Operation Heavenly

August 17, 2011

Tonight, I write a love letter to one of my favorite albums.

I’ve been digging pretty deep into the records I love lately for potential money-rallying material. This week I sold one of my favorite albums, Operation Heavenly by Heavenly.

I bought this album brand-new my sophomore year of college, 1997. Consider the 19 year old me:

wardrobe – one pair of Levi’s 501 button-fly jeans, one pair of black jeans, one pair of ill-fitting off-brand ugly jeans, a half dozen t-shirts emblazoned with my favorite bands’ logos and comic strip panels custom-done in Mexico with my friend Tanya, a few 1960s shells, one light blue Harrington-style jacket, black Adidas Campuses, black steel-toed Oxfords, electric blue 10-hole Dr. Martens, a handful of school-uniform and Girl Scout-uniform dresses, and a few cardigan sweaters

haircut – totally DIY, either black, or platinum blonde, dyed myself, cut myself, short or in a bob, always with bangs

poverty – extreme

major – Latin

favorite past-times – reading fiction instead of studying for finals, getting drunk, avoiding eye contact, reading comics at Cody’s, taking the BART to San Francisco, going to shows, dancing at Popscene

I had a boyfriend. We’d just started dating my 2nd semester of college. I’d never had a boyfriend before. I lived at Andres Castro Arms, a 70+-bed co-op house just up the hill from campus, across the street from Delta Delta Delta, three houses down from the football stadium. The house sat directly on the San Andreas Faultline (you could see a crack running down the facade of the stadium), but it had the most glorious, sweeping, amazing view of the Bay, the Golden Gate, the Marin Headlands, the Berkeley flats, Oakland Bay Bridge, San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, and the Port of Oakland. Berkeley had a very extensive system of cooperative housing arrangements. It was great for the poorer, less mainstream students because it was cheap to live in a co-op compared with renting in Berkeley and meals were provided, cooperatively. It was awful for someone like me who enjoys a bare modicum of cleanliness and hates it when people steal my lunch out of the walk-in. There were some good parties though.

My friends and I devised our social life around Britpop music. We went to shows in San Francisco, we went dancing in clubs to Britpop music, we flirted with boys and girls with floppy haircuts at the record stores. Britpop got me into this cute little teenaged DIY poppy punky band from Scotland called Bis, who’d been putting out fun, enthusiastic EPs on 7 inch records for a little bit. My bug for buying 7 inches had begun. Bis had a split 7″ on K Records with Heavenly that was among those I bought. I fell absolutely mad for the Heavenly song, which was “Trophy Girlfriend”:

Of course I had to buy the album.

I shared a room at Andres Castro arms, and my room-mate was a quiet Biosciences major. Her computers were noisy. We didn’t share the same taste in music (I think she was into J-pop maybe), but we got along and tried to respect each others’ spaces, so I listened to my records on headphones. I spent an entire semester sitting on my bed with my Latin homework, conjugating and declining page after page, listening to Operation Heavenly.

This album keeps coming back into my life. Every other year or so I listen to it for a few weeks, and I fall in love with a new song. One year I learned that “Nous ne sommes pas des anges” was a cover of a really cool French song. Another year I chuckled at the cultural specifics in the lyrics for “Ben Sherman.” I learned that that funny voice in “Pet Monkey” was Calvin Johnson, who seemed like a cool dude I should check out.

In my junior year of college, an acquaintance gave me a box of records he’d scooped up on a visit home to Wales when he heard I liked Heavenly. He’d bought them when he was a kid; he didn’t need them anymore. There were about two dozen records, and they formed the nucleus of my Sarah Records collection. Half of those records became my most favorite songs EVER, including Heavenly’s “I Fell In Love Last Night.” I’m never selling that record.


August 12, 2011

Because this is the Internet, let’s just say I have a lot of mental anguish, and I’ll keep the details to myself.

Because I am a woman with a currently-functioning reproductive system, I also have monthly cycles. Y’know, I get my period.

The Common Wisdom holds that women get emotional right around That Time of the Month, which is a bad thing. I’m a bit of a late bloomer in understanding my personal cycles because I went through a period in my early 20s when I only had one cycle over the course of three years. That was due to two pregnancies plus two bouts of on-demand nursing (the natural birth control!) The Extreme Feminist in me, however, has never held truck with the idea that women being more emotional at certain times in their cycle is a bad thing. For a while I didn’t even believe that really happened, and I thought that it was possibly a cultural construction. I still don’t know about that.

But really, how many times have you heard someone say, “Oh that it explains it, her period just started.” How many times have you said it? How many times have you heard it crudely and disparagingly stated on television?

But back to mental anguish.

Some days my mental anguish gets really bad. I don’t necessarily control when those days are. I try to be aware and prevent things from getting too bad. That’s the best I can do right now. I do pay attention to the calendar, though, and I can’t find a pattern to suggest that the bad days happen with greater frequency when my period is about to start. Some months, my period starts, and I think, “Hmmm, I was feeling totally fine this last week. No bad days at all.” Other months, my period starts, and I think, “Oh, that explains it, my period just started.” That’s a pretty dismissive statement I make to myself about real events in my life.

I tend to think my body chemistry and my monthly cycles do affect the way I feel. I’m sure there are a lot of smart science people figuring this out at the molecular level.

Regardless of the observations on my own cycles of reproductive health and mental anguish, I want to ask why is it OK to dismiss the way a woman feels because it’s due to her period? This American culture seems to think that it’s OK. Does being on one’s period make a woman’s responses and behavior less real or important? It’s called biochemistry, and it’s real.

Mixtape Theory, Part 1

August 10, 2011

I’ve been making mixtapes and mix CDs and online playlists for a while now, twenty years? I’ve thought a lot about mixtapes over the years, and I think I have a few things to say about them. These thoughts apply specifically to the classic 60 or 90 minute cassette tape variety, but can be expanded to include aspects of more modern composed mixes.

I think Mixtapes can generally be classified into a few categories:

A. Relationship mixtapes
B. Thematic mixtapes
C. General mixtapes

The first category can be a bit tricky as it deals with romantic relationships. Within this category are the following:

1. the I Think You’re Cute tape – This one should be light-hearted and include just a lot of good songs that you really like or are into right now. Perhaps a few songs from your past. Thematic content of lyrics should be examined very closely; there should be nothing indicating obvious desire or love. That’s too much, too soon. You want to show someone a little bit about yourself by the music you love, especially if they love music too.

2. the I Think I’m Falling In Love With You tape – This is a “next step” in some relationships. There should still be a lot of light-hearted songs that you love, especially ones you think the recipient will particularly enjoy, based on what you’ve learned of their musical tastes. This is when you can drop hints about your feelings, choosing songs about love or falling in love or being in love or wanting to spend time with someone. But they still can’t be obvious. The recipient needs to slowly realize the way you feel, as the lyrical content of some of the songs begins to dawn on them. That’s why you keep the light-hearted ones interspersed with the dropping-hints songs.

3. the I’m Definitely In Love With You tape – Finally you can put all the songs you’ve ever loved that are too sappy or too obvious onto a tape, the ones that you’d feel embarrassed about in any other situation. You can put songs with “love” in the title. You can put a few “let’s go to bed” songs, but not more than two or three. Absolutely none of the songs should be downers. Think positively. You’re in love!

4. the Break-Up tape – I don’t have a lot of thoughts on these. I hear people make them for themselves after a relationship ends. An ex-boyfriend and I made each other one once, but it was more of a silly thing than a serious thing.

Of course, not all relationships unfold accompanied by mixtapes.

Next time: Thematic Mixtapes!

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.

A Few Of Our Favorite Things
A Coloring Book
June 2011

My daughters and I drew a coloring book together one night last June. They are available for sale; the price including postage is:

U.S.A. $2.00
Canada & Mexico $2.50
Everywhere Else $3.00

If you would like to purchase a copy, please Paypal the amount to my account rsdchen@gmail.com

I believe the English-speaking Internet world has reached the point where it is nearly impossible to register a new blog name.

In the last month I have tried on more than one occasion to start a new blog to be used for a specific purpose. I spent an hour one night typing different combinations of words into a webform at blogspot.com, denied every time. “Sorry, this blog address is not available.”

A few days later and another blogging platform: “This URL is already taken.”

This name is already in use. This name is already in use. This name is already in use.

After weeks of musing, I came up with what I believed to be a clever, unusual play on words that would be descriptive of the project.

This name is already in use. This URL is already taken. Sorry, this blog address is not available.

There are a million people out there coming up with the same clever, unusual plays on words that I am.

The Only Spanish I Know

July 13, 2011

This is one of my earliest memories.

I woke up in a completely different place. Everything was different from home, and I was scared. The color of the light was different, the dust in the air, the sick dehydrated feeling, the confusion, the sounds in the street so close. My hair was still blonde, so I must have been 5 or 6 years old.

I woke up in Mexico.

My neighbors had taken me with them to visit their grandmother I think, and I must have fallen asleep, and they left me with her while they stepped out. The poor woman, trying to console a panicked little white girl! It must have been OK, because I remember feeling better and having something cold to drink, and that is all I remember.

My hometown, Imperial Beach, California, “The Most Southwesterly City In the Continental United States,” is where the one-season John From Cincinnati was taped. It is also roughly four miles from the border with Mexico. I spent the entirety of my first eighteen years living in a Border culture. The Border, “La Frontera,” was a physical object. I saw the actual fence separating Mexico from the United States so many times it became normal. I have seen clusters of hopeful emigrants climbing that fence, and I also saw them running down the beach because skinheads were throwing rocks at them. I have heard them outside my bedroom window desperately avoiding the Border Patrol helicopter’s searchlight beneath my neighbor’s pomegranate and quince trees. I have been best buddies with kids whose dads worked for the Border Patrol.

The land that runs west of the Border Crossing in San Ysidro is some of the strangest land I have seen. On the United States side, there used to be open space and farmland. There is still a great big estuary, where the Tijuana River empties marshily into the Pacific Ocean. The farmland has been disappearing for years, and now in parts the same middle-class subdivisions you can see in Anywhere, U.S.A. are within spitting distance of the Fence.

On the other, Mexican, side of The Fence is a road. This is the road that leads to Playas de Tijuana from Tijuana. Tijuana is a massive city. Playas is the beach town. There is a bullring right on the border in Playas, on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I saw the bullring, away, in the distance, every single day of my childhood, but I have never been there.

But I have been on the road. On one of the best nights of my life I was a passenger in a car on that road as my dear friend Tanya drove us home from the danceclubs we frequented to sleep at her parents’ house so we wouldn’t have to cross the border back to the U.S.A. That can be a real drag at 3 in the morning. I was very, very 18 years old, and I was very, very drunk, and it felt like we were in Berlin or somewhere exciting, speeding through the night.

As one drives west to the ocean from Tijuana proper, one can see The Fence to the right, and shambles upon shambles of slums and falling-down buildings all to the left.

That was La Frontera.

Despite living so close to Mexico and being surrounded by Spanish speakers, the amount of Spanish that I know today is absurdly limited. The only Spanish I know can be grouped as follows:

1. Food Spanish. I can order Mexican food in Spanish. If I have to. I think it very likely that I ate Mexican food at least once a day as a child. Nevertheless, it took me YEARS to figure out what “aguacate” meant.

2. Schoolyard Spanish. These are the words that I say under my breath to other drivers when they cut me off or run red lights. They are variations on “chinga tu madre” and “pinche cabron.” I do not know how to spell these words, I am only guessing. I don’t even know what they mean, but I think they are all variations on “asshole” and “fuck yr mother.” Another phrase I heard a lot as a youth but don’t myself say sounds like “Ai, weigh” but it is always said with such a particular cadence that makes me think about standing in line inside my high school cafeteria with my free lunch card, watching the dudes in front of me jostling each other and being stupid teenaged boys. Sometimes even now, here in North Carolina, I see grown men jostling each other and saying that. Does it mean something like, “Hey, fag?”

3. Little Baby Spanish. These are my favorite words. First is “chonclas” (I think it’s spelled) which means flip-flops or sandals. And then “chones” which means underwear. I think. And then there are the words that are most dear to me, the little terms of endearment. I remember being given “uno besito” (a little kiss) and then another one! as a little girl before bed, and being tickled, maybe by my Aunt Lucy or Aunt Teresa, who were not really my aunts but should have been. A few of my closest friends still call me “mija” on occasion even though we are all grown and some of us are married or have children or jobs, and when they call me that my heart leaps.

4. The Spanish Words Men Use To Talk About Women. These are not my favorite words. I learned them defensively.

I should know more Spanish.