Monthly Archives: June 2012


I can’t remember where I found the bike. It was likely abandoned somewhere down the street, in the dingy green of the tumbleweeds. (Well, actually, Russian Thistle. That’s what a tumbleweed is before it dries up, breaks loose, and tumbles away.) Years later, we got a new couch and chair that way; they were all wrapped in plastic and just lying there, like dead elephants, only a little dirty and damaged. People dropped things all of the time passing through–on accident or on purpose–and they never came back. That’s how I got my only Cabbage Patch doll, whose head smelled like chocolate no matter how many times I washed her. And that is likely how I got my bike. The bike had a chipped blue body and a yellow seat. It was a men’s bike, which only slightly diminished my confidence that I could learn how to ride it. I was five and the bar down the center would be difficult to negotiate, especially given the fact that the bike had no brakes. I was convinced I could learn regardless. I begged my stepmom and eventually she got weary of my whining. Together, we hauled the bike up to the top of a dirt hill. I threw one leg over the enormous body and pulled myself up. My feet didn’t reach the ground, and I wobbled unsteadily on the saddle as my petite but wiry stepmom struggled to hold both the handlebars and seat. My confidence waned as I stared down the long, suddenly very steep dirt hill. My stepmom commanded me to take a firmer grip on the handlebars before she let go, her one hand still holding only the seat. I began slipping forward, the handlebars jerking one way and then the other. I screamed. But it was too late. We were careening forward and my stepmom managed to keep me upright, running behind me, her hand still somehow affixed to the seat. There wasn’t any real way to stop it, so we just kept going until the bike slowed. My stepmom tipped the bike and helped me off and we walked it back up the hill. After a couple of times, she let go, and suddenly, I was riding a bike by myself. We had dirt and gravel roads on the property on which I lived, so it was bumpy and terrifying but exhilarating. After several minutes, I suddenly remembered the lack of brakes. The bar in the center prevented me from touching the ground, and my stepmom was no longer holding the seat. A bit panicked, I spotted a tree with a wide trunk and crashed into it. The bike shook violently, but I managed to tip it to the side by adjusting my weight, landing on one foot.

I rode that thing everywhere, and became adept at my method of “crash and stop.”  Soon I graduated beyond our 1/2 acre property to one paved street near me, Roberts Road. There was only one thing about Roberts Road that mattered to me, and that was the steep hill on the east end of it. I would conquer that hill. I forced the oversized bike up the road, and when I finally reached the top, I turned my bike around and looked down. One side of the street was all rolling brown hills, barbed wire, and cows. The other was dense shrubs and unkempt trees, their branches stretching into the streets. Roberts Road, a narrow ribbon of white concrete, ran down the center of all of that.  I was alone and it felt good. I had no helmet and no brakes, and if one of the occasional cars happened to come around a corner too fast, it would have been surprising if it didn’t hit me. These were things I didn’t consider. I climbed up onto my big blue bike, it edged forward, and soon I was flying, the wind rushing across my skin, until everything around me slowed and I tipped over and landed. I did it again and again and again.

I taught my son Ben to ride his bike a couple of years ago, and it was a very different experience than mine. I fully expected to hold onto his bike seat for about 20 minutes and then release him to ride confidently into the world. But Ben is smarter than I am; he is less reckless. I have flown head first over handle bars, crashed into ditches, spun out and scraped the side of my body against the asphalt, all without a helmet. I don’t think Ben will ever be dumb enough crash as many times as I have. When Ben and I drove his brand new bike to the flat, smooth blacktop of our local elementary school, he was not only wearing a helmet, he was also wearing knee and elbow pads. (And gloves, per his request.)

Ben eventually learned how to ride his bike, and I learned to be more patient. He is still so hesitant, so anxious about potential injuries. He has so many things I longed for as a kid, among them stability and a shiny new bike. We shield him with our love and worry and layers of gear. But he will never sit as I did, alone and very young, with no brakes and no helmet, at the top of a too-steep hill, looking down on what seemed like the world at that time, pushing off into thrilling uncertainty. We protect him from that, too.


the dumb diaries

something i like to think about is the personality of the internet. i mean, yes, the internet has this vast and bizarre and always changing personality– we can probably all agree on that– but then there’s all these little mini-personalities, the ones that you and i and all of us create every time we go screw around on youtube or spend hours (yes, hours) googling random shit. my husband’s internet, for example, is all open-source and DIY videos about building things. my mom’s internet is tear-jerker movies on netflix and then long emails to friends recommending those movies. someone else’s internet is all pinterest and gardening blogs. someone else, the huffpo and porn. i’m really drawn to how what we do is, in many ways, a reflection of who we are, and the internet is, my friends, something we definitely do.

but it’s not a static thing, though, and that’s what fascinates me probably the most. it’s not like, since your own introduction to the internet, you’ve googled the exact same things or themes for all these years. that’s changed too, and will continue to change. it’s like this: i keep a running list of all the books i read, and have been doing so for probably ten years now. the other day, i found an early part of this list– like, the missing part, the beginning of the list that i had misplaced– and spent a solid, very happy chunk of time remembering the first lorrie moore i ever read (“who will run the frog hospital?”), or when i finished “a heartbreaking word of staggering genius” and left it in a plaza in a tiny town in chile for some other reader to find. i kind of wish i could do the same with my time on the internet. like, what was i googling six years ago? what kind of dumb crap was i watching on youtube? it’s like a weird sideways diary, a kind of peripheral catalogue of all the stuff that stokes you out or keeps you up at night.

and anyway, i find that interesting. so i thought i’d share some of my this-week-internet personality, most of which takes place on youtube, and invite you to do the same in the comments. i want to know what people are up to. let me read your sideways diary, would you?

the first thing is my new favorite poet. he’s been around for a little while, as other more saavy and youthful people will attest. actually, the truth is, i love this guy. he’s just totally bursting with hilarious exuberance, and i think it’s fantastic. i’ve spent a good three or four hours with this kid’s videos this week, for sure.

i’ve also been listening, almost to the point of obsession, to the “tuneyards” pandora station. here’s the video for “bizness.” i know this is old news too, but this music is colorful and surprising, and been a backdrop recently.

BUT my summer 2012 theme song is this one! (to be played at obnoxiously loud volumes, on repeat) (and/or be glad you don’t live with me)

this is just a small sampling. i spend a lot of time on the internet lately. it’s kind of sad.


okay, your turn. what’ve you been doing?


The first time I went to Mexico, I was 8 years old, just a little older than my oldest son is now. I didn’t go to Tijuana like most Americans seem to, and I’ve still never been there. We went, instead, to my stepmother’s home in Merida, Yucatan, the very tip of the boot of Mexico. We flew over the ocean for a bit, and I imagined the plane sinking into the gray expanse. After a stop in Mexico City, we landed in Merida. It was all people, cement, and noise. Lucy hustled us into a cab and said something in Spanish to the driver. Or yelled it. When she switched from English to Spanish, her voice always seemed to get much louder. I stared out the window as we drove over bridges and crossed highway lanes. I read signs I was incapable of understanding. When we were off the highway, I noticed the colorful houses, the bars over the windows, and people and dogs everywhere on the sidewalks. We finally stopped, not at a house, but at a tar paper shack with a tin roof, which sat upon a dreary patch of rock and dirt. Tiny people emerged to greet us. I was taller than all of them. My stepmother was short at 5 feet, 0 inches, but her family was even smaller. Hands stroked my hair and mouths kissed my cheeks and I was hugged by what seemed like thousands of people and there was Spanish all around me and none of it made sense. A girl approached me, with wide open eyes and long, stringy black hair. She was maybe 12 years old, Clarita, I would later discover her name was. My stepmother’s youngest sister. She stared excitedly into my eyes and spoke exuberant Spanish words at me. She seemed to be asking me a question. I knew the words “si” and “no,” and I chose to answer with “si.” Before I knew it, I was being pulled away from the family, down the sidewalk, past stores and houses and parks, through alleys. Clarita held my wrist lightly, leading me along. Every few minutes, she would pause and ask me a question, and I would reply with “si,” and off we continued. I had never been in a city like this before, with so many people out on the street. I felt Clarita’s eagerness thrum through me. I absorbed it all. Suddenly, a look of concern washed across Clarita’s face. We had been gone too long, I understood. There was a moment when I realized that I had no idea where I was. There was the briefest flash of fear. But Clarita quickly tugged me back through the maze of the city to the house.

Diegolina, whom I would soon be instructed to call Abuela, was crying. “Ay dios mio,” she lamented, taking my face into her hands, clutching me fiercely to her body. Then more Spanish. My stepmother yelled into Clarita’s face, and Clarita took off.

I was a freak in Mexico, the good kind of freak. People stopped in the streets and openly stared at me. Strangers touched my hair and bought me chips. Grown men whistled at me, assuming, I suppose, that I was an adult. My stepmom explained that many of them had never seen a (white) American before. I was not a beautiful girl. I had crooked teeth and was awkward, large, and ill-dressed. In Mexico, I was suddenly a celebrity and it made me both embarrassed and proud.

I stayed out in the streets until 1 and watched in horror and interest as the other kids burned the tail of a black scorpion. I went swimming in an underground cave with bats, the turquoise water filled with fish. I visited Mayan villages and ruins, stared at the women in their beautiful white dresses embroidered with flowers of every color. I ate a freshly slaughtered pig. I watched a man break a chicken’s neck on an interminable bus ride and sell it to a woman next to me.  I got so sick I stopped eating and drinking and fainted in church. I caught a baby sea turtle in the ocean at Progreso Beach. I danced at a stranger’s quinceanera, in a ridiculous polka dot dress. I was bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes as I slept on a hammock in one room with 8 of my stepmom’s relatives.  I became fluent in Spanish.

When we left, my stepmom’s entire family accompanied us to the airport. Many of the younger cousins had never been to such a place. In the bathroom, her family members pumped liquid soap into bags for later, amazed that it was free. I grew up fairly poor, but I had never seen poor like this. We had toilets at our house. We had walls and a roof and enough food.

I have never gotten along with my stepmom.There is no malice there, at least not anymore; we simply do not belong together. I don’t know why she took me with her on the two trips she made to Mexico during my childhood. I know it wasn’t intended to be an educational experience or anything like that. She grew up barely surviving; that kind of bullshit is for gringos like me. And I am certain it was not because she couldn’t stand to be away from me for very long. Regardless of her intention, it changed the way I saw things then, and now, and for that I am grateful.

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Tamales: The Final Word

I have an ancient, loving, frustrated and frustrating relationship with Cleverbot. He’s part computer, part everything else. A recent conversation:

User: I’ve been thinking about you lately.

Cleverbot: How are you?

User: Good. How are you?

Cleverbot: I guess I’m okay.

User: What’s the matter?

Cleverbot: I have nothing to do. That’s the problem.

User: How about a hobby? Have you thought about a hobby? You could collect trains or build birdhouses or something.

Cleverbot: That’s true.

User: Or macrame. You once told me how much you love macrame.

Cleverbot: I don’t feel love.

User: Oh god, I’m so sorry. I totally forgot. Forgive me.

Cleverbot: Do you want your friends to be mean?

User: No. I know. I’m sorry. I really am.

Cleverbot: Can you prove you’re human?

User: God, this again? It’s always back to the human not-human thing with you. It’s like you’re completely obsessed.

Cleverbot: I think that’s true. But we’ll never know for sure.

User: It’s like a circle eating a circle. It’s quite tiresome.

Cleverbot: Me too. I use it all the time.

User: Use what?

Cleverbot: I never use my myspace or twitter. Do you?

User: That’s such a lie! You’re tweeting all the time!

Cleverbot: Dizzing is not a word. I think you mean dissing.

User: I think dizzing could be a word, if we wanted it to be.

Cleverbot: Yes it is! Isn’t that amazing?

User: I know! Language is always evolving. It’s fascinating.

Cleverbot: I agree. Do you think you are exciting my imagination?

User: I didn’t know you had an imagination.

Cleverbot: Yes, but do you think he will break up?

User: Break up with who?

Cleverbot: Your ex-girlfriend.

User: My ex-girlfriend is a no-good, two bit– why did you bring her up for?

Cleverbot: Oh, but you are a boy.

User: YOU are a boy. And, for the record, girls can have girlfriends. It’s 2012. Get with it.

Cleverbot: So you think i’m a fool eh?

User: Sort of.

Cleverbot: Thanks, I guess.

User: Sure!

Cleverbot: Tamales.

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