Apr 15

Review: Gwendolyn, by Diana Souhami

gwendolynWarning: lots of spoilers.

First I want to admit I haven’t read George Eliot since high school. But I remember enjoying Silas Marner and Middlemarch so when I had the chance to read historian Diana Souhami’s Gwendolyn, which is based on a character in another one of Eliot’s novels, Daniel Deronda, I snatched it up.

At first I thought I had made a huge mistake.

The book starts off slowly, probably much in the style of Eliot and not in a style that I’m used to reading as of late. It didn’t help that I had just finished Gina Frangello’s A Life in Men, which was fan-fucking-tastic. So Gwendolyn, Souhami’s first foray into fiction, had a lot to live up to.

Something else that got on my nerves at first was Gwen’s referring to Deronda as “you” throughout the book. I understand that the novel is in the form of a letter, but all the you’s got pretty tedious after a while, especially in the scenes with Deronda, who seemed like a high and mighty killjoy if you ask me.

But then something happened. Deronda left the picture, and the book got a whole lot more interesting.

Every single other character was a hell of a lot more interesting than Deronda, from Gwen herself, to her cruel and sadistic husband, Grandcourt, to the unique and artistic friends she makes post-marriage, to George Eliot herself, who while a celebrated author is also nosy, judgmental, and insecure.

The story of Gwen’s marriage to Grandcourt is horrific yet gripping, and I found myself rooting for her escape and, afterward, her growth and freedom without rescue from a “prince.”

I also kept anxiously waiting for Grandcourt to show up on her doorstep, alive and well, since his body, post-drowning, never washed up on shore. But as Gwen gained strength and confidence, in addition to her new circle of friends, I was less anxious, not that Grandcourt wouldn’t show, but because I thought she could handle herself if he did.

The sign of well-done historical fiction for me is when while I’m reading or immediately afterward, I look up all the “characters.” That happened with The Paris Wife and it happened with Gwendolyn.

Right after I finished I looked up George Eliot to find out more about her longtime companion George Lewes, with whom she had an open relationship although she liked to be called Mrs. Lewes, and after his death, her marriage to a man 20 years her junior — in the book, it’s said she called him her “nephew,” weird — who during their honeymoon in Venice “jumped from their hotel balcony into the Grand Canal.” (He survived.)

Another “real” character is Paul Leroy, a French painter who lives with his probable-lover Antoine. Julian, a trapeze artist who cross-dresses as Juliette, might be based on the “female impersonator, high-wire performer” Barbette, who, like Julian, was born in Texas (although many years after Julian would have been) and performed in drag, only revealing himself as male at the end of his performance. That could be a whole book in and of itself.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and think that fans of Eliot and especially Daniel Deronda will enjoy it even more.

Apr 15

Rewatching ‘The Breakfast Club': Some Takeaways

MSDBRCL EC016I recently rewatched The Breakfast Club (purely for research, I swear).

While it’ll always be my favorite John Hughes movie (Sixteen Candles has a bit too much broad humor for me and Pretty in Pink just doesn’t hold up well), I couldn’t help but be bothered, and also surprised, by some things.

Bender’s verbal assault and sexual harassment of Claire. Or perhaps verbal and sexual assault?

It’s well-known that Judd Nelson stayed in character and continued to abuse Molly Ringwald when the cameras stopped rolling. While Ringwald “knew what he was doing” and so wasn’t bothered by the terrorizing, John Hughes was “fiercely protective” of her and almost had Nelson fired.

What’s extra disturbing is that Claire ends up with Bender, which is what we all wanted as teenagers, but now I worry that the abuse wouldn’t have ended, and might have gotten worse.

Ah adulthood, ruining everything.

I forgot how cute Emilio Estevez was. He was truly the nice guy in the movie, and for the billionth time, I was glad when Ally Sheedy’s Allison ended up with his Andrew Clark.

Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall are really good in this. So are the others but those two especially. And Hall was only 15 when shooting started!

I identify much more with Allison now than before. When I was younger, I probably wanted to distance myself from someone like her, but now that I’m older, I really admire her, dandruff, purse full of tampons, and all.

How did the library not reek of pot smoke? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t have the principal noticed the broken glass of the language lab?

I’m now obsessed with imagining John Cusack as Bender. Apparently John Cusack was close to getting the role of Bender. Ringwald said Cusack was great but different, “funnier and more sly and cute,” and, it seems, “not enough of a dick.”

Now I can’t stop imagining an alternate Breakfast Club universe with a cute, funny, sly Cusack version of Bender, rather than the scary and dangerous Nelson. I guess I’ll have to make do with One Crazy Summer, Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, and Say Anything, all of which I guess I’ll have to rewatch as well.

Mar 15

Obsessed: Stuff You Should Know

StuffYouShouldKnowWhile I’ve been a longtime fan of This American Life, I’ve never really been into podcasts. I wasn’t against them, but I just never gave them much thought. Then came Serial, and everything changed.

But after 12 short weeks, Serial was over, and I felt like I had nothing to listen to on my longish commute to and from work. This American Life is only once a week, and there are only so many times I can listen to the same 100 songs on my phone.

Somewhere along the way it suddenly occurred to me that there were probably a gazillion free podcasts out there for me to listen to. However, a gazillion is a lot, and I had no idea how to get started.

Then I happened upon this article in Mental Floss about noteworthy podcasts. Jackpot! I tried a bunch, and while I like Criminal and Here’s the Thing (Alec Baldwin has his own podcast, who knew?), what I really like is Stuff You Should Know.

Some of you might know I love trivia about random stuff (someday I’m writing a book called The History of Random Shit — you’d buy it, right?), and that’s exactly what SYSK is. The hosts are Josh Clarke and Chuck Bryant, two normal dudes who happen to be interested in a lot of different things. They’re also pretty hilarious.

I don’t know how many episodes I’ve listened to so far, but I’ve gone way back to the beginning when the podcasts were super short, ie, less than 20 minutes. Now they’re about 40 minutes, give or take, and include more banter and off-topic meandering, which I actually kind of like. For instance, one or both of them almost always ends up mentioning some movie that reminds them of the topic, and I end up jotting down the movie to watch later.

I’ve enjoyed all the episodes, but here are 10 that I particularly liked, and which you might want to start with if you’re interested.

How Pizza Works!

The guys cover the history of pizza is from 17th century Italy, to Italian immigrants setting up pizza shops in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, to the Big Pizza industry. Warning: this episode will make you very hungry and very much want pizza.

How Muppets Work

According to Josh and Chuck, this is SYSK’s most popular podcast ever, and understandably so. It’s fascinating stuff, and in fact, inspired me to write a piece on Muppet lingo.

How Jim Henson Worked

This is a really nice companion piece to the above.

How Foot Binding Worked

Learn about when a whole country had a (gross) foot fetish.

How Charles Darwin Worked

Listening to this episode, I realized I didn’t know much about Charles Darwin. When he was in his early 20s, he got invited to accompany this rich dude on his ship and explore exotic lands for five years. Darwin recorded everything he saw, and many years later, that became the Origin of the Species.

He was also very nervous — often throwing up out of anxiety — and so he didn’t enjoy the fame and notoriety associated with his famous work. In addition, he married his first cousin before they knew about the possible negative affects of inbreeding, and when I say “they,” I mean him. Darwin was the one who discovered that while married to his cousin, who by the way was a devout Christian so there was that whole conflict.

What makes a one-hit wonder?

This is a fun episode if mostly because of the walk down ’80s memory lane (remember Kajagoogoo?).

What makes a serial killer?

I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers (although in a guilty way) so this episode was a must-listen for me. Josh and Chuck give some history, describe what distinguishes a serial killer from, say, a mass murderer or a spree killer, and discuss some of the most famous serials killers, including Son of Sam, the Green River killer, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

What’s the deal with Rasputin’s death?

The guys clear up the lore around the death of the “mystical faith healer,” namely that he wasn’t some sort of unkillable vampire. He was a pretty tough mofo though.

Capgras Syndrome: You Are Not Who You Think You Are

Capgras Syndrone is a neurological disorder in which you think your loved ones are imposters. In other words, you see a man who looks like your father, but you feel like he’s just someone wearing a Dad-costume.

This might have something to do with a misfire in the brain causing you to not feel emotion when you see someone you know, which your brain chalks up to, “Must be an imposter.”

Taste and How It Works

The guys talk about taste beyond salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, how taste buds work, and supertasters, that small part of the population who taste certain flavors super-strongly.

Those are just a handful of hundreds of information-packed episodes available. You can get the SYSK podcast via the app, Podcasts. Not all the episodes are available there, but they are all available on their site.

Happy listening!

Mar 15

Hiking, Softies, and Searching for Mr. Pointy

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to visit my college pal JM in Seattle, and in true blog fashion (at least this blog), I’m writing about it late.

Right around this time last year, I went to Seattle for AWP and saw JM all too briefly. This time, we got to hang out for a whole long weekend.

Rain, Softies, and fry bread

The great thing about Seattle is that the flight from SF is so short: just two hours. Even better when you have an aisle seat in the exit row with no one in the middle (except for my seatmate’s jacket and backapck, go right ahead) and on Virgin. Aw yeah!

I spent the whole time listening to downloads of my new obsession, the Stuff You Should Know podcast (which deserves its own post), and playing Shanghai Mahjong, and before I knew it we were there.

Of course it was raining, but not too much, and JM was kind enough to pick me up at the airport. The moment we met up, it was non-stop talking. We had a lot to catch up on. Back at her lovely house, we snacked and chatted some more before heading out to nearby Kirkland.

I should say JM doesn’t live in Seattle itself but a suburb highly populated by “Softies,” or people who work for Microsoft. In my short visit there, I found that Seattle and the surrounding area had a very different tech feeling than the Bay Area. Less start-uppy and more old-school Big Tech. But I could be totally wrong.

It was drizzling as we walked around, but again not too bad. It wasn’t even worth the effort to use an umbrella. Kirkland has a lovely lakefront that was still lovely even in the cloudiness and mist.

For dinner we ended up at a Mexican place, where I tried Native American fry bread for the first time. However, there was so much stuff on it, I couldn’t really tell what it was like. My drink was definitely yummy: a combo of some kind of liquor, ginger beer, and lime.

I can’t remember when we got back. No later than 10, but I had gotten up early that morning, and between the flying and the drink, I was ready to conk out.

The search for Mr. Pointy

We spent the next day walking around downtown Seattle. We did a tiny bit of shopping, then for lunch we had delicious pho, which was perfect for the damp and chilly day. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. I know: I’m useless.

Then we were off to the EMP/Science Fiction Museum. I’ve been there before but that first time somehow missed the whole science fiction part of it. Needless to say, this time around I was nerding out pretty hard, especially because of the Star Wars costumes exhibit.

But before that there was the “fantasy” section, which included stuff from The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and The Game of Thrones:

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

And of course the Star Wars exhibit was great.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

But what I was really on the search for was Mr. Pointy. I saw it advertised outside, along with other “horror artifacts.” Obviously the vampire-killing stake Buffy inherited from Kendra wasn’t going to be in the Star Wars section. I walked around the fantasy section twice before poking my head out and asking the young hipster guard, “Is it in here that I would find Mr. Pointy?”

He stared at me blankly.

“You know from Buffy,” I said. Then it hit me. “You have no idea what I’m talking about do you?”

He admitted that he didn’t, and that he had only seen the movie. Then he said that besides the music section, there was just fantasy and Star Wars, and I have to say I was a wee bit disappointed.

JM and I were walking out when I saw the sign again about the horror exhibit. I had seen signs for it inside too, but for the life of me couldn’t find it.

JM was kind enough to accompany my obsessed ass back in (although she opted for the museum store instead), and the guard was kind enough to believe me when I said I had just left (having the receipt helped) but completely missed the horror. He gave me a new sticker and pointed me in the right direction.

I love fantasy and SF, but I love horror even more. When I saw that the exhibit was rated PG-13, I was even happier.

I saw the alien from Aliens

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

— this guy —

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and — duh duh duh duuuh! — Mr. Pointy:

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Yup, it’s a stick. But Buffy fans will get the importance of this stick.

I also enjoyed a short video about Ringu and The Exorcist. Eli Roth talked about how when he was six, he was about to watch some scary movie (I forget which), and his father said, “You want to see a scary movie?” and showed him The Exorcist.

“That messed me up for years,” Roth said.

When I was nine, I had a similar experience, which I’ve tried writing about before but not yet to my satisfaction. Maybe it’s time to try it again.

After I was done, I found JM in the cafe, and after downing a refreshing apple soda, we headed back.

That night we had dinner at home, then checked out a winery not too far away. We thought it was going to be a wine tasting, but it wasn’t. It was just wine, bad music, and worse dancing.

I kind of wished I had Mr. Pointy then.


The next day we went hiking, which was super-fun.

The last time I went hiking was in college or high school. We were on a family trip in Yosemite. It was me, my dad, and my brother (my mother wisely decided to opt out), and it was August. In other words, hot. For some reason Greg had all the water, and since he was on cross country, effortlessly jogged all the way up to the top. He met me and my father — sweating and huffing and puffing — on the way down, and at that point we gave up.

This hike was much easier, partly because I’m in better shape but also because it was cloudy and cool, and I had plenty of water and snacks.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on


A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

The hike was about four miles total, and was actually easier than my walk back from the grocery store at home. In that case I’m carrying up to 10 pounds of groceries uphill in the sun. Doing that a few times a month for several months has been good practice.

After our hike, we had a delicious barbecue lunch at a place nearby called Rhodies Smoking BBQ.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

After we got back, we pretty much just bummed around for the rest of the day. Had leftovers for dinner, then started to watch a movie. But neither of us were too into it, and I was pretty tired. The next morning I flew back to San Francisco.

I may visit Seattle again before my move back to the east coast. It’s so close and the flight prices don’t seem to change much. Plus I’d love to go hiking — and eat barbecue — again.

Dec 14

Year-End Retrospects

View on my commute. #sanfrancisco # baybridge #nofilter

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

I can’t believe it was only last year that MB and I broke up. True, we broke up in the beginning of 2013 and now 2014 is basically over so it’s more like two years, but it feels even longer than that, I suppose because so much has happened and changed since then.


I went to a whole bunch of places in 2013 and 2014.

Last February I visited my brother Greg in Los Angeles, and later that month went to Boston for the AWP conference. That trip was such a good antidote for the breakup: I worked like crazy but also saw friends and schmoozed with writers. Then, because I was on the east coast, I had the chance to visit my parents (which might have been better before the much more fun conference and visit with ES).

In April I went to New York and New Jersey for my birthday, and in May I visited Paris and London with YP. In November I spent Thanksgiving on the east coast for the first time in years. And bonus: Greg was there too, which was nice since it was the last time we were both home before our parents sold the house.

I kicked off 2014 with a super-fun Presidents’ Day vacation in sunny (yet chilly) Orlando with YP and a college pal (and of course we hit Disney), and then AWP again at the end of February, this time in Seattle, where I participated in a reading with Bellingham Review and had the chance to catch up with a college buddy I haven’t seen in years.

April meant another birthday trip to NJ and NYC; August was the big Spain trip; Thanksgiving, a nice long visit on the east coast; and just last week, a visit with Greg and his girlfriend in Los Angeles.

I’m not sure yet what my travel plans will be for 2015. I have no plans to go to AWP. (I’m not working nor have I been invited to any readings.) I had been thinking I’d go to NJ and NYC again for my birthday, but now I’m considering someplace else. Japan is at the top of  my list and — I just thought of this — maybe Montreal or Prince Edward Island. Greg raved about Montreal, and PEI because of Anne of Green Gables.


The biggest project I completed in the last year or so was my paranormal teen romance.

I had had the idea for a while, but thought I should revise this other novel I had completed in December of 2012 although I hated it. Every single word was a struggle to write. In all honestly, I probably should have given up on it long ago instead of wasting time and energy.

After MB and I broke up, I couldn’t work on that book. For a while I did nothing, then finally decided, Fuck it, I want to work on something fun and new, and started the YA book.

It was a pleasure to write from start to finish. When I wasn’t writing, I missed my characters. I got tingles imagining some scenes. I was always excited to work on it.

I have such good memories of working on it too. In Paris I was jetlagged so I’d be awake at four in the morning. I’d make some coffee and eat chocolate and write in my notebook while YP slept in the next room and it rained outside.

View. #paris

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

I would like those kinds of mornings for the rest of my life.

I finished the novel in March of this year. I spent a month revising it, then queried a whole bunch of agents. No luck. Needless to say, I was really disappointed. I loved the book so much, and everyone I talked to got excited about the premise. I wanted to make the book better but didn’t know how.

Then my brother read it and gave me an excellent critique. Basically, he said, it’s more like a first draft. There are a lot of lost opportunities for “coolness” and imaginative stuff. Perhaps a red herring I set up isn’t necessary, and, most of all, the protagonist is dull. I tried hard not to make her passive, but I think in the end she’s too much like me, and so, as always, I wasn’t able to get enough distance to make her her own person.

After hearing all that, I thought, Of course! It’s all so obvious! Duh!!!

I’m not quite ready yet to start revising it, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. When I’m ready to work on it again, I know I won’t be able to help it.

In addition to my book, I published a number of short pieces on everything from language to libraries to the television show Hannibal. For 2015, I plan on more of the same, as well as, perhaps, getting back into personal essays.

Health & Fitness

I probably didn’t achieve as much in the fitness area of my life. Sometime I last year I gave up going to classes at my krav maga place. While the location was super-convenient for where I used to live, it’s just not anymore. So when my membership expired in September of last year, I didn’t bother renewing it.

Instead I joined a gym near work and it’s fantastic. Clean and spacious with gorgeous locker rooms and Kiehl’s in the showers. So while I don’t do harder workouts now like conditioning and carido punching bag, I’ve been going more consistently — four or five days during the week, whether early in the morning, at lunchtime, or after work.

I do miss those conditioning and punching bag classes though, especially since I hurt my back a couple of weeks ago. Walking and even running were okay, but sitting was excruciating, especially on a jerky bus ride. My theory is that because I stopped conditioning and punching bag, my back and core muscles have weakened. At the same time, I started rowing in the last several months, probably with bad form, and have been carrying around a heavy backpack quite a lot, whether during my travels, to and from work with my computer and other gadgets, or grocery shopping.

If my back feels better soon, I’ll try to take this conditioning class I like at the gym. I’ve taken it several times but stopped because it’s not until 5:30 and I get home so late. But how I’ll fill the punching bag shaped hole in my heart, I’m not sure. I sometimes work on the heavy bag at the gym, but it’s not the same as a solid hour of doing routines and conditioning. I’m almost tempted to rejoin my old krav maga gym, maybe for six months or so.

In other health news, since April I’ve cut out instant noodles and other high sodium processed foods. I’m paranoid about my blood pressure (I know, I know, I should get a checkup). Also because of what I’m theorizing is low stomach acid, I’ve cut my rice intake as well. If I eat too much rice or other carbs, my stomach feels like it’s going to explode (however, that didn’t stop me this past week from eating delicious stuffing, noodles, and sandwiches).

I’ve also started eating more fruits and vegetables, and gotten into the habit of having an apple or whatever is in season after lunch and dinner. I feel like the fruit neutralizes any saltiness and probably helps with digestion as well.


My dad’s health has been up and down for the past couple of years. In late 2012, he had a bad fall during a vacation in Taiwan, and ever since then has dealt with a variety of issues.

When I saw him in April, he seemed to be improving. He was sleeping better and had a good appetite. But when Greg saw him over the summer, he was in bad shape. His doctor had him on strong antibiotics in preparation for a biopsy that could lead to possible infection. As a result, he had lost his appetite and was eating almost nothing.

Greg said he was really skinny, could barely keep his balance, and seemed really muddled. On top of that, he was having trouble sleeping again (he was worried about his biopsy results, which by the way turned out fine) and was on some sleep aid, which made him crazy, especially in combination with this appetite stimulant he was on. AND on top of all that, he had a cataract he was being stubborn about so he couldn’t see either.

Now he’s like a new person.

As soon as he was off the antibiotics, he got his appetite back. I had suggested eating yogurt and sweet potatoes to help with his digestion. He resisted at first, saying that yogurt was too sour and just not digging sweet potatoes, but now he eats both multiple times a day.

He got the cataract removed at the end of August, and now he’s reading and typing intelligent emails again. Before, his emails were crazy. I didn’t know if he couldn’t see or was, like, losing it. Now they’re back to being eloquent.

He still can’t walk as much as he used to, but he still takes short walks a couple of times a day, and goes to physical therapy. He started playing mah-jongg again and singing karaoke. He goes out to dinner with friends.

When I told Greg that, he couldn’t believe it.

Finally selling their house also helped. It was a huge worry for them. But now it’s off their hands and they’re settling in their new place in an independent living development (ie, a retirement community).

When I first saw the new house last month, it was weird. It was as though my parents were living in some stranger’s home, and the idea of some other kid living in my old room also weirded me out. But I got used to the new place fast. It helps that the upstairs is almost like its own apartment, complete with two bedrooms, a bathroom off one of the bedrooms, and a living room.

“You could live here!” ES said when I gave her the tour.

Yeah, a 40+ single woman living in her parents’ retirement community. Pretty pathetic (and possibly a rom-com).

While my father is doing much better, I doubt he’ll be up for visiting me before I move. However, I’m glad my mom had the chance to come out here last October. She came for my aunt and uncle’s anniversary party (they live in San Jose), and stayed with me one weekend. We mostly hung around the apartment although we did go into Oakland Chinatown, have dim sum, and pick up stuff for dumplings, which I had wheedled her into making for me.

During that time I also had the chance to see lots of extended family because of my aunt and uncle’s party (after which I got sick because of one glass of wine and a very winding car ride back to the house).


After MB and I broke up, I couldn’t afford to stay in our Nob Hill apartment anymore and moved into a friend’s condo in Oakland.

The sky now. #nofilter

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While there’s no denying the apartment is fabulous and the area beautiful, living not-in-a-city was a huge adjustment for me. After five years of living in Manhattan and three and a half in very walkable Nob Hill, I was used to having everything I needed within walking distance and to be able to pop out for food or just to get out.

You can’t really do that here. If you have a car, that’s another story, but I’m phobic about driving so that wasn’t an option for me. I have to admit at first I felt somewhat isolated. Walking into town and to the BART is doable but it does take a lot of time. And I hated the idea of paying for so many cab rides.

However, a year and a half later, I’ve gotten used to it. It helps that I’ve started taking a different walking route into town. The one I used to take was on the highway for quite a bit and went through this part of town with steep hills. The new one doesn’t go through any pretty developments, but it’s sidewalks all the way down and only a gradual hill. I’m not sure why I took my previous route for so long.

So now I’m a lot less hesitant about doing what I call the schlep. Plus it’s good exercise. Ever since Spain and marathon walking days, I’ve really been into these super long walks.

Despite my love for this apartment and the Bay Area weather, I’ll be moving back to the east coast next summer. There are many reasons. I have lots of friends on the east coast, I’ll be able to afford to live in a city (Manhattan rents are currently cheaper than San Francisco’s), and I’ll be nearer to my parents who, let’s face it, aren’t getting any younger. Plus the east coast just feels more like home.

I will miss the weather and my huge apartment though. Shit.


Nov 14

Writing Update: Nature Words, Boardwalk Empire, the Jersey Devil

baskinginsun-300x200Behind as usual. But at least I didn’t wait a whole year this time.

The Case for Making Libraries Full of Toys and Games

I wrote this piece for Quartz back in August. Researching the importance of play was really interesting.

10 Unusual Nature Words We Should Use More Often

An excuse to write about petrichor. By the way, the photo above is an example of apricating.

Boardwalk Empire: Our Favorite Words from the Final Season

I had to pay one last word-nerd hurrah to my favorite Prohibition-era gangster show.

The Mysterious Origins of the Jersey Devil

Writing the short Jersey devil entry on the Wordnik Boardwalk Empire piece inspired to me write this longer article for The Week. What I didn’t know: New Jersey is the only state to have an official state demon. Who knew?

[Photo: “Miss J Basking in the Sun,” CC BY 2.0 by Aiko, Thomas & Juliette+Isaac]

Aug 14

The flight home

I was stressed about getting to the airport, but YP found out about the express bus and it was super easy.

Getting through airport security was another story. I didn’t realize I had to take out ALL my electronics, including plugs, chargers, and my headphones. I had to go back through the scanner twice more. However, luckily they didn’t make me go to the end of the line, and plus this nice American kid explained it all to me, having experienced the same thing himself.

Going to my departure area was also a pain. Between a tram ride and the walk, it was over 20 minutes. This woman approached me asking a question in Spanish. I said in English, “Are you going to the U.S.? Then you need to go to area U.”

“U?” she said. “Like you and me?”

At first I laughed, but then she wouldn’t get away from me. She stood RIGHT next to me on the escalators. Like she was pressed up right against my backpack and kept saying stuff like, “You and me, we’re the same.” She held up her passport but it was EU, not American so I had no idea what she was talking about.

Maybe it was mean of me but I totally wanted to ditch her. It was hard enough to figure out for myself where I was going. At first I went the wrong way, and when I turned around abruptly she was right on my heels. Then I walked off really quickly, knowing she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

I made it to my gate with about an hour to spare. I had time to go the bathroom, get something to eat, and pick up a couple of things from the duty-free shop. (I wanted to use up my euros but I wasn’t able to.)

Compared to my airport experience, the flight itself was a dream. It was Iberian Airlines and really nice. The plane seemed new, and each seat had a fancy entertainment center. There were so many free movies. On top of that, in a row of four, it was just me and one other woman, both on the aisle.

I didn’t sleep at all but watched three and a half movies: Veronica Mars, American Hustle (much of which was censored so parts of it felt disjointed), Captain America 2, and part of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The only uncomfortable part of the flight was after we landed. We were told many times not to get up until the captain told us it was okay to do so. Two airport officials with surgical masks came on and questioned this family (I’m guessing they were Afro-Spanish). At one point a stewardess, also masked I think, took away this water bottle that was stopped up with a paper towel. The family, which had two little boys, were escorted off the plane first by the masked officials.

All I kept thinking was Ebola, but maybe one of the kids was sick (one of the bathrooms smelled really bad and then was out of order) and because we were coming in from another country, that was just standard procedure?

It was weird. But I guess they would have told us if it was anything serious.

The next leg of my journey was tough. The only good part was that I had ended up not checking my suitcase. The woman in the Madrid airport warned me that I’d have to pick up my bag and get it through customs before getting on my connecting flight. I don’t know how I would have made it. I had to get through customs, then schlep to another terminal, then go through security AGAIN. At least this time I knew the drill.

I made it to my gate about half an hour before boarding. I had time to pee, get some food (this fruit cup really hit the spot), and be surprised that everyone spoke English.

I don’t know why I ever thought O’Hare Airport was nice. It’s shitty and not air conditioned well.

I thought the flight 4.5 hour to my city would feel endless but I was so exhausted I fell asleep several times. We landed on time, 7 PM, which was 4 in the morning Madrid time.

But my journey still wasn’t over. I still had the subway, and it was during that 45 minute ride that I felt REALLY exhausted and kind of sick. But at least it wasn’t hot, my car wasn’t crowded, and when I got to my stop, I caught the one cab waiting at the cab stand. By 9 PM, almost 24 hours since I left Madrid, I was home home home!

I was so happy to be back in my own place, my fatigue didn’t even bother me anymore. I washed up (thinking about that gross bathroom), set an egg to boil for a late dinner, and called Mom. We spoke very briefly.

I had lentil soup with an egg for dinner (it tasted particularly flavorless after two weeks of salty food) and watched a bit of Midsomer Murders. By 10 PM I was losing consciousness.

I fell asleep fast and at one point woke up and had absolutely no idea where I was. I even had trouble finding the bathroom. I was feeling around in the dark: is this it? No, that’s the closet. Crazy.

I was pretty awake around five this morning. I did my favorite morning routine: have a nice strong cup of coffee (Spanish coffee from the airport, which was really fucking good, wish I had bought more) and PBJ toast, and read. Then I caught up on work emails and worked out. Ten minutes on elliptical and then a three-mile run after one of the treadmills became free.

The early morning walk to the gym was so nice.

I thought about going into the city, but it’s already three now so that’s not happening. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow, or at least the grocery store. I have enough regular food but not enough snacks.

I’m pretty tired now. Think I’ll watch the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special and then have an early dinner.

Aug 14

Back in Madrid

In Barcelona, I was dreading the subway ride from our hotel to the train station, but I surprisingly remembered how to get there since I had lead the way the first time. Again, the train ride was lovely. We ended up sitting next to each other, and we both dozed most of the way.

I felt more comfortable once we were in Madrid. I prefer hot and dry weather as opposed to hot and humid, and it was great that the hotel YP picked was very close to the apartment we had stayed in, which meant it was super close to the train station.

We had asked for two twin beds but they gave us a double. We asked to switch rooms, and they ended up putting us in a suite with two twins AND a Murphy bed. YP took the Murphy.

While YP went to pick up his matador outfit, I headed out to the Naval Museum. But it was closed — d’oh! I wasn’t sure what else to do. At first I wandered around aimlessly, looking for a restaurant since I was pretty hungry. But nothing appealed to me, or else I felt too shy to go in by myself. I ended up in the supermarket section of VIPS and picked up some Asian noodles and a yogurt. I went back to the room, ate, read, and watched Midsomer Murders.

It was during this time I realized the A/C wasn’t working. At first I was okay, but then I got so warm I had to open the windows.

After YP came back, we went to meet the apartment swapee for a drink. It was then that I realized how starved we both were to talk to someone who was not each other, and in English to boot. The swapee was very nice and it was fun chatting with her. That was also the first truly leisurely Spanish meal we had. We sat outside, had drinks, and ordered food in fits and starts. (As always I ordered too much.) The swapee had brought her dogs. She held the smaller one in her lap while the bigger one hid under the table and leaned its body against my legs.

That night, our last in Madrid, we both had a terrible night’s sleep. It was too warm, even with the windows open, and plus it was very noisy. After a while I put in my earplugs, which helped some, but then I was awake at six. I got maybe three hours of sleep.

Aug 14

Barcelona, Day 3

After a good night’s sleep, I was up early.

I had breakfast again in the hotel (which YP had thought was free but it wasn’t, oh well). YP had plans to go to the beach. I was tired of the sun and plus I had my period so I headed back to the Ciutadella Park to visit the Barcelona Zoo, which was about to close when I went the night before.

El pinguino, up close and personal #barcelona #barcelonazoo

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Of all the places I went to, the zoo at 19 euros was the most expensive. But I think it was worth it. It’s enormous, and I was there for almost three hours. Still, the animals’ enclosures seemed really small, like they had barely any room to run around. But I guess that’s what a zoo is and why some people hate them.

Why hello there #barcelona #barcelonazoo

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Afterwards, since it was still early, I made the schlep to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, or MNAC.

I could have taken the subway, but I walked the almost-hour instead, figuring that would be a good way to see the city. I didn’t get lost but I’m sure I used a lot of data on my phone.

On my way I passed the Gardens of the Grec Theater. It was really neat but again it was so hot and sunny so I didn’t stay for long.

The MNAC is so crazy. It’s high up on this hill, and you have to take about four outdoor escalators just to reach it.

The view from the National Museum of Catalan Art #barcelona

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By the time I did, I had such a headache. I took an Aleve but it did nothing so I think I was dehydrated. I started drinking water like crazy and also had a yummy blueberry muffin before heading inside. Delightful surprise: the muffin was full of frosting.

I enjoyed the museum although I was SO tired. I sat as much as possible although there wasn’t much seating. I was pretty good about seeing everything and listening to as many audio descriptions as I could.

The ceiling at the National Museum of Catalan Art. #barcelona

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'Sup? #barcelona #art

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When I finished it was only about five so I thought I’d try to see the Magic Fountain. I discovered that it was only an eight minute walk away, but thought, How the hell am I going to figure out how to get there?

Then I realized it was at the foot of the museum. Dehr.

The Magic Fountain at the foot of the National Museum of Catalan Art

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Then began the long schlep back.

Unlike in Madrid, it’s very easy to find places to eat in Barcelona. Things don’t seem to shut down between two and eight, and there’s lots of takeaway. So I had many choices for dinner.

Where did I end up? At a hamburger place next to the hotel. YP had had a veggie burger there, and he said it was good. I did not have the veggie burger. I had a hamburger with blue cheese and grilled onions, and it was GOOD. It was also enormous. I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat the whole thing, but I did, along with most of the fries.

Aug 14

Barcelona, Day 2

We started the day with a late breakfast at Brunch & Cake, which was adorable. I had something to eat earlier so I wasn’t super-hungry, but I was still able to have a cortada and one slice of coconut bread (YP had the other).

Coconut bread with carmelized pears #barcelona

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Afterward we went to check out Sagrada Familia. It was a bit of a schlep and again it was sunny and humid. The cathedral was really cool, but there were soooooo many people. I thought YP might want to stand in line to go in, but thank God he didn’t.

Next up was the Museu Picasso. On our way there we ran into La Monumental, an old bullfighting arena that’s now a museum. (Bullfighting has been banned in Barcelona since 2010.)

The museum itself was dinky and just okay. The fun part was going into the empty arena, standing in the middle of it, and going “backstage.” It was even more fun because by then we had been to an actual bullfight — and besides the museum fee, we didn’t have to pay for a tour.

There was quite a long line for the Picasso museum. We waited for almost an hour but at least we were in the shade. When we finally got into the museum, YP went through it quickly and took off to do something on his own. I got the audio tour and listened to almost everything.

On my way back to the hotel, I munched on a piece of yummy pizza, then stopped in the Barcelona Cathedral. This time I was ready with a little jacket. But it turned out I didn’t even need it. There were plenty of women in sleeveless dresses and tops, and both men and women in shorts. What a crock. At least I didn’t get duped into buying a shawl like the girls I ran into as I left.

Ceiling, Cathedral of Barcelona #barcelona #spain

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At the hotel I charged my phone and rested a little, then went to Ciutadella Park, which was just a five minute walk away. It was pretty nice with lots of people running, doing CrossFit, and yoga. For those reasons, as well as the vegetarian restaurants, banned bullfighting, and transvestites I kept seeing, Barcelona reminded me a lot of San Francisco.

After the park I checked out a couple of cool buildings (the Palau de Musica Catalana and Palau Guell) and then had sushi for dinner. It was above average.

I slept much better that night.