By The Skin Of My Teeth

Many boxes and bottles of various cold, cough, and flu remedies.
I wish I had all this right now. Damn you, stock photography!

No post tonight. I did write at least 500 words, but they are super rambly and incoherent, because I’m coming down with a cold, and I just want to drop into bed and sleep it off.

But I did show up and pound out some words. 527 words, in fact.

Thanks for checking in. I appreciate you, dear reader. I’m glad you’re here. Here, let me give you something to ponder:

You’ve probably heard the phrase “by the skin of their teeth” but did you ever wonder what that meant? Isn’t the skin of our teeth our gums? What do gums have to do with escaping from something?

And as an experiment, I’m going to open comments tonight. Comments will close after 2 days. You have to include a name and an email address, but you don’t have to register.

If you’re a reader, drop a note below and say hello! I’d love to wake up from my NyQuil-induced coma to read what you’ve got to say.

65 Days in a Row (And Counting)

A close-up view of a blank paper journal, with a red cloth bookmark, and a fountain pen laying on the open page.
Writing longhand would make it much harder for me to write 500 words in a day, let alone 1700! But this journal sure is pretty.

Seven days until NaNoWriMo begins. I’m a little nervous. I have done a great job so far of writing daily. Today is my 65th day of posting at least 500 words every single day, and I couldn’t be more proud of myself. I have a habit now, a habit of writing. The practice and the urge to keep the streak going works much, much better than waiting for inspiration or motivation to strike—as I knew it would.

But most days lately, I barely write over 500 words. To write 50,000 words in November, I have to average more than three times that, every day. I need to up my game if I want to win. I’ve been attempting this for years now, and a win would be awesome.

I think, though, that just making it through the whole month writing on one single story would also be a win. Wouldn’t it? It would be something I’ve never done before—a milestone. So, listen up, Inner Negative Voice, you can fuck off with the dour thoughts. I’m just going to keep going with my current goal and see where that takes me.

I have ideas. I haven’t taken any notes on what I want to write about; it’s all in my head so far. Not counting the first draft pages I wrote, the pages that now all count as backstory to the current story. 

I’ve gone over all this before, so there’s no need to repeat it. If you’re new here (hello! welcome to the blog!), you can read back over the previous 65 days. The ones about NaNoWriMo should stand out from the others.

Tonight will probably just be another 500 or so words because I am not feeling well. It feels like I’m coming down with something, which would suck majorly. But here I am, in front of the keyboard and screen, tapping away. See? Habit over motivation. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s the best way to go if you have a goal that seems far away. Just start, and make a small promise to try to make it a habit.

There are other areas of my life where I could be putting this philosophy into practice. I have terrible attendance at work, for example, and I’m sure part of it is that it is elementary for me to convince myself to stay home. Maybe I should keep track of how many days in a row I go to work, and try to make that another daily (almost—I still get weekends off) habit? That would also help. Could I get to 65 days in a row? That number gets me well into the next year. If I’m doing the math right, that would be January 23, 2020, counting only weekdays and subtracting the holidays between now and then.

Feel free to check my math on that.

Another daily practice would be making dinner at home. It’s cheaper, and it makes it so much easier for me to eat well and not eat crap. But, again, I have gotten into the habit of stopping for fast food on the way home from work. Maybe I can just take it one day at a time and see how far I get? 

I don’t know, maybe I’ve found a hammer and now every problem I have looks like a nail, but it’s worth a try, right?

Canaries In The Coalmine, Hopefully

A child runs away from the camera at night on a dark suburban street, the only light coming from a single street lamp.
I get that running-in-molasses feeling in my nightmares, but the worst feeling I get in dreams is not being able to read. True story.

Even my dreams are political now. The monsters that I have to run away from through molasses are white supremacists and capitalists. These are the times in which we live, and the social landscape has infused my unconscious mind.

I announced on Facebook that I am leaving Facebook. It is something I’ve contemplated for a while now, but every recent bit of news about how the company is being run is another stone adding to the mental weight of my participation.

This is not a news site, so I won’t give the full rundown, but my misgivings started with the revelations about Cambridge Analytica and Russian meddling in our elections. But there is more recent news. As I read each one, they became another stone in the bucket of my metaphorical soul.

Conservatives cry that there is an anti-conservative bias, which never is visible or documentable, and media outlets will bend to their whines to try to maintain their belief in the media’s “fairness.” The result of this play has been Facebook allowing right-wing institutions “fact-checking” powers that the social media platform never seems to give to left-leaning institutions. 

Parker Molloy has done a lot of work documenting how conservatives and the far-right have run their usual playbook of “working the refs” against social media in general and Facebook in particular. She reported this after we found out that Zuck has been secretly meeting with conservatives. When that was published, Zuck tried to pull the “I listen to both sides” defense. Of course, there is no documentation of Zuck meeting with union workers, trans activists, or Black Lives Matters. Zuck had and has no specific examples of meeting with anyone even center-left. 

More recently, Elizabeth Warren took advantage of the apparent Facebook policy against fact-checking politicians’ or public figures’ speech. She ran an ad on Facebook, stating Zuck endorsed our Cheeto in Chief’s 2020 campaign. Of course, having some dignity and integrity, she immediately debunked their own lie, in the text of the ad itself, making a point about how bizarre Facebook’s policy was.

Facebook immediately pulled the spot despite its public policy.

Zuck’s minions eventually restored the ad after their hypocrisy was exposed, which led to Zuck’s Harvard speech. His thin-skinned reactions to some of the Democratic candidates’ (OK, mainly Elizabeth Warren’s) campaign rhetoric and the threat of regulation, culminated in his stupid “we support free expression, and that means we can’t fact-check political ads” speech at Harvard last week. He gave remarkably fact-free defenses that Facebook could be a social good, using zero examples from within the existence of Facebook, instead focusing on the actions of civil rights activists like—wait for it—Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Hearing his testimony before Congress today, where he stammered incoherent defenses of his phony money scheme were the straw that broke my reluctance-camel’s back. I can’t, in good conscience, continue giving Facebook my eyeballs and attention. I posted today, and I’ll post regularly for the next week, to make sure the algorithm lets every one of my 369 friends and followers know: after Halloween, I will no longer be on Facebook.

I am present and active on several other platforms, not the least of which is this one (hello! thank you for reading this), and I will be sure to list all the ways to follow my antics and interact with me in the cyberspaces. One thing I will be doing is opening up regular comment posts here. Doing that will give all of you, my dear readers, the chance to comment on these posts. Take those opportunities to tell me when and where I’m wrong (which is fantastic; I want to know when I’m wrong, it’s how I learn and grow), and, most importantly, post memes and adorable animal pictures. 

Those posts will go up twice a week (unless they’re incredibly popular.) I’m thinking of one on Wednesday and one on the weekend. I’m working on a comment policy that will let haters, bigots, and authoritarians know they are not welcome here; I’ll post that shortly. What I do hope is that you, yes, you, reading this, will feel safe, respected, and comfortable, especially if you’re in one of the under-represented or oppressed categories of folk, like people of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer, or anti-capitalist. This blog is open to you in particular. 

In the meantime, I know many of you have many reasons to remain on Facebook, but if you can cut ties at all, without losing touch with people you love and care about, I strongly encourage you to do so. If Facebook starts bleeding users, perhaps they’ll change course. It’s doubtful because the billionaire bubble is very real, but it’s at least one lever we can use to shift it. 

Something like Facebook or Twitter have the potential to be a net social good, for realsies. How they’re run today, however, ain’t it, chief.

All Times When Old Are Good

Tonight I am feeling mellow and nostalgic. As much practice as I’ve taken over the years with reading and writing and re-writing and trying to tell stories, I don’t know that I have the ability or skill with which to convey the feeling I’m feeling right now, to anyone willing to listen. Despite that, I have to write tonight, and this is the topic.

Went out for Taco Tuesday with my friend Terry and he was in a good mood. After we had our fill of tacos, I let him talk me into driving to a dessert place, Lauretta Jean’s, over on SE Division, for pie. I know that too much sugar lately will literally make my body ache in various ways, but I still can’t resist. That’s what addiction is, I guess. 

On the drive over there (we took Terry’s car), he was playing, of all things, some of the musical hits of Earth, Wind, & Fire. Some funk/disco. Normally I get a bit grumpy, but the whiskey warmed my belly and my soul just a tiny bit, and I fell into the melodies and danced in my seat. We sang along—me, as best I could; Terry easily hitting the higher notes—as we drove through the sodium-lit streets of inner Southeast Portland. My favorite neighborhoods.

It was just what I needed. At the pie place, I ordered a slice of bourbon pecan (with whipped cream); Terry got a pear streusel and mocha. 

Earlier today, I had been listening to an episode of the podcast You Are Not So Smart, this one titled “The Friendship Cure,” in which the host interviews a scientist who has studied the effects of friendship on human lives. The conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, but one, in particular, held my attention: the relative distance and emptiness of most male friendships. Men in our culture are never encouraged towards intimacy, for various social reasons. However, the scientist and the host did mention one of the best fictional male friendships ever (and I could not agree more): JD and Turk, on the TV show “Scrubs.” 

JD and Turk shared a warm, close, and, most importantly, funny friendship, the likes of which are rarely seen in fiction or in life. Sure, they caught some shit for it from other men on the show; but it never stopped them from being the best of friends to and with each other. 

Terry and I are like that. We are not romantic partners. Both of us are not inclined that way at all, not towards each other. But we have known each other for a very long time, through good times and bad, and we are comfortable being our truest, most authentic selves with each other. 

Neither of us is perfect, but, to paraphrase the words of the scientist on the podcast whose name I can’t recall right now, we allow space for our flaws, as well as our strengths. 

After he drove me back to my car and we goofed around and then said our goodnights, I got in my car for the drive back to my personal Tatooine (which is, in itself, a reference to both nostalgia and a shared experience with Terry, that of seeing Star Wars together when we were kids.) Instead of more podcasts, I opened up Spotify and found a playlist of hits from 1983, the year we graduated from high school, and then I let those songs stoke my feelings and memories of being young and dumb. 

In my head, as I sometimes do, I imagined meeting younger me and asking him how he was doing, and try to let him know how life was going to turn out for him. I don’t think he could possibly have foreseen the paths life would take him, but I do firmly believe he would still recognize himself in the 54-year-old Brian who stood before him. I still have his sardonic but somehow sincere humor. We share a curiosity about lives and people who are not ourselves. And inside both of us hides a deep sadness about the limitations imposed on us by living in the physical world.  

Dancing and singing to songs from my youth as I navigated the streets to my apartment, on a dark autumn night, I felt the pull of all three of those emotions, overlaid with the joy of having made it this far, and knowing that there is a least a bit more story left to tell.

I’ll leave you with this last tidbit, a message from 18-year-old and 54-year-old me:

Mama say, mama saw, mama koo saw.

Goodnight, dear reader. 

I Could Make Tacos Every Night

Just a quick post tonight because it’s late and I don’t have it in me to write something more in-depth. I’ve gotten good at making tacos for dinner. Turns out it’s super easy to do! Just one main ingredient, plus some condiments, and it’s filling and delicious. And I can make the perfect servings for eating solo.

Tonight it was steak tacos. I’m starting at an advantage because I keep a bunch of stuff on hand: I always have corn tortillas, for example. I buy a lot, and they keep forever.

I have a bunch of spices: coriander (in Spanish it’s cumin), chili powder, hot chili powder, oregano. Sea salt and black pepper.

I always have some fresh garlic and white onion in my drawer (they keep better if you keep them in a dark, cool place.)

Another helpful ingredient is a 2 lb bag of shredded cheese. Again, it doesn’t go bad very fast at all, and it’s excellent for garnishing just about anything I cook. Like, say, tacos!

When I go grocery shopping, I always buy some thin-cut steak for carnitas and a bag of frozen chicken breasts. The chicken comes in a zipper bag; I can pull out one or two breasts at a time; I can even cook them from frozen, if I have forgotten to thaw some out, and I haven’t been able to tell the difference.

The steak I package up into 3-4 slices per bag and toss them all in the freezer. This morning, before I left for work, I took one bag of the steak out of the freezer and let it thaw out in the fridge while I was at work.

On the way home, I stopped to get some sour cream, a bunch of fresh cilantro, and an orange bell pepper. When I got home, I realized I had a Roma tomato that was still good. I pulled the steak out of the fridge to warm up (beef cooks better when it’s at room temperature) and then spent the first hour washing, chopping, and slicing all the vegetables and getting them ready.

When the vegetables were ready, I used my cleaver to cut the steak into strips, against the grain (makes the bites easier to chew). Next, I heated my wok very hot (on the 1–8 scale, I turned my electric stove up to 6 1/2—you want the wok hot) with two tablespoons of olive oil (non-virgin, since I was going to be stir-frying.) As soon as the oil started to smoke a little, I dropped in the chopped white onion and some chopped garlic cloves and stirred until they were beginning to turn translucent. Then I added in the steak strips.

I cooked that whole mixture until the steak was starting to brown, then pulled out the steak and let it rest on a plate. While it was resting, I added in the bell pepper and some spices (cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper) with the remaining oil, garlic, onions, tossed in some fresh chopped cilantro and mixed it all up on medium heat.

That’s when I added the steak back to the wok, and mixed it all around to let the flavors soak in.

I turned the heat down to low, then put a bunch of tortillas in the warmer with some damp paper towels, and heated them in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time until they were warm and pliable.

At that point, it was just a matter of assembling the tacos. Tortillas, some meat, then add on some chopped tomato, some chopped onion, shredded cheese, sour cream, and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro, and settled down to watch some TV with delicious tacos!

A Quiet Apocalypse — The Long Dark Appreciation Post

Point of view shot from the computer game The Long Dark. The character holds a torch in their right hand. It's night, and snowing.
“I probably shouldn’t be out at night in a snowstorm. Pleasant Valley is a killer.”

I died today. Permanently. While hiking towards safety, hungry, cold, and tired, a wolf attacked me. I ran to the nearest shelter, an abandoned church, chased by a whole pack of wolves. Inside, I realized I had no bandages, nothing to stop the blood loss of my painful bites and scratches. Woozy, fading, I tried to tear up my socks and staunch the bleeding.

I was too late. After 106 days in the northern wilderness, I faded into the long dark.

I laughed and then started a new game.

Death in The Long Dark Survival Mode is permanent. There’s no going back. You can only begin anew, on Day 0. The game, from Hinterland Games, is meditative, methodical, and I find it compelling and immersive.

We Do What We Must

The game is survival. Your character is dropped somewhere on the fictional Great Bear Island, the victim of a plane crash, with only the clothes on your back and a handful of items. If you’re lucky (or on lower difficulty levels), you have matches and a hatchet or knife. If not, you’re nearly naked in the snow and ice, far from any shelter. The only score that matters is how many days you can live, looting abandoned human structures or hunting and killing the abundant and often aggressive wildlife.

There are four needs you have to watch and maintain: rest, warmth, thirst, and hunger. Every one of them responds to the actions you take, as well as the environment in which you find yourself. For instance, warmth goes down slower when you’re bundled against the cold, or when you’re inside a house, it goes down faster if your clothes are soaking wet or if the wind is blowing. The game gives you plenty of options to manage all four needs bars—except they’re scattered across the map and randomly placed, with very few exceptions.

Every tool you can find has a purpose. Can opener? You can get more calories from the cans of soup or peaches you scavenge. Prybar? Great for breaking into car trunks or lockers—or for beating up an attacking wolf. You can use the charcoal from burned-out campfires to map your surroundings. Oh, right: you don’t start with a map. Learning the layout of the various regions is part of the learning process of playing the game.

Some tools can be crafted, but only at workbenches or, for the more critical items, at one of the three forges. When you can’t repair your machine-made clothing, you should have been curing hides and guts that are needed to make animal-skin replacements.

It’s long stretches of silence, just the wind, and your character’s footsteps and breathing, punctuated by bursts of intense action as you stab and try to dissuade a predator from making you a meal. The games’ vistas are beautiful; seeing another sunrise after enduring a long cold night in a blizzard is just as rewarding in the game as it probably is in real life. Many of the elements I enjoy from games like Skyrim and the Fallout series are here distilled down to one compelling narrative and milieu: resource gathering and crafting, exploration, management of opposing needs.

Death Is Always An Option

My first real survival mode playthrough was on the second-easiest difficulty level, called “Voyageur.” I wanted to learn the layout of the various regions in the game and see how far I could get. I expected to die much sooner than 106 days, to be honest, even on that level. And there were several points where I very nearly did.

Once, I was trying to reach one of the aforementioned forges by crossing a frozen lake when I attracted the attention of a wolf. I didn’t have a rifle with me (too heavy for this trip); all I could do was light a flare, hoping the flame would keep the wolf at bay. I didn’t want to turn my back to the creature, so I walked backward, waving the flare, only occasionally turning to make sure I was headed in the right direction.

Except… I hit some thin ice, which cracked and plunged me into the frigid water below. I was instantly at risk for hypothermia (on a greater difficulty, it wouldn’t have been only a risk), but the salt in the wound was that the wolf opportunistically savaged me as soon as I was able to climb back out. That time, however, I survived by running carefully across the remaining ice to reach my goal, the forge barn.

What’s The Story, Morning Glory?

It’s OK to loot all these houses and shops because you’re all alone. It’s just you against the environment. If there’s an answer to why no one is there, it’s found in Story Mode, called Wintermute. In the two episodes that have been released, “Do Not Go Gentle” and “Luminance Fugue,” you play as Will, a bush pilot. You find out your plane crashed due to a massive electromagnetic pulse, accompanied by the strange behavior of electrical items when the Northern Lights are in the sky., and your goal, on top of survival, is finding your passenger, Astrid, your ex. Both characters are voiced by veteran actors Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale (also the voices of male and female Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect trilogy, another series of games I love.)

The third episode, “Crossroads Elegy,” follows Astrid’s adventures after the plane crash, and it will drop in less than two days, on 22 October 2019. I can’t wait to play it. The beauty of the game, the thought, and care that the developers have obviously put into balancing all the interconnected systems, and the talents of the writers and actors will make for compelling storytelling.

It might be difficult to tear myself away from struggling to survive in the sandbox, though. This time I’m playing on a harder mode—but not the hardest. Not yet.

Tell Facebook This Site Is Safe

Facebook, this site is safe to share. I promise. I have done everything I can to demonstrate my site’s safety. Please unblock me.

I can’t easily share links to this blog on Facebook. It’s been an annoyance for years now, and I haven’t been able to find a solution. Honestly, I haven’t even been able to find a reason for why it happens; I can’t even get that far. No reason is given.

Here’s what happens when I try to share a link, any link, to this domain on Facebook: if I try to post, Facebook makes me solve a captcha, telling me that it’s a “Security Check” and that this site “may be unsafe” or violate community guidelines or something. Facebook discourages me from posting it at all. Why? Who knows! The links to “Why am I seeing this?” expands out to say:

Image of a Facebook Security Check: "It looks like this link is unsecure: To protect your account, we recommend not posting the link. If you want to share it anyway, you'll need to complete this security check. Please enter the code below" and a captcha. "If you think this doesn't go against our Community Standards, let us know."

“This is a standard security test that we use to make sure accounts are authentic.”

It’s especially annoying because I have a page set up for the blog on Facebook, to which posts are auto-shared. Those go through fine, but I get the captcha request even when I try to re-share those Facebook posts! What’s going on?

To pour salt in the wound, Facebook keeps suggesting I add a website to my Page, but when I do:

An error from Facebook after it prompts me to add a website to my Page: "An error occured saving page information, please make sure the information is correct and valid."
“An error occured saving page information” – note the fucking misspelling in the error message.

Security! Protection! Authenticity! These are all alarming thoughts. Facebook never gives me anything specific, anything actionable, I can do to clear my site’s good name, however.

This domain has been in use since at least 2004. I have maintained control of it that entire time. It was and is, registered from, a reputable registrar.

Mail through this account is protected by DKIM, although, to be fair, it may be time for me to register new keys and rotate them.

SSL now protects traffic to and from this site.

There are no unsafe plugins or apps hosted on this domain.

The host (as of a weekend ago), SiteGround, is a recommended host from WordPress.

The domain does not appear on any blacklists that are searchable by; it is a safe site according to Google Safe Search.

I’ve verified the domain through Facebook’s Business tools, which has not removed the requirement to solve a captcha to post a link here.

One online suggestion I’ve seen for others with this same problem has been to look at the output of the Facebook Debugger. The only error I get there is about whether or not I have a valid Facebook App ID, but adding one to my site does not remove the captcha requirement.

I’m at my wit’s end trying to prove to Facebook this is a Safe Site. I do get a handful of clicks on my site from Facebook, which, to be honest, is the majority of traffic to it (for now), but would I get more if I wasn’t deemed “unsafe?” How much more?

If anyone out there has any suggestions for what I can do to solve this problem with Facebook, beyond abandoning Facebook as a platform… please feel free to let me know.

A Night on Clinton Street

My friend Terry and his wife are building a second house on their property, an ADU that they plan to rent out. Don’t worry, I’ve already guilted him about how shitty landlords are, about how bad gentrification is in Portland and issues around housing and rent-seeking. He’s aware. But we’ve known each other for a long time, and he’s a good friend in different ways, and so we agree to disagree.

Where was I? Oh, right. 

This week, the construction crew was connecting the new property up to power, and it was going to disrupt power to their house, so they decided to rent an Airbnb to live in while construction was going on. They got a beautiful place over on SE Clinton and 20th, and Terry invited me over after work to chill out, maybe play some board games, drink, just a nice post-work hang. OK, you had me at “drink,” Terry. I’m there.

I had to commute from… from where I work, which is 30-40 minutes away from Inner Southeast, and I couldn’t leave work until my standard quitting time. On my way there, Terry kept texting me, wondering if I was going to make it in time for Happy Hour. I didn’t speed, but I tried to make good time. I arrived and parked in front of the rental at 5:52 PM. Technically in time for Happy Hour, but not enough time to get a drink ordered. At least, not at the Night Light, the closest bar, and the one Terry was most looking forward to visiting.

We poked our head in there, but it was crowded, and there was a long line for the bar (there’s no waitstaff). So we wandered off.

Luckily that area of Clinton and Division had plenty of bars. After walking around a bit, we landed at Dot’s, across from the infamous Clinton Street Theater, where the Rocky Horror Picture Show has been playing, every Saturday night, since forever, continuously. 

Dot’s is terrific, a Portland legend. Dark, with funky decor, and plenty of booths and tables. We hunkered down over our sandwiches and drinks and caught up on things. I related my encounter at Bertie Lou’s recently, and he let me know how the construction was going.

I had the Chile Verde Pulled Pork Sando (that’s short for “sandwich”) and a fantastic tomato bisque soup that tasted like the soup version of a Bloody Mary. My beverage of choice: a stout. I don’t remember the brand.

Terry ordered their last slice of coconut chocolate pie that, and I swear I am not making this up, the waitress said had been made by a little old lady who lived near there. 

We decided to bar hop from there, rather than go back to the rental and hang out, so we bounced around to several stops around the theater, none of whose bar names I recall. Each one was busy, packed, and we didn’t stay long enough even to order. Terry and I were each feeling restless tonight.

Our second drink was quite a ways west on Division, a pub that had a bazillion things on tap (they had four kegs on nitro!) and usually catered to cyclists; in the rain, not many cyclists were present, although one die-hard rolled in while we were working our way to the bottoms of our respective glasses. I again had a stout—this one aged in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels, and I could smell and feel the bourbon in the beer. Terry opted for a chocolate porter. 

We kicked around the idea of going to a strip club or seeing a movie, or more bar hopping. However, when we drained our glasses and left, our feet took us back to the Airbnb. Terry’s wife was up in the loft watching TV, so we sat down… and watched the latest episode of Stumptown. I’m all caught up now.

By then, it was 10:30 PM, and I realized I still had to write tonight, so I excused myself and drove the long stretch of Division out to my little Tosche Station on the far edge of nowhere.

Happy Friday, y’all.

Brains Are Bullshit

I didn’t recognize the waitress when I walked in; she was tall, and her curly hair was gray. She was close to the door. She smiled at me and welcomed me in.

“You’ll have to settle for a table,” she said when she spotted me eyeballing the lack of seats at the counter.

Everything is close to the door at Bertie Lou’s. The place is tiny. As you enter, you’re at one end of the counter: the kitchen right behind the bar in a space maybe 20′ long and 10′ wide. To the left is a doorway to the dining room, the same shape as the counter space/kitchen, except it had two four-tops and five two-tops, only one of which was a window seat.

On more beautiful days, there were seats outside. Today was not a more beautiful day. Even under the umbrellas, you’d be soaked and chilly.

I had wanted company, but if there were no seats where I could chat with the cook and other customers, I would, indeed, settle for a table. “Well, alright, if you insist,” I said.

“Brian!” E.’s voice came from behind the taller, older waitress. “It’s good to see you!” She was short, shorter than me. Her eyes lit up behind her glasses, and she tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. She smiled.

“Oh, I was hoping you’d be here.” I smiled, too, but I felt the social pressure to move from the cramped area right by the cash register and move into the back, following Tall Waitress, so through the doorway, I walked.

I picked the two-top against the back wall because I had brought my laptop and didn’t want to disturb anyone if I had to use it. Tall Waitress asked me if I wanted coffee. “And cream, please,” I agreed.

I sat, she brought coffee but no cream. I sipped the coffee and pretended to look at the menu. E. came back shortly after, asking me how I’m doing. I don’t get to come in here very often when E. is working. It had been a while.

“I’m leaving,” she admitted, suddenly.

“Leaving… Bertie Lou’s? Portland? Sellwood?”

“Oh, no, I’m not leaving Sellwood. I’m going to stay here for as long as I can. No, my last day is in November. I’m… I’m not really sure what I’m doing, honestly.”

“Do you have something else lined up?”

“Yes! Yes. I have a job—”

“There’s a space at the counter if you want to move!” Tall Waitress interrupted genially.

“Uh, sure, that’d be great, thanks.”

E. stepped back, allowing me to grab my laptop bag. “Here, I’ll carry your coffee for you.” Tall Waitress chuckled. “See, it’s good I haven’t brought your cream yet.”

The open seat was back against the wall, not near the register. I had a great view of the cook, a bald wiry guy with a wry sense of humor. E. tried to take my order, but I had already given it to Tall Waitress.

I got my breakfast—chicken-fried pork chop with gravy, scrambled eggs, a biscuit, home fries—and ate it, while surfing on my phone, trying to keep my elbows tucked in as others sat down on either side of me, trying to chew with my mouth closed (a complaint an ex had with me, and one I’ve internalized with shame). I listened to the chatter around me, took in the faint sounds of country-western music, and felt at home.

Both E. and Tall Waitress kept my coffee mug filled. Another regular, D., came in and got a conversation going about horoscopes and astrology, which gave me an idea for a short story.

I love this place.

When I’d cleaned my plate, and had my fill of coffee (and cream), I gathered my bag and my coat and slid down to the register. E. and I smiled at each other, and I handed over my card. “I’m going to save my cash.”

I felt the urge to say… something. Something. Anything. I remembered a lovely summer afternoon, sharing tacos with E. and her doggo, on an outside table at another favorite haunt of mine.

Abruptly, she said, “Do you have my number?”

I sighed and smiled. “I was just about to ask you for that.”

I pulled out my phone and typed in her number, tapped out a text message: “Hi! It’s Brian.” Hit Send.

“I am sure I will be back in here before the end of November,” I said, “but just in case, maybe we can hang out and have tacos again sometime.”

Just Send an Average American Postcard

I have already written 1200 words tonight, but I’m not going to post those, because it felt a bit too personal. I’m saving them, though, and they totally count for my daily writing project. 

Look, I did warn you that the goal is writing, not posting. Don’t look at me like that. 

I don’t want to break my habit of daily posting, though, so here’s a little something to keep that streak going.

I can’t hear the song “Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp without hearing Mr. Cougar Mellencamp growl, “And then we paint the mutha pink.” It’s just something I remember from wayyyyy back in the day on MTV, back when MTV was cool and played lots of music videos and also had great contests. 

Me and Val were sitting in the office today and listening to Spotify and “Pink Houses” came on, and even though each of us were deep in our own work, I growled out, “And then we paint the mutha pink,” just because. 

Val looked at me like I’d grown a second head, and I laughed, and tried to explain that it was from a long-ago commercial. Then I went a-googling, and sure enough, I found this ancient cultural artifact from the long-ago time of 1984. Watch, and reflect on how very different the world was back then.

I’d watch that at my girlfriend’s house (because my dad refused to pay for TV, so we did not get cable for a long time. My mom finally just called the cable company and made an appointment to have it installed, a few years after that, making an end-run around my father’s financially-motivated Luddism.) and I’d laugh. But who would want to live in Indiana?

I am 100% certain I entered that contest. Sadly, I did not win. I probably only sent, like, one postcard. It cost a stamp, which was $0.20 back then, which, honestly, even then was a bargain. Not sure if that was before the Republicans decided to kill the US Postal Service or not. It was the Reagan years, though, so likely so.

Anyway, enjoy imagining what your humble writer looked like back in the era of big hair and New Wave. No photos of me from then have survived. NONE. I SWEAR IT. NO, DON’T GO LOOKING CAN’T YOU TAKE MY WORD FOR IT?