Sunday, November 30, 2008


I took the PATH to the Amtrak to the Metro yesterday, to get from my home in JC to where I met my mother, sister, and the Other Marie for an afternoon, before I took the Metro to the Amtrak to the PATH to get back home just after midnight.

My mother posted a photo of me and the Other Marie on her blog.The Other Marie has her eyes open in that one.

One of the day's highlights was when a certain person that I know pulled her wallet out of her coat pocket in Staples and as she pulled it out, a Tampax flew up in the air and landed on the floor at Staples. The cashier, a dignified older man, didn't miss a beat and stared straight up like he hadn't seen it, though my mother and I were collapsing in giggles while the other person grabbed the Tampax and shoved it back into her coat.

Staples Alexandria Duke Street cashier: All class.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks for Not Having to Blow Up Giant Frogs for a Living

Actually, the idea of blowing up giant Kermits for a living sounds kind of appealing. I don't mind the idea so much.

I went to the Macy's balloon inflation on Wednesday night. I've almost gone many times, but it's usually too cold to brave the streets after dark the night before Thanksgiving.

It was a mob scene, with the mob mostly being made up of wee children.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guinea Fowl with That?

For years, I thought this was a photo of l'il me with my color-by-number acrylic painting, my turkey drawing, and my pilgrim hat.

But I just took a close look, and it is clearly not a turkey. This Marie-art is a guinea fowl. So my Thanksgiving photo has gone off-course a bit.

Which means somewhere, there is a turkey photo. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Atlas-Reading Grown-Ups

My sister forced everyone she met to look at my 3-D World Atlas & Tour. Even our mother. And then she took their photos.

And put them on Facebook. Have a look.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Work Stuff

Wall Street Journal. Day job.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Headless Me

Kelly sent me some photos of me at the bookstore appearance.

Strangely, I had no head in several of them. But here, in this shot, I had a head.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Guest Blogging

I'm the guest blogger right now on the Chronicle Books blog.

I did a little self-cannibalizing of my own blog and works, and I also took the opportunity to dispel the myth of seeing the Great Wall from space.

Think about it. How ridiculous is that? The Great Wall is, what, ten feet across? Sometimes it crumbles and almost disappears into the landscape. It's not even as wide as your house, unless you live in a NYC railroad, in which case your 8-foot-wide apartment is probably in a large building that is way wider than the Great Wall but duh, cannot be seen from space.

Okay, sure, bring a telescope with lots of power and you can see anything. We're talking naked eye here.

I personally have not been to space to confirm all of this, and I think in China it's a "fact" that the Wall can be seen from space, but I went to a lot of trouble to look it up and NASA astronauts agree—nope, can't see it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Knitting With Marie

I went to my second (and final) knitting class last night with Roberta and Michael Kraiger. There's a new coffee shop dedicated to knitting in JC, so it seemed wise to take advantage of it while it is still here. This new shop could surprise me and be in business in a year—it sells coffee, after all—but it does seem bit too nichey to survive. Knichey. Whatever.

I was discouraged. Roberta showed up with a good six inches of knitted red scarf, perfectly stitched. Kraiger had done even more, though less perfectly. I'd had a great deal of practice and "casting on" (loading up one stick at the start) and the "knit stitch" (the basic movement that is the basis for knitting), because I'd screwed up about 12 times, and had to rip out what I'd done to start over.

But every time I finished a few rows, I'd end up with a big knot. This repeated itself in front of the others. I pulled the mess off the needle and dangled it in the air.

"I'm good at sewing," I whined plaintively. "You can't be good at everything."

"She's a perfectionist." Kraiger dismissed the teacher's concerns when the teacher worried that she hadn't taught me well.

I glared at him, thinking "You'll pay for that Monday, when you are my assistant at work."

I hate knitting. I am a lousy knitter. That's fine, I suppose. I can leave knitting to those who appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Photos of Iran

In 1998, I visited Iran.

This trip was part of a longer expedition, an overland truck trip from Kathmandu to Damascus. You know about overland trucks, right? Remember in Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, when I went on that Dragoman truck around Ethiopia? Each truck is modified to have bus-style seats for passengers, a small fridge, a card table, a small library, safes, overhead nets or racks, storage space for luggage, camping gear and additional storage on top of the truck, and kitchen gear underneath. Trucks also carry spare parts and spare water/fuel.

Anyway, Americans were not getting into Iran independently or with groups when I signed up for the Kathmandu to Damascus overland truck trip. But I had a plan.

I'd read on this here Internet-thingy (yes, kids, we had Internet in 1998) that the way to get into Iran was to hire a special visa expediter. I hired an Iranian travel specialist in Switzerland and he did it! He got me a visa.

I didn't run around advertising my nationality inside Iran, but I didn't deny it either. Most people didn't seem to mind.

I posted some photos of Iran here and I'll scan in more tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Got Clout

Wasta is an Arabic word that makes the world go 'round in the Gulf. It means influence, or clout, or connections. Need to get paperwork through a ministry in a hurry? You better have wasta. If you don't, it's acceptable to know someone with wasta, so long as that person will contact their connections on your behalf.

I had no wasta of my own in the Gulf, but I knew people who were well-connected. This translated into a kind of semi-wasta for me, where if I had asked the right person to ask another right person, I could possibly have accomplished something.

Here at home, it's not always so different. And here at home, as in the Gulf, I have a terrific shortage of my own wasta. This might be due to my working class childhood, my choice of colleges, my disrespect for normal society, or my career choices. Whatever. I don't have wasta. Sometimes I don't care, because in my heart of hearts, I naively believe that living with sincerity, hard work, and honesty will pay off one day. Though this belief is challenged so frequently that I am having a hard time sticking to it as I age and wilt.

Wasta is kind of like being on the guest list. All the time.

For months now, we've been trying to switch my office's storage unit out of the name of a colleague who left the company and into my name (since I have the corporate card that the bill needs to go to).

D, the kid who does support work in my office, called Manhattan Mini-St0rage some time back.

"I need to change the name on the storage unit."

"The guy whose name is currently on it needs to come in. So does the person whose name it's being changed to."

But that wasn't going to happen. The former colleague has a job too...he cannot go to the storage place during the day. And I have made myself so busy after work that I can ONLY go during the day.

And so we waited. The former colleague got a new bill for the storage unit.

"Tell D to take care of this!"

Uh...hmm. What to do?

D called the storage place again.

"Is there some other way to do this?"


"What about...?"


"Can't I...?"


He gave up. Another week went by.

"Take care of this," I groused at him.

"What should I do?"

"I don't care. Do something. Fix it." I'm a firm believer in continuing to push until you get an answer you can deal with. And I didn't want to spend my time chasing this.

He called the storage place again. Somehow, he got a manager on the phone.

"I need to change it from one name to another, please, isn't there something you can do? I need to put the unit in the name of my editor in chief, Marie Javins."


"Marie Javins? You mean the writer who travels all over Africa?"

Turns out the manager of the mini-storage place owns the garage next to my single-car condo-garage. Minutes later, he cheerfully agreed that the ex-colleague could write a letter, and I just had to come on down with it, and he'd get all the paperwork sorted out.

I have wasta at Manhattan Mini-Storage.

What a waste of wasta.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Bookstore Event

My in-store appearance for the 3-D children's atlas was unlike any other event I've ever participated in.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I'll be speaking and showing photos tomorrow at Book Culture on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 11 a.m.

It looks like rain.

Come on out and make a girl feel useful, okay?

Book Culture
536 W. 112th St (at Broadway)
11 a.m.
Children's section (upstairs)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

But I Didn't Inhale

Did everyone see this NY Times story that China is covered in toxic industrial soot? That it's blotting the sun out by 20 percent in some places?

Yancey and I could both have told you that. We were there in April of 2001, and yeah, I don't remember who ended up sicker. No, I do remember. Yancey was sicker than me at that point. But I'd been assimilating already by then, through Bangkok and Hanoi. Didn't help me in Cairo though. I got a horrible cough there initially.

I wonder how the clouds would have looked over the Northeast US during the Industrial Revolution, or if it was just too much "smaller" a world then to have the same impact.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Whatever It Is, I Think It's Important

On Saturday, I am speaking to impressionable young minds about the merits of dik-diks, Djibouti, and Lake Titicaca.

And this site mentioned my appearance. Though I've never heard of the site, they apparently get a lot of traffic because the bookstore in question has been flooded with orders for the 3-D World Atlas & Tour.

Come on by. I'll be at Book Culture on W. 112th just east of Broadway, starting at 11 a.m. I'll wear my new skirt and boots, even.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Insult or Compliment?

I had to go to Brooklyn yesterday to pick up my new custom-made Flirt-skirt and to see a designer about taking in another article of clothing that I'd bought from her flea market stand.

Brooklyn is a big place, with lots of different neighborhoods. I started in Carroll Gardens, which I like, and walked through Gowanus over the canal (now one of my favorite parts of Brooklyn) and then on into Park Slope. After taking care of the business I was there for, I dodged strollers and training wheels on my way to the coffee shop, where I intended to get a snack and do some work on a 3-D atlas piece I'm trying to write for the Chronicle Books blog.

I scanned the menu and addressed the counter help.

"What bread does the hummus and avocado sandwich come on?"

"Whole grain or alsatian."

"Alsatian?" I was puzzled. "Sounds like a dog. What about the chili? Does that have tofu in it?"

I didn't mean to spit it out like tofu was the devil. But y'see, to me, it is. I'm horribly allergic. But the guy behind the counter didn't know that.

"No, no tofu." He laughed at me a little. "It's turkey. It's really good."

"Turkey chili?" I probably looked a little appalled. "I'll have... the BLT."

I thought for a second and then realized I should make sure.

"That's pig meat, right? Not turkey bacon or tofu bacon?"

Shocked, the counter help looked at me.

"You're not very Park Slope."

I squirmed. "I'm not from around here," I said after a minute.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Welcome to New York, Now Go Home

This sign is posted in front of the Woolworth Building. Which made me wonder, since I'm not a tourist, could I march right in?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More Brain Work

We started knitting school last night. Me, Kraiger, Roberta. Well, Roberta had to start the night before due to a scheduling conflict, but she'll be knitting with us next time at the Stockinette Cafe around the corner from me in JC. It's in a place that used to be a deli belonging to the brother-in-law of my friend Pete (who used to be assistant editor on X-Men when I was coloring X-books).

Our teacher was patient and sweet, and coincidentally belongs to the same knitting group as Kraiger's neighbor. His neighbor knows me too, from 20 years ago, when life for me, the Other Marie, and Nancy was about splitting our time between work, sleeping, and watching music at Maxwell's. I've seen the knitting group down the street at BASIC, and I always thought it was odd, all these people sitting around a table chatting and clicking needles.

And now I am one of them. Well, not really. I assume they know what they are doing. I do not.

I did work out how to get the yarn onto the needle, and then how to knit it off onto the other needle, and then switch hands and start over. But it looked like a bunch of knots.

Which is what it is, I suppose. So maybe I'm doing okay.

Friday, November 07, 2008

But Isn't That A Bit Risky?

Eight babies in a Kisumu, Kenya, hospital were named either Barack or Michelle yesterday. Two of them were twins, a boy and a girl.

I know it's like getting a Superman logo tattoo and then hoping the franchise doesn't start to suck. But how cute.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

About Last Night

At quarter past eleven, New York City erupted in a community primal scream, a shout so jubilant that only one person appeared to not be swept up in it.

"What's going on up there?" The token booth clerk at 86th and Broadway asked a customer.

"It's for Obama."


"You don't care?"

"No. Obama. Whatever."

I guess if I had to sit in a bullet-proof booth night after night, handing out MetroCards, I'd be kind of dejected too.

But for the other New Yorkers, there was no stopping the joy. The horns, the hoots, the shouts. The occasional "It's over!" But why quarter-past, why not at eleven on the dot when California, Oregon, and Washington reported in and tipped the scales?

Cuz people were crying. Total silence for a minute, and then gasps and sniffles. I looked around the room I was in, watching my friend's big-ass flat-screen TV. Not a dry eye in the house. Earlier that evening, when I'd rushed uptown after class, the streets had been abandoned as New Yorkers gathered around televisions and held their breath. We're not exactly a stronghold of the right-wing up here, plus any way you cut it, the neocons were out. Now the question was, what direction would we go in?

I don't envy Obama his new job. It's no secret that two things that got him where he is now are Iraq and the economy. Neither of which has any obvious or easy solution. Neither of which can be repaired without significantly unpopular choices and some national—and global—pain. A bit of perceived betrayal is inevitable. But damned if we didn't witness a cultural and generational shift last night. Baby boomers were put on notice. The balance of power shifted from old-school to something as-yet-unnamed.

And you know that scene at the end of Star Wars, where celebrations take place around the galaxy? Keep your eyes on the BBC today, that's all I'm saying.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Edition

Have you ever tried to explain the concept of "tyranny of the masses" to a non-English-speaking man in an unindustrialized country? Have you ever been cornered by a person who lives in a hut, has no plumbing, makes three thousand dollars a year, and wants to know how the USA can go around making demands of other countries when it cannot even get its own elections straight? Stuttered out something vague about the Electoral College to a local guide on a hike in Papua New Guinea?

Have you ever watched as the opinion of your country changed from grudging respect tinged with envy to distaste? Have you seen foreign taxi drivers to academics shake their heads in disbelief at the actions of your very own government?

I have. Most of these moments are immortalized online in one place or another.

I know that next January, we'll all be disappointed, and that the problems our country—and by extension, the world—faces are massive and unmanageable and that on some level, we are all deeply screwed, but seeing the handmade signs that read HOPE, or the WE ARE READY TO BELIEVE AGAIN banner on the window at Gray's Papaya, or the photos of Tanzania on Pernille's blog really does get cynical me all misty-eyed for just a minute.

Monday, November 03, 2008

From Target to 8th Street

Here's my new toy.

We've only had one fight so far, but a quick look at the instruction manual straightened that out.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Skirt Class: Part 3

I'm sorry to report that I did not make a brilliant, cool skirt in skirt class.

Instead I produced something that didn't quite work, and looks like someone's kid sewed it in Home Ec in high school. No, someone's kid probably would have done a little better.

I was doing really well in Classes 1 & 2, but in Class 3, I lost the plot. First, we were a little late. Second, I was more interested in showing off my old Whitegirl brand party dresses from an indie designer in JC in the early nineties. Third, my bobbin spazzed (so did Denise's), and finally, I managed to sew my zig-zag stitch right into my straight stitch along the hem.

I took out the zig-zag stitch with the seam ripper, but meanwhile the class was moving on to twill tape waistbands. Things were getting away from me.

I industriously plowed ahead, but could feel frustration rising in me. Denise was having the same problem, as her machine rebelled. I could hear her lecturing it, but nothing seemed to work.

Then, one of the other students kind of lost it. She was even more frustrated than we were, and looked quite upset.

Denise and I talked about it at the coffee shop afterwards. That was the moment when we'd both caught ourselves, stopped our rising frustrations, laughed a bit, and gotten back to work.

Neither of us was that thrilled with our final products, and we both made the mistake where our top hems don't meet at the zippers. So she bought another skirt and I ordered a custom-made one.

Made by Patti at Flirt, that is. Not by me.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

My Entry in the Scary Story Slam

Last night, I went to the McNally Jackson Literary Halloween Party. McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore on Prince Street, used to be McNally Robinson but now it's McNally Jackson. Don't ask me. I just go to events there.

Stuart was signing a graphic novel he'd worked on, but also reading from his new book, which is not only unreleased, it isn't even written yet. This I have to see. But to see it, I was required to first eat a lot of candy and second sit through the Scary Story Slam, which was all over the map from genuinely creepy to WTF, Hello?

"You should tell a story," whispered Stuart.

"I don't have any creepy stories," I said. And then of course I thought of one at the very end after I saw that my creepy story was no less creepy than anyone else's, but it was too late to join the Scary Story Slam. Maybe next year. But I'll tell you now.

The year was 1983. The place: Washington, DC. 930 F Street NW. My sister and I, for reasons I no longer remember because we didn't know much about the UK Subs plus it was a weeknight and I should probably have been more interested in homework at this point, decided to go to the 930 Club to see the UK Subs perform. We walked up to the ticket window to discover that the early show was sold out. But there were still tickets for the later show.

"Should we go then?"

While we were waffling, a quartet of guys walked up. My sister knew them, though I'd never seen them before and no longer remember what they looked like. They asked us a question.

"Hey, you guys wanna go out in the alley and kill some rats?"

I imagine them winking when they said this, because it sounded like a euphemism. I don't know what we expected to find in the alley, but the last thing we expected was that they had been sincere.

In the alley behind the 930 Club (since moved), the guys each picked up bottles. Remember that this was before gentrification altered our urban centers, before cityscapes went from gritty to Gappy.

One guy found a large stick. He picked it up, and used it to poke a pile of trash.

The rats streamed out.

The guys threw bottles. At the rats. My sister and I stared, frozen, mouths open. A single bulb lit the alley, creating dramatic shadows as the rats fled.

We continued to stare as one rat was hit squarely. It wavered, then ran straight at us. Suddenly aware that there was a skanky trashpile rat bearing down on us, my sister and I both leapt into the air.

The rat stopped and died right under us. I still imagine the tangle of our legs as we both instinctively tried NOT to land on the rat, but gravity will not be ignored.

We fell down right on the dead rat.

We both scrambled right up and leapt away from it, staring back in curiosity and surprise.

Ewwwww, I thought. I felt itchy, gross, dirty. I was wearing a vintage plaid blue coat from Village Thrift. I'd never wear it again after that night.

I went straight to the Metro and went home to take a very long, hot shower. I don't know if I explained what had happened to my mother, or thought it best left unmentioned.

My sister shrugged and went to the late show of the UK Subs.