And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around


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Not Goodbye

It’s moving season. Free couches, mattresses, coffee table, TVs that may or may not work, shelves, all sit on the curbs next to moving trucks. I’m moving myself, but only across town. Lotus (Pumpkin’s sister) is moving to Minneapolis, and she and her boyfriend have compressed their possessions into their car and a moving truck. They’re both stressed, but Lotus comes over for a gin martini with Pumpkin and I. I sit on the edge of porch as they share the bench, blankets wrapped around their legs to protect from the chill (it’s unusually cool for July). Pumpkin lays forth her jealousies, Lotus her insecurities. I watch two sisters I love dearly sharing an intimate moment, and I know it’s right that I am not sitting on that porch swing with them, but I also know that it’s okay that I am here witnessing this, sitting with bare legs exposed to the cold mist of the night. 

I also know that it’s okay that Lotus is going away from here. Separations prove friendships. Lotus and I drifted apart after high school ended and we no longer had the French horn section of band or the school plays to keep us in constant contact, but when I moved to Iowa City, we picked up where we left off. Friendships such as these, the kinds that last through long hiatuses and big changes, are rare and wonderful.

My gas light is on when I drop Lotus off at her house after our cocktails. 

“This isn’t goodbye,” Lotus says.

“No, of course not. It’s a see you later,” I insist. We perform the litany of promises: postcards, Skype, emails, visits. I plan to fulfill them all. I am excited for her. I’ll miss her. I’ll miss seeing her with her sister or across a table at a coffeeshop as we both work on our projects. But, I have to keep reminding myself, it’s not goodbye.

I will fill my gas tank. Lotus and I will keep touch. I will close my eyes and hug her tight and not think about any of that at this moment, because we are not saying goodbye.

Art Monday: Tea Label

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Art Monday: Tea Label

Welp, I jumped on the Adagio tea creation bandwagon and created a tea blend of my own, inspired by my bakery job…and random romance? I’m not a very romantically-driven person, but I guess the concept was just too cute not to illustrate. So here’s the li’l tea label I came up with.


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The Morning After

Your November 1sts can happen any day of the year if you did a living statue performance the day before. You wake up slowly on a bright blue Sunday, makeup still smudged between eyelashes despite last night’s scrubbing. Your wig sits in a basket. Sunlight streams through the window and the day is new and untouched and you are yourself again, and it feels especially wonderful to be yourself again.


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Adventures of a Living Statue

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. For just an hour or two, I wanted to be a piece of art, something people would wonder about and maybe stand and interact with for a while. Inspired by Amanda Palmer’s post-college living statue, The Eight-Foot Bride, I wondered what it would be like.

Tonight was the test run. I didn’t put out a collection jar–I just brought a basket of hand-folded paper cranes, each with the same message sharpied across the paper: “Today has never happened, and it doesn’t frighten me” (Taken from a lyric snippet from Bjork’s song “Alarm Call”). I also wore a get-up of sorts, even though I didn’t have much in the way of costuming. A spangled tube top layered over a lacy shirt. Footless stockings converted into long fingerless gloves. Dark shorts and pink tights. Worn out purple Converses. Gold eyeshadow and heavy black eyeliner. Red lipstick. And the icing on the cake, the black and pink wig Mermaidhair gave me after I threw around the idea of getting a wig.

I went downtown tonight (a Saturday night, still busy despite the summer absence of college students) around 11 and parked myself on a busy corner, holding a simple standing pose, the basket held in one arm. I had created only a couple of rules. Rule #1. Don’t talk while being a statue. No matter what. Rule #2. Don’t move unless someone stops and approaches me or talks to me out of curiosity. If they do, I give them a paper crane from my basket, my gift to them.

I was so nervous when I set out. I prepared for the worst: Food thrown at me, getting shoved over, a random drunk grabbing my breast, swearing at me, stealing of cranes instead of accepting one. 

None of this happened. In fact, some of the responses I got I could never have prepared for.

One guy thought I was homeless. “Here…” He tucked a dollar bill into my basket and gave me a look of pity. “Can I buy you a slice of pizza or something?” I smiled and shook my head. 

Someone else thought I was actually mute, then asked me, “Hablas espanol?” 

Some people unwrapped the cranes to read the messages. Others just looked at it, thanked me, then moved on. 

A couple people tried to puzzle out what this was all for. 

“Are you from Anime Iowa?” Someone asked. Someone else commented on my being from some anime convention. Maybe I need to rethink my getup. I smiled and shook my head.

“Is this a religious thing? Philosphical?” A man with dark curly hair had a whole conversation with me, pressing me with yes or no questions. “Did you go to university here? No? Did you go to college somewhere? Yes? Oh, that’s interesting….is this thing that’s written here some kind of epiphany you had?” I shrug my shoulders and shake my head, still giving him a benevolent smile. 

He finally unwraps it and reads the message, then he touches his lower abdomen. “‘Today has never happened, and it doesn’t frighten me.’ Woah. My stomach hurts right here, just because this is so relevant to me. I have to ask you…shoot. I have a text.” He had to run then, but I couldn’t help falling in love with the man who’d been persistent enough to try and puzzle out the meaning of the statue girl handing out cranes for free on the sidewalk.

I got a little thrill out of knowing that I wasn’t doing it for a specific reason. I just had the urge to. I needed to try it, to interact with people in this strange, singular way. 

A couple young women loved the messages they unfolded from the cranes. “Did you fold these yourself?” Nod. “Wow. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is so cool.” I gave a smile and a bow of thanks then resumed my position.

It’s an unusually cold night for July in Iowa. I wiggled my toes in my Converses a lot, slowly shifted weight on the balls and heels of my feet, wished my long black wig wasn’t falling in front of my face like Samara from The Ring

I waited for the last crane to be taken. I had one crane left and three dollars in my basket–pretty good considering that I hadn’t had any kind of donation jar set up–and I waited for the last person to approach.

It was fascinating, being a mannequin and watching feet go by, listening to snippets of conversation that I would never have noticed if I had been rushing off to meet a friend at one of the bars.

The last person to approach was the man with dark curly hair. “Hey, I’m back. I just wanted to ask, is there something I should do for this? Is there–” I handed him the last crane, then I flung off my wig and flailed my basket around. “WOO-HOO! You got the last crane!” I laughed, then ran off, my joints rejoicing at the movement and my adrenaline pumping from the simple thrill of being strange.

I sort of wished I would’ve talked to him afterwards, but instead I went to Deadwood, used my three earned dollars for a cheap pint, and rubbed my sore muscles. Many passers-by probably thought I was a pathetic beggar, or a stupid waste of space. Some who accepted a crane probably threw it away into a trash bin a few blocks later, or crumpled it up and tossed it into the street. I don’t care. That’s not the point. Art isn’t permanent. 

I realized, as I was standing there, watching the streetlight change from green to yellow to red to green, that my idea of putting a message on the paper before I folded it into a crane was especially interesting, because the receiver of the crane is confronted with a choice: destroy the crane to read the message, or preserve the crane and remain in the dark about what the paper says? There is no right way to proceed.

I felt so alive–ironic, considering that I forfeited my humanity to be a statue that people talked about as if I were inanimate–and I will definitely be doing it again.


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Art Monday! (Cough-Tuesday…): Rock Fossils and Human Fossils Too

I’ve got a two-fer(yikes, sorry, my Midwest is showing): A page from my sketch journal and a tale besides. Image

Bulgakov and I were getting antsy for some learning. Adjusting to life outside of college not only means figuring out how to create your own budget, personal project goals, and social life, but also how to seek out intellectual stimulation. So on Sunday, Bulgakov and I reveled in our day off by going off to Coralville Lake to hike around. 

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On the way we decided to stop at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, a rocky area between two hills scattered with tiny seashell fossils, and, along some of the limestone edges, amazingly clear imprints of hexagonaria coral (creative name, seeing as how it’s a bunch of little hexagons). I also learned from Bulgakov that Coralville is called Coralville because it used to be a coral reef. Which, you know, would explain about all the coral fossils. 

After we ran around pointing at fossils and yelling, “Look! Look! Look!” like little children, we drove up to the visitor’s center to see if we could get a trail map. The visitor’s center is about what you expect from a minor local hiking attraction in Iowa: a small wooden room with a wall of brochures and maps, a row of stuffed birds that you’re not allowed to touch, and two old brothers who talk your ear off until they start talking about their sister-in-law’s knee gout and you finally make an excuse to leave.

But actually, it was pretty hilarious talking to them for a while. I can’t make what they said up. There was the brother with the cane named James (NOT Jim!– “If you call me Jim, you’re insulting my mother!”) and his older brother (didn’t catch his name). James was absolutely crazy. 

“I didn’t learn to read until I was 34.” he told me earnestly.

“How’d you pass high school?”

“They just passed me on through,” he said. “But I started reading when I was 34. I wore out my dictionary. I wore out two copies of the Bible. I read then entire Hebrew history.”

Other things James told me:

“I got some of those magic mushrooms, you know, and I put them on a pizza, because when they bake they get real big, then I gave some to my dad.” “Did he know there were mushrooms on it?” “NO! You don’t give people pot-mushrooms and tell them about it! He wasn’t mad, though. We’re best friends.”

“He was real tall, and I was always pretty short, but there’s a benefit to being short. I have the tiniest, tiniest wife. I don’t know how I got so lucky.” “So, tiny wives are better than big ones, then?” I confirm.

His brother chimes in, “Oh, hell yeah! Big wives can beat you senseless!”

“My wife’s tiny, but she’s fierce,” James continues, “She’s a crocogator! She’s got the head of a crocodile on one end and the head of an alligator on the other! Now he always asks, if its got two heads then how does it shit? And I always say, it don’t! That’s why it’s so mad!”

The brothers laugh and Amy and I look at each other, each of us thinking the same thing, “Are these guys real?”

Before we finally left, James made us come over to the gazebo overlooking the river valley. “Let me show you one thing and then you girls can get on out of here. Look at all those trees. Imagine this is the fall, when they’re all different colors. And you know, what? I have to say, I found Jesus.” Amy and I nod, wondering where this is going. It doesn’t go anywhere. “Now, I tell you what. Come fall, you two get your sorry asses off the couch and drive out here to look at the leaves.”

“We will, definitely,” We promise.

“Get your lazy asses up and come and out and look at the leaves. Okay, now, get out of here! Go! Go away! Leave!”

His older brother comes out to bid us goodbye. “You didn’t listen to anything he told you, did you?” He asks. We just laugh and wave goodbye, then get in the car and drive to a trailhead to hike around by the lake. I couldn’t help thinking, as we walked and then later, after it started raining and we went to the natural history museum to learn more about what we’d seen, that humans have been on the earth for such a short amount of time, yet I could probably spend an entire Jurassic period or a Devonian period and still be surprised by human beings in all their endless variations.


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SP Adventures: Find That Uterus!

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Like the weirdest video game ever.

Today four people gave me a trans-abdominal ultrasound and about four million people (note: this might be a slight hyperbole) gave me a trans-vaginal ultrasound.

It’s been a while since I’d done any work for the university hospital as a simulated patient,and what better way to dive back in than by stripping off my clothes, getting into a gown the could double as a circus tent, and letting a bunch of medical students poke around in my vagina, trying to find my elusive uterus?

This was my first time being a model for any kind of ultrasound, so I was as interested as what was on the screen as the students. I nervously lifted my gown up so students could take turns pressing above my pelvic bone, sweeping back and forth. I’d forgotten just how far south the wand goes, and I felt bad about how unkempt it was down there. Hi, strangers. Sorry that you’re getting a glimpse of my untended bush that wouldn’t look out of place in a 70s porno. Then again, who knows what kinds of characters they will encounter on a daily basis once they’re out in the real world? Also, I quickly remembered, they are medical students. Young and nervous they may be, but they’re not exactly flustered about seeing the more intimate parts of the body. In fact, some of them seemed to forget I was a person at all, ramming the wand against me like I was made of that unforgiving rubber on some medical models. Fortunately, you can press pretty hard into the belly above the pubic bone and not feel anything.

The main concern they had for me was, “Doesn’t that hurt?” “Nnnope, push harder.” “Harder?” This was particularly true once we got into the trans-vaginal ultrasounds. The men especially seemed hesitant about pushing the wand downwards, but as I learned before when observing the female program pelvic exam lessons, it takes about 30 lbs of downward pressure just to look at the cervix.

“Is this hurting you?” “Dude, these things are designed to push out softball-sized heads. It’s fine.”

After a while, though–maybe around student #11–it did start to get taxing. Certain pressures hurt more and more, and my legs were starting to cramp in the foot rests. The weirdest, though, was that the teacher could see my bladder filling up on the screen, and so she knew that I probably could use a bathroom break before I did.

When I shifted my attention from the weird probing and uncomfortable position, though, what was happening on the screen was fascinating. And, I learned, taking ultrasounds is much, much harder than it looks. A couple rare students found the uterus right away, but most had to hunt and hunt for it.

“Now, she’s got a retroverted uterus, which is a bit unusual, so you’re going to want to go down more,” the teacher would instruct. Retroverted. Aren’t I special?

“Hey, Nina [the other model working that afternoon] has a retroverted uterus too! What are the odds?” Maybe not that special, then. It is unlikely that the students would have two retroverted uteruses in one day, though.

Students would use what the teacher called the “Battleship method,” sweeping side to side and up and down when lost to identify and scan things. Sometimes they would encounter arteries and vessels, and when they turned on the color on the screen, a section of my insides would turn into a psychedelic, pulsating party of blue and red. Each student took a turn hunting down my uterus and scanning through the whole thing, then finding each ovary and the venous plexus ( I think. I might’ve gotten that wrong. Sorry, any medical readers. Feel free to correct me), which you could see pulsating on the screen.

I also learned that my stuff moves around. “Her uterus was down here, but things have been moving around in there,” the teacher said. “Ta-da,” I said. “Just to make it more interesting for you guys.”

But seriously, stuff moves around? I have a whole new respect for the good folks who do ultrasounds, especially when there’s not even a big honking baby in there to give the uterus away.

“No, see, that’s the ovary there. It’s bigger than the left. Things can vary. It’s not going to always look like Grey’s Anatomy,” the teacher said to a student at one point.

“I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy,” he said.

I really hope my laughter didn’t screw up the uterus hunt.


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The Ped Mall on a Sunday in July

Heat hits, and then a welcome breeze blows through the corridors of buildings and rustles the trees, and sun and shadows dapple the brick walk. Do you want a bench in the sun or in the shade?

The benches on Washington are reserved for the homeless and the stoners who might be homeless or might just like being barefoot and unwashed, but it’s hard to differentiate, all of them unkempt and black-toothed and probably older than they look. Some hold cardboard signs, some just sit back and smoke or sleep or chat.

I see John, a man in a baseball cap with no home, unless the Foxhead Tavern counts. I ask him what he’s up to today and he smiles and says “not fuck all.” He doesn’t hold up signs asking for money, just walks around or sits on benches and watches things, which is what I’m doing.

In the ped mall crossroads, water shoots up in arcs, and swimsuited toddlers race through the water, screaming and laughing. The fountain, the playground with the springy synthetic turf, the public library, all of it is right there. The center of the world. Paradise for summer children. 

A homeless man has set up a gigantic black air mattress right on the brick walkway, off to the side. 

A grunge teen couple sits by the hostas and watches a lone pigeon, fat from lack of competition. 

But seriously, why is he setting up a king-sized air mattress in the ped mall?

Tattoos and long unkempt hair increase exponentially as you near the Tobacco Bowl. Everyone’s tattoo has a story and even if that’s the tenth woman I’ve seen with a large, sprawling tree on her back, she has ten different reasons for getting it that are hers and hers alone. Teens wear hoodies despite the heat, carry skateboards and travel in packs. Their conversations are the most important in the world and they want everyone to hear them.

Bongos beat, teens loiter. The high-rise construction is progressing, but today is Sunday so the machines sit idle. 

I get excited when I see a table labeled “Free Literature” until I see they’re all Jesus books. I smile anyway and when they offer I say I have too many books in my backpack already, which is true. I decline a flyer, even though the man is stretching out with all of his arm length to give one to me.

There are two public pianos in the ped mall, and sometimes I stop to plink out “Coin-Operated Boy” or some little riff, but usually I watch the kids, feet dangling off the wooden bench, hesitantly poking keys with encouragement from their parents. There are so many keys and some echo a long time, some don’t work at all, and the keys are as uneven as that man’s teeth, the one with the white hair down to his mid-back who has tattoos so faded I can’t even make out what they’re supposed to be.

As I walk toward Dubuque St. I start to see more and more “Help From Above” pamphlets fluttering along the brick sidewalk.

Man and woman cross arms over each other and man kisses her shoulder very softly in the shade.

My copy of Lonesome Dove is falling apart and my backpack gets heavier and I have no idea whether I’m admired or sneered at or unnoticed, but I wonder these things today because I am alone and watching everyone else. If I was with a friend I would be too distracted to care.

But then I wouldn’t get to be the observer, and sometimes that is not such a lonely role to be in.


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Friend Portrait: Peach

“What’s your favorite bar?”

“What, in Iowa City?”

“No. Ever,” I ask as I sip my Magners in the mostly-empty Dublin Underground. The bartender looks bored. That episode of the Twilight Zone with the creepy ventriloquist doll is playing on the TV to my left. 

“The Drunken Sponge in Phnom Penh,” Peach responds.

“The Drunken Sponge?” I know that Peach spent 6 months in southeast Asia, primarily Cambodia, but I had no idea she hung out at such a bar, or made the connections she did.

“Yeah, the bartender was this guy from north England and he had this really thick accent, so most of the time he’d say something and I’d be like, ‘huh? what?’ But he’d let me wash dishes in exchange for free drinks, and some nights I slept there, on one of the couches. And sometimes after close we’d lock up, then get fucked up and dance around.

“It was really an amazing time. Yeah, there were bad things. After my friend died, I kept seeing all this shit that I couldn’t do anything to fix. Like seeing dead bodies in the streets from car accidents. Or child prostitutes. Things that were so fucked up, but things I couldn’t do anything about.”

Peach is one of the most compassionate people I know. On our walk to the bar, she stopped and said hi to an old man sitting in the dark on a bench. As we left and walked on, she explained how she’d seen him one night sitting outside of The Foxhead.

“And there were lots of people out, talking and smoking, but nobody was even acknowledging him. They all treated him like this inanimate object. So I finally sat on the bench next to him and asked how he was doing. And after that we became friends. On that bench he told me, ‘You know, I think you’re the first person who’s talked to me in 48 hours.’ And he’s a good guy. He’s a veteran, and he was in the Peace Corps, traveled all over the world, so we’ve been to some of the same places.

“I didn’t find out he was homeless until a few months ago. And he’s such a nice man, just a really interesting, good person. He just has the bad luck of being homeless. And people treat him like he’s invisible.”

Peach seems to seek out the people that many (including me) write off as lost causes. She was there for her friend through a bad morphine addiction, recovery, and then rebound, and her current sort-of boyfriend is a serious alcoholic, to the point where he drinks a bottle of vodka a day, and if he doesn’t, he has seizures.

“He can’t afford to go to the hospital, so he drinks. And he’s such a good person,” Peach says. She is always there to defend someone as a good person, as someone who is kind and well-meaning but has a problem to get through. I don’t think I have the courage or compassion to be like that toward a lot of people I see and label as “messed up,” but I sure do have admiration for Peach for doing so.

Tonight we went to a friend’s house for an all-Amurrican barbeque (Happy 4th), then went to watch fireworks in the park. Even though fireworks stand for bombs and warfare (if our national anthem is anything to go by), they’re so beautiful, and I love hearing the kids’ yells of delight as one after another goes off…however mad I get about what’s going on in America, I can’t be mad at a field of families sprawled on blankets or lawn chairs, especially when I’m in the midst of them, my gaze fixed with everyone else’s on the lights fizzing and expanding overhead.

On the drive back into town Peach played me some Silver Jews, her favorite band, and I fell in love. 

I drove through lights and past stores through Coralville, loving that voice that always sounds sad, those lyrics that I know I could listen to dozens of times and pick apart over and over again, those guitar riffs that drift and expand and fill the car with their sparse simplicity.

And then, after I finished my Magners and was done listening to Peach’s story about her favorite bar in Cambodia, I went home and listened to all the songs The Silver Jews had on YouTube on repeat, listening and wondering if I really was doing right by staying here.

I’m thinking right now if I’m doing right for staying here. Will I get old and regret not going off to live somewhere richly and strangely while I could? I’ve always said that I just will avoid the emotion of regret since it’s such a fruitless one, but can I? I’ve been content here, but is it in an ignorance-is-bliss sort of way or a spiritually-awakened, “I can be happy anywhere” kind of contentment? I honestly don’t know, but I’m grateful for people like Peach, who challenge my view of what life can be, of what friendship can be, and of compassion.