated haircuts crowded the bar and U-shape of surrounding tables, viewing Fualaau from afar as if he were a zoo act. He didn’t look up and, surprisingly, appeared almost timid, as if he weren’t quite sure how to proceed.

Letourneau was nowhere to be found and I asked a table of college girls with a giant inflatable pink penis on their table what they thought of the evening so far. “We’re just here for my bachlorette party!” one of them replied, adjusting the strap on her pink shiny halter dress. “We thought it would be fun!” she added, a bit of slur to her words.

Momentarily, a thunderous cheer tore through the crowd, not quite the kind that met Barack Obama on the campaign trail but more than, say, Jimmy Fallon might expect to elicit. I turned and saw a woman with almost daffodil yellow hair and superb legs and it took me a second to realize this was the once-frumpy schoolteacher I’d seen in countless hours of news footage. She beamed as dozens of camera phones flashed like popcorn-ing rhinestones. “Mary Kay!” an older woman in walking sneakers and capri pants yelled. “Make sure and tell Vili I’m the one who sent the baby book!” Letourneau smiled and returned the hug when the woman embraced her enthusiastically.

The bachlorette throng rushed Letourneau as if she were a long lost friend and the woman who launched a thousand punch lines responded in kind. On and on it went, each customer seemingly more rapturous than the previous one. A Fuel employee sold autographed “Hot for Teacher!” tee shirts and posters at a nearby folding table and looked slightly queasy. “How much is the merchandise?” I asked.

“Seven dollars for a poster and twenty for a tee shirt. We’ve sold a lot so far.”

“How do you feel about them making money like this?”

“I’m dating the owner’s cousin. He asked me to help out tonight and I couldn’t tell him no.” She paused, as if concerned someone would hear our exchange. “I’m neutral about Letourneau, but you don’t say ‘no’ to family.”

After another half hour, I left, deadened at the notion that in this room, it was verboten to suggest a convicted pedophile might not be worthy of affection or accolades.

On the cab ride home, the driver asked me, “Hot for Teacher Night? What’d you go to that thing for?”

Friday, September 25, 2009

To borrow Monty Python's infamous line from The Holy Grail, "Not quite dead yet":

Earlier today ABC's "Good Morning America" ran an interview with Dr. Danica Moore, author of the new tome, Women's Heatlh for Life. The segment focused on CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome), also known as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and it is the one of the most medically accurate and insightful pieces I've encountered on the subject. Kudos to everyone involved:

If you know me, love me, are working with me, plan to work with me, have dated me, are dating me, or some combination thereof and you have an extra 360 seconds, please watch the video (see above). It vividly describes what it is like to live with the illness I've had for 18 years, one that was initially and widely misunderstood (I had more than one doctor those first four months in the wheelchair tell me I was lying) but that has since been recognized as irrefutably real and the cause of severe and lasting physical impairment. (We should note, however, that while CFIDS suppresses one's immune system, one's rack and wit remain intact.)

On my way out the door now to fete my best friend, who this week marks the ten year anniversary of when he was mauled by a grizzly, but mercifully, made a full recovery and emerged even stronger and more bad-ass. We have been intertwined in each other's lives in all manner of ways for the past 21 years and while I have nearly killed him on more than one occasion, I am profoundly glad he is still here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's been an extraordinarily great day filled with...

...delightful company and stellar news. More delectable than a pancake waffle sandwich.

I'm blindingly exhausted, though, so instead of going into detail right now, I'm posting this link re an AIDS research breakthrough that has the potential to alter human history for the better and, as such, is ultimately more important:

Head on pillow. Eyes must close.

'Night, all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I was having an americano with a pal at Joe in the West Village...

...back in February when he remarked, "It's so great you guys have Powell's Books in Seattle."

"That's Portland, not Seattle," I replied.

He smirked. "What's the difference?"

"We're four hours apart, for starters."

"Yeah, but isn't one just a bigger version of the other?" he volleyed.

Next week I will be able to answer in greater detail. As ridiculous as it sounds, I haven't traipsed to PDX since 2002 for a friend's wedding. Whenever I've had simultaneous health and money (and the former has largely been the tripwire), I've had my ass on a plane to New York or San Francisco. Sometimes for work, usually for pleasure, always to feel at home.

But after spending most of the summer landlocked (if you already have an immune system compromised from CFIDS and are still running a fever from the pneumonia you had in '08, try not to get shingles in '09), I've slowly been accruing more strength (witness the increased posting here) and am restless as hell. I haven't left town in seven months and it's near certain, in light of the probable H1N1 clusterfuck, that the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization will issue a de facto travel advisory for the immuno-compromised and then I'll be stuck here at least through spring. And that simply will not do.

So, for three days and two nights next week (that's all I can physically sustain right now, realistically), I will be exploring Seattle's step-sibling to the south. I sound facetious, but I'm actually quite excited. My friends and colleagues who reside there gush about it and I'm eager to poke around and see what kind of mischief I unearth.

And to the person who condescendingly asked, "Well, who's going to drive you?" Well, no one. As I explained, I'll be flying, surgical mask and all, per doctor's orders (woo hoo!) and I don't need someone to babysit me. I will never understand why, in 2009, so many women are still so reluctant to travel alone, but that's an entirely different topic and I'm too beat to delve into its morass right now.

I've got to rest up for Portland.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Helen Falangus 1926-1974

In short stories, everyone's grandmother smells like rosewater or lilies or, if she's the antagonist, bears a faint whiff of venal decay.

I've had allergies since I was a little kid and I don't remember what Yiayia smelled like. I remember her voice, though, warm and encouraging and sometimes conspiratorial in the best sense, as if she and I were our own party of two, off to do something wildly fun and cultured but still ladylike, as she was of that generation.

I have a framed photo of Yiayia and Papou from the 1940s on my mantel and have viewed hundreds of pictures of her in family albums, but I see her most clearly in my mind's eye. We lived near her and Papou from my birth until I was five, when a stroke felled her into a coma, and as such, she and I saw each other or spoke on the phone everyday. Mom insists that when Yiayia (her own mother) called, she would playfully say, "I didn't call to talk to you. I called to talk to Litsa."

I knew she was ill because when we vistited Yiayia and Papou's home, she was usually reclining in the hospital bed they'd intstalled in their living room. But I never remember her acting ill. She'd have me hop on the bed with her (with an assist from one of my parents or Papou, I suppose, though I can't recall) and we'd read countless books together and to each other. (Mom, my aunt, and uncle all describe her as a voracious reader and her few living friends have told me, "Helen always helped us with our book reports.") She was a gifted seamstress (though not by profession) and taught me a number of stiches, always on the most beautiful swaths of silk or taffeta, because muslin simply would not do.

And then she was gone, but not quite. "When Yiayia is out of the hospital, we're going to throw the biggest party in the whole world!" my mother and I would say to each other, though my mother must have known her mother would not awake but kept a brave face for my brother and me regardless. There was never a choice to make, Yiayia was breathing of her own accord, and that, of course, was worse. She was nearly unresponsive, but Mom says that when a nurse would drop a tray or there was a loud noise in the hall, Yiayia's eyes would flicker. And the two times Mom brought my brother and me to see her, Yiayia's eyes filled with tears.

This lasted nearly two years, until her death when she was 48. Throughout my life, I've been a believer, an agnostic, and an atheist, and while I won't limm my beliefs now, I will say there were times I hated God. How could any omniscient deity who purports to love us allow someone so unfailingly kind and magical to suffer so long and so horrifically? Of course, I have no answer and none of us do. But I'm 42 now, not much younger than she was when she left, and I know there are still times I would trade every worldly possession and every friend I have just to be with her again and share stories and make each other laugh like we used to.

And, perhaps, if there is something on the other side (and I am suspect of those who ascertain too vehemently one way or another), maybe we'll get to again.

Today makes 35 years since she died and yesterday the entire family, spanning in ages from 76 to infancy, came together to celebrate her life. And I think somehow we made her happy.

I miss you, Yiayia.

Love always,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guys and dolls, as it were:

Last night I watched an interview with an author whose work I like, but that doesn't prompt me to do cartwheels and then finger myself. Still, I found his answers smart and insightful and enjoyed listening to what he offered next. Then he was asked the inevitable (though sometimes useful) question, "Which other authors do you read?" He named three off the top of his head (all fine choices and one of whom is a friend of mine) and later revisited the topic, rattling off about ten playwrights whose work he's long admired.

Then he caught himself. "I'm sure there are some women in there, too, I'm overlooking right now." Each of his picks had been men. He struck me as sincere and I believe there are women whose work resonates for him. And I like that he answered honestly: no one should feel like they "have" to publicly laud any artist if the latter's work really doesn't spark something within.

I've been pleased that my writing, so far, has garnered a healthy degree of praise from the whole gender spectrum and that no one has attempted to pigeonhole me as a "woman writer". I've been viewed simply as a writer, which is how it should be for all of us, regardless of sex, race, religion, or where one falls on the Kinsey Scale. (Side note: I say this without a trace of arrogance. I know if I were to attempt, say, civil engineering, I would get quickly labeled, "disaster". I'm fully aware of the many things at which I would choke.)

But still, it got under my skin that if I or any woman had been asked the same question and the interviewer had been of the opposite gender (as was the case last night) and we had named 13 writers who sport vadges, it seems near certain we would have incurred the response, "Don't you read any men?"

Unquestionably, things continue to progress in the right direction. I just wish we were already there. Anyhow, it's 75 degrees and sunny on what is one of the last warm days of the season and nothing is going to shift culturally in the next 90 minutes. I'm off to get an iced americano and head to Thomas Street Park. And, for the record, my favorite authors run the whole spectrum of humanity. Except for the bad writers: while some might be lovely human beings, it's perfectly okay to shun their output.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boredom? Paranoia? Or just not getting it?

Dear assistant to a highly talented but discredited author who just settled another fraud suit,

When you conduct a Google blog search for said author from the city in which you work (and your IP # is from a Comcast Business address), arrive here and then search for your own name, I'm aware of this. Like all writers (including the one for which you work), I have a Sitemeter on my blog that relays said information. This is not rocket science. Nor is it the first time you've conducted a similar search here.

I'll save you the time: I've moved on. I haven't written about said author in years and if I ever alluded to you (and I don't recall I did), I never referred to you by name. Maybe it's time for each of you to realize you're no longer compelling.

But definitely a bit sad.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I've been writing most of the day and I'm still in... blue and green striped pajama bottoms and my '04 Death Cab shirt (the one with the bunnies on the front) and need to be somewhere in an hour, preferably fed and caffeinated and wearing pants, as I often find that makes ventures with other humans run more smoothly.

Fifty-nine minutes and counting down.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I was going to write something cogent about...

...9/11 last night but it had been a busy day (and I was able to vacuum for the first time in three and a half months!) and I fell asleep before I could prop myself before my laptop. Mostly, I think of my compadres who were there (I have scads of friends and family in NYC and D.C.) and/or who lost loved ones and how the anniversary will always be harder for them than it is for the rest of us. Not that we will forget, but unquestionably, we are scarred differently. And I ate a nice quiet dinner at Thomas Street Park near my home and read the latest issue of New York Magazine and that seemed as fitting tribute as any.

Then, after having been up a good portion of last night sick, I discovered at 7:00 a.m. this morning that my building had been broken into. As condo secretary, this has caused an enormous headache for me (calling the police, doing the walk-around w/ the officer, filing the police report, alerting the neighbors, et al) and I am reminded of something Wanda Sykes told me when I interviewed her for The Believer, "Unwanted children grow into the biggest assholes." While there is a good chance the person who decided to smash the doorknob to fucking hell is an alcoholic or addict and therefore wrestling with a real illness and desperate for money and a fix, at the moment, I'm feeling spectacularly uncompassionate and really want the perpetrator's wang dipped in honey and waved in front of hungry fire ants. And, underscoring Wanda's point, odds are pretty good the parents of said individual did not do a real bang up job with the love and nuturing or any of that and I kind of want to pelt them with flaming garbage.

Humanity: so brilliant, so glorious, so transcendent, but (and this hardly a revelation) so much douchebaggery, too.

I give mad props to the California omelette I had for lunch, though. That held its own.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And perhaps some Ovaltine, sir:

I think President Obama's health care speech last night was extraordinary and that he nailed it in terms of policy, specifics, and tone. As noted elsewhere, I would make him peanut butter and jelly crackers if I could.

But just how effective was his address to Congress? My father, a lifelong moderate Republican, told my mom this morning, "You know, I was prepared to disagree with him but he addressed all the details and made a lot of sense. He did a good job."

Choke on that, South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, and I hope your insurance plan covers the mental health treatment you so desperately need.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I say this as someone who enjoys Rachel McAdams' work and...

...appreciates her versatility and deft comic timing. Overall, I'm rooting for her.

But holy mother of fuck, I've seen the trailer for The Time Traveler's Wife twice now and fear what it has done to my cerebral cortex. I know the book was a bestseller, but did no one in McAdams' management team allow her to read the script before signing on? Was there a sort of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey procedure wherein she was spun around five times with a pen in hand and the first contract she touched she was legally bound to?

And as the new school year starts, I urge parents everywhere to shield their kids from the film's poster: I think even a cursory glance could set them back a grade.

Monday, September 07, 2009

One of my best friends was in town from Chicago this weekend and...

...took me out for lunch and dessert yesterday. Because my very closest friend took me out on Friday, I had to spend almost the entirety of Saturday recuperating from one and resting for the next, but in each instance, it was completely worth it. (And for most of the summer, it took two to three days to heal between outings, so the 24 hour cushion, odd as it sounds to the uninitiated, is a huge improvement.)

As oft-noted, I know that out of the seven billion persons currently inhabiting the planet, I have one of the very best lives. Still, I am not at all sorry to see this summer end: Memorial Day weekend I, of course, developed a particularly acute case of shingles that proceeded to masticate the season's remainder; my brother had an emergency appendectomy shortly thereafter; my beloved cousin became excruciatingly ill before giving birth prematurely; my massively intelligent and ridiculously super-cute alpha male bunny, Henry, died; my brother had emergency back surgery for two ruptured discs; and my mom was rushed to the emergency room with what initially but falsely (repeat: falsely) appeared to be cardiac arrest.

And as all of us know and keep reiterating: we're very lucky. We're still here (with the exception of Henry, who was a rabbit and not a person, though that is a distinction I acknowledge mostly to preempt a one-way ticket to a group home) and everyone knows families who weren't so fortunate. Each of us has health insurance and family and friends who love us deeply and vice versa and all of us got each other through things emotionally and practically.

That said, if Summer '09 were a person, I would go Titus Andronicus on its ass and bake it in a pie and feed it to its loved ones. Fuck you, Summer '09. Fuck you with a hammer. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Two things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other but that remain pertinent in very different ways:

1) As noted here and on Facebook, I have spent most of the past year on Capitol Hill (my neighborhood) and the adjoining downtown because I've usually been too sick to venture farther. So, as I've been getting healthier, my best friend has made a point to whisk me to different parts of Seattle (I still can't drive) and, as ridiculous as it sounds, it's been a total adventure. Today we went to Alki and ate lunch at a waterside restaurant and strolled the beach and then drove over to California Avenue and the surrounding area and perused Easy Street Records and sundry book shops and ephemera. We proceeded to get ice cream (chocolate chip mint in a waffle cone!) and it was the first ice cream I've had in over a month (I've almost lost the eight pounds I gained from the shingles) and when I dripped it on my black jeans, he laughed and insisted I pop the last of my cone in my mouth and when I did, I laughed and spit said cone on various parts of my forearm and then neither of us could stop laughing. An absolutely wonderful and soul-boosting day.

2) Re the health care meme currently swirling on Facebook: as I've posted, if you have time to play on Facebook, you have time to contact your legistlators in support of President Obama's health care reform. Step #1: Google your two senators and one congressperson. Step #2: Go to their contact page. Step #3: Contact them. Anyone with ten minutes and opposable thumbs can do this.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tuesday night's reading at Elliott Bay Book Company was an utter delight...

...and one of the best outings of what has been an incredibly difficult summer. Chelsea Cain is not only a very talented writer, but a compelling and hilarious reader, too. Those of us in the industry know these are two separate skills and Cain has each in heaping fistfuls. Plus, I ran into a pal I hadn't seen in over a year and, of course, as mentioned in my previous entry, it's great (perfect, really) to be among my tribe more and more as my health returns.

Then yesterday was sad and awful and one of those days that will, undoubtedly, make sense in time but, for now, stings and is a reminder that sometimes, even persons who know each other best fail each other occasionally.

I have to leave for a doctor appointment soon and I'd be lying if I said part of me feels like I simply can't do one more, but then I remind myself I've been to hundreds that were worse than today's will be and prevailed and still wore a jaunty ensemble and bantered with the physician and his or her staff and then, in the better periods, I continued to write and publish dozens of pieces about subjects vast and fascinating and life went on. And such will be the case today.

Time to head out the door.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I'm off to a reading now at Elliott Bay Book Company...

...for a Portland-based author about whom I've heard good things, Chelsea Cain.

She writes well-reviewed thrillers and while her genre is not something towards which I usually gravitate, tonight, that's not even the point.

Sometimes, more than anything, you just need to be among members of your own tribe.