Thursday, July 31, 2008

Monday Night On the Town

If you're in New York City, consider joining me on Monday night to hear writer Tony Perrottet talk about Napoleon's penis. Or rather, his book on the topic.

I have to admit, this will be a repeat for me. I saw him speak at the first Restless Legs Reading Series event a few weeks ago. Tony's enthusiasm for his topic was marvelous to the point where he'd recreated an exact replica of the item discussed, and posted a video on youtube. And he's such a swell guy that I want to show up and support his efforts. Heck, this time I'll even buy the book.

Now that I'm bothering to leave my apartment and partake of the events in my fair city, I am amazed at how many obscure things there are to do here. I had no idea that this bar "Half King" had reading events. And if Tony were not appearing there and had not spammed me (I signed up for his mailing list), I wouldn't have noticed that Kira Salak is reading there the following week, or that Rolf Potts will be there in October.

Hmm. Wonder if New Marie who is running around and actually meeting up with old friends and introducing herself to new ones could get enough of a crowd out to read from Dik-Dik. (Somehow I doubt that reading from Best in Tent Camping: NJ would generate much interest, though it would make me laugh.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kuwait Camel Racing Photos

This has got to be a record for me, setting up the photos to accompany a blog post TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS after I wrote the actual story.

Here are the photos from the day that Sven, Larry, Frankie, and I went to the Kuwait Camel Racing Club, in March of 2006.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gadget Alert

Check out this clever little thing. It's a water bottle cap and it's also a tripod. I bought one at Idlewild, the new travel bookstore that Kelly wrote about on Worldhum.

I have two perfectly functioning mini-tripods and I already never use them, since there is usually a sturdy fence or trashcan available. But I couldn't resist the call of the cool new gadget.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Marie's Shame

Denise has a friend named Joe. He's been in JC a long time, since 1990 or so.

The three of us were sitting at the new bar over by the embankment, creatively titled "The Embankment," when Joe mentioned that he thought he'd met me 18 or so years ago. He'd lived near Journal Square at the time.

"Would you by any chance have been excited about the Subway by Grove Street opening?"

I looked at him blankly.

"I mean the sandwich shop. That Subway."

I thought back. Didn't sound familiar. Anyway, what a horrifying thought to be accused of such a thing.

"I asked someone else recently if it was them and they were offended," continued Joe. "I remember meeting a housemate of Otis', and she was excited about the new Subway."

I didn't want to be foolishly offended and was already embarrassed that my first inner reaction had been DENY DENY DENY, so I tried hard to think of when the Subway at Grove Street had opened up. I think I was about 24 years old then.

"I have no memory of this conversation," I started. "But..."

I tried to explain.

"At the time, you could count downtown JC's hipsters on two hands. All we had to eat here was a bad Cuban-Chinese place where the Hard Grove is now, Big Chef Chinese, a Polish diner with terrible service, and a few pizza joints. Even the McDonald's didn't exist yet."

There had been the Tunnel Diner, a filthy, greasy joint by the Holland Tunnel exit. And the Flamingo Diner down by Exchange Place. Marco and Pepe's had been a bodega. The cafe across the street had been a refrigerator repair place. Newport Pancake House, now the Brownstone Diner, had closed in early afternoons.

"Heck," I said. "It was so bad that I got excited when Dunkin' Donuts opened. And I don't even like doughnuts!"

I stopped, embarrassed. Obviously, the mystery Subway booster had been identified. It had to have been me.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One Final Grand Canyon Post

I promise I'll quit talking about the Grand Canyon after this. But I wanted to mention another trip I took into the Canyon, in 2002.

During Turbo Tour in 2002 (one of the three-and-a-half "lost years" between MariesWorldTour and the start of this blog), I went across the US and Mexico with Turbo the Aussie and Henry the Ford Taurus.
At the Grand Canyon, Turbo foolishly hiked from the rim to the river and back in a day. "That warning is a challenge to an Aussie!' It wore him out for a week afterwards. I took the mule trip, like the Brady Bunch, and was only sore for a day or two.

The other times I went to the Canyon (besides this recent time which involved rafting), Mom and I rode around the rim on horses, and the Other Marie and I took a scenic flight over the Canyon. For some reason, Marie and I took very few photos during the flight, but I have dozens of us at nearby "Bedrock City."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Time Travel

In 1989, Otis moved to the area, first to Hoboken and then to JC with the Other Marie and me. We had a duplex, first on Fifth Street for $750 a month, then later on Mercer for $950 after our artist landlady was foreclosed on during the late eighties real estate crash.

Otis had signed to a Hoboken record label that had made some money on a quirky act called They Might Be Giants. He often double-billed with another musician from the same label. Otis and Freedy Johnston were contemporaries, with one huge difference. Otis was really gutsy, dominating the stage and the room. Freedy, meanwhile, seemed nervous and out-of-place in front of an audience.

Freedy's songs were great though, and in time, we'd go see him anywhere within a two-hour radius. Getting tickets was easy. No one else seemed to know who this Kansas transplant was. Yet. In time, as Freedy's stage presence grew, so did his audience.

My friends from then have—in the words of The Kinks—married, vanished, or just left alone. But that's no reason to just stop living, and last night I got a reprieve. Maxwell's was having a 30th anniversary week, and as part of it, Freedy and Steve Wynn were performing.

Marie and her husband Doug—then a Hobokenite himself and once a music rep—drove up from DC, and Denise—also a Maxwell's regular from way-back, who used to live around the corner from me, and wait, still does (different corner now)—turned out. So did many people I hadn't seen in years.

When Freedy and his ad hoc band of local luminaries started up, I pushed up to the front. I looked over and saw that Marie had done the same. She squeezed through the crowd over to me, and Denise materialized behind us. We all three started dancing, though no one else was. We shared the conspiratorial, exhilarating feeling of release, as if we'd been locked up for months and suddenly let loose, that we were 40ish women that had been given a license to do whatever we wanted, because there was no one to impress anymore.

"My married-with-kids friends have gone feral," I thought at one point when I heard Marie and Denise giggling loudly behind me. I shushed them. There are musicians playing in front of us! Denise was yelling something in Marie's ear right when the music stopped. Loudly, clearly, Denise announced to the room "NOW I WISH I'D GONE TO SEE THE FEELIES. ... ... Oops."

The night ended with Steve Wynn joining the band for an appalling cover of Don't Fear the Reaper. But we didn't care how it sounded. For a moment, our timelines were colliding and melding together. We were both young again and yet old enough to not care that the smattering of hipsters were staring stony-faced rather than dancing. I was no longer Marie; I was part of a team know as The Maries. Freedy could have played anything and we would have obliviously cheered him on. I was ten pounds heavier than I was in 1989, but lighter than ever.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Travels in Optimism

I'm going through old CDs and hard drives this morning, looking for some video material from 1998. I'd taken some sort of handheld video format camera from Kathmandu to Damascus, and I had transferred it to some other useless format at some point, but was hoping I'd left the material in digital form somewhere. I did not, so I'll have to find a way to digitize it again.

I did find a few seconds from an excursion in Northwest Pakistan, where the policeman whose job it was to keep us out of the region took a bribe to let us shoot his gun. At the time, shooting an AK-47 in Darra was kind of fun. Now, ten years later, in a different world, the innocence of the moment is a little embarrassing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Elevator Story

This morning, I got on the elevator to go up to my office. A British man, gray crown of hair around his balding head, got on behind me. He had a briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other. I'd never seen him before. Maybe he was going to the employment agency upstairs, or the call center with the rapid turnover.

I pushed the button for the sixth floor, then turned to him.

"What floor?"

"Nine. I owe you one."

"I'll meet you on the way back down so you can push the button for me."

"What time?"

(nervous laughter. He's joking, right?)

"You'll just break my heart like all the others," he said. "I've had my heart broken more times than I could count."

Were I not wondering if he were about to hit on me, I'd have told him that I understood his pain in ways he'd never know, and that it was the human condition. I would not have assured him that everything would be okay, because it isn't about things turning into happy endings. It's about readjusting one's expectations while on the "second half of the sandwich," as my friend Denise would say. (The sandwich being a metaphor for life, the first half making you think "Wow, there's so much more left.") But caution won over sympathy.


"Yes. I was just thinking about the love of my life. She's really never coming back."

The door opened on six. I got out.

"Life is hard," he said wistfully as the doors closed on him.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Week of Rafting

I made a little video of my rafting trip.

I took a tiny $128 HD palm-sized video camera along for the trip. I haven't edited video in years—in the mid-90s, I used Premiere for some personal videos, and back in the 80s, I used this thing called "tape." Other than that, I once learned an older version of iMovie in a few hours under stressful circumstances at San Diego Con. But iMovie changed a lot since then. I couldn't even extract audio and had to use a workaround (boo).

Anyway, I bluffed my way through.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I'm working on a special treat for you, my favorite readers.

Meanwhile, enjoy this passage from the book "The Naked Tourist," by Lawrence Osborne.

    Travel began, therefore, with the notion of doing something extremely nasty—to go on a difficult journey. It's a medieval concept derived from pilgrimages. Suffering is implied, for to travel in the year 1375 was to suffer indeed. But it was seen as a transformative suffering, an escape from the boredom of daily life.

Hasn't changed so much for some of us.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'm the Best at What I Do

Did anyone hear the NPR quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" this weekend?

They asked John Waters questions about the most corrupt city in the USA. Which is...


The questions were based on this article. They spelled Gerry McCann's name wrong throughout, overlooked the very real fact that Mayor Hague did a lot of good for the city during his tenure, let the current mayor take credit for downtown's growth without calling him on it (selling the waterfront out to wealthy corporations was WELL underway long before he was elected, and is replacing historic warehouses and cobblestones with high-rise towers really something to brag about?), and neglected to cover the free-for-all election in 1992, when the jailed mayor wouldn't step down, and when he did, two brothers ran against each other and had a fistfight during their campaigns. One of them beat—with a tire iron—a 66-year-old man who was putting up posters for his brother.

It's important to strive for excellence in the areas you're good at. If JC is going to be famous for corruption, it might as well be the top of the heap. And I'm a sucker for larger-than-life characters. Go JC!

    “Jersey City might be a joke, but it’s become an endearing joke,” says John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

    “There’s an affection for the strange characters and personalities, mainly because there’s a sense that the people’s business is actually getting done.”

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I found eight of my (mostly former) homes on Google Earth. I couldn't work out where my apartment in Berlin was,* and got bored before I started looking for Kuwait City, or places I lived before I was 30.

*I'm worried that I've started forgetting things, which is something that never happened before—to where it would disturb/frighten certain people around me, but hey, they're just jealous because they lost more brain cells than I did in Cairo's pollution and forget more often.

Friday, July 18, 2008

But I Can Chew Gum Well Enough

In 2006, University of Utah psychologists concluded that drivers on cell phones are as bad at driving as drunk drivers. Many others have claimed that we get kind of stupid when we're on our cell phones.

And now I agree.

Last night, I was at a dinner party on the Upper West Side. I was meeting a friend's new squeeze for the first time, and towards the end of the evening, I thought I'd quietly text Amanda my report—the new squeeze was AOK.

But the signal wasn't so good in the kitchen, so I stepped out into the backyard. We'd all been out there earlier, and had left the door open.

And as I was using my thumbs to type out a note, I walked out back, except I didn't walk out back. I walked into, almost through, a sliding screen door.

There was a horrific crashing sound. I actually put down the phone and tried to fix the door, which was out of its track. Except I couldn't get it back into the track, because it was bent. I 'fessed up, but I'm not real sure that it can be fixed, it having suffered the full weight of a clueless texter onto it.

I don't normally do things like walk into doors. Distraction seems like a bad idea. But this will certainly keep me from using the cell in any way while driving in the future. Maybe I won't try to text and walk at the same time anymore either.

I am a highly trained professional. Don't try this at home.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cairo Coincidence

My mother's father was a pacifist, opposed to violence.

But somehow, during World War II, he ended up in the US Navy. Was it the spirit of the time that moved him? Patriotism? Or perhaps a need to prove himself, having married my grandmother, whose father was a prominent navy captain who had been decorated—and run Guam—during World War I?

My great aunt might know, but the rest of my family can only hazard guesses. After all, none of us were born yet.

My grandfather died in 2000—right after I returned from my first trip to Southeast Asia, and my mother, aunt, uncle and I conceived and planned MariesWorldTour that same night. In the months after, my grandmother opened up and told stories about my grandpa all the time. Stories we'd never heard before, and one we'd heard often enough.

During World War II, my grandfather had enlisted and been sent overseas. He couldn't say where. He had a desk job, suitable for someone with his University of Chicago degree.

He'd ended up in Cairo. And coincidentally, he'd run into my great grandfather there, who had also been confidentially sent to Cairo.

I have no visual in my head of where they would have lived, or of what naval offices would have looked like then. My only frame of reference is the British officers club in the movie Lawrence of Arabia.

I'd walk among the crumbling mansions of Zamalek last year, looking up at the sand-stained walls, and wonder. Did they meet there? In that art deco lobby? Or in the square square building with the roll-down awnings over each window? Or maybe in one of the grand Victorians, now mostly embassies?

Parts of Zamalek are shaded. Some of it even has unbroken sidewalks. "You can always walk on sidewalks by embassies," the real estate agent had told me early on. "The embassies maintain their sidewalks."

But maybe Zamalek had no embassies back then, no officers' headquarters. Maybe I was in the totally wrong part of town, and the only time the meeting of my ancestors occurred in Zamalek was now, in my imagination, easily stirred by the once-grand, decaying architecture around me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Then Again...

Last night, right after bemoaning the loss of misfits in Manhattan, I looked up from several hours of intense conversation with Andy Helfer, and discovered that the Sheridan Square Starbucks is a huge social gathering spot for under-age transvestites. As we made our exit to head over to the pizza place across the street (where age was not such a factor), we appreciated one young fellow's gutsy hot-pink short-shorts jumpsuit.

In other news, I have made my Picasa blog photos public. This means that every photo I've used here over three years is now available in two galleries. The system is a little weird—it seems to include photos that I uploaded, then deleted. I could go in and delete them, but I'd have to be sure to get the ones slated for deletion rather than photos that actually appeared here (or they would disappear from the blog). I am too lazy for that.

The photos can be a little odd out of context.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

An Odyssey

Not long ago, I accepted that my New York was gone. I'd left my Avenue B apartment on January 4th, 2001, with the intent of returning by Christmas after my whirlwind journey around the world.

But I hadn't come home. I'd moved to Australia with Turbo. Then we'd bought Henry the Ford and roamed the USA, then a stopover in NYC—sure, always a stopover—then back to Oz and New Zealand. Off to Sri Lanka. Back to the US, for a bit, but to JC rather than Avenue B. Antarctica, Spain, Bangkok, Tokyo, Alaska, researching campgrounds in Virginia and New Jersey. Uganda, Namibia, and a frantic epic journey—sometimes, but not always, a few steps ahead of my Herr Marlboro-inspired nightmares—from Cape Town to Kampala. Then Kuwait a month later, and finally Cairo.

Then home. Eight years later. To a home not my own, but rather Yancey's.

But home isn't home. Eight years is a lifetime for a city that reinvents itself constantly. During those eight years, the creeping gentry utterly crept. There are no more comfortable pockets for alienated artists, but there are many bistros and upscale coffee shops for the well-heeled and powerful.

I am neither well-heeled nor powerful. I fake it sometimes, pretending I belong here, though I have accepted that I would be happier elsewhere, perhaps in Portland, Cape Town, or Barcelona. I understand that my once-glorious Isle of Misfit Toys sports few misfits anymore. That I clean up all right, but will never be one of them, will never again be at home in the home I'd left behind. That the clean and optimistic—those with careers and responsibilities—ultimately have no idea of what to do with me when they introduce me to other clean, optimistic sorts. I imagine their internal dialogues. She's funny but she sure is weird.

Are these not my streets? Do I not have some measure of ownership in a region made safe for gentry by the presence of artists and writers some two decades back? But ultimately, I scurry back to JC, itself an outpost of old-timers who probably consider me an invading yuppie.

My curse is to stay, to patiently—or impatiently—wait for deliverance in the form of community. The other misfit toys must be hiding. They cannot all have moved away or be babysitting their offspring. And me, I perhaps foolishly made commitments to stay right here. Some involve large sums of cash. My cash.

I cannot leave. My traditional escape route—bolting for adventure—is cut off, me myself having chosen to snip my own tendons. I am an exile in my own home.

Then I read this insightful essay on exile by the head of the CUNY department where I am taking a writing workshop beginning in September.

I'd found it while googling a marvelous passage from his book. It was a reference to a poem about Ulysses, written by Cavafy. In it, Ulysses doesn't go back to Ithaca and Penelope. He's been gone too long. What is left for him there? Calypso says to Ulysses:

    Why spurn my home when exile is your home?

Perfect, I thought upon reading that passage. The story of Ulysses wrapped up neatly, but after his epic journey, could he really go home again? I yearn for my loss, voluntarily given up. I crave the company of my friends, since moved on. I long for the exchange of ideas, for creative partnerships, for the buzz that comes from wasting the afternoon talking utter shit with like-minded people.

    Your home's in the rubblehouse of time now,
    and you're made thus, to yearn for what you lose.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Anniversary and a Closing

I nearly missed it!

A year ago yesterday, I arrived back in Cairo for my last three-month stint at my company's Cairo office (recently closed).

I wouldn't have noticed at all, but I'd just finished "Out of Egypt," a rich, atmospheric tale of growing up Jewish in Alexandria.

"I wonder if I could write something that beautiful, so much a valentine to Egypt," I thought. I started typing, looked back at my blog stories from a year ago, and noticed that it was the one-year anniversary of my last trip over.

I really like those blog stories. There was no shortage of material. I was inspired. I think I can do this.

My attempt at an Egypt valentine didn't end up sounding right last night. I was tired, having just gotten back from an art opening with Roberta, and from watching Swedish songwriter Anna Ternheim perform the night before.

But I'll try again.

    This morning, the haze of the city was nearly tangible. I've been in Cairo not quite a week, but I'm already accustomed to the view from my balcony. The legendary air pollution gives the skyline the look of a city bathed in a steam bath. But it isn't humidity. It's fumes from industrial operations, and leaded auto emissions. Carbon dioxide. Unspecificed "particulate matter." Taxi farts.

    It's Friday--the weekend here. I dropped off my laundry and then waded through the air to get an iced coffee. There's a slight breeze but not enough to lift the haze. I hurried back to my room. It's a good day to use the hotel's air conditioning.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Shooting Gallery

The Grand Canyon photos aren't the only ones I've put up on Facebook.

I've been experimenting with others: Me, Uganda, Jersey City, Utah rafting. I'm thinking of canceling my .mac iDisk membership which has my other galleries, and moving all my photos to Facebook.

Though it has to be said, the .mac interface where my Antarctica, Africa, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Luxor photos live now is pretty classy. But I don't know if it's a hundred dollars a year worth of classy.

I guess the real question is: Am I too lazy to migrate for a hundred dollars a year? And just typing that out looks so lame that I know I'm not that lazy. Of course I'll migrate. I already spend $89 on a more technical (less user-friendly) server, so I don't need .mac for anything. I have until September when my .mac membership runs out.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Photos of the Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

I've uploaded a bunch of my Grand Canyon photos to my Facebook gallery.

I can think of at least one person who—were he in the room with me rather than an ocean away and pretty far north—would lecture me for using a little point-and-shoot rather than an SLR. An SLR would have given me more impressive results, true. But these are all right for a wee camera.

Take a look!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Home Again

I returned home from rafting refreshed, strong, and ready to take on the world.

That lasted for about ten minutes, before I remembered that the world isn't real concerned with what I think. Why had I needed that (pricey) jolt of perspective? Oh yeah, now I remember. I wavered.

Then I got this in my e-mail from Tricycle's Daily Dharma, and I perked up for a bit. At least for another ten minutes.

Those Fireworks in Your Head? Not a Problem

Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You also are no crazier than anybody else around you. The real difference is that you have confronted the situation; they have not. So they still feel relatively comfortable. That does not mean that they are better off. Ignorance may be bliss, but it does not lead to Liberation. So don’t let this realization unsettle you. It is a milestone actually, a sign of real progress. The very fact that you have looked at the problem straight in the eye means that you are on your way up and out of it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day Six: Rafting the Grand Canyon


Elk yelled the morning wake-up call across the camp. I trundled down to get my coffee, dragging along my luggage to load onto the raft for the last mile's float downstream to Whitmore Wash. We'd fly out four people at a time on a small helicopter, being lifted up to Bar 10 Ranch on the rim where hot showers and cold drinks awaited us before our flight back to Vegas.

My shoes were broken. My clothes were filthy. I had an itchy rash on the back of both arms, my heels were cracking, my shins were scratched with sand where I'd rubbed on gritty sunscreen, and my hair felt like straw. I'd broken the zipper on my duffel bag and my face was taut, the skin flaking off in small patches. Yesterday, I'd been cold in the rapids and actually thought "ENOUGH."

But I felt confident and strong, barely thinking about the problems at home that had sent me scrambling for a quick perspective fix. For the moment, my soul was healed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Day Five: Rafting the Grand Canyon

I have to admit, I was getting a little tired of being doused with cold water. I'd started to look forward to getting back to Vegas tomorrow and having a long, hot shower. My improvised showers—dumping mugs of Colorado River water over my head after soaping up (with biodegradable soap, of course)—were producing somewhat gritty results.

But still, lazing around the raft listening to the symphony of the engine mixed with buzzing cicadas was a marvelous privilege.

Today I was on Erika's raft. Which seemed fine until I heard that Elk had given every passenger on his raft a manicure during a slow hour.

We pulled up at a slot canyon after lunch for swimming and shade. One passenger had brought her watercolors, and the day turned into a festival of face-painting and kid-art. One kid painted a picture of Elk driving his raft—a big, blue raft captained by a man in a green sarong and a bandana. Looks silly but keep the sun off.

Then, it was time for Lava, the most challenging rapid in the entire run, named Lava because this part of the canyon is covered in dry, black, ancient lava.

I moved two seats back for Lava. Enough! I'd been swearing at walls of water today. In front of children. Lava was mind-blowing, but I think I was too tired to be threatened by the rapid this time.

Our last night on the river included steaks, guitar music, and even a tango.
    "August 25, 1869 — Great Quantities of lava are seen on either side; and then we come to an abrupt cataract. Just over the fall a cinder cone, or extinct volcano, stands on the very brink of the canyon. What a conflict of water and fire there must have been here! -Powell Report."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Day Four: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Something was missing when I awoke on the morning of Day Four, on my cot, perched behind a tree above Crystal Rapid.

The pressure. The pressure in my head was missing. The accumulated weight of work stress, undeniable rejection, guilt over lack of progress on projects, and of course the burden of uncertainty over direction and traditional life anchors—all of this combines to shred my confidence, drag me down, steal my enthusiasm, and rob me of my ability to laugh or improvise. It's almost a living, nagging being in my head. A rock that weighs me down.

Unless it's not. And today, four days into exile, the pressure had vanished somewhere into the night.

Delighted, I just about leapt out of bed to greet the day. This untethered feeling is marvelous but elusive. I wanted to enjoy it while I could.

I took the front seat on purpose this time, hanging on tightly as we navigated today's biggie—Crystal Rapid. Later, I moved to the driver's seat in the back, where I almost slid off while holding the video camera. Elk started towards me as I slipped from the chair onto a metal box. But he was driving the boat too. From my peripheral vision, I thought I could see an almost-imperceptible calculation going on in his head. "Can I grab this tourist while maintaining the safety of 13 others and this raft?" I slowed my own descent and he kept driving.

Anyway, I would hate to be tossed out into a big rapid, but this was a little one. I've been thrown into worse on the Nile and the Zambezi, and have learned that holding my breath while not panicking results in being spit out below the rapids, the lifejacket keeping me afloat.

The video camera wouldn't have done so well, though, so I'm glad I didn't get to intimately know the Colorado.

We passed Elk's "nemesis," Bedrock Rapid, which involved a massive, weighty boulder, sharp 90-degree turns, and gliding over an underwater rock with the engine pulled up. At one point, the other raft lost an engine, but Erika quickly changed it.

We stopped in mid-afternoon and hiked to a waterfall.

"You've got a flat," announced the 12-year-old's mother. I looked down at my eight-year-old Teva sandals, scored free from Teva at the start of

"Crap." A teensy rock had lodged into the sole, letting in sand. Now the sole had split completely. A metaphor for my own rock, I thought, my own soul's nemesis.

"That can be repaired," announced Elk.

Me too, I thought.

"Not glue. Glue doesn't hold. Zip-strips. I'll show you later."

True to his word, after dinner, before the guitars came out, he punched a hole in the toe and threaded a zip-strip through the sole.

Which was marvelous.

Until the next day, when the other shoe went. I'm trying not to read anything into this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Day Three: Rafting the Grand Canyon, Part Two

Yesterday, we'd gotten plenty wet in a fun, though unthreatening ten-mile series of rapids called the "Roaring Twenties."

Today's whitewater, however, seemed a great deal more threatening. We were going to hit our first biggie, Hance. Tomorrow's challenge was Crystal, while the biggest, wildest rapid of all—Lava—awaited us on Day Five.

We glided through the gorge, steep canyon walls rising up to our left and right. The red, yellow, and sienna colors were somehow richer than they had been, though in a few days, the walls would turn black as we approached the volcanic section of the canyon.

No way out but through it, I thought, silently reciting the mantra I had recently adopted when considering my apprehension about reassimilation into normal society, my interactions with people that were more than temporary for once.

A mile above us was the South Rim, with Grand Canyon Village and thousands of happy tourists clicking away their camera. They'd be psyching themselves up for a quick hike below the rim or maybe they were riding buses from viewpoint to viewpoint. They couldn't see us down here below the steep walls.

Then, at Mile 77, we were at Hance. A 30-foot drop over a half-mile of boulders. We scouted one rapid this morning. Was it Hance? I don't remember. So many rapids scared the hell out of me that I've forgotten which one was which.

The group was silent as the rafts glided through the smooth water just before the rapid.

"Find your handholds," said Elk, from the motor at the back of the raft. He was perched high above the raft, scouting ahead with a foot on a cooler and another on a metal rim.

"I'm scared," I announced flatly to him, across the group.

"Wise beyond her years," quipped the 16-year-old girl's father.

"Oh, Miss World Traveler is scared." Elk wasn't too fussed about one of the canyon's toughest rapids.

"This isn't the same as getting on the bus in Kenya," I shouted back, just before we descended into the maelstrom.

I faced forward just in time to get bludgeoned by a mega-wall of water.

"Bleh!" I had a second to check my sunglasses and hat before we dipped down and got doused again.

Then the raft bucked and flew, up and down like a roller coaster, before the Colorado spit us out below the rocks.

We were all laughing and howling.

It was fun.

The ride continued throughout the day, with a stop for lunch and water below Phantom Ranch (that's where tourists hike or ride down on mules to stay overnight at the bottom of the canyon). We glided under the old pedestrian footbridge and then under the new one.

"Why are there two?"

"They spent a lot of money to build the new one, but the mules wouldn't go over it, because they can see through it to the river. They'll only cross the old one."

In the afternoon, or maybe it was the morning, we approached a technically challenging rapid. I didn't keep good notes, I'm afraid. Amanda had reminded me to get waterproof writing materials for this trip, but I hadn't had time. I seemed to always be digging around in my dry bag for something—camera, video camera, sunscreen, lip balm—and what I really needed was waterproof everything that I could just keep out and clipped onto a strap.

As we approached the rapid-that-shall-remain-anonymous-due-to-my-lack-of-notekeeping, I realized that Elk and I spoke different languages, though we were the same age and had not-entirely-different backgrounds.

He explained that we had to make a choice at the upcoming rapid.

"Do you wanna go to the side where it has a drop-and-roll, or do this thread-the-needle thing where there's a sick feeling like you're gonna die?"

What came over me? Who knows?

"DIE!" I yelled down the raft. No one argued. A few people nodded.

"If we don't mush through it, it's gonna be a rocker."

What the hell does that mean, I thought, just as we dove into the madness.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Day Three: Rafting the Grand Canyon, Part One

I collected my now-dry clothes from the branches I had stuck them on the night before. I usually carry a few clothespins in my pack when I travel, but because I was going with an outfitter instead of on my own, I hadn't thrown together the same kit that I usually take.

But were I to go back to the Grand Canyon for more rafting—which I won't because I already have no idea how I'm going to pay for this last-minute, soul-recovering trip when the Mastercard bill shows up*I'd take clothespins. That way I wouldn't have to worry about the wind blowing away my clothing.

I packed my sheet, pillow, and tarp back into the dry bag. My sleeping bag sat unused at the bottom of the pack. I dismantled my cot and folded it up into its sling carrying case. I smeared sunscreen over my feet, hands, shins, neck, and forearms, then pulled on my rain gear over my bathing suit.

The rain gear, which the outfitter rightly insisted we bring along, had been on sale. I had searched a few places first—REI, Paragon Sporting Goods—but plastic outfits were too pricey for one-time use. And given that I'd never needed raingear before in my life (umbrellas work fine in most cases), I didn't want to spend a lot on something I'd never use again. I'd found the sale gear online and bought that. The catch? It was purple.

"It's Barney!" One of the dads on the trip had exclaimed yesterday, when everyone wore their raingear in the morning, having learned the previous day that the Colorado water is freezing cold.

So much for soul-recovering. I feel so much better now.

I pulled on my hat, sunglasses, and Tevas and headed to the raft. My capris and long-sleeved shirt were at the bottom of my daypack. I'd change into them by lunchtime, when the sun had warmed the day up.

We motored downriver out of Science Camp, heading towards the Gorge, the section of the Grand Canyon that everyone who goes to the South Rim views. Today's journey would send us through some of the biggest rapids and some of the most spectacular scenery.

Less than an hour downriver, Elk pulled over.

"Let's check on this hiker."

A shirtless man lay in the shade under a tree, at the end of a long trail. His backpack was beside him.

"You okay?"

"Sure. You guys seen an AzRa raft?" (I think it was Azra, but maybe it was another outfitter. Don't hold me to this.)

"They'll be here in less than an hour."

The hiker was the new guide for a different group we'd seen yesterday. One of their guides had been taken out from the Little Colorado by helicopter med-evac.

"What was wrong with him?" I'd asked our trip leader.

"His knee had swollen up. It's probably nothing, but they don't take any chances because of the new super-bug that's been virulent. It gets in through open sores. Like these." He'd motioned to his cracked heels, something that was happening to my heels too.

Superbug? Like MRSA?

"We're all colonized," one of the doctors on our trip (a passenger) waved off my surprised concern.

"And it's going to get worse," said the other doctor.

"What can I do to not be colonized?"

"There are various anti-bacterial washes, but no one is sure if they work."

We left the hiker and passed under the Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim. It's a rustic observation tower designer by architect Mary Jane Colter in 1932. My mother and I visited it on our first Grand Canyon trip in the late 80s or early 90s. I no longer remember the year, but Marc and David will, because they'd just moved from New York to Hollywood. I was headed cross-country by Greyhound to visit them. Mom flew into Phoenix and met me.

"Just so you know, there's a kid up there who put a quarter into the binoculars and he's watching us right now."

I waved.

And we motored on. Today was a huge day—incredible gorge scenery, constant rapids, and some of the big 'uns.

*Cost of a Grand Canyon rafting trip? A few thousand dollars. Cost of a quick fix to a battered ego? Priceless.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Time Out

I'm taking a semi-holiday from blogging today.

But first, this just in:

Take a look at this fantastic review of Dik-Dik by Bob Garlitz, a professor in New Hampshire. I love it.

He also posted his review on Amazon and Goodreads, where I hope it will offset all those comments about how "boring" I must be. (Gee, thanks, total strangers!)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Day Two: Rafting the Grand Canyon

Rumor had it that the strong coffee in the bucket was Peet's Coffee.

I put the strainer on top of my official cup (we each got one for the duration of the trip), and ladled in some Peet's for a nice super-charge.

I'm not sure exactly how the math works, but it seems to me that stronger coffee = fuller porta-potty, which must on some level be deliberate. The staff had asked us to try to get out digestive systems to work in the morning and night, when the camp toilet was set up.

They carried a different toilet for each day. The toilets had hardcore lids for when they were not in use, but the toilet seat moved from toilet to toilet each day. One day, Chelsea had a line of six kids and couldn't get the toilet open.

"I nearly had a riot on my hands," she said.

On Day Two, we broke camp and chugged downriver.

Today's sidetrip was to a marvelous waterslide on the Little Colorado. The smaller river was a rich turquoise. We all hiked to a spot which was full of rafters from other outfitters. Everyone was doing the same thing. Buckling their life jackets around their bottoms like diapers, leaping into the Little Colorado, and sliding down to the pool below.

It was marvelous, but I looked ridiculous in my diaper. I looked more ridiculous than the others, I think, because I'd stripped down to my bathing suit first, so it looked like I had nothing on underneath my life jacket. Everyone else was wearing their street clothes, but I didn't want to abuse them more than I already was.

I did not take any photos of me in my orange, padded diaper.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Day One: Rafting the Grand Canyon, Part 2

Our guide motioned at a tall, thin rock formation that towered above the banks of the Colorado River.

"This campsite is called Indian Dick," he announced. "Or it used to be. I've seen the old guidebooks. Now it's officially called Mile 23."

"Navajo Richard," added his helper, all smiles and brightness.

"Now, duffel line!"

And with that, all the passengers lined up in front of the rafts. As each duffel (in a dry bag) came off the rafts, it was passed to the campsite.

I took my bag, labelled B21, and trundled uphill. There wasn't much shelter, but I wanted some measure of privacy. We were camping tent-free, with fold-up cots that kept us off the ground and away from bugs and scorpions.

"What if it rains?" I'd asked.

"We just get wet and laugh about it," said Erika. That was the point of the trip, right? To get wet?

Anyway, it almost never rains there. That's why we have to pack everything out, including sewage. The lack of rain means it would just sit in the ground for years. About 22,000 raft the Grand Canyon each year. I'm not sure how many pounds or tons of poop that would equal, but I can see why the National Park Service wouldn't want to leave that shit lying around.

We'd rafted along for several hours, and I'd been introduced to the concept of taking one for the team as I'd been on point. The 12-year-old girl sitting behind me kept thanking me for blocking her from the onslaught of whitewater. She had a snarky sense of humor for such a young girl.

We'd hiked up to a scenic pool in mid-day, and there Erika had offered us salty snacks. I hadn't eaten many, and now, at dinner time, had a terrible dehydration headache. I promised myself to eat and drink more tomorrow, then washed in the river and went to lie down for just a minute on my cot.

When I awoke, it was the middle of the night. The sky was bright with millions of stars. The moon lit the landscape up beautifully. I peeled off my clothes, put on my "Alice Springs" tank top, pulled the sheet over me, and stared at the stars.

My headache was gone.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Day One, Rafting the Grand Canyon

A shuttle bus took me and 20 or so other people to a little airport on the outskirts of Vegas.

A little airport with a gift shop. Coffee! Water bottle! Deodorant! Oh happy day.

My thumbs worked overtime on my phone's tiny keyboard, answering e-mails and prepping my Kuwait, Cairo, and NYC contacts for my absence.

Our group boarded two small puddle jumpers. I sent my last text—a personal one, in retrospect, a fine exhibit of my individual manias—from the runway and shut down the phone.

An hour later, we disembarked into blinding sun on a tiny runway in a dusty, familiar-looking town. I'd been here, but my memories of it were clouded, vague. When? Was it when the Other Marie and I had circled the West in a rented compact, many years ago? No. It was in 2002. I'd been through Marble Canyon with Turbo during his cross-country trip in Henry the Ford Taurus.

My phone didn't work here. Just as well. I was going to have no internet or cell for a week. This was a good time to start, though it seems a shame it hadn't started an hour earlier when I was sending stupid texts.

A 42-year-old man named Elk—one of those classic legend types who'd give Indiana Jones a run for his money, exactly the Turbo/Herr Marlboro kind of guy I used to go for before I got so burned that I swore them off and started dating the polar opposite (different formula, same results though, crap, doesn't that mean it's me?)—introduced himself as the trip leader. His second was Erika, and the helpers were Chelsea and Lindsay.

Each of 27 or 28 passengers packed his or her duffel into a dry bag. At the bottom of each dry bag was a sleeping bag, sheet, inflatable (Thermarest-style) pillow, and tarp. We'd each get a cot to camp on. No tents.

Fine, that means no tent-sharing. I hate sharing a tent with strangers. We'd sleep under the stars.

We also each got a waterproof day bag. This would hold rain gear (for the rapids), cameras, water bottles, lip balm, and sunscreen.

I dropped my luggage into the blue dry bags, put on my hat, sunscreen, and Bolle sunglasses (purchased in Darwin in February of 2001), slipped on my Teva sandals (scored from Teva for MariesWorldTour in 2001) and looked around. Now what?

"The gas station doesn't sell beer until ten. So we wait."

We waited, finally getting to the boat launch just after ten.

We were split onto two large motorized rafts. Had I wanted to go down the Colorado on a motorized raft? Not really. I'd wanted an oar-powered small one. But this trip had been available when I needed a shake-up.

And shake me up it did. I sat in the front, and right after launching, we started getting wet. I sat next to a 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old girl, and I was point person to protect them from the water.

SPLASH. I got soaked immediately at Paria Riffle. The water was freezing. The sun was hot. Cold, hot, cold, hot. What genius part of me hadn't realized that sitting on the front was taking point? I wasn't a thrill-seeker. I am lazy and sluggish! Why hadn't I sat in the back?

The rafts motored on, under the only highway bridge across the canyon, the road to Marble Canyon. Henry the Ford would have crossed that en route from the Grand Canyon to Bryce. We stopped for sandwiches, then drifted downriver.