Obootuary

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Born into my life in 2009 at Pretty Penny Vintage in Oakland, died 2014 in Haight Ashbury. Oh, red boots. You launched my love affair of cowboy-themed footwear, but none of your many pairs of predecessors have been able to do you justice. So comfortable, so fun, you match everything in my wardrobe.

Cleaning you with saddle soap last night I came across your literal achilles. A tear in the leather. Closer inspection revealed the cancer of leather worn thin had spread, softening your shape and tearing you away from re-soled heels.

Tomorrow I’ll weave string through your flaws and throw you over telephone wires. But today, let’s go adventuring. Just you me and my polka dot socks peeking out. Goodnight sweet boots, my weary companions, may you may you be forever dancing and prancing on the sidewalks of the kingdom of heaven. Requiescat in pace.

July 3rd

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At a party the other night I met the girl who was first on the scene when I was hit by a car biking in July. She witnessed it all and pulled over to hold my hand and comfort me as I slipped in and out of consciousness before the paramedics arrived. She’s one of my only memories of that crazy experience – I saw the car, I saw her blond hair leaning over me, and then I woke up in the emergency room.

It’s a hard thing, not remembering a moment in your life when everything shifted. “I’ll see you at 6:45″ I texted Jessie, as I slipped two PBRs into my backpack and left the house. The traffic was heavy on Oak Street and I stood with my bike on Lyon waiting for the light to change, taking a moment to pause and tighten my helmet.

I was running a little late, I thought – though actually we would have had time. I was thinking about Market Street and how difficult rush hour would be today, wondering if Jessie would like my weekly Wednesday night ride, looking forward to seeing the sunset from the edge of Land’s End. The light through Divisadero was green ahead of me, and I coasted down the bike lane, keeping an eye on the cars to the left. They moved forward and for a moment  it was just me and an empty intersection, a green light and a best friend waiting for me, a group of cyclists gathering at the other end of San Francisco.

And then there it was – a black SUV in my peripheral vision. It sped up fast in the left lane and swung right without using its indicator or merging into the bike lane. I remember having a stomach-dropping feeling of fear and then nothing.

According to the police report, I flew 25 feet over the car after hitting it. The front of my bike accordioned and slid under the car’s wheel. I flew past two lanes of traffic and a median and landed on my face and my right side. I still don’t know if I blacked out when I hit the car or the street, but either way by the time Mary got to me I  was unconscious and was bleeding heavily from my forehead.

Driving behind me on Oak Street she hadn’t actually seen the accident, but heard it. When she saw me lying on the ground she pulled over. No one was doing anything, standing on the street corners. “Did you call the police?” she asked someone. A cyclist pulled up with EMT training, and another guy rushed over and started taking off my backpack. As I came to I had no idea what happened, and kept repeating that I didn’t have health insurance. Her blond hair was framed by the bright sunlight and I blacked out again until I was being loaded into the ambulance, and the pain of my shattered elbow shook me awake.

Jessie, waiting for me, got worried. She’d met up with the group of cyclists, who hadn’t seen me either. Finally the paramedics picked up my cellphone, told her I was okay, and she, Matt and Brian biked to the hospital to take me out for a beer. It took them a while to track me down, as I couldn’t remember my name and was registered as Trauma November. I kept asking for the blonde paramedic and no one knew who I was talking about. I spent 3 days in the hospital hooked up to monitors and IV tubes and listening to the fireworks exploding in the Mission. It was July 4th.

While I lay in the hospital Matt went out at a bar with a friend, who’d brought someone along who just moved to town. “I saw the most horrific bike accident the other day” she mentioned. “My friend Nuala was in one too”, he said. They compared notes and a photo – and there she was – my “blonde paramedic”. I was on so much morphine when he told me this story that I laughed it off. What a small city! And a good story. But it wasn’t over.

Three facial fractures, stitches, a lacerated liver, and a shattered elbow. I had surgery, I healed, I laughed about it, I went to physical therapy 3 days a week for four months. I got back on my bike. And yet – every month or so I’d pull up that police report and try to remember what happened.

And then, Matt’s birthday happened. Two days before the end of 2013 I’m drinking a beer in his kitchen and in walks a blonde woman. “You know who that is, right?” asked Jessie. “It’s Mary.”

And so I got to shake her hand, and I remembered what it felt like in mine as I lay shattered and terrified in the middle of the street. And she filled in the pieces I don’t remember. And told me how scared she was, how she wanted to find out so badly what had happened to me. And when we hugged I burst into tears, right there in the kitchen, surrounded by cute bike messengers on my friend’s birthday. Crying because I had a little more clarity which I’d so desperately needed. Because there I was – whole again, having biked 203 miles that week.

I cried for days afterwards, at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t stop – good happy deep tears. And then I realized – I hadn’t once cried about the accident. I cried in pain, I cried when my friends cried because I felt so bad for them seeing me beaten, stitched and bruised. I cried at the look on my mom’s face when she walked into my hospital room after flying across the country. But I never once cried for how fucking hard it was, how far this accident has reached itself into all the different pockets of my life, how broke and sore and stressed it has made me. And yet oh – how strong! Because when something bad happens in front of me – as it does, in a city – I will not stand on street corners. I will hold a hand, I will wait until help arrives, I will worry and I will be there. And maybe in some weird twisted piece of fate that’s why all of this happened.

Shooting Tin Cans

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I remember the first time I learned how to hold my Mamiya correctly in dim light. Opened all the way to 2.8, the f-stop was at its limit and keeping the camera steady was difficult. I held the image in my gaze through the top of the viewfinder and kept seeing it shaking in my hands as my breath moved my body. Finally I realized that on an exhale everything holds still, that for a second – or two – the camera wouldn’t move. I released the shutter, and the negatives I developed later that night weren’t blurry.

Shooting a rifle is the same, really. Gazing down the sight as the barrel rests against your shoulder, you can see the target shuddering in and out of view with each breath. Exhale and the world stops and holds still for a second – or two – and one gentle release of the trigger will land that hot piece of metal exactly where you intended.

My liberal friends get quiet when I talk about my love of shooting. Not people, I always remind them. I don’t even really like pistols, with their convenient size and weight, their dark purpose. Pistols aren’t for feeding yourself. They’re for defending yourself – which means anticipating a bad situation. Or being offensive, which means creating one. I like rifles, with their heft, and the way you have to tuck them into yourself. Tin cans are my targets, windy afternoons my challenge. I feel calmer after I shoot. The mental space I have to enter in order to be a successful shooter requires a clearing the mind of all outside noises and mental distractions. It’s zen, I tell my friends. And then they change the subject.

I was going to get my California Hunting License this Fall, before I shattered my elbow. Mentored by obsessive buck hunters, I wanted to sit on the side of a hill with binoculars until my back and legs cramped up, waiting. Shoot through the lungs, not the heart. But could I do it? Stare down the scope and pull the trigger? Field dress, and leave what we didn’t want for the coyotes and mountain lions? I want to be able to do it. Deer season is over. Only 11 months until the next one.

Dig A Little Deeper

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For weeks I biked past the Holocaust Memorial and never knew it was there.  Pumped up with endorphins and adrenaline from chasing the boys up the hill, I’d do a victory lap around the fountain at the Legion of Honor and then crack a beer, waiting for the rest of the pack to catch up. It was only when pointed in that direction that I ventured across the vast parking lot to discover this:

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It didn’t ruin The Legion of Honor for me, not exactly. But now whenever I bike past this memorial I give a glance and a nod to the young boy staring out at the ocean. Have a little respect.

Respect. Which is funny in some ways, because while there’s a memorial for the Holocaust’s dead across the Legion of Honor’s parking lot, and the building itself was built in order to honor the dead, there’s also about 500 dead bodies buried underneath it which were only discovered during construction.  Used as a graveyard from 1867 to 1908, the pauper’s graves were forgotten about, or ignored. About 300 bodies were exhumed and moved to Colma in the great dead migration, but there are still hundreds of bodies that remain.

So next time you bike, drive, or stroll past the Legion of Honor, take a minute. Think about the gold diggers, paupers, immigrants and protestants working to make a living when this city was still young, who are holding up the foundation. The Holocaust victims’ whose memorial is slightly hidden. And the World War I soldiers the building was built to remember. I recommend cracking a beer and raising it up to toast the dead.

The Great Dungeness Massacre

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When reviewing my list of accomplishments this year – biking 350 miles, surviving a horrible accident, perfecting roast chicken – the Crab Feast is high up there. Having never bought a live animal and killed it, let alone TWENTY-FIVE live animals, deciding to host a Crab Feast for 40+ people on the beach was a risk to say the least.

The Chinese guy at 99 Ranch in Daly City didn’t believe we wanted that many. “Twenty-five?” he kept saying. “2-5?” Yes, we confirmed. Twenty-five live Dungeness crabs, please. He knotted them up into five plastic bags and we wheeled the rustling masses to the front of the store.

Driving home I envisioned a fender bender, the force of which would propel the bags of crabs in the back of the station wagon forward, freeing them from their thin plastic cages to land on my lap.

Once home we dumped them in the bathtub on ice. Choosing victim #1 was hard – who dies first? And how do I drop a huge live squirming animal into a pot of boiling water? An accidental dip of a claw into the bubbling inferno caused him to spread all his legs out. Screaming girls, panicking crab, he was shoved into the pot with a clanging lid thrown on top of him. 6 minutes later he was done.

From then on the killing was easy. One at a time turned into two at a time, four pots of boiling water and a note pad documenting who was dropped in when. I found myself enjoying pulling the warm gooey guts out of the hot crabs in the sink and dropping pieces of their bodies into the gaping mouth of the cooler.

6 hours later the massacre was over. We lugged the cooler overflowing with crab legs to the station wagon. Driving down to the beach I didn’t worry about fender benders. That night we ate crab legs next the ocean they came from, tossing scraps to the seagulls and toasting our success with wine.

In Pursuit of Whales

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“I want to see whales” Danica said, shading her eyes and peering out at the ocean. I squinted out at the massive expanse of rolling blue, but didn’t see anything. “Let’s just sit and look for them then” I said, and so we did. For hours. Every swell, far off ship, or shimmering mirage prompted an exclamation quickly swallowed by the realization that no, that wasn’t one.  And that is how it began.

Truly it was the dolphins that started it. A desert girl, I’d grown up chasing horned toads and crouching still in the dust, watching lizards sun themselves on rocks. But here in San Francisco, surrounded on 3 sides by water water water, there are sea mammals. Sitting on Baker Beach one morning I saw a pod of dolphins surfing the breakers as they rolled in. As each wave crested – that moment when you can see all the seaweed churning in a vertical wall of ocean – huge slippery bodies would slide sideways through the water.

Seals have also made an appearance. Biking past Aquatic Park near Fort Mason I often pause and peer out into the swimming lanes, looking for them playfully darting in and out of the water amongst the open-water swimmers.

So whales seemed like the natural next step. They’re so big, and I know they’re there. But where?

“Stop looking for them” Danica said as we hiked along the cliff path to Bass Lake, overlooking the ocean. “It was MY idea to find whales.”

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But I couldn’t stop.  In May I biked 350 miles down the Pacific coast from Eureka to San Francisco on a borrowed bike. The fit wasn’t perfect and my right shoulder threw sharp nerve pains down my back whenever I turned my head right. But I was biking south – which meant that the ocean was on the right.  And so for 350 miles I glanced to my right every few minutes, scanning the horizon for whales. It physically hurt. At which point I knew things had progressed beyond whale watching to whale obsessing.

But what does one do when they’re whale-obsessed? I can’t pay to see them – it would undo all of this work looking for them myself. The only solution seems to be to keep searching. To scan the horizon and have that exclamation of “there!…” followed by failure. Because one day they’ll appear.

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The Dark Princess

Chuku

I have a dog staying with me. A black dog. Which works out nicely, because I also have a black cat and pets, like shoes, should be color coordinated.

Chuku the dog belongs to close friends of mine who travel to the East Coast frequently, and when they do my life is taken over by a wiggly, smiling 80lb canine who makes waking up in the morning feel like you just won the Olympics. Because we’re both alive! AND awake! And we get to walk! And then eat breakfast! It would be exhausting if it wasn’t so contagious. Stumbling out of my house in my pajamas every morning, it’s like I’m walking sunshine. The Panhandle is inevitably soggy and muddy from the night’s fog, and tired runners who got up too early and business men walking to their bus stops are charmed by this dog, whether or not they want to be. “So happy!” or “Who’s got a ball?!” – and Chuku soaks it up, wiggling up to people with her tail going 60mph and her happiness at existing palpable.

But watching someone else’s dog does not come without its challenges. The first night I had her many years ago, I put out her dinner and returned to the kitchen to finish washing up. Ten minutes later I found her sitting hypnotized by her food bowl, with a puddle of drool beneath her jowls. Apparently someone needs to be given permission to eat. Or – the time I was running late and couldn’t find my keys. Talking out loud I said “WHERE are they, Chuku? Where are my keys?” and within seconds she was nosing the pocket of my jean jacket hanging on the back of a chair.

Growing up on a ranch in New Mexico I am used to animals who have jobs. Our herding dogs “help” bring the horses in for dinner every evening. The cats catch the mice in the barn who keep ripping apart the grain sacks. And the horses carry us on adventures. But Chuku? If I had to describe her purpose on this planet, it would not be to fetch things (although she would think differently). Instead the gift that she gives me, and my neighbors, and anyone she meets in the park, is pure happiness. Which is maybe something we should all be giving to one another more regularly.