Hey guys, I forgot to post this like a pro, but better late than never. Gina Vivinetto did an interview with me for Articulate. She asked questions about my reporting job, about my side hustles and my storied performance art/music career that I never talk about. Also, she used the picture of me eating a grilled cheese, which I think best represents my life and how I live it.
I love this New York Times story by John Jeremiah Sullivan, like, a lot. He went on a massage marathon, exploring all the wonders and horrors of having a stranger get all handsy with you while you're prone on a table with twinkling waterfall music playing on an iPod dock.
It really resonated with me. My last massage was a few years ago.
That day, a luxurious day off I had planned to spend in total cliche feminine relaxation, I called up my local chain massage store and made an appointment. I didn't specify the gender of massage therapist I wanted. I didn't really think about it, to be honest. I think I just assumed I would get a woman. I arrived all smiley and grabbed the paperwork to check off boxes ("no, I don't want my butt groped, but thanks," "no, don't touch my front friends, either"). That was when a strapping young man sauntered around the corner. He had cropped brown hair and green eyes that looked like jewelry. He smiled and there was nearly a ping.
I prayed he was just front desk eye candy who would escort me to the back, where my massage therapist, a 6-foot-4 burly woman named Helga, would be waiting. But no.
"I'll be your massage therapist," he said.
If life was like Sex and the City, I would have shown up to brunch in my bra and reported to my harem of unlikely friends about how love really is complicated, but sometimes you just win. But life is actually more like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Immediately, I had a few thoughts.
1. I have a boyfriend, and even though this is not technically wrong, this feels weird.
2. I have not shaved in approximately 27 years.
3. Jesus take the wheel. Take it from my hands.
The new, calm-assertive, Cesar Millan Steph might have kindly asked for a different therapist, all the while complimenting this man's dimples so he didn't feel it was personal. But back then I was just all.
It wasn't his fault. He was just trying to do his job, trying to get new clients and make people feel good. I knew it had to be tough for male massage therapists out there, what with skittish women such as myself, and so I just went with it, into the back, where there was dim lighting and a weird pillow with boob indentations for me to lay on. I left on as many clothes as possible.
The massage was a blur, and I didn't enjoy it at all. Mostly I remember that he wouldn't stop sharing all the overtly masculine details of his life, like how he used to be in the Army, how he was training to be a sports therapist for injured athletes and this was a stepping stone. When it was time to work on my calves, which I had naively checked the box for servicing while still picturing Helga, I choked out an apology for the fact that I looked like I had been trapped in a mountain ravine for several weeks.
"Don't worry about it," he said. "I spent a lot of time in Europe."
I don't know if you remember those slap bracelets from the 90s, but one minute they're all curly and then you unroll them and they're so straight their back almost turns concave. That's what happened to me. I was more tense than I had ever been in my life.
"You gotta relax," he said, all whispery.
After the massage, I think he said something about how my sore back wouldn't be all worked out until I had several more appointments. They always say this, but I think they especially say it when they have just attempted to massage a 4-by-4 in-ground mailbox post.
I have not had a massage since, and I've also had the sort of "necky" headache Sullivan describes in his story ever since. Maybe I should try again. I might start out at the mall kiosk where the massage therapist is blind.
Odds and ends:
1. Speaking of Honey Boo Boo, relationships, body hair and having no shame, here's how Jim and I dressed for Halloween:
3. I know I haven't posted an OBITCHUARY chapter in a while. I bought a house (more later), I took some trips. I also just needed a break from it, and I felt like people were way behind on the videos anyway. I am aiming to make the next chapter this week or next and get back into the swing. As for the manuscript, it has recently gone out to a few new houses. Maybe some NY editors got drunk during Hurricane Sandy, read it by candlelight and fell in love. We can hope! If you want to catch up on the chapters, clicky, clicky.
In high school, my friend Michael Boccacino emailed me a short story he wrote. It was a science fiction horror story, which has never really been my thing. But I read it anyway to give it a chance and be a good friend. It was about cloning and horror movie sets and murders and I don't want to give too much away in case he ever wants to resurrect it, but you guys, it was so good and asjfk&(CGWUBNCW@(*DBC@(E9! I was hooked.
And Michael was just like...
The same year, I was spending my time writing essays for Faulkner week in English class, casting myself as the central character in a scenario in which I brazenly took the big stall moments before Benjy from the Sound and the Fury came into the bathroom escorted by Caddy, and then Caddy started talking about what a B I was for taking the big stall when there were people who really needed it. No, really. I turned that in. For credit. And I was just like...
It is no surprise that Michael got published first.
His book, Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling, came out recently from William Morrow. It's a Victorian gothic ghost story, chilling and dark and enticing, and it has twisted woods and dead nannies and mystery and all sorts of goodness.
Mike has been the kind recipient of several Facebook messages from me throughout the various book endeavors, subtle notes to the tune of "TELL ME HOW TO FEEL." He has always been gracious and mentally stable with good, solid advice. I decided it was a smart idea to chat publicly with Mike about his novel and the business of book publishing, which we all know is second only to cartwheeling down a tightrope that has been lit on fire.
So, uh... without further adieu, Mike will tell us all how to feel!
I remember you always writing. Did you always know you wanted to be a published author, and did life ever interfere with that plan?
First off, I'm so very, very sorry that you had to endure the angst-ridden short stories from my teen years. I was angry and weird. But I knew I wanted to write by the time I was in high school. I had a fantastic 9th grade English teacher by the name of Kathleen Granning, and she helped me figure out that it was something I loved doing. When I got to college I had written a handful of short stories, half a screenplay, and 50 some odd pages of a novel, but I lacked the discipline (or maybe maturity?) to actually follow through on larger projects. It wasn't until I was 25 or so and finally finished with grad school that I went through a bit of a quarter life crisis and decided to focus on really finishing something substantial.
What was the spark for Charlotte Markham?
Charlotte Markham began life, quite literally, as a dream: an English governess stood on the side of a dirt road with her two young orphaned charges as they consulted a homemade map. They were debating whether or not to enter a forest up ahead and I knew, as dreamers often do, that something terrible awaited them in the woods. I remember waking up and being fascinated with where they were going. I felt the most lovely combination of dread and excitement, because I knew that their journey would be extraordinary, terrible, and wonderful, even if I remained uncertain about their final destination. The dream stayed with me, but didn't really crystallize until my mother died of cancer at the age of 44. I dreamt of her nearly every night afterwards, and though we both acknowledged in the dream that she was still dead, we continued to have a relationship. The idea fascinated me, and I quickly realized that the children from my previous dream were looking for a way to reconnect with their dead mother.
How long did it take you to find an agent and get a
publisher? I think people think once they get an agent, it's all immediate fame
and fortune from there.
It took me about a year to find an agent. I did three rounds
of querying to about twelve different agents each time. Even after I got my
agent, we had to spend some time editing, and then it took about 9 months after
that to get a publisher. Then more editing. And then even after its out, you
need to allow time for people to actually hear about your book. So it's
definitely a process!
Did you ever feel like you should switch genres to fit what was popular in publishing at the moment?
I mean, it occurred to me that I could easily turn it into an urban fantasy novel, or perhaps inject some vampires or zombies into the mix to make it more marketable, but my whole rationale for wanting to be a writer is to write the kinds of books that I like to read. I just happen to like weird, slightly literary-skewing genre mash-ups along the lines of Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Susannah Clarke.
What did you do to get through the times of doubt and writerly self-loathing?
I drink a lot of white wine. Also, I just keep writing. That's all you. can do, really! But at least you know that you're in good company.
How did you celebrate when you got your book deal?
My agent called me while I was at work and told me about the deal with HarperCollins. It was extremely surreal, and I remember that I could NOT stop smiling for the whole week. Later that day, a friend at my office bought a couple bottles of champagne, and we celebrated toward the end of the day. They made me give a little speech, which was slightly horrifying, but very sweet. It really didn't officially sink in until I got the first galley copy many, many months later.
What's your next project?
I've written a TV pilot with a wonderful actor/writer by the
name of Michael Arden. It's about the south bank of London in the 17th
century, and we're in the midst of shopping it around to producers at the
moment. I'm also working on my second novel, which is inspired by the works of
Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, and J. M. Barrie. It's a book about children placed
into fantastic situations, but written for adults, but it's probably 6 months
away from being readable.
What books are on your nightstand right now? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.
Whatever became of that horror story about the cloned movie murder victims? That was so good. Seriously.
The Neverborn! I still have it, but I seem to recall there being an influx of clone-related sci-fi a few years back, so I shelved it. Maybe I'll expand it one day, or polish it up enough to actually show it to people again. Good ideas never die, they just percolate until they're ready!
Hello, out there in radio land. Internet radio land? Podcast land?
Well, whatever. A while ago, I did an interview on an Internet radio station, Rhino On Air.
The lovely Write at Five hosts R. MonaLeza and Daphne invited me on to talk about writing and journalism and novels, but I will admit, we spent a lot of time talking about my bush league Mexican lasagna, and how my refrigerator makes it look like a 4-year-old child runs the household. You recall.
Then we got back to talking about stories, made some bathroom jokes and had a ton of fun. The podcast is online now, so take a listen!
Be sure to check out Mona's blog, where she posts quick little flashes of inspiration from writers and artists from all walks. She did one with me. They're great to shake you out of a creative funk if you're just like, "UGH, WHY AM I SO HORRIBLE, I NEED TO BE LESS HORRIBLE." So if you're like me, most days.
If your friend ever asks you to dog-sit at her mom's isolated luxury house on the water in the Florida Keys, you just immediately agree, no questions asked. At least that's what I did. I'm grabbing two friends and heading south Wednesday in a little airplane with chickens in the back then spending the next few days in a hive of hydrating face masks, US Weekly, pina coladas and comatose sleep. I'm just going to be like:
See? She even has a dog.
On my way out the door to this strenuous dog-sitting job, I leave you with Obitchuary, Chapter 12. And guess what? In this chapter, you get to hear more Kenny Loggins! Penny continues her drunken pursuit of Mark, who has graciously offered to drive her home from Haddigan's Pub after her precarious run-in with a liter of vodka. Will the night end in romance or disaster, the likes of which have never been seen? Find out!
The bottom of my monitor has always been a graffiti wall for Post-Its, little stickers screaming militant bits of advice as to how to never mess up. "TENSION IN EVERY SCENE." "DETAIL." "NO SAP."
Along the top of the screen went the Chinese food fortunes, advising on personal habits. "TODAY, YOUR CHARM WILL HAVE THEM SINGING LIKE BIRDS." "ENHANCE YOUR KARMA BY BEING KIND TO EVERYONE YOU ENCOUNTER." "ATTEND TO BUSINESS TODAY. LEAVE THAT STREET-SIDE FLOWER ALONE."
I was content haranguing myself with motivational minutia until about May, I would say. A bunch of little things were going wrong, which set me on an extended period of tortured navel-gazing. And after the extended period of tortured navel-gazing, I hit a wall. I was seriously bumming myself out, dissecting all the things, whether each and every choice was the right one for my goals and life, whether my penchant for crap television was contributing to the downfall of society, whether I needed to go on a macrobiotic diet, so on, so on. I was feeling like Tracy Flick on a Quaalude.
Suddenly, I was bored with myself.
I thought back to past challenges. Invariably, things worked out best when I stayed open to learning but stopped over-analyzing, stopped trying to impress and stopped comparing myself to others. When I wasn't worried about what everyone else wrote, my writing sounded most natural. When I wasn't overbooking, my relationships were healthiest. When I wasn't neurotically insisting everyone try the Sparkling Cider Cinna-Skinny Cocktails, I threw the best parties.
Supporting Document One that we all worry too much about nothing is this astute New York Times story from Tim Kreider on the so-called "Busy Trap."
"Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it."
There had to be a space somewhere between, "up and move to the Bahamas," and "be a total pill all the time." Some things, of course, you can't control. You cant control who dies or gets sick, what accidents occur, how the weather explodes. But you can control other things, possibly even the neurosis that comes while standing in the shower as your deep conditioner soaks in, brooding over imaginary things that haven't happened. Imperfection is totally entertaining and healthy. I was just hoping to LIGHTEN
THE EFF UP.
My birthday was in June. To mark the occasion, I decided I would stop picking lint out of my belly button and go to a drag queen show in these subtle, understated shoes:
Then I would focus on writing some interesting things I enjoyed. I would eat what I wanted in moderate portions. If I messed up, that was fine. I'd correct without implementing a leather flog. I would let no person's judgey tweet dissuade me from watching My Big Fat Toddler Kardashian Wedding Makeover Palin Cookoff, if that is what I felt like watching.
I gave it a go.
One of the first results? I won a contest at work that I didn't even enter! I felt authentically great, less Tracy Flick and more Elle Woods. The rules of hair care really WERE simple and finite!
I took down the old Post-Its. It's not that they weren't valuable pieces of advice. It's just that I already knew all that stuff without having to scream it from little sheets of paper stuck on with dirty tape. Also, fortune cookies taste like butt.
I replaced them with a new note, somewhere between the bottle of Excedrin and the vial of White Diamonds.
This is the chapter you've all been waiting for. Penny gets DRIZUNNNNNK. In front of Mark!
A note on that:
It's easier to write drunk dialogue than it is to read it, at least for me, which is one of the 8,000 things I'm learning as I endeavor to read an original work of fiction one chapter at a time on YouTube. I think my fake-drunk voice might sound unconvincingly like Big Ang from Mob Wives. Can we all agree she's charming, though?
So far on this Sunday, I have washed one load of laundry because I had NO PANTS LEFT other than Pajama Jeans, which I came very close to wearing to work on Friday. I also made a grilled cheese sandwich, Googled "Florida Keys vacation" and gave some very serious thought to taking a shower. I'M ON A ROLL, Y'ALL.
It's a good day to get sucked down a blog rabbit hole, is what I'm saying, and I have just the one for you.
My agent, Rachel, posted this on the DGLM blog not too long ago. It's called Underground New York Public Library, and it's basically a blog full of pictures of people reading on the subway. If it sounds boring, it's not. It's the ultimate voyeuristic thing. Like, come on. You know you look at people in Target to see what's in their baskets, and you totally judge them and invent hilarious stories if they have, like, six sticks of butter, a pair of tube socks and a motorcycle magazine. This is the same thing, only fancier!
After looking at these pictures I feel inferior as usual, like I should probably be reading much more Murakami or something. I'd totally be that person they caught reading, "50 WAYS TO TURN YOUR OLD PANTYHOSE INTO LAMPSHADES."
I mean, there were no huge tragedies or dramas or home explosions, but there were just a series of first world concerns that kept evaporating or not working out or farting to disappointing conclusion. I. Am. Over. May.
June, though! June is very different. June is my birthday month (big 29 -- gotta start working on my pre-30 bucket list). I'm looking toward June with renewed vigor and verve, with an unfailing positive outlook on life, with a fresh commitment to my artistic endeavors. Watch out June, you're mine!
With that, I give you June's first installment of Obitchuary, Chapter 10. It's a pretty short chapter, and in it, Penny stays up late like a madwoman Googling the guy she likes. NOT THAT ANY OF US HAVE EVER DONE THAT BEFORE, RIGHT LADIES? Watch to learn what she finds out about him. It ain't pretty, I'll just say that.
You might notice a tuft of brown fur wiggling occasionally in the background. That is Stuart, who apparently wanted to help me grab June by the horns. Thank you, Stu, for your assistance. Most kind.
Catch up on your chapters here and don't forget to subscribe on YouTube! And, ooh, hey, check out this screen grab. I call it, "Gag me with a spoon, cha."
Guys, I am very jet set. Remember how I recently went to South Korea? Well, today, I'm going to OHIO, Y'ALL.
No, I'm actually excited. I'm originally from the Cleveland area, and 5,676,876,987 members of my family still live there. I love them! And I love Ohio! Time for a quick visit. This time, I'm flying into Toledo on sexy budget airline where a ticket costs a threepenny bit and a sack of rye and barley (plus $35 per bag). I expect it to be like this.
Anyway, I'll be back Monday. I wanted to leave you the rest of OBITCHUARY, chapter 9, in which Penny attempts to extract her sullen sister from the handicapped stall of Hal's Bridal Emporium. There will be much smoking, much brooding, much spraying of cucumber melon body spray. And there might be a guest appearance by Cindy Crawford. Oh, just go watch!
Also, subscribe the YouTube channel if you are so inclined. YouTube invited me to put ads on my page at like 2 a.m. last night. I was all excited and brushing dirt off my shoulders like I was Jay-Z. I realize this is pretty normal and probably also happened to my 12-year-old neighbor, a gerbil with a keyboard, and the man who hoses the urine off downtown buildings. But LET ME ENJOY A TASTE OF LEGITIMACY.
You can also catch up on all the chapters here. See you soon, if I don't get choked out by a boa constrictor living in the luggage compartment.
Chapter 9 (part 1) is a delectable mini-morsel of storytelling in which you will meet PENNY'S BRIDESMAID DRESS OF TERROR, as illustrated by my right index finger and Microsoft paint, natch. Behold the pink!
To refresh, in the last chapter, Penny realized she kind of liked Mark, the creepy guy at work. Now she's in an existential crisis about it. Unfortunately, she has to go through it under the florescent lights of HAL'S BRIDAL EMPORIUM with her cray-cray cousin, Ashley, and her cig-sucking sister, Nicole.
Interestingly, Penny's existential crisis coincides with my own, which you can read a little bit about here, if you're interested. It was hard, but I pulled myself out of the Ben and Jerry's to bring you a new video. Thank me one day. Um. Today is wide open for me.
I like this chapter because Penny goes through a universally creepy experience. It's that awkward moment when, completely out of nowhere, you realize someone you never cared about is -- GASP -- actually kind of cute. Maybe the lighting is right. Maybe he said something smart. Maybe he got a new shirt or finally took a shower. Either way, it CHALLENGES EVERYTHING YOU ONCE BELIEVED.
Catch up on the rest here! And enjoy that screen grab, which I call "Gnome on Meth." My other two choices were "Just Smelled Vomit" and "About to Sneeze." Thanks, YouTube!
One of my 6,432 literary goals is to write a "cookbook" with my friend, Emily. It's going to have really bad, pathetic recipes, like, "How to Scrape Creeping Mold Off Graham Crackers and Proceed," "How to Spread Sour Cream On Everything, and We Do Mean Everything," and "How to Melt Crystallized Heath Bar Crunch Ice Cream from the Back of the Freezer Into Your Coffee When You Run Out of International Delight Creamer and Are Too Bloated To Show Your Face In a Grocery Store."
We've written a handful of these gems, and I think I came up with another last night. Back up the money truck, publishers!
Poverty-Chic Mexican Lasagna, in 14 Easy Steps.
First, bask in a shot of my actual fridge and its "contents." Note: this was taken a week ago, and now the bacon and the salad the Disney/Pixar Cars 2 juice box are gone, leaving even less.
1. Open fridge. Examine contents. Discover Diet Cokes, one "churro-flavored" yogurt you bought on a whim last month but just can't get excited about, a strange jar of jelly, some cheese and three stale flour tortillas.
2. Open freezer. Discover frozen package of ground beef. Since you are an informed consumer, consider fact that beef probably is 67 percent pink slime. Decide pink is a lovely color. Drop frozen chunk of Pink Slime Beef in microwave, defrost until edges start to turn blackish.
3. Make Pink Slime Beef in skillet. Add 99-cent pack of seasonings labeled "TACO MIX" found in pantry behind half-eaten chocolate Easter bunny.
4. Dump in can of corn, stored safely on shelf with other non-perishables.
5. Realize this will be dry and gross. Go back in fridge. Push slightly to right old bowl of pasta you are afraid to look inside of. Discover BRAND NEW JAR OF SALSA! Do happy dance. Sing Beyonce's Love on Top, but replace "love" with "Mexican lasagna."
6. Slice stale tortillas into strips, using pizza cutter. ENJOY THIS STEP BECAUSE IT'S KIND OF FUN. Then, raise your standards for fun. Seriously, get out more.
8. Turn oven on to something, put it in for some amount of time.
9. Realize some sour cream would make this.
10. Text boyfriend, who is out running a non-food related errand. Some sour cream would make this...
11. Catch up on your shows. That DVR isn't going to clear itself.
12. Take Poverty-Chic Mexican Lasagna out of oven when boyfriend returns with sour cream. Serve with so much sour cream, you can't see the top.
13. Sing, "Finally, you put my sour cream on top!" Ignore anyone who says you cannot reach your dreams of living in Beyonce's garden shed. Haters gon' hate.
14. Serve with side salad, or scoop of strange jelly. Serve churro yogurt for dessert, but let someone else try it first and watch for facial ticks. Enjoy!
Here is a picture. I forgot to take one when I made it, so this is a shot of the leftovers in the pan, after they had congealed in the fridge overnight. The lasagna looks like brain spillage after the zombie invasion's last victim is claimed. But it tasted super great, I swear. As Stephen Colbert says, I Am America, And So Can You!
Come to think of it, it might be too nice for the cookbook.
Chapter 7 time! It's about to get a little salty as we meet Penny's editor, Noah. He is a gentle soul, who loves puppies and kitties and bunnies and speaks ill of no one. Just kidding, he's pretty foul. You've been warned.
Speaking of... well, nothing, a student (hi Elise!) from my old college came to interview me for the alumni magazine, and she's focusing a lot on my fiction endeavors. I think the dean will be proud to know that my years of study and tuition dollars culminated into this moment, in which I stretch out on my bathroom floor, talk crazy into an iPhone and channel Penny Perkins and her unshaven legs. I'll link to that later, of course.
UPDATE: In a hazy slumber, I accidentally uploaded the rough copy, which was long and full of stammering and zero illustrations. The right one is up now. I apologize if you watched and were all, "Man, she's jumped the shark, just like Fonzie." I swear I have at least a couple more chapters until that happens. - Signed, the "editors"
I actually bought the DVD! I can't remember the last time I bought myself an actual DVD. It's so sad, guys. You should have seen me in Target with my little basket of shaving cream and Lemi-Shine and paper towels, holding the Blu-Ray, thinking, "I don't know... $20 seems steep." You'd think I lived through the Great Depression eating my own shoe leather.
Anyway, about the movie. I love Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson and Diablo Cody, and it's about a writer, and it's dark, so naturally I wanted to see it the second it came out. But life (writing, video blogging, working, lugging laundry up the stairs of my townhouse, going back down the stairs to get the laundry I dropped, going back up the stairs with the laundry again) got in the way. It took a while, but now that I've done the honors, here are some observations:
God help me, I'm shallow.
For the entire first ten minutes of the movie, my boyfriend just kept pointing at me. Mavis (played by Charlize) wakes up face down on her bed while various Kardashians flit along the TV in the background. She wears enormous Hello Kitty sleep shirts. She chugs Diet Coke straight from the bottle in the morning. She trudges to her computer and stares at a blank screen, then checks her e-mail and online shopping sites, then writes a paragraph, then checks her e-mail again. It was funny, then it was disturbing, because I knew from the reviews that the character is a mentally-unstable alcoholic ex-prom queen, aging and lonely and not self-actualized in the slightest. I hope think we drifted farther apart as the story went on. Please. Please.
Mavis giant Hello Kitty shirt
Giant Hello Kitty shirt, IRLMSML (in real life minus supermodel looks)
Now to redeem shallowness with intellectual analysis.
I loved this movie, but I loved it even more after I thought about it for a while. There were so many little touches that quietly chiseled her character. She had everything a hot, sexy, Parishiltonian (new adjective) person is "supposed" to have. A Pomeranian named Dolce. Victoria's Secret bags. Ugg Boots. Yet she's a miserable mess, because none of that stuff actually means anything when you've got nothing going on inside.
Awkward for president!
Which leads me to the main writing lesson I took from Young Adult. It was really, really uncomfortable to spend two hours with a protagonist who is almost totally unsympathetic. But it worked, and it worked really well. It made me reflect on how much of what we consume is not very grounded in reality. And how maybe we should embrace less perfection in our entertainment. And how maybe people who drink Diet Coke straight from the 2-liter DESERVE LOVE TOO, ALRIGHT?
I like to point at things.
I will never amount to anything.
Diablo Cody is only 33. And Juno came out, like, five years ago. Excuse me while I get back on Wikipedia and have a panic attack about my age-to-achievements ratio. BRB.
I'm back! Korea was amazing, as was California. We joined two wine clubs, toured the DMZ on the same day as Kim Jong-un, technically stood in North Korea, got some awesome street jewelry, ate a mound of crab, rode a street car. That's the Extreme Reader's Digest version of a lot of things (the Scanner's Digest?). I might post some pictures soon, though I fear my friends will disown me if I keep talking about my trip. I have to decide which ones really mean something to me, and which ones I'm OK with losing. Friends, I mean. I'll get back to you.
Anyway, let's keep going with our experimental storytelling, shall we? Here is OBITCHUARY, chapter 6! It's been a couple weeks, so let me catch you up to speed:
Penny got burned out at work, got period on her white pants, applied for a job writing obits and got the job. She got woken up in the middle of the night by her sex-crazed neighbors, then got annoyed by her power pop-crazed co-worker, Mark, who has a Wayne's World bobblehead and cereal fetish. Then she embarrassed herself in the newsroom and wrote her first obit about a little old dead lady named Mary Lou Henrickson. Will anyone like it? Will she be sent packing back to Periodville, population: Penny?
I'm off to go tell someone else about how I almost died at the hands of a vengeful North Korean dictator (my vacation story gets more elaborate and exaggerated each time I tell it, just like a 1950s slideshow).
As I type this, it feels unreal, because I have dishes to do and socks to buy and general life to finish up. But come Sunday morning, the guy and I are going on the trip of a lifetime (or at least this year-time). First stop, California wine country. I rented a Sonoma Valley vacation home for us on Living Social. The pictures look amazing, but I know the witchcraft and sorcery people use to up-sell on the Internet. Please pray that we're not staying in a really affordable boxcar with cockroach leg-encrusted wallpaper.
After that? SOUTH KOREA OMG SOUTH KOREA. I'm not even kidding. We have beloved family/friends living there, and they'll only be there for a couple more months, so we decided it was a perfect time to visit a place we'd probably never go again. We're even going to the North Korea border, which apparently is a big tourist place, but apparently also has scary sartorial rules like, "NO HIGH HEELS," and "NO OFFENSIVE SHADES OF MAUVE." Um, noted.
My friend, Alex, who is a journalist like me, commented that I could write a great story if I get shot but not killed. In that moment, I was both proud of the friends I have chosen, and alarmed at how my life has unrolled. Some people just work in nice desk jobs and go to Panera and don't find it a thrilling prospect to get maimed at an inflammatory international border. Imagine.
This is the long way of me saying, I'll be gone for a couple weeks. Use this opportunity to catch up on the first five chapters of OBITCHUARY, now in Smell-O-Vision! I'll be all over chapter six when I return, as long as I'm not paralyzed from nerve damage due to my glamorous wounds. (JUST KIDDING, MOM, WE'RE TOTES SAFE.)
Annnnnnd, chapter 5, part 2! Same outfit, new illustrations, including man boobs, a chicken and Penny's disembodied head hovering over a sea of victims.
Behind? No worries. THE INTERNET IS FOREVER. That includes those beer bong pictures from Senor Frogs, and your tortured Livejournal from when you were 15. And, this book. Take a solo lunch in a cozy Panera cubby booth to catch up all the chapters, collected right here. Facebook here (also forever).
Chapter five! I split this chapter into two parts, because it was getting a little long, and we value your time here at Stephaholics Anonymous. I expect to do this from time to time, but no chapter should be longer than two parts. This isn't Dickens, though we have a lot in common (woolen sleeping caps, mostly).
In this installment, sit back and enjoy the silky song catalog of one Mr. Kenny Loggins as Penny introduces you to her weird co-worker, Mark, who has an undying love for power pop.
Catch up on the other chapters here. Facebook the crap out of me here. Love you, bai.
It's chapter four time, baby. In this installment, Penny attempts to go to her first day on the job writing obits, but is thwarted by her sex-crazed neighbors. If you don't like sex-crazed neighbors, well... um, I'm sure there are other books.
I loved talking to Frank about all the old stars and their specialty noms, especially when he started raving about Liberace's Sticky Buns.
I mean, how could you not?
Frank ate nine as soon as they came out of the oven when he made them, he said. Respect. Today, I stared at the recipe for 10 minutes. I obviously had to have Liberace's buns in my life immediately. I'm a thorough journo, y'all.
They're basically doctored crescent rolls, which is just fine by me. I could live on crescent roll alone.
Lib's recipe called for raisins. I thought about leaving them out entirely, because, well... honestly, I've just never heard someone say, "OH, GOOD, THIS HAS RAISINS." You know? But this wasn't about me. This was about a young man named Wladziu Valentino Liberace who liked his raisins golden and shiny.
First step? Soak them in rum. CLASSIC.
I tried a couple from the bowl. You guys, I have to tell you. Raisins soaked in rum are (hic) DELIGHTFUL. Who knew shriveled grapes just needed a little spicy hooch?
Next, since this is a recipe committed to heart health and weight control, I melted two sticks of butter.
Then, because we are interested only in clean, responsible living that is not reckless in any way, I added a cup and a half of brown sugar to the bubbling butter.
Next, it started to get real Liberace up in here. The array of spices is nutbar! He calls (from beyond the grave) for nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, ginger -- GINGER! -- and cloves. I was elated. Finally, I could use the untouched bottle of cloves on my spice rack. Earlier this month, I swear to you, I Googled "what do cloves go in" and "uses for cloves" and "cloves expiration date" because I honestly had no idea what they were doing in my kitchen. The answer, it turns out, is Liberace's Sticky Buns.
My cloves were whole. I figured people would appreciate biting into a whole clove even less than they'd appreciate a fist of raisins. I tried to be resourceful, but here's a pro tip:
You can't use a garlic press on cloves.
Ok, so, no cloves. I think Lib would understand. He would just light a 45th scented candle on the baby grand and say something like, "You must dare to dream in color, child!"
Next, the crescent rolls. Apparently, there was a run on Liberace's Sticky Buns at Publix tonight, because I only saw the MEGA BIG GIANT FLUFFY THIGH CELLULITE-MAKING CRESCENT ROLLS, which I'm pretty sure they didn't have in the 1970s since people weren't totally size-obsessed back then (at least not in polite company). I had to buy the little cans of regular rolls, six instead of three. This meant instead of just rolling out the log of dough, I had to use something called "spatial reasoning" to connect them. I spread out the parchment paper, which kept curling and curling until I held it down with a full bottle of Shiraz and an onion in a produce bag.
I connected the rolls of dough in one slender strip, and it was longer than Alligator Alley. "Self," I said. "This doesn't look right." Then I stepped back, held up two small cans together and rubbed both brain cells against each other. A-HA.
Next, I put syrup and pecans in the bottom of each muffin tin. Then, I spread the syrup mixture and the Drunk Uncle Raisins on the dough and rolled it up.
Then, Liberace advised, I was to cut the roll into 1-inch slices. This required something called "skills of estimation." I made the first slices way, way too big. There was no way I'd get 24 buns out of this. I made a note to adjust. Then, I said "&;%*^*#^(#&8;^%*#^$*#!!!" because I realized I completely forgot to put pecans inside.
I repeated the process two more times using "spatial reasoning" and "skills of estimation" and "portion allotment" and "pecan putting in" to try to get them right. My third and final roll looked as if it had been injecting human grown hormone for the past four bodybuilding seasons. But somehow, I got 24. It was the magic of Liberace! Better than Christmas!
You'll notice I had to buy those crappy foil tins at the store, because as you may have gleaned during our time together, I'm not the kind of person who owns more than one muffin tin.
They went in for 15 minutes at 325. This gave me a chance to have a butt-sit and read some more of Frank's book, including Edith Head's Chicken Casa Ladera! I worship Edith Head. Grace Kelly's clothes in Rear Window pretty much made me believe in love. The least I could do was read about Edith's penchant for chicken livers.
Back in the kitchen, things had not yet reached their crescendo. Liberace would not simply wedge the sticky buns out of the tin and into the GladWare. No. Liberace, in true form, demands you FLIP THE PAN SWIFTLY, rendering the tops of each bun oozy with butter goo and adorned adorably with a smattering of pecans. I had visions of the entire set of 24 rolls flying onto the kitchen floor, and me Swiffering butter out of the grout at 4 a.m.
If that's not sexy, I don't know what is.
All in all, they are delicious. They didn't all cook evenly, probably because my fine cookware cost $3.99 and came with "COMPLIMENTARY CUPCAKE WRAPPERS." And despite the rum's best efforts, the raisins are still kind of... depressing, in context. They're just a depressing food item, am I right? It's like, you can dress it up in glitter all day long, but a raisin is a raisin.