Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Saturday Evening on the La Grande Latte

Any of the hipster-cool status that I had once vowed to cultivate and nourish like a good sourdough starter has surely taken a lot of hits through the years. Historically, we are at odds. At twenty-seven or so, my right nostril fiercely rejected the delicate hoop I gave it like a bucking, snorting wild mustang - my nose seemed to be saying, "Um, did I just jump off your face to Siouxsie Sue's? I don't think so, poseur." - and I was left with an unsightly, pain-filled bump that I'm pretty sure actually pulsed. (Strike one.) My body similarly threatened to jump ship at the mere suggestion of hot, inky needles dredged across its many tender surfaces, cigarettes, industrial music (hearing about two ear-bleeding seconds of Einsturzende Neubauten in 1992 at the Vic made my Hebrew National-stamped posterior instinctively scan the balconies for a place in which to take cover), Burning Man, my hair worn any way but curly (strikes two through six, surely more than are allowed). This is not to say that I lived, or currently live, without my share of pretensions*, but, just as in high school I couldn't even fake preppy despite having a Florida swampland of Lacoste alligators chomping around in my closet freshman year, my particular DNA was equally opposed to embracing hipster-cool affectations. I had a friend in college who couldn't wear copper jewelry because her body chemistry oxidized it: in short order, bracelets would turn green. Similarly, I oxidize hipster-cool into something obviously against its own nature. We have had a troubled and turbulent affair. Actually, it's been a one-way relationship, Hipster-Cool chimes in indifferently from his permanent table at Earwax Café, where he blows out smoke rings from cigarettes that were never banned and enjoys his iPod, confident in each bands' inaccessibility and obscurity. Yes, I know that you never really loved me. (Guess what? I didn't love you either.)

All that being said, I don't know if I've had as much of a shattering blow to my few hipster-cool credentials - and I do have a few: I spend my days writing, I've been arrested at protests, my closet sings moody arias in the key of black - than my most recent Saturday night. We were meeting a friend and her toddler, and we decided to meet at a giant mall in the northwest suburbs. Yes, I agreed to spend my Saturday night at a place where the sickly-sweet aroma of cinnamon rolls burrows into the skin, where the spillover crowd waiting to get into the Rainforest Café is irritated with everyone, where clerks at Urban Outfitters sneer at those from Hot Topic. I spent my Saturday night at the mall. And I had fun!

Part of it is, okay, my friend is awesome and any time I spend with her is fun. Other than that, it's kind of hard to explain why I enjoyed my Saturday evening at the La Grande Latte (who gets the Seurat reference?) but I'm going to try. First, you have to understand that I live in a climate with a bitterly cold winter. Wandering down the street in search of entertainment with a six-year-old is not my idea of a good time when the wind is cold enough to make me cry involuntary tears. Second, there is a play area there where my son and my friend's son could play and so we could talk. Third, a decent place to get a stir-fry for a table full of vegans. Fourth, is this really so horrific?

The quote that is most memorable to me, though, is the one that pretty much summed up exactly how far I am from the hipster-cool persona I tried to cultivate through my twenties. One of us looked at the time and said, "So the mall closes in an hour, I need to go to Gymboree and you need to go to Urban Outfitters. Let's get going." (I'm not going to disclose who went where, but I will say that I am now in possession of a fine crochet hair thingy for the spring.)

Our old desires can languish a long time before they finally take the hint and die. By the end, we're just holding on because we like the idea of them. All the same, I don't mind letting this one wither. Goodbye, hipster-cool. We never really saw eye-to-eye anyway.

Shalom, everyone.

* I have a full and active roster of tattooed and pierced friends who brighten my world with their multi-colored follicles and "skin pictures" (what my son used to call tattoos), and there is not a pretentious one among them. Despite assumptions one might make based on appearances, my friend roster is entirely hipster-cool free.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Liberal college towns rock my world...

My family and I had the great fortune of spending a recent Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin, that bastion of progressive values in the middle of dairy country. For those who haven’t been there, I highly recommend visiting. At the same time, if you’ve been to Ann Arbor, Austin or Athens, Georgia, you’ve probably got a good sense of Madison even without having been there. It has struck me that college towns, with the exception of Christian fundamentalist college towns, have similar characteristics that make them seem a little indistinguishable from one another with relatively few qualities that set them apart. I say this as someone whose soul alights at the liberal college town milieu, so much that I hope to eventually settle in one of my very own. It’s just that the cultural identifiers are laid on pretty, well, liberally.

If you should ever wake up one morning uncertain as to where you are because maybe, say, a window fell on your head during a particularly intense twister and your whole house lifted up into the darn thing, I have put together this handy guide to help you determine if you have landed in a liberal college town. If you did happen to touch ground in such a cheerful place, you are in luck, because there should be plenty of herbal tea to help you sooth your headache, not to mention amateur acupuncturists who learned about this or that point a few years ago at a party. Or was that the point for nausea? In any case, if you did not land in a liberal college town, then I would like to suggest that you try to locate one. They are truly magical places. One day, I hope my house lands in one, too, right between a vegetarian restaurant where the servers wear sandals and a big ol’ oak with a tree-sitter in it.

Marla’s “You Know You Are In A Liberal College Town When…” Guide

* There is a propensity of Salvation Army and alley-pedigree couches on porches.

* There is a much higher concentration of Nepali/Indian/Ethiopian (insert virtually any far-flung culture here) restaurants here than anywhere else in the state.

* It is the state capital of Caucasians with dreadlocks.

* The people of the town have collectively (and correctly) determined that a dog’s cuteness quotient is increased exponentially by the addition of a bandanna around the neck and they are dressed accordingly. Dogs wearing bandannas do appear to have a permanent contact high, though.

* Basic public restroom sanitation principles are often held in disdain.

* That sound? It is the ever-present sound of Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze.

* The town’s official scent is patchouli. Unofficially, it’s sandalwood.

* The server at the fair-trade coffee shop has a tattoo on her lower back. There is an ordinance requiring the tattoo and its placement.

* The chakra system is understood as well as the local transportation system. The third eye has 20/20 vision.

* The cannabis leaf is an indispensable design element on shirts, hats, hemp wallets, Frisbees, etc. It is used freely and without irony. Dancing bears as well.

* The main retail area sells enough bumper stickers to cover each car five times over, and message-oriented buttons can sorted into dozens of political and personal lifestyle preferences.

* The town has it’s own feminist bookstore, and, aside from a period ranging from 1978 through 1982, humans with a Y chromosome have not been expressly barred entry. Still, the grey-haired lady sipping tea behind the counter remembers 1978 through 1982 with fondness.

* Also: somewhere a lesbian feminist has named her cat Sappho despite her (non-practicing) heterosexual nature.

* You catch the occasional waft of burning sage. Or, hmm, was that…?

* If the college town had its way, Mumia, Leonard Peltier and Tibet would all be free.

* Breakfast is served all day, every day. There is a higher than average rate of cheese omelet consumption on Sunday mornings at 3:12 a.m.

* One’s incense lighting technique has been practiced and mastered.

* Urban Outfitters and American Apparel create the overarching aesthetic, but no one will admit to shopping at either place and instead all claim to have “thrifted” items.

* The diaphanous skirt and dress market remains strong despite the vagaries of the economy.

* There is a table from Food Not Bombs and they very much want to feed you a warm Dumpster-dived meal. Please, won’t you try some stew?

* Palestinians are favored over Israelis 650 to one.

* There is a local natural food co-op and at the membership meetings, people argue about a) whether or not meat should be sold, b) if the guy who manages the bulk department is a misogynist or if he's like that to everyone, c) if they can’t extend more of an honor system to customers, like back in the old days, d) who keeps leaving the damn cooler open?, e) if this is consensus or majority rules for the fiftieth time that meeting, f) can we dictate if the guys working behind the deli counter come to work high?, g) the burning need to remove all Hain products because someone heard that the guy who owns them is an anti-choice Republican, h) precisely to what degree Bush and Cheney suck…U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan NOW, i) What were we talking about?, j) keep the corporations out! k) the vegans are threatening a walk-out unless the first discussion item is addressed.

I love liberal college towns!

Shalom, everyone.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Freelancin' Foodies...

(Hey, everyone: a picture, and, yes, it's orange-y!)

The freelancers life is one of relative feast and famine, and, depending on if you just got a great new assignment or that schmucky client who's owed you a check for six weeks just had his phone disconnected, your fortunes can turn on a dime. We have adapted to the freelance/entrepreneur lifestyle lo these past four years, and though it does have its definite benefits, stability and predictability are not among them. Sometimes a client is waiting for a check from a client, who is waiting for a check from a client - a veritable chain of people breathing down one another's necks - or January just sucked so you've allocated approximately $15.00 for the weekend unless that jerk in the above chain pays you, and, before you know it, you're walking on the famine-y side of the street. I don't mean to overstate this because, all things being equal, my family is blessed beyond measure. Aside from the occasional bill collector or garage break-in, we are targeted by relatively few bloodthirsty juntas. We are safe, with clean water and refrigeration. Believe me, when we hit pay dirt around here, there is much jubilation and we get a little giddy with spending. At this precise moment, though, we've got more moths than money in our wallets so it is time to channel our inner-Depression era grandmothers and "make do." And although my preference is always for fresh vegetables, sometimes you've got to dust that can opener off and pray to St. Francis - hoping that he is indeed the saint of poverty and, if so, that he listens to non-Christians - that you've got some grains (you do!) and frozen vegetables (oh, thank goodness, yes). Then, my friend, you make the tastiest, most nourishing meal you can manage. Tasty and nourishing make poverty want to go harass someone else. We all know this.

The Freelance Special (a.k.a. Indian-style Chickpeas Love You Regardless)

Start some rice, preferably brown basmati.

2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds (brown if you have them)
1 Tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 or more cloves of garlic, minced

Heat the mustard seeds in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Lift the pan above the fire and swirl it around with a lid on it because those suckers pop and the last thing you need when you're feeling all sorry for yourself is a mustard seed lodging into your eye. When they have settled, add the oil. Heat for a minute or so, then add the onions and garlic; sauté together for about five minutes, until softened and golden.

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon fennel
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
salt and pepper to taste

Or you could just use a bunch of prepared curry powder. The above was what I had on hand.
Also, feel free to add as much cayenne powder as you like but I didn't because of the sensitive taste buds of my kindergartner.

1/2 to 1 cup mushrooms, sliced

Add to the onion mixture and add a tablespoon or so of water if it's seeming dry.

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas or three cups of dried, cooked chickpeas
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can light coconut milk (or, eff it, use full fat)
1 Tablespoon tamarind concentrate (totally not necessary but adds a pleasing sour flavor and it just happens to be one of those things that's always hanging around in our Indian cuisine-loving bungalow. You can purchase this at a natural foods store or Indian grocery store. Go to the Indian grocery store 'cause it's locally owned and the lady at the counter is friendly but not overbearingly so.)

Add these to the sauté pan. Stir together. It's starting to look and smell good.

1 cup or so frozen corn
1 cup or so frozen peas

Add these to the sauté pan and stir it up. Lower the heat to medium-low (more on the low side) and let it simmer on the stove top, occasionally stirring. When heated through in about five to ten minutes, serve over prepared rice. A few tablespoons of fresh, minced coriander adds a nice touch but what are you doing with fresh herbs if you're trying to act all poor, you bourgeois poseur? Please...

Of course, it goes without saying that you should add whatever rapidly decomposing fresh vegetables you happen to have in your crisper, baby: potatoes (par-boil or steam first), diced broccoli, spinach, kale.

Served here with a little salad and baked sweet potato fries. Yum!

Eat like the Brahmin you are. Figuring out how to rob the currency exchange on the corner can wait.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rest in peace, sweet Buster...

Five months after the stroke that left him wobbly, our dog Buster has passed away. It happened yesterday evening at the veterinarian's office, not the setting we wanted but the only one available to us, and it was very peaceful. Buster rested his head on John's lap on the drive to the veterinarian's office, and, once there, he cuddled on John like a puppy again. John held him as he slipped away. Buster hadn't been shown that degree of affection and openness for years. I stayed behind with our sensitive little boy, who tearfully told Buster goodbye as John carried him to the car. I was struck with how easily and gracefully he accepted this, and I also noticed that while snuggled in John's arms, he suddenly looked young again, not like the gray-muzzled, cloudy-eyed dog he'd become.

As those of you who have known us through the years understand, our relationship with Buster has always been a little turbulent. He was a very headstrong puppy who peed and pooped wherever he damn well pleased, not because he didn't understand the basic tenets of housebreaking, but because he didn't want to deal with the hassle of waiting to go out. His housebreaking period lasted eight long years. In addition, he was perhaps the world's only aggressive basset hound. He bit me on the mouth many years ago, something that mostly scarred me internally, leaving me incapable of trusting him again in the way that a person wants to trust her dog. (I wrote extensively about this in September, which you can find in the archives if you'd like.) With Buster, one always got sweet-and-sour together, perhaps a reminder of life's essentially complex nature.

Throughout the years, people have advised us to find a new home for him. It was clear to us, though, that there was no such fairytale home in which Buster would thrive. People advised us, then, to euthanize him. He was violent. There was something wrong with his brain. It never seemed acceptable to us, though, to kill a dog for being who he was. We learned tricks around his aggression - it's not like he was roaming our house all Cujo style, blood dripping from his canine teeth, anyway - and eventually we settled into an acceptance of him. To him, this was proof of our love, and with our acceptance of Buster's fundamental disposition, he relaxed into a more peaceful being.

The main gift I received from Buster was learning how to love without expectations, which is to love unconditionally. It is easy to love one another when we are compatible and matched well. It's not so easy to love - really love without demands of improvement - when our relationship is more tenuous and complex. He steadfastly refused to be a different dog than he was at his core, and through my gradual acceptance of his fundamental nature, he became more peaceful and adaptive. If ever there were a Big Life Lesson this was it: in releasing our expectations and demands, we allow those we love the freedom to just be, and with this, our notions of love can expand. Sometimes love is not all pink hearts popping around our heads as we rush across a meadow to embrace: sometimes love can be found in the quiet acceptance of another. This was the nature of the love I had for Buster. He didn't want the popping pink hearts. Love to Buster was quiet acceptance.

So much time has been spent drawing attention to Buster's flaws that I thought it would be nice to share some of our interesting and funny stories.

* When Buster was a puppy, I was taking him to meet my parents for the first time and I accidentally locked myself out of the car on California Avenue when checking for a flat tire. As John was on his way with the spare keys, Buster sat in the driver's seat with one of his big fat paws pressed continuously on the horn. I kept motioning for him to stop - like, how the heck would he understand what I meant? - and pedestrians stared at us and burst out laughing when they saw the basset with his paw on the horn.

* When Buster was around two or three, we had a little weekend off with friends at a nature retreat in Michigan and we took the dogs along. One day, John and I took a canoe out on the lake and, for some reason, this really agitated Buster, who stood at the end of the pier, barking his sea lion's bray. Finally, there was a splash and a commotion: Buster had dived into the lake and was swimming toward us. I can still see his little head just barely above the surface of the water, like some deep sea creature. Now basset hounds aren't exactly, you know, water spaniels or anything, so seeing him with his big ol' paws and floppy ears aiming towards us was quite remarkable. John was afraid that we'd upset the canoe if he tried to pick him up, so we rowed back to the shore, an eye on Buster the whole time. He swam into some nearby reeds and just as I was insisting that John dive in and find him, the reeds parted, Buster shook himself off, and trotted toward the sand, where he finally plopped down. He was like the canine version of James Bond at that point and really deserved some kind of cocktail. We were all in awe.

* Last, Buster delivering the whoop-ass was not exactly a shocking story, but it was especially handy a few years ago when a misguided burglar decided that our bungalow must surely hold some very rare treasures. As we were upstairs sleeping, said burglar removed our back door - with a blow torch, 'cause he was fierce like that - and commenced to unplugging our i-Book, the very one that had my then in-progress novel and a lot of other work on it. His near-fatal mistake, though, was deciding, "Hey, I've got the computer, what else should I get?" and going into the living room, a.k.a., Buster's domain, to try to steal some more. We were ever so gently roused from our slumber by the sound of the Buster going, well, batshit crazy and the always reassuring sounds of foreign footsteps beating a hasty retreat across the floor. John bolted downstairs as the burglar was taking off through the back door, our computer in his bag. John and Buster were in hot pursuit, and they caught up with the burglar in the alley. He swung a hammer at John - happily, he didn't have good aim - and threatened, "I'm going to hurt your dog." Even in that moment, John had to laugh because Buster had the man by the pants and was jumping up to get a better grip, growling. His long-suppressed aggressive nature was finally getting a chance to be expressed and damn it, he was going to savor every moment. John grabbed the bag away from the burglar who then ran off and hid somewhere. A few moments later, the burglar rode his bike out from the side of a garage, taking off like a bat out of hell, away from the barefoot hippie-looking dude in the pajamas and that crazy basset hound who threw it down all ghetto-style. The police, who arrived within minutes, were deeply impressed and occasionally when walking Buster, a police car would pass, giving us a friendly little honk and wave. He was much admired for his valor.

There are many more stories, more quotidian but no less telling. Buster was a unique soul and I am so grateful that he was in our lives for thirteen years. I would have loved for it to be longer but Buster left as he lived: on his own terms. There is a lot to learn from that.

We love you, Buster. Thanks for everything.

Shalom, everyone.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Heart like a wheel...

Well, it is clear that this Facebook thing has re-aquainted me with some friends from my past, which has caused me to be haunted many times in recent weeks by the Ghosts of Boyfriends Past. They smell suspiciously like cheap beer. They come visiting, not spooky and threatening, but alternately vivid and hazy, smile- and groan-inducing. They were activists, artists, potheads, whack jobs, geniuses, and nurturers. Somewhere along the line things fizzled out, someone stopped returning calls, there was a heated argument with no apology or one of us did something (drank excessively, read the other's journal, had mean-spirited, jealous friends) that proved unacceptable and so we parted ways, with barely a whimper sometimes or, other times, with so much emotion the whole sky seemed painted an angry red.

My gallery of college ex-boyfriends (the descriptor boyfriend used only in the loosest way at times) was a diverse assortment, like a box of chocolates (I don't know if it's possible to read this without hearing that idiotic Forrest Gump drawl, so my apologies), but unlike a box of chocolates, there was no key anywhere as to what I was getting except for a few hunches. You know how you can pick up a chocolate from a sampler box and be certain that it is a caramel because it looks like one and feels like one but you bite into it and you're all disappointed because it was actually nougat masquerading itself as a caramel? Or you avoid that last chocolate because it you are certain it has that icky cherry liquor stuff inside but then you take a tentative bite and it's actually a truffle and you are pleasantly surprised and you are kicking yourself for tasting all those less satisfying ones first? Dating in college, as a (fairly) sheltered suburban girl with limited life experience was a bit like reaching blindly into a chocolate sampler box and hoping for the best. For the most part, I did alright for myself, though there were a few of those squishy cherry liquor ones along the way.

Forgotten vendor dude

Freshman year was pretty much of a wash except for a few tipsy and random make-out sessions. I was way too nervous and scattered to be a-huntin' for a boyfriend. I did have one that summer, though, a guy whose name I forgot long ago, who was a vendor with me at Cubs games. In retrospect, I'm pretty certain that he was insane. He was convinced that someone was spying on him most of the time and he would occasionally blurt out loud threats to invisible (but to him) undercover agents. He had wealthy parents, brown curly hair and long eyelashes, and he smoked. I'm not sure if what he smoked was always tobacco in nature. I'm also not sure how things ended, but I'm fairly certain that it was weird. Everyone has someone from her past that she instantly winces when recollecting, and he is my wince.

Be-mulleted Loverboy

Things picked up considerably my sophomore year. I met BL at a party. Okay, it was a kegger. He had long brown hair and bangs. Okay, it was a mullet. Follicle crimes aside (and, really, pretty much everyone had some version of a mullet in those days, so stop your damn snickering), BL was dreamy.

He had bright blue, sweetly sad eyes, played guitar and told me that I reminded him of a Peruvian woman who danced the samba on his tender heart, so, really, how could I resist? He had the whole wounded rebel thing down pat and I was chomping at the bit to break out of the confines of my very cloistered, boring dorm life. He was my very temporary ticket out.

That fall, we had a wonderfully whirlwind couple of dates. We clutched hands at the café, his other hand on my knee, and we gazed into one another's eyes (yes, we really did that, so fraught were we with emotional intensity) and he protected me against the wind as he showed me his favorite hidden away spot, hazy to me today, off campus. I don't think we talked much, I can't recall a single conversation, but we looked at each other longingly, like actors in a movie, which, in a way, was oddly appropriate. He was a great kisser. Unbeknownst to me, I was in the early stages of pneumonia, so I was thin and pale, all clavicle and wrist bones, the perfect frail counterpoint to his brooding persona. We had a few dates before Thanksgiving, during which time, The English Beat's Melt With You played over and over in my head, but, upon returning from break, BL vanished from my life, leaving nothing but a tattered old sweater behind. I left unreturned messages, I figured out ways to run into him on campus - covertly getting access to his schedule - until it was clear that he was already an apparition in my life. He was cold and distant, his eyes now ice cold blue lakes. I'm not sure what happened there. He was my first college affair, and I think my heart received a tiny fissure with that, but I moved on surprisingly quickly. (The next year, a roommate and friend tearfully informed me that she was dating BL all clandestinely - I'm sure he lived off the fumes of that doomed Romeo and Juliet storyline for days - but he ended up ditching her in a similar fashion. Served her right! And that BL was no good, but it is fairly likely that he contracted pneumonia through me, so na na.)

Brando Boy

Next one out of the gate a few months later was BB, and pretty soon that little dalliance with BL seemed like child's play compared with the hot-and-cold romance I had with BB, who had the Wounded Rebel archetype absolutely perfected. To BL's Lord Byron, he was James Dean with a good dash of Brando. To an idealistic nineteen-year-old, of course, this was a irresistible combination. He was a couple of years older, very good looking, clever, cool, and hopelessly emotionally crippled. Ooh la la! Where do I sign up?

He drove the bus that picked up all the jackasses in my dorm, and every day, we lined up with our passes in their little blue ID cases and he nodded distractedly as he quickly scanned over them. My roommate Dana and I had been on the bus together a few months earlier when he was being trained, and as he walked on with the obese driver who commenced to barking orders at him within seconds, she raised an eyebrow at me and nudged me with her shoulder. He was very cute.

In the spring, I was sitting out on the front steps in front of Neismith Hall enjoying the first warm day and he stopped the bus right in front of me and opened the door. No one was getting on or off. He asked me if I was waiting for the bus and I told him no, I was just enjoying the beautiful day. My heart was racing. He asked me if I knew Olivia De Havilland, the actress who played Melanie in Gone With The Wind. I told him that I did. Gone With The Wind was my mother's favorite movie, though I found it dreadful. He told me that I looked just like her, and I must have scrunched up my face in displeasure - she was the sweet but plain one to Scarlett's volatile knockout - so he smiled and matter-of-factly said, "She was, by far, the most beautiful actress in Hollywood." And with that, the door of the bus shut and he drove off. Wha'?!

The next few months presented a prolonged cat-and-mouse game between us, and as many times as he didn't call or showed up to a party I'd invited him to with a date (!!), we had marathon conversations at Perkins over coffee (which I hated, still do, but I thought made me look mature) and blissful strolls through campus, arm-in-arm after an all-nighter. I never felt more vulnerable, with good reason. We had a very romantic last few days before I had to go home for the summer: we went to see bands, got drunk and silly together, he stared at me constantly. BB paced the hallway compulsively smoking with teary eyes as I packed the last of my bags to go home for the summer, and he held me in the parking lot as my friend Sarah waited for me in her car. Again, Melt With You played through my head and I was in a dreamland the whole drive back to Chicago. It struck me that all the clichés I'd always heard about love were actually true: I felt like I was walking on a cloud.

Well, that cloud must've actually been a helium balloon because BB stuck a needle in it over the summer and I came crashing to the ground. He was distant on the phone, rude, caustic (although he made sure that he was warm other times just to add to the layers of self-delusion). When I came back to school in the fall - my hopes high and clearly unrealistic - he gave me the cold shoulder. The superficial moral of the story: if you're really crazy for a guy, don't go home for break. He pretty much wrapped my heart with explosives and detonated it.

Activist Man

I had been friends with AM for a year or so before we started dating, and by dating I mean he would call me when he was in town. AM was a Native American activist, like a real live associate of Leonard Peltier, and he was all long black hair and intensity: when he came to visit me at my dorm, people overtly gawked at him, their synapses snapping at the sight of an adult male wearing something besides a sweatshirt with a football team emblazoned on it. He wore tie-dyes and Malcolm X t-shirts instead. He traveled for months at a time, following the Dead, crashing with friends in Berkeley, going to the Rainbow Gathering. AM was a great friend and my introduction to counterculture and activism in many ways.

About a year after we met, not long after BB served me my barely-beating heart on a platter ("Here ya go!"), we started fooling around with no strings attached. He would leave town, come back, call me up, and if I wasn't dating anyone at the time, we would fool around again. It was actually very nice to be with someone and without all that drama. He was absolutely not the kind of guy who would make a commitment, and I was happily not seeking one. He would come back into town periodically with pretty, sweet women with dreadlocks, diaphanous dresses and West Coast accents, and they always seemed to have an understanding. I was still very wounded by BB, and AM provided intimacy and connection without any baggage.

True story: I went to the Rainbow Gathering in '90 or so and I was looking for BB there, who went by his Rainbow Family name, Cinnamon. Yes, really. I wasn't sure if he was there or not, but it was something he did go to. I was walking down a path and asking a Rainbow person if she knew of Cinnamon, the tall, Native American from Kansas. She didn't, but suddenly, another women appeared, pushing her way through the shrubbery, and she was all like, "Cinnamon? I know him, dude!" Anyway, she did know him, but, alas, he wasn't there that year.

Average Joe

After the emotional wreckage of my sophomore year, AJ offered me stability, predictability and...sssssnooore. Whoa. Sorry, I must have drifted off there. Anyway, a friend of mine thought we'd make a good match and while I was sort of "meh" about him when we met, he wore down my indifference with a Cub Scout-like determination. He had a mustache that was a little Hitler-esque (strikes one and two - one for the 'stashe to begin with, and two for the look of it), he was in the Army Reserves (strike three), to pay for college (which neutralized the previous strike) and a band (could be a strike or a bonus, depending on a careful analysis of the specific situation and how many people I could get on any given guest list). AJ was a stick in the mud and totally not my type, but we dated for a year, which was - by about eight months - my longest relationship at that point. Again, after BL and BB, I needed someone who didn't set me alight with passion, and, well, AJ was it. Our parting was like our union: desultory and unmemorable.

Strummer Man

After AJ, I dated a little bit of eye candy, a guitar-strumming boy with long blond hair and a persistently dazed expression, more at home on Venice beach than the meadows of the Heartland. There are people you meet in life where you say, "Well, he's not a great communicator but he's very scientific," or "He sort of lacks common sense but he's highly creative." Truly, with SM there was no "but" to offset his apparently fully-rounded, low-wattage brain power. He was one hundred percent stupid. He was also sweet and a little slobbery, and he definitely was impressed by me, sort of like my personal yellow lab puppy. He made sure that I got home safely after I ate too many pot brownies at a party and started hallucinating, so much that when I eventually threw up in the parking lot, I saw myself as a fire-breathing dragon. The night after that escapade, he felt so connected to me, that he sang to me his self-penned little love song, accompanying himself on guitar. I had to pinch myself to keep from bursting out in laughter as it was, undoubtedly, the most inane song I'd ever heard. All I wanted was to laugh with a friend about it, but then I realized that we were dating so it was no longer funny. I broke up with him in the most cold-hearted way I could muster because he wasn't taking any hints, which made me feel sort of evil, but I could not be with someone who could write ridiculous lyrics and sing them without an ounce of irony.

There were others, of course, but these are the ones for this day. The crazy vendor, lover boy, Brando-esque heartbreaker, radical activist, regular guy and sweet-but-stupid dude. Quite a strange assortment, eh?

Shalom, everyone.