La Vaquita 2/7/2012

February 17, 2012

Getting lost in Durham, looking for La Vaquita, which turns out to be a drive-up roadside taco place. We order through a window and eat on benches. There are still payphones on the edges of parking lots, in the corners where weeds grow and cigarette butts and bottlecaps collect.

I closed all the doors and windows in the house at 9 o’clock this morning. It was 81 degrees Fahrenheit inside, and 84 degrees outside.

After dinner, around 7 P.M., I opened the windows and doors again. I had just finished cooking dinner – green beans sauteed in bacon fat, garlic, and brown sugar, over boiled rice. It was 87 degrees inside, and 96 degrees outside.

I did not turn the air-conditioning on. I still haven’t turned it on. If we can make it to August without air-conditioning, we’ll have something to brag about for the rest of the summer. If we can make it through the whole summer, we’ll have something to brag about forever.

We drank ice water. We had strategically-positioned fans throughout the house. We kept the curtains drawn. We ate fruit popsicles. We dressed appropriately for the heat, and we sweated a little bit, but the breeze from the fans dried the sweat, and our bodies did their jobs, healthily. The kids’ first day of school was today, and that coincided with Waffle Cone Wednesdays at TCBY, so we each had a celebratory frozen yogurt. It was a good afternoon and evening. No one lost their temper. We stayed cool enough.

And so it has become a game. We don’t want to spend the money on electricity if we can help it because that money can be used for other things like rent or food or for a simple pleasure like a $1.50 waffle cone. We shouldn’t have to make decisions like this, but we oh well, we do have to. While we’re laughing at the absurdity of the situation so that we don’t become petrified by despair, we make it into a game. How far can we take it?

An unintended consequence of this particular poverty game is that I am becoming more comfortable with the summer. I moved to North Carolina in August of 2003 from temperate and lovely Oakland, California. I had lived my entire life up until then in the coastal plain of California, where the ocean calms the air and keeps temperatures always within the range of comfortable. My first summer in North Carolina knocked me to my knees. I had moved to the most bizarre place imaginable, where cicadas fell out of trees onto my head, the air was so heavy I couldn’t breath, and sinister vines twisted over everything they could reach. I hated it. October finally came, and I could live again.

Autumn in North Carolina is easy to love, winter is precious with its occasional dustings of snow, and spring here is nothing but enchanting. Summer in North Carolina is a monstrous THING.

I’m dead square into my ninth summer here, and I have to say, every summer becomes less and less a drag. I might even say that summer even started to become almost…wonderful…three years ago. That was the summer I went to weddings and house parties, and I DJ’d before bands played, and I would dress up in my Lucky Green Dress, wearing brooches or fishnet stockings, and I would go out into the night feeling covered in summer. Everyone’s face was slick with sweat at 1 in the morning, we were sticky, exhausted or drunk and maybe dehydrated, but people were dancing and talking and having fun.

So yes, summer, you are beguiling me, but you still haven’t completely won we over. Summer in North Carolina is filled with bugs, with mosquitoes that bite and make me itch and scar me, stinging things that fly, and beetles and cockroaches that creep and dart and crawl and spring from everywhere. And all these THINGS are out there in the dark, and I can’t see them.

But now, this ninth summer, I think that the bugs and the darkness are losing a little bit of their tyranny over me. When it’s late out, and still not quite cool enough in my room to go to bed, I like to sit outside in the night air. It’s cooler, by only a little but just enough to matter. It’s dark outside, and I can hear the things twitching and buzzing around me, but it feels so good out there. I’m starting, by just this much (holding finger to thumb very closely), to not care about those things out there in the dark. And I’d never want to sit out there in the night air if I weren’t playing a silly game about air-conditioning to keep me sane.

Summer is a beast, but it bewitches you. It has become the scent of crepe myrtle stuck to your lungs, fireflies blinking, people sweating and staying up late, popsicles melting, porch parties, tomato sandwiches, driving on the country roads with the windows all the way down, music, always music, and wearing almost nothing, and waking up to a bright morning sky. We can handle summer, and if (when) we do need to turn the air-conditioning on, we’ll turn it on. The temperature’s supposed to break 100 each day the next few days, so I’m guessing it’ll be turned on soon.

I think I found the sweet spot of affordable, gorgeous houses in a just-barely-pre-gentrification neighborhood in Durham. There seems to be this rectangle of street blocks a 1/2 mile from where my oldest girl goes to school. Two blocks to the south or east, every third house is boarded up or burned down. Two blocks to the north or west the houses are gorgeous and not affordable. And in between these few blocks almost all the houses are for sale or being worked on. Yay Durham!

This is where I want to live, and I want to do it now. I took a walk around the neighborhood this morning, poking in windows of empty houses for sale. A contractor in a house next door started chatting with me, and then he let me walk around inside the house his crew was working on. He showed me what they were doing, and we talked about the structure of the building, and then, dear reader, he offered me the contact info for the owner of the house and said they might even negotiate sale of the house as is, without the kitchen or bathrooms even replaced yet.

I wish I knew how to get a mortgage, and I wish there were banks who would loan me money. Even though I’m unemployed, I’ve always paid my bills on time and never missed a rent payment. Shoot, I wish I knew someone who would go halfsies with me on buying the house. The downstairs parlor/bedroom/closet/bathroom combo could be a great place for a single parent and their child or two to live. Or for a single person or couple who want their own little extra living room

Every few months I let loose my dream of one day living in the most amazing house, and I get excited for a few days, and do a lot of research, and then financial reality hits so I go back to being disappointed again. Currently in the dreamy, excited phase of house fever.

So this is today’s find:

Three bedroom house built in 1900, sturdy bones, beautiful work being done, kitchen and bathrooms and closets remain unfinished/bare.
Could easily be 5-bedroom house, with all these extra rooms. Or parlor and downstairs bedroom could be its own little suite, easily shut off from rest of the house but convenient to front door and kitchen.

Porch leads to centered front door. Door opens into huge living room. To the left french doors lead into the parlor, immediately in front a door leads into the stair hall, the far right corner has an archway that leads into gigantic dining room.

Parlor has a door that leads to a bedroom with closet and bathroom. Bedroom has a door that leads to stair hall, and another door that leads to a suite of kitchen/parlor/pantry/laundry rooms/closets. Stair hall has a door to the living room, another to a bedroom, and another to back kitchen/laundry area, plus wide bright stairs leading up. Dining room has archway leading to living room and door leading into kitchen, plus a door opening outside out to side porch. There is a back porch leading off kitchen area.

Upstairs is a small front room without a closet (hence, not officially a bedroom), plus 2 bedrooms, each with their own bathroom and closet(s).

I want to buy this. So so much. Before they put in granite countertops in the kitchen.

During the most recent Presidential election in the United States I got to thinking that regardless of who won it was going to take years, even decades to pick up the pieces of destruction left by the outgoing Bush administration. This idea has become more evident to me one year into Obama’s term. I’m not really disappointed with what Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress has done or not done in the last year. It would take an incredible amount of daring, visionary leadership to start fixing America’s problems, not just from one politician, but from a whole gaggle of them. That’s something I just don’t expect from most politicians. I hope for it because I always hope for the best, but I know it’s not going to be forthcoming any time soon.

Nevertheless I am glad that Obama is the President instead of McCain. At the very least I expect the harm Obama’s administration can do to this country will be much less than the harm a McCain administration would have inflicted.

So here we are in 2010, a year that sounds like a science fiction year. I am 31 years old, jobless, having daily anxiety attacks about just getting by. I haven’t had a job since March of last year, and I routinely receive rejection letters that reference the pool of 200+ candidates with above average credentials from which the institution had to choose. I am trembling under a heavy load of student loan, credit card and medical debts. In the past few weeks my body has been learning what going to bed slightly hungry every night feels like, and one of my daughters came to me the other night worriedly asking if we were going to have to live on the street sometime soon.

Yes, I pity myself. It’s oddly comforting to hear the new jobless statistics released in the past week. I know my situation is not unusual. Indeed a shocking number within my own extended circle of friends and acquaintances have similar struggles weighing them down – student loan debts, credit card debts, lack of employment opportunities, reduced wages, impossible healthcare situations. I know a lot of bright, motivated, hardworking people who are heavily educated but can’t find an opportunity to prove their talents.

If things continue in this vein for much longer, I fear America’s 20- and 30-somethings will become a new Lost Generation. What kind of damage is being wrought on the lifetime earnings of people who can’t even climb onto the first rung of a career ladder despite their qualifications?

I was thinking this while driving home from dropping the kids off at school this morning. When I got home I looked on the Internet to see if other people are thinking along these lines as well. Well, yes, they are. They even use the same term I was thinking of. The tagline of the article is

The continuing job crisis is hitting young people especially hard—damaging both their future and the economy

The article reflects on the issue the same way that I have been. It focuses on 20-somethings, but in my experience this trend is hitting people in their 30s as well. The situation is very discouraging, to say the least.

So what can we do?

It seems that we as a generation will not reach a level of financial security that the generations recently before us could reach. As individuals, we must look to other means of security. I’m developing my own security in community, simple pleasures, and meditative activities. I’m seeing my peers value a “less is more” life aesthetic, turning to the handmade and homemade. I hope to see more exchange of local goods, with an emphasis on economy at a human level. I’m starting this year clinging to the credo “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” My word for the year is “joy,” which I find creeping into many of my conversations. Some aspects of this evolving lifestyle change I am nurturing in myself include:

– Simple whole foods cooked simply and shared with others because food tastes better when it’s real, and it tastes even better when shared. Another benefit is that it is less expensive; a giant pot of potato soup costs the same or less than a meal eaten out of colorful boxes and disposable trays and can last for several meals.

– Pleasure in the mundane. There is joy to be had in consciously living through the days. Clean sheets, the stars at night, warm showers, proximity to love, the satisfaction of owning my own power drill – these little things count.

– Productive waiting. For example my hands have been constantly knitting the past few months. I knit when socializing with friends, and I knit when I am at home because I can’t afford to go anywhere. It is a meditative activity that results in useful objects.

– Spreading kindness and discouraging negativity. I love the calm happiness that results from genuine smiles to all around me. I have less patience now for disrespectful or unpleasant behavior in others. I choose to give and receive goodness. I don’t have time for selfishness and anger.

As I reflect on my future and the future of the people I care about, I sense that the values and habits of the past few generations will not be relevant to us. Things will not be the same as they were, and we will have to choose different values and live accordingly. The success that I was hoping for when I was younger was moderate, and included the ability to keep a savings account, to own a small home for my family, and to take vacations every so often. I was never expecting wealth and fame. It is a desolation to me that my hopes get smaller every year. But this is where we are, and this is what we’ve got to work with.

In parting, I wish you peace in your struggles and joy in your days. All of you. Yes, even you George Bush.

This is where I live

May 15, 2009

This is the video for a new song by local band the Kingsbury Manx. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve seen all day. There are lots of babies in strollers and dogs on leashes in the video, and there are people walking around and watching live music outside. It’s really very lovely, and watching it reminds me how nice it is to live here.

but you, my bombazine doll

December 7, 2006

When I’m sitting in a parking lot, like I was last night, wanting to rip my heart out of my chest and throw it on someone’s doorstep, it’s good to know that I have friends that I can call who, at a moment’s notice, will have me sitting in their living room with drinks already made. So I can bawl my eyes out and let the franticness release somewhat.

I haven’t had friends nearby – physically and emotionally – like this in years.

very much chuffed

September 10, 2006

This past week has left me wide-eyed, in disbelief. I don’t quite understand it. How did I end up here, with this life? How am I so lucky to be here, now? I can hardly process everything. It’s Sunday night, and I am sitting here, almost throbbing with happiness at all the events and moments and things that have happened over the course of the week. And it’s nothing earth-shattering – but it’s just a number of things that make me realize Oh my God, I live in a community, and I am a part of this community, and people are lovely, and I love it.

This afternoon and evening I took my daughters with me to Usufruct, an event (what other word to describe it, not quite a party, not quite a festival, not quite neighbors just hanging out?) at a house in my neighborhood. This is a gorgeous house surrounded by 10 acres of hilly, wooded land, and the owners are looking to sell the land, and if it is sold, it will likely be sold to developers, and the people who rent the house there have been trying to figure out a way to preserve this greenspace in the center of town for the community. So they hosted an event to get people over there to see the land to help figure out what we can do to preserve this as a community place. Besides the gorgeous house, there is a trail through the woods that leads to an abandoned commercial swimming pool built in the 1920s that they think might be a great place to show films. There is another trail down a hill that leads to the Recylcery, a place for people to bring their bicycles and learn how to fix them and help other people learn how to fix them, plus an experimental community garden brimming with more basil than anyone would ever know what to do with. We stayed there for 5 hours, and it was the cream on the cake of this week that has blown my mind. Maria was reading Tarot there, and she read the cards for me, and it was a freakishly relevant reading. And all I can say about it all is a series of exclamation points. And so here are the exclamation points.


I really can’t process it all. I am almost dumb with amazement and knowing the people I know here and loving them so much, and hearing the sounds of the crickets making a racket on this September night I am in LOVE with the night, and in LOVE with Carrboro, and in LOVE with you, and you, and you, and most of all you.