From Sea to Shining Sea

Let me just start with some declarations:

  • Everyone should visit Alaska.
  • Attaching fake testicles to your car is weird.
  • Dance parties are the best parties. 

Back in December I wrote about The Best Date Ever when my dear friend’s parents took me to see Wicked and then out to eat and then told me they were buying me a trip to Alaska. BEST DATE EVER. I love these people for their generosity and for their genetic contributions to the world. So let me tell you about Alaaaaaaaaaskaaaa. The name itself is so pretty with its sibilant sounds and soft A’s. There are great names in Alaska, like the Athabaskan people who run the Kantishna Roadhouse in the interior of Denali National Park. Mom and I flew into this land of awe-inspiring landscapes and lovely words on June 10, and for the next week, we saw so many gorgeous sites and ate so many scrumptious foods and drank so many tasty beers. We flew into Anchorage at night (or what would have been night time in the Lower 48; Mom and I went six days without seeing darkness), so the next morning we “awoke with the chickens” (as my mama says), and we took the train to Seward, which is on the central, southern coast. We chugga-chugga-chooed-chooed along the coastline and saw moose, Dall sheep and bald eagles. It’s so romantic to stand on the viewing platform and breathe in the sea air and look out at the mountains and glaciers. Our tour guide was a high school student; the Anchorage Public Schools offers an intensive after-school program to juniors and seniors where they learn all about Alaskan history and ecology, etc., and there’s a competitive application process to be hired by the Alaska Railroad to lead these train tours in the summer. I forget our guide’s name, but she was a doll, and one of her projects in this course was to create a binder of Alaskan flora and fauna, and she had it on board, and it was very well-done. Such a cool program, right?

Seward was a tiny town with fantastic restaurants. Giiiiiiiiiiirl the halibut and the King crab legs! We took a boat excursion around Kenai Fjords National Park, and amidst the craggy coastline we saw humpback whales, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, and glaciers. The captain of our ship drove us right up in front of Holgate Glacier. When it calves (meaning when chunks of it fall off into the water), it sounds like thunder, and it litters the sea in front of it with tiny icebergs. Glaciers have a bluish tint; they look like someone took blue raspberry snowcone syrup and drizzled it over the top of them (this is because the ice can’t absorb the short, high energy blue wavelength). From Seward we took the bus north to the tiny, funky town of Talkeetna. It’s teeny but full of character. A lot of hip 20-somethings work in the restaurants and spend their free time playing in the mountains and rivers. While there, Mom and I ate at Twister Creek Restaurant at the Denali Brewing Company. So charming. We took a scenic flight and enjoyed an aerial view of the snow-covered peaks, and then we LANDED ON A GLACIER. The experience was [insert all the good adjectives]. The pilot was super hot, too. Before we boarded the 8-person prop plane, Hot Pilot asked, “Who wants to be my co-pilot?” ::my hand shoots up:: I always fall in love with my tour guides. I even fell in love with the older gentleman who drove us through Denali National Park. He was a character. A very smart, witty, well-read man who left Chicago in the early 90s to work in the tourism industry in Alaska. You could tell he loved his job, sharing stories about Alaskan history and providing information about the park. What’s great about Denali is that, unlike places like Yosemite and Yellowstone, car access is restricted. If you want to see the park, you have to take a bus, so there’s no congestion. You get a sense of being out in the wild. We saw moose, caribou, bald eagles, and GRIZZLY BEARS–two of them, but from a distance. On the last day, we went rafting (on mild rapids), and of course I thought the tour guide was just precious. He was 21, from Montana, and was having the time of his life. With great jubilance he described his summers working in Alaska: fishing, hiking, looking for geodes. We passed a hut on the river bank, and he called out in some masculine sound to alert the men within it that he was passing by (he and his buddies had created a sauna using tarp and timber). Hell of a life, right? On the train back to Anchorage we sat next to a woman who had undergone a mastectomy about a year ago, and we talked about nipple reconstruction. She recommended that I forgo getting nipples made and attached and then tattooed because it’s not uncommon for them to fall off. Instead, she suggested I just pursue a 3-D nipple tattoo. She will be travelling to Baltimore to visit the tattoo parlor of the one-and-only Vinnie Myers, the preeminent 3-D nipple tattoo artist in the country, and she got my e-mail address so that she can send me a picture of the final product. I’ll let ya know how they look. I told my plastic surgeon about this, and he said if I want to do this, then that’s OK, but he’s very good at making and tattooing nipples, and he’ll even suck some fat out of my belly during the process (sold!). Anyway, Alaska is beautiful and you should go.  

I came home for a few days but then returned to the airport to head east to The Empire State. My lovely friend April graciously gifted me a ticket so that I could come and spend some time with her and her man and baby girl at their place on Long Island. They live on the North Fork, a quaint community of mom-and-pop establishments and coastal wineries. The day I arrived, April had to work, so George and lil Miss Charlie drove me around parts of the Hamptons so that I could see how the 1% live. I was expecting to encounter all Snooty McSnootersons, but the one person we interacted with was a guy in a jeep whom George had to ask for directions. We ended up following him out of the parking lot, and this man had a fake scrotum hanging from his bumper. In the Hamptons. I loved it. But I had so many questions for him. Seriously, I would have loved to have sat down with Man Who Hangs Ball Sack from Jeep and asked:

  1. What compelled you to hang fake balls from your car? What were you trying to achieve by doing so? Were you trying to make a statement? If so, what? 
  2. Where did you get these fake balls?  
  3. Do you have a wife/girlfriend and/or children who ride in this car with you? If so, what do they say about the artificial ball sack hanging from your bumper?
  4. Has this plastic scrotum gotten you into trouble before?
  5. Wouldn’t you agree that balls are very sensitive whereas female genitalia is made to withstand much, much more trauma, so if you wanted to demonstrate your toughness it would make much more sense to hang a vagina from your car?

Anyway, there are lots of ridiculously grandiose houses in the Hamptons. April and I took the Hamptons Jitney bus into the city on Thursday, and she knew a vendor who sold delicious, cheap breakfast sandwiches near the bus stop. We had coffee with a former love-uh of mine who now works on Wall Street, and then we took the ferry to Ellis Island. When I was in elementary school, I loved this book of photos documenting children who had come through Ellis Island, and ever since then I’ve wanted to see this symbol of freedom (or doom, depending on your health and sanity). We had limited time there since we had to get back to make the bus, but seeing the Statue of Liberty, watching the short film about the immigrant experience, catching some of the ranger’s guided tour, and seeing the vast Manhattan skyline made for an exciting and educational jaunt into the New York Harbor. The rest of the trip included chillin’ on the North Fork and enjoying the ocean breeze (and eating delicious New York pizza and bagels). April, Georgie, and Char Char: thank you for your hospitality! XOXO

More exciting things: I am planning The Breast Dance Party Ever which is goin’ down on Feb. 17 at Lumen. It is going to be a fundraiser for Gateway to Hope, which is a Saint Louis organization that provides financial assistance for breast cancer patients. One of the founders works with my plastic surgeon, and he started the organization after his patient died of breast cancer because she didn’t have health insurance. I wanted to have a party to celebrate being done with all of my cancer-related nonsense, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to raise money for those in The Struggle. I cannot imagine not only having to endure cancer treatments, but not being able to pay my bills because of cancer. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but between October and April, I spent $8500 out-of-pocket on cancer, and I have good insurance. Because I was able to live expense-free with my folks, I didn’t have to worry about making ends meet, but what if I hadn’t had family nearby? or what if that family couldn’t afford to host me during my sickness? What if I had had children to support or was the main breadwinner of my family? I would have been screwed, that’s what, and that’s why Gateway to Hope exists. Last year they were able to help 227 women, and at this point in 2016, they’ve already helped 180 women. This dance party will be epic. It will be serious. It will be a serious dance party, and I can’t wait to have you all there. Many surprises are in store.

One more thing: I get my implants on July 22! I had my final expansion last week, and although you typically wait three months before installing the implants, Dr. Maclin said it was OK to do it before the school year started. On my way out of the office, when it was time to set the date for surgery, I started complaining about having to take off two weeks in September (I don’t want to run out of sick days), so Big Mac said it would be fine to do it before I went back to work. I get to end the summer with more drain bags: yaaaaaaaaaay! (no) But that’s OK, I wanna get that silicone in me and move on with my life…

…because life is gooooooooooooooooood, and it makes me want to jump for joy!

Band Names: Sibilant Sounds, Hot Pilot, Artificial Scrotum 

 

Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago on this day, I arrived in San Diego to begin a new chapter in my life. I didn’t necessarily see it as a start to a new life; it was just a new adventure. When I left my parents’ house Memorial Day weekend 2006, my mom told me, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.” I didn’t. I still haven’t. But I know I’m getting closer to it.

Here’s 26 year old me: I’m going to write her a letter.

jenny in sedona

Dear 26 year old Jenny,

I know you’re enjoying your trip out West, seeing a new and exotic landscape, so different from the green, deciduous forests of your home in Missouri. There you are in Sedona taking in all of the glory of the red rocks and the dry heat. You’ll soon see that most majestic hole in the ground, the Grand Canyon (or maybe you already have? the memory of this trip is all bunched into one amorphous, earth tone blob, like a melted Georgia O’Keefe painting). You left home because you wanted a big adventure; you wanted to not only see new sights, but to live among them. You are definitely going to get your adventure.

About a month after your arrival in sunny So Cal, an attractive, soft-spoken, Lebanese math teacher who works next door to you during summer school is going to ask you out on a date. You’re going to go to Oggi’s and drink too much beer. You’re going to talk about your favorite t.v. show, Arrested Development, and that’s his favorite show, too. You’re going to ask him about his favorite line, and he’s going to repeat Buster’s infamous words about Lucillle: “like anyone would want to R her,” and then you’re going to think you’re in love. This man will swoop you off of your feet, tell you he loves you, ask you to meet his family, and you’re going to meet his family and fall in love with them. His mother will make the most delicious kibbe and tabouli and all sorts of fresh and delicious Middle Eastern foods. His family members will party with vigor and laugh robustly. They’ll make you feel at home when your family is 1800 miles away. Soon after meeting, you’ll take his sister’s RV to Pismo Beach, and on the way home, you’ll call Mom and Dad and tell them you and this man are thinking about getting married one day.

You’ll move in with this man right away. Six months later, he’ll take you to a cabin in the Laguna Mountains, and on the first night, he’ll drive you to the top of Mount Laguna and show you the Milky Way and the Little Dipper, and you’ll actually see them. You won’t have to pretend to see them. And you’ll see a shooting star, and this man will propose to you, and you’ll say yes. And you’ll enjoy the excitement of engagement, and you’ll buy a house with this man, and you’ll establish a life in the pleasant community of Poway, CA.

However, as your wedding date gets closer, you’ll start to have some doubts about the impending nuptials. You’ll contemplate calling it off, but you’ll rationalize your decision to commit to ‘I do’ by envisioning this man’s good qualities bullet-pointed on a piece of paper. During the wedding ceremony, your father-in-law will show up late, dressed in dirty clothes, and walk down the aisle during your vows. Your guests will think he is a groundskeeper. He will sit next to your parents since he doesn’t like his wife.

Your husband will seem a bit distant during the reception and wedding night, and this will worsen on your honeymoon as you drive up the California coast. You won’t have sex, and conversation will be limited. When it’s time to leave San Francisco, you guys won’t feel like coming back home, so you’ll head east to Reno to stay with your sister-in-law. You’ll see fliers for the Mustang Ranch Brothel, and you’ll want to go, not to engage in any salacious activity, but because how often does one have the opportunity to visit a legal brothel in the middle of the desert? Your husband will become a bit nervous before you go inside, and you’ll tell him to stop acting like a little girl, and he will get really pissed. A woman (who was probably born with a Y chromosome) with a cold sore will lead your group tour of the facilities, and you’ll think, ‘What the hell do the other broads look like if a tranny with herpes is leading the tour?’ Later, back in Reno, after dinner, your husband will be drunk and passively angry, and he’ll volunteer to go to Walmart to buy you both some underwear since neither of you feel like doing laundry. He’ll be gone for a long time, and when he returns, he’ll bring back a package of floral print cotton Hanes, the ones that come a solid inch above the belly button and cover well beyond the butt cheek. And you’ll know you’ve made a mistake.

On your drive home, you’ll take the 390, which runs between the Sierra Nevadas and the White Mountains, and in the White Mountains you’ll take a detour to see the Bristlecone Pines, which are the oldest trees in the world. Although it’s not marked, THE oldest tree in the world, the Methuselah Tree, will be in this forest, and as you look around, you’ll think, “MY GOD, that could be the oldest tree in the world, and MY GOD, what have I gotten myself into?” You’ll decide to give the marriage a year.

During that year, you’ll become more convinced of your mistake in getting married. Highlights of that year will include getting pumpkin pies from Von’s on Saturday nights, splitting them in two, and each eating half. You’ll gain weight and be put on blood pressure medication. Like every year in the beautiful shit-show that is California, you’ll get a pink slip stating that your job is in jeopardy. However, unlike the past two years, the school will actually lose 10% or more of its staff because the district will have to cut millions from its budget. You’ll be fortunate enough to get another teaching position. However, the job transition will happen right when you’ve decided that the past 12 months have proven that you made a mistake in getting married, and you need to rip off the Band-Aid and get divorced. You’ll find an apartment, and start your new job. You won’t like the curriculum at the new school, you’ll feel professionally unsatisfied, and you’ll get a bad review at work. You’ve never received a bad review in your life. You’ll come home to your bland, stale apartment, lie on the floor, and sob big, sad tears that’ll dampen the dirty brown carpet, and you’ll cry so hard and so long that your head will ache and your eyes will swell and you’ll think, “What have I done? Where am I? I need to go home.”

You’ll have to take off days from work to attend the How To Get Divorced in California For Free workshops at the East County Courthouse. You’ll be joined by many living on the fringes of society, including a handful of folks from a nearby halfway house dealing with overcoming their meth addiction and/or trying to divorce a person they haven’t seen in years because they just wanted to get married to gain citizenship. There will be pounds of paperwork to sign, and it’ll be returned twice in the mail since you will have forgotten to initial page 800 column B, row A. Then, one day you’ll get a letter in the mail stating that you’re divorced, and it’ll be such a strange experience. Here’s this paper. Now it’s over. It’ll be the end of the school year, as well as your California adventure. You’ll soon be headed home.

At some point, you’ll decide to date again, and you’ll try the online thing. You’ll experience rejection for the first time. It’ll sting. You’re going to continue to make poor relationship choices. You’re going to make out with a very attractive Colombian neurologist who comes out of the bathroom at Brennan’s and starts kissing you at the bar. You’ve met him before, so you trust him to drive you home, but you don’t realize how drunk he is until he starts driving through red lights. Then, once you get close to your place, he’s going to actually stop at the light, but once it turns green, he won’t press on the gas. Why? Because he fell asleep at the wheel. You’re going to wake him up and tell him to pull into the Arby’s parking lot near your apartment. You’re going to tell him, “Look, you have to stay right here in this parking lot. Sleep here in your car.” Then, you’ll walk home, and the next morning you’ll message this doctor-of-the-brain and make sure he made it home alive. A bit later, he’ll message you back, so happy that you know his name because he doesn’t remember yours, and he’ll ask if you know where he left his car. You’ll respond with, “At Arby’s?” and he’ll write back, “What Arby’s?” and then you’ll walk down the street to Arby’s to see if his car is there, but it’s not, and you’ll relay this information to the man with the medical degree who doesn’t know where he left his car. The next morning this man will contact you again, letting you know that he found a note in the pocket of his jeans. He had, “Memento style,” written himself a reminder that he’d left his car at the Quick Trip at Gravois and Chippewa because he’d stopped there to call a cab, recognizing he was too drunk to drive himself home. Shortly after this event, he’ll leave for a fellowship at Stanford. Because he’s smart. And you’ll have to remember that you gave up the security of marriage for a life much more complicated…and exciting.

And then you’ll rack up credit card debt travelling the world and seeing all of its wonders and eventually move back in with your folks AGAIN so that you can eliminate your debt and attempt to begin a life of fiscal responsibility. Then, you’ll get cancer and that’ll be shitty, although not all the time, and you’ll get your tits chopped off and get new ones made, and you’ll be sitting in your dad’s office chair in the basement of your folks’ house, tipsy on Prosecco, crying while you reflect on the past ten years, wondering why the hell you share this information with the world, and thinking,

GOD DAMN IT. I LOVE ME. I LOVE MY MISTAKES. WHAT ELSE YOU GOT, UNIVERSE? IMMA HANDLE IT.