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Archive for February, 2003

CERAMIC PIG

CERAMIC PIG

Perhaps some of you may remember the mortifying Driving Debacle from a few weeks back, in which I was dispatched in a State Motor Pool Vehicle to pick up an incoming job candidate arriving to interview for a tenure-track position with our department. As you may recall, there were mishaps in direction following, much aimless driving about in The Hinterlands of Bum Fuck South Dakota, a lot of backing up and turning around due to missed turns, concluding with embarrassing adventures in Vehicle Misidentification in the airport parking lot. Today another job candidate for a different tenure-track position was scheduled to arrive late this afternoon at Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska. My wonderful colleague and friend S., who was in charge of picking up the job candidate, and who is possibly even more directionally dyslexic than I am, asked me if I’d like to come along and help out with directions, driving, and general candidate retrieval operations. Now I realize that this might appear to be a case of the blind leading the blind, which, well it probably is, but S. and I both adhere to the philosophy that being hopelessly lost and unable to locate an airport is much less upsetting if there is another person in the car, even if they are no help whatsoever. At the departmental potluck last night fellow faculty members attempted to give us helpful tips and instructions. Oh, it’s easy, just make sure to bear left when you hit blah blah blah, and make sure to go northeast when you see blah blah blah. None of them seemed to notice that in response we both just stared at all of them, baffled. It was kind of like that Gary Larsen cartoon, “What Cats Hear,” which if memory serves me correctly went something along the lines of “Blobbity blah blah blah cat food blobbity blobbity blah blah blah blobbity.” Only replace “cat food” in this instance with “airport,” I suppose.

While waiting for S. to pick me up, I passed the time by fooling around with experiments in self portraiture, including an attempt at a Mirror Project entry, as well as a self-portrait with lepidoptera. S. finally arrived at my apartment and so, armed with a computer printout of instructions, a map of Omaha helpfully highlighted with magic marker, two cell phones, a digital camera and a laptop, we departed for Omaha shortly after noon, determined that Mission Job Candidate Retrieval would be a success.

And we arrived at Eppley Airfield without a hitch whatsoever. We were triumphant. Elated. Flushed with our own prowess. Bordering on smug, even. We arrived early enough to cop a squat and have some coffee. Shortly after our arrival at the airport, however, S. was paged. It was our departmental secretary, calling to say that the job candidate’s flight had been cancelled, and that he was going to be rerouted through the Sioux Falls airport instead, where another one of our colleagues would be dispatched to pick him up. (Did I mention that it’s a two-hour drive to Omaha?) Apparently, our colleague E. had tried to call me on my cell phone, but since the incoming number showed up as being unidentifiable, and since only a very small handful of people even have my cell phone number it didn’t even occur to me that the incoming call was possibly related to our candidate retrieval issues. I blew off checking the voice-mail since my phone was registering as being on roam and I didn’t want to incur roaming charges . . . I just assumed it was probably a social call. (Well. Did I mention that Omaha is a two-hour drive away?)

So S. and I did the only sensible thing at that point in time. We decided to see if we could find our way to Old Market–a marvelous cobblestoned, old brick section of old town Omaha that’s chock-a-block with terrific restaurants, art galleries, and great little shops. (We got there pretty easily, barring a disturbing moment of going the wrong way down a one-way street . . . which was not our fault as it was technically a two-way street, but there was a lot of construction/road work, so it was only temporarily a one-way street and not officially a one-way street, and I’m convinced that you would have to be a local to even know that.) We browsed through some art galleries and shops, visited an amazing European-style patisserie called Delice (which had an astonishing array of beautifully crafted Lindzer Tortes, Creme Brulees, Napoleons, Gateau Neige, and Fruit Tarts in their pastry case), and then ate dinner at a fabulous East Indian restaurant called the Indian Oven, whose menu read like a poem, with words like fenugreek, cardamom, and tamarind.

Also, there was the matter of the ceramic pigs. Somehow we each came home with one–thus depleting an Old Market store of its entire stash of ceramic pigs. Admittedly, the degree to which one actually requires a ceramic pig unabashedly tattooed in shockingly extravagant florals is, of course, subject to argument. But I tell you what. That pig . . . it just had my name written all over it.

On the way back home, nearing Sioux City, S. turned to me and said, “We could just keep going, you know. Go straight up to Sioux Falls and maybe arrive there just in time to pick up the candidate so E. doesn’t have to.” Despite the fact that I was egregiously speeding, the cops weren’t after us, though, and so, unlike Thelma and Louise, we just came home . . . and didn’t end up having to drive off the edge of the Grand Canyon or anything like that.

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FAT BASTARD

FAT BASTARD

Late last night, deep into a bottle of Fat Bastard Shiraz, I realized that I had an undeniably powerful urge to jump on the bandwagon, and have my very own wee mee representation by which to validate my ontological sense of self. So here I am, in all my wee-ness. (That is, by the way, a hypothetical wee-cigarette . . . I have still quit smoking, but I figure that my wee mee might as well get to smoke, and engage in any number of other addictive and unsavory behaviors on my behalf.):

Furthermore, here I am with my friend, wee-P. (In front of Mt. Rushmore because we live in South Dakota. Get it? I also inadvertently happened to leave P.’s hubby S. out of the picture. Oops! Too bad. So sad. But hey . . . it’s my wee-psychological landscape, so I figure I can include and ignore whomever and however I see fit, damnit!):

Then finally, somewhere deep down in the dregs of my bottle of Fat Bastard Shiraz, I began to feel somewhat wistful, because everyone else had a wee-partner, and my wee-self decided that it was a wee bit lonely. So, in a bold Pygmalion-esque maneuver, I just made up my own hot wee-babe, who is not only a lot of fun, a brilliant conversationalist, and exceedingly skilled in the sack, she never ever bothers me when I’m trying to write!!

I’m not sure what’s up with the gi-normous wee-boobies, by the way . . . so I’m just going to chalk it up to an advanced case of Fat Bastard Goggles.

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ALBUQUERQUE

ALBUQUERQUE

I spent most of last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I gave a poetry reading, as well as a panel presentation on negotiating the erotics of the creative writing classroom, at the Southwest Texas Popular Culture Association Conference. It was wonderful to get out of town for awhile, stuff myself full of decadent food at nice restaurants, hang out with other writers and prove what an Ineffable Gork I am by religiously attending all of the Buffy panels. It was a great time, despite the fact that I hideously procrastinated writing my paper for the panel presentation until the last possible minute, thus reducing myself to a miserable and panic-stricken clump of wretched self-loathing for the entirety of all last week until I finally printed off the final version of the paper at 2:00 a.m. the night before the 8:00 a.m. panel presentation in the Service Center of the conference hotel. Why, oh why, do I do these things to myself, and what the fuck was I thinking?!?!

I really enjoyed Albuquerque, though. The Sandia Mountains, in particular, were beautiful . . . I always forget how much I miss mountains until I find myself around them again, and then I become instantaneously flooded with intense longing. When my mother came to America for the very first time to join my father after they eloped in Japan, she came to Albuquerque, where my father was a graduate student at the University of New Mexico. How strange it must have all seemed to her! I have a poem in my second book manuscript, called “Transplanting,” that attempts to recreate or recover some of the images from this time period. As newlyweds, my parents used to occasionally borrow a car and drive up into the Sandia Mountains . . . my mother once bought a ceramic pig on one of these drives from a roadside vendor that seemed to exemplify for her all that was exotic, strange, and heartbreakingly beautiful about her new life. She also likes to complain about how the Bureau of Immigration in Japan tried to make her get all sorts of strange shots prior to coming to America because they hadn’t even heard of a place called New Mexico, and insisting that what she really meant was Mexico. “I keep saying no, no . . . I going to New Ma-keys-co so I don’t need take typhoid shot,” my mother still recounts with indignation.

This second book manuscript, though . . . the one where the poem “Transplanting” is a bit of a centerpiece of sorts . . . I’ve had the most outrageously wonderful news today. In fact, I’m still feeling a bit surreal. It’s apparently been named one of two winners in a national book competition, and in addition to a cash award and a public prize reading, the book itself will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in April, 2004. My second book has been placed! Wow. I can’t believe I just got to say that. In fact, I think I’m going to have to say it again. My second book has been placed! Let the binge-drinking and indiscriminate sushi consumption begin!!

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POETS AGAINT THE WAR

POETS AGAINST THE WAR

I just finished posting one of the poems from my book at the Poets Against the War website. The particular poem I picked is called “Hiroshima Maiden,” and it’s a dramatic monologue written in the voice of one of the twenty-five young Japanese women severely disfigured as a result of the dropping of the atomic bombs during the second world war. These women were subsequently sent to the United States for what was, at that time, highly experimental and dangerous reconstructive surgery, and they become known as the Hiroshima Maidens. (It was thought that U.S. doctors and scientists, in addition to altruistic motivations, were eager to have the opportunity of studying the catastrophic effects of the atomic bomb firsthand.) Part of the horrible irony of the circumstances was that upon returning to Japan, the Hiroshima Maidens were shunned and ostracized . . . the shame and horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had become a national shame and horror, and, furthermore, the Hiroshima Maidens were viewed as having committed an act of betrayal through undergoing their plastic surgeries and adopting “Americanized” airs, according to the other hibakusha, or survivors of the atomic bomb. Many poets have written new poems of protest to post at Poets Against the War, but I find that there is nothing about the events which have been inexorably taking place since September 11 that I can even attempt to fashion into art. And it makes me ache inside to think that histories of Racism, Orientalism, Colonialism, Imperalism, and War continue to cycle around again and again, even with full knowledge of the potential for irreparable damage and destruction. And so maybe this poem can function as a reminder, if nothing else.

HIROSHIMA MAIDEN

I.

My mother recognized

my feet and claimed me

at the hospital,

my face hot wax poured

into a Noh mask.

She used to chide me

for my pride

because I always

carried a parasol,

wasted money

on watermelons

to scrub my skin.

She’s frightened

to look at me now

because I might see

myself in her eyes.

II.

Everybody stared

at Mrs. Roosevelt’s

tea party, and I felt

a flash of shame

each time a reporter

snapped another picture.

After plastic surgery

at the American hospital

we looked like so many

rows of Q-Tips.

It was a relief not

to see each other’s

faces, and our hands

began to take on

their former girlish

gestures. We almost

felt pretty again,

until one girl died

on their table. She found

the opening where they

were sewing on a new

mouth, and flew away.

III.

The other hibakusha

say I put on airs

since I came back.;

I learned how to draw

on eyebrows, make

my skin all the same

color. They gave me

a wig made of real hair

that I brush down

a certain way to hide

my missing ear.

Mother tells me

not to listen,

they’re only jealous,

and maybe now

I’ll frind a husband.

Maybe an ugly man,

though kind. But

I sour inside like

an unripe persimmon,

and every day become

stranger to myself

behind this other

person’s face — a lie,

richly embroidered

by unfamiliar hands.

Please consider visiting the resources available at the Poets Against the War website, as well as taking a moment to read and sign Not In Our Name: A Statement Against War and Repression, or sending free faxes to Congress and the President via the True Majority website. Articles on U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’ Public Opposition of the War with Iraq as well as Bushes Get a Taste of Poetic Justice (both articles located via wanna write?) are also definitely worth a look.

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SOMETIMES I AM JUST SO UNSPEAKABLY LAME

Thursday night I was assigned the task of driving to the airport in Sioux Falls to pick up a job candidate arriving to do an on-campus interview for one of our tenure-track openings. On the one hand, it’s nice to think that one’s colleagues and job search committee members view one as being the sort of person who can be entrusted to pick up a job candidate from the airport without major or minor incident . . . perhaps one is not as much of a Fuck Up as one is occasionally prone to think oneself after all. But then the Ordeal begins. First there is the paperwork which must be filled out in order to requisition a University vehicle, requiring the submission of a valid driver’s license, vaccination record, blood work, and urine sample. (Okay, I’m grossly exaggerating about all but the driver’s license, but I’m sure that if our departmental secretary had her way, I would have to submit a vaccination record, blood work, and urine sample. The last time I attended a conference she made me submit my name badge for Christ’s sake . . . as if the conference registration, hotel receipt, and the fact that I was giving a reading were insufficient evidence to warrant departmental reimbursement. Plus, then there’s the inevitable discussion in which she proceeds to grill me as to why I still have an Ohio driver’s license as opposed to a South Dakota driver’s license in a rather invasive and bossy manner, when I really don’t see how it could possibly be any of her business.)

And while yes, it would undoubtedly be much easier for me to have picked up the job candidate in my own vehicle, there are problems with that scenario. At first, there was a bunch of interdepartmental joking about how maybe it could be a Test of Fortitude for the job candidate to be forced to ride on the interstate for an hour in high winds (for there are always high winds on the interstate in South Dakota, particularly between Vermillion and Sioux Falls) in my Jeep Wrangler. But that just seemed a little cruel. Not only would the candidate be forced to contend with a Dyke and her Jeep, the job candidate would have to yell for an entire hour, thereby possibly having no voice for the next day’s interview, in order to be heard above the howling winds because even with a hard top, the Jeep Wrangler is not a quiet ride on the interstate. Add to that the fact that when it is extremely windy, one tends to feel precariously buffeted when ensconced in a Jeep Wrangler . . . particularly when large trucks go by. Add to that the fact that when it is extremely windy and the roads are not good, there is sometimes a slight tendency to fishtail a bit, even with the 4-wheel drive. Nor does it have air bags. It just didn’t seem like a very good idea to kill off the job candidate before the job candidate even had a chance to get to campus. Hence the University vehicle.

Here comes the part in which I become Unspeakably Lame. There are two airports in the vicinity: one in Sioux Falls and one in Sioux City. I always fly out of the Sioux City airport myself because it’s a half-hour closer, and I also have frequent flyer miles through Northwest Airlines. As a result, I’d never been to the Sioux Falls Airport before. How hard could it be, I thought rather smugly to myself? Sioux Falls isn’t very big, after all. So I printed off a Yahoo map off the internet, promptly decided that it was a long route that involved a tedious drive down a major street in the middle of Sioux Falls, and after a brief consultation with another colleague decided that I was going to wing it with an alternate route. (Perhaps I should mention, at this point, that I am somewhat Directionally Dyslexic, and really have no business whatsoever “winging it” in any way, shape, or form, when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B. I am definitely one of those who should Stick to the Damn Directions.) I suppose all of this would have gone much more smoothly if the candidate hadn’t been arriving at 11:00 p.m. at night. (Perhaps I should also mention, at this point, that my night vision is absolutely, mortifyingly atrocious?)

So I head off for Sioux Falls in this strange and unfamiliar University vehicle that does annoying things like repeatedly making bing bing bing sounds when it feels that I’ve had the turn signal on for too long. Plus, I’m constantly reaching over for the gear shift because, quite frankly, it is my belief that one really isn’t driving unless one is driving stick. I arrive at Sioux Falls without incident, although a bit of icy rain is starting to come down. I take the exit ramp suggested by my colleague, only to emerge into Roadwork Hell. Orange barrels, bypasses, blocked off accesses. I try to navigate my way through several times, only to become hopelessly tangled up and eventually find myself off driving in The Hinterlands. The Boondocks. The liminal edges of Bum Fuck South Dakota. During all of this I keep missing turn offs due to aforementioned sucky nighttime vision, and keep having to Back Up, Rinse, and Repeat. The one thing I can say is that you can actually get away with these sorts of driving shenanigans in South Dakota . . . unlike Columbus, Ohio, where I used to live, where everyone gives you the finger while verbally reaming you a new asshole, if not just taking out a gun and shooting you outright.

Thirty minutes later I am forced to concede that this is not working and so I decide to find my way back to the interstate, and retrace my route back to where I can pick up the Yahoo map directions. And it’s not as if I can pull over and ask for directions, because I’ve just realized that I’ve turned into my father and would rather drive into the middle of the next adjacent state rather than pull over and ask for directions . . . even while my mother sits next to him with a lap full of maps and a magnifying glass, fuming, and occasionally exploding with exclamations of “What’s matter with you? I told you turn there but you don’t listen, do you? Yo-ne!? So stupid!” Although I’m thankful that my mother isn’t in the passenger seat berating me at this moment, I do have to admit that she’s a Crack Navigator . . . the problem is that my father always insists on driving way too slowly, and is therefore never able to get in the correct exit lane in time to make the turn.

So I wend my way back to the interstate, and I’m going to retrace my route back to the exit for the outer belt, etc. when all of a sudden I see an exit sign for the Sioux Falls airport. Interesting. Apparently there’s a sign if you’re approaching from the butt-end, but no sign if you’re approaching from the anterior. (Well . . . not one that I saw, at any rate. Or maybe my colleague gave me the wrong exit number and I never actually got to it. I dunno.) So I exit, and I dutifully follow the airplane signs. The problem is that the signs stop after a certain point. So there’s more aimless driving around, and blindly Backing Up, Rinsing, and Repeating. At one point, I’m whimsically spinning cookies in the CitiBank parking lot. I know I’m close, though . . . I can see planes in the sky. After exiting the CitiBank parking lot I finally see another sign for the airport (once again, the sign was not there when I was heading in the opposite direction, and it occurs to me that I’m problematically approaching the airport from the posterior or ass end).

All I can say is that it’s a good thing that I left an hour earlier than necessary, just in case. I’m not exactly sure how I got to the airport, but I finally got there . . . with just a few minutes to spare before the job candidate’s plane arrived. I hurriedly park the car in short-term parking, and hustle into the airport . . . by this time the icy sleet has frozen up, and the airport parking lot is dangerously slick.

I meet and gree the candidate who is, thankfully, a very amiable sort, and after baggage is claimed, we head out to the parking lot. All of a sudden I realize that I have no idea which car is mine. Other than it’s blue-ish, and some sort of mid-size sedan. The parking lot is so slick that we’re carefully dragging our feet over the ice, and I head (with fake confidence and nonchalance) toward a blue-ish mid-size sedan that appears to be approximately where I think I’ve parked the car. I try the electronic de-locker thingy. I try it several times.

“Um . . . I’m sorry,” I apologize. “This doesn’t appear to be the right car. I’m driving a University vehicle. It’s not mine,” I add, just so he doesn’t think that I’m the Biggest Moron he’s ever encountered. Ever.

So, less confidently, I approach another blue-ish mid-size sedan a few cars down and attempt to use the electronic de-locker thingy again. There’s an answering flash from within, which I find quite promising, but after repeated clicking and door rattling, and anxious peering into windows while the job candidate stands by, I realize that this is also not my car.

“Um . . . well . . . maybe it’s this one over here,” I suggest. Which it actually is. But at this point it’s already too late. The job candidate, who is not getting any younger, and who has an unenviably full day of interviewing the next day (for anyone unfamiliar with the on-campus job interview, just think Bataan Death March) is undoubtedly thinking something along the lines of, Holy Mother of God . . . I can’t believe they actually sent The Poet to come and get me. It’ll be dawn before I get to the Super 8, if and when I actually make it to the Super 8.

The job candidate was a remarkably Good Egg about it, though, all things considered, and was eventually safely delivered to the Super 8 . . . where he was undoubtedly, once ensconced in his room, completely taken aback by the decor therein . . . which can only be described as Early American Bordello. (We usually use the Comfort Inn for University guests. But apparently it’s flooded. Don’t ask.)

I suppose it could have turned out worse. But it’s not over yet, you realize. There will be the Subsequent De-Briefing and Concomitant Interrogation regarding the additional hour’s worth of mileage on the University vehicle. If asked (and believe me, I will be asked), I plan on telling the departmental secretary that I took a side detour and went to the gay bar, got drunk, picked up delightfully loose womyn, and went on a joyride. Whee!

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