Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm Home

So, I'm back. I'm home. Three long and weird years of Southern immersion ended with the honk of a moving truck and the clink of a new key in the deadbolt. Just like that I slipped back into the rhythm of Pittsburgh, my feet swept into the sidewalk bustle in time with the rivers flowing beside me. For days I felt oddly like I had fallen from the sky and woken up in my childhood bed.

I'm sure my love for this city nestled in the Appalachian hills may seen strange. Compared to the young cities of the South and West, Pittsburgh looks cramped and ramshackle. Tall weeds jut from cracked sidewalks and litter collects at street corners. Boarded-up houses sit muffled in every neighborhood, and odd graffiti runs rampant over the streets, the bridges, vehicles and even the retaining walls alongside route 28.

But it is the organic chaos of this city that I find so appealing. For over 200 years people have eked out a life on these rivers, clinging to the hillside and shoveling rock. Even when the skies were darkened with coal smoke and scented with the sulfur twinge of slag, people walked a hundred steps uphill to their house, planted flowers and swung babies in their arms. Life wasn't easy, but who could complain? You had your church on one corner, your bar on the other, and enough friends and family at hand to make things worthwhile.

Which is not to say that Pittsburgh is not a beautiful town; it is. The topography of hills and ravines blesses every overlook with a breathtaking view. The industry barons left the city studded with stunning public works and an architecturally pristine infrastructure that would be at home in Western Europe. There is something about the light in Pittsburgh, and the way it paints in the evening hours with a pinkish orange glow that makes the bricks hum with warmth. Even downtown, a jumbled hodgepodge of a century of skyscrapers, can catch the light of a long afternoon and shine like a jewel. 

And Pittsburghers love this city. Strike up a conversation with the man on a street, and nine times out of ten he can name his city counselperson. Pittsburghers patronize the public libraries, ride the buses, and know all the secret spots in their neighborhood. The nosiness of neighbors is so widespread there is a regional term for it. Even the graffiti in this city smacks of affection. A concrete wall reads "Pittsburgh you're beautiful. Thor"

I'm working in Oakland, not a far distance as the crow flies but a good hour and two buses from my hilltop home. Every morning I watch the sunlight shatter over the silent rivers and illuminate the steel and aluminum spires of downtown. And every afternoon I gaze out from a rumbling window seat, watching the swirl of humanity pouring from buses and buildings and engulfing the sidewalks like a wildfire. My book lies in my lap, open but unread; I cannot take my eyes off this city.

I'm home.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Nine hilariously deadpan lines from the Wikipedia entry for “Scrooge McDuck”


Nine hilariously deadpan lines from the Wikipedia entry for “Scrooge McDuck”

1) Scrooge is an elderly Scottish anthropomorphic white duck with a yellow-orange bill, legs, and feet.

2) He credits his strength to "lifting money bags."

3) Donald first mentions in this story that his uncle practically owns Duckburg, a statement that Scrooge's rival John D. Rockerduck would later put in dispute.

4) A shrewd businessduck and noted tightwad, he is fond of diving into his money like a porpoise, burrowing through it like a gopher, and throwing coins into the air to let them fall upon his head—all without injury, much to the bafflement of others.

5) Forbes has occasionally tried to estimate McDuck's wealth in real terms; in 2007, Forbes estimated his wealth at $28.8 billion; in 2011, it rose to $44.1 billion due to the rise in gold prices.

6) In 1961 a 45rpm single record was released entitled "Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge's Money Rocket" (a.k.a. Uncle Scrooge's Rocket to the Moon,) a story of how Scrooge builds a rocket to send all his money to the moon to protect it from the "Beagle Boys."

7) [US President] Roosevelt and Scrooge would meet each other at least three times: in the Dakotas in 1883, in Duckburg in 1902, and in Panama in 1906.

8) In the end they shelved the idea because a duck who gets all excited about money just was not funny enough.

9) See also: List of fictional ducks

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Headache Outta Hades

I had high hopes for this weekend. So many fun projects to do and places to go. Letters to write. Packages to put together. A lovely shift at the zoo on a warm afternoon. But my head had other ideas.

I got a nasty migraine, seemingly impervious to Imitrex and sleep, that ground through me for just about 40-odd hours. After nearly two days of lying in bed and slowly moving around the house with my neck held as still as possible, the pain finally broke. While clearly relieved that my head no longer felt on the verge of exploding, the duration of the headache left my brain muddled and fuzzy and loopy and shaky. I felt (and looked) like I had just fallen out of a nest.

But, goddammit, I needed to get out of the house.

After a short round of begging Matt agreed to take me to McKay Used Books, one of my favorite shops in the city. While the Sunday afternoon crowds were a bit much for me to handle, it was an immense pleasure to be doing something other than lying horizontally. I spent a half hour loading up on used books (mostly Margaret Atwood with a side of Clan of the Cave Bear) and replenishing my all-important VHS collection (first mentioned here).

QUESTION: What kind of movies peak your interest after a 40+ hour migraine leaves you essentially brain dead?


Total Cost: $3.40

Anyone want to come over for a movie?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Parallel Lives in St Louis

Harbor Master's Office, St. Louis, during flood (LOC)

Three years ago, I thought I was going to live in St Louis. Matt and I had a deposit on an adorable 1920's apartment with built-in shelves and a hutch in the kitchen, and Matt had all but printed up his syllabi for Wash U. Then, two weeks before move, Matt got off the waiting list for Vanderbilt.


Life is funny so we scratched our plans and started a new existence in Tennessee. It has been interesting, and frustrating, and lonely and satisfying by turns, and at the very least I can attest that the experience of living somewhere totally unexpected for a few years is a worthwhile one. But in the back of my heart I still regret never putting in my years in St Louis, looking over the vast Mississippi to the Illinois shore.

So when my birthday rolled around (and it was THE BIG ONE this year) I decided we should spend a long weekend investigating our lives in a parallel universe.


When you cross the Mississippi you are most certainly in the city. Factories still churn and puff smoke downtown. St Louis feels like Pittsburgh on steroids, or Cincinnati stretched and flattened, or Philly with more infrastructure and meat. Walking around the half-deserted downtown it's obvious that this was once the second largest city in the country.

My mom and stepdad put us up in a fancy hotel as a gift. The room was large and opulent, with a tv somehow installed behind the bathroom mirror and a walk-in shower that rainfalled water and a minibar stocked with champagne and grey goose. But when you looked out the window the next block was a hilariously ramshackle scooby-doo ghost town.

scooby doo ghost town

(Note: I wish I could claim the descriptor "scooby-doo ghost town" but it comes from this incredibly funny video.)

It was cold in Missouri, the first and only time I've felt bitter temperatures this winter. We spent a 25 degree day exploring the St Louis Zoo, and enjoying the privacy of the nearly empty park.


A few of the more tender animals were locked away, and we visited them in their barns or squinted into their empty enclosures. However, some of the animals were quite happy with the chilly air.

penguin - St Louis Zoo

The next day we visited a friend at his t-shirt shop / screen printing emporium, STyLe House. We talked cities, pet the resident kitty, perused the shop, and ended up getting two very stylish STL shirts.

STyLe house

That afternoon we headed to the City Museum, achieving a dream I've had since I heard about the place from Matt three years ago. I have tried to explain the city museum several times, but I can't quite find the right words for it. It describes itself as "eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel". There are no maps, no rules, and a liability waiver. It's a warehouse-sized sculpture you can climb all over, that also houses an architectural museum, and a shoelace factory. And a thrift store. And an aquarium. And a bar. And the largest mosaic in the country. Oh, and it's open until midnight on weekends. Look, I don't think I'm doing a very good job here but check out these pictures and promise me you'll go if you are ever in that part of the country, ok?

city museum rock

robots at the city museum

huge slides at the city museum

(Note: Yes, this is a ten-story spiral slide. Yes, we slid down it and stood wobbling until our brains stopped spinning. )

city museum grotto

In this picture I am taking a breather after crawling through a cave full of dragon sculptures and petting a giant catfish. It was such an amazing afternoon, and the city museum definitely clinched a spot on my top ten list of magical places.

We spent the rest of the weekend eating tasty food, drinking delicious Schlafly beer, walking around gorgeous neighborhoods and playing penny slots at the casino. But, like all good things, our time in St Louis came to an end.

We left on a Sunday morning so foggy all we could see were the great white feet of the arch, the apex lost above our heads. As we left we spoke of the regret of all the places we'll never live, and promises to travel more.


BONUS: check out this hilarious turtle we saw at the St Louis Zoo.

hilarious turtle at the St Louis Zoo

Sunday, December 11, 2011

August - December

I took a season's sabbatical from blogging, and here is what you missed:

I visited the Yazoo Brewery here in Nashville, and drank a lot of straight off the conveyer-belt beers while walking around the giant stainless steel tanks.

Yazoo Brewery

I also saw Tall Glenn Danzig there, checking out the Dos Perros.

Yazoo Brewery and Tall Glenn Danzig

I spent two 100+ degree days wandering around Memphis with my mother, including an incredibly moving trip through the Civil Rights Museum. It is built into the back of the Lorraine Motel, and the last stop on the self-led tour is standing inside the room Dr. King had rented, staring out at the site of his assassination.

Civil Right Museum, Memphis TN

Halfway through August Matt came back from Pittsburgh! It was sweet to live together again, and we did lots of fun things like look for Monkey Balls.

Matt found some monkey balls!

Monkey Balls, or Osage-Oranges as they are properly called, are giant green fruits filled with seeds that are altogether inedible. Nothing can eat them, except domesticated horses and mules and the occaisonal determined squirrel (and they don't seem too hot on them either). But wait, you may be saying. Dr. Carrie, isn't the whole point of fruit to entice animals to eat them and shit the seeds elsewhere, thereby perpetuating the species?

Monkey Balls!

Well, I'm glad you asked that.

The osage-orange, along with other fruits like the pawpaw and honey locust pods, are thought to have co-evolved with the now extinct megafauna that once roamed North America. Animals like mastodons, gomphotheres and giant sloths could easily eat the fruits whole and pass the seeds, spreading the osage-orange throughout North America. This article, entitled Anachronistic Fruits and the Ghosts Who Haunt Them (ie Best Title Ever), explains the process well. For those of you who might need a little additional clarification, I worked up this diagram:


The tail end of summer turned into a long, warm Autumn. October was consumed with Halloween witchcraft, including some very elaborate costume planning and throwing a rad Halloween party. Here I am in costume as Frank Rossitano from 30 Rock:

Me as Frank Rossitano

My hat says "HOLLOW WEENIE".

Here is Matt as "the white guy from All-4-One":

Matt as "the white guy from all-4-one"

Then November came and I disappeared socially, hermiting myself up to compete in NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. Over the course of 30 days I wrote a 144 page feminist sci-fi epic called In the Shadow of the Mechanical Planet. I was among the 14% of contenders who finished, and December 1st looked pretty sweet from the winner's circle:


Now it's 11 days into December and the leaves are off the trees and the garden is finally dead. The blackened cores of the okra stalks still raise up four feet above my head, between me and the clear winter sky.

Dead Okra

But if you brush aside the leaves piled up in the garden, you can still find cilantro growing, verdant and strong, 14 days before Christmas.

Cilantro in December

It's nice to be here and it's nice to be back.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Worst Case Scenarios

Portrait of an articulated skeleton on a bentwood chair

I've been living alone this summer, which gives me lots of time to imagine worst case scenarios. Here are the top 10.

10) You look out the window to find the entire view filled with the giant eye of an monstrously immense beast.

9) You hang your leg over the side of the bed only to be grabbed at the ankle by the withered hand of a zombie demon.

8) You unsuspectingly sit on the couch only to be grabbed at the ankle by the withered hand of a zombie demon.

7) You stand by the toaster heating up a poptart only to be etc etc etc zombie demon.

6) Corpse behind the shower curtain.

5) The cat runs away (and never really liked you).

4) Mucous tentacle crawls out of shower drain.

3) A hairy yelling monster barges through the door and jumps on you.

2) You get pantry moths.

1) You die right before the good part.