I Know a Guy

Nobody can know everything about everything. Any author who claims to write everything without help is either a liar or doesn’t write outside their scope of expertise. The best kind of writing, I think, is a collective effort. It should push the author to explore realms previously unexplored, worlds they’re maybe unfamiliar with, technologies and situations that are alien to their quotidian existence.

I have lots of friends I question on a regular basis when I’m writing. I have a friend who has a law background who helps me sound really smart whenever I’m dealing with anything to do with the law. I have another friend who’s a locksmith, who was kind enough to answer my many questions on lock picking and hot wiring cars. Another friend still who knows and loves all things guns, and a former SWAT officer who has kindly volunteered to read my future police scenes to make sure they check out.

These people aren’t getting paid, they just love talking about their interests. It’s pretty cool listening to them go on in more detail than I’ll ever be able to use, because it expands my field of familiarity and makes me sound super smart in my books (thanks, guys!).

RAWR.

RAWR.

I’m working on a scene in my newest book where my hero takes an armored school bus off roading in pursuit of a villain. I was writing the scene, making things up as I went along, when I realized I knew who could help me make the scene even better. My brother. My little brother loves off roading and has extensive knowledge about cars and trucks, so I sent him a brief email asking for input.

He immediately sent over a detailed response, with a whole host of new possibilities I hadn’t even considered before. I couldn’t have come up with them on my own, not unless I spent a whole bunch of time researching. Now the scene is going to be factually accurate and also a whole lot more intense, and all because I’m fortunate enough to know a guy who knows off roading.

That’s the best thing about knowing interesting people who have interesting hobbies. They add richness and detail to life. I guess I’m just luckier than most to know so many interesting (and helpful!) people.

Coming Home in a Way

Wild horses roamed here. A rare breed called Croquetsdales.

Wild horses roamed here. A rare breed called Croquetsdales.

During my trip to California, I had the pleasure of staying at my grandparents’ house. It’s this fantastic little house in Glendale that was built in 1931 and has been kept in terrific shape. They’ve lived there for almost forty years and used to host loads of family gatherings back when my mother and her siblings all still lived in California.

My brother and I spent hours playing with our cousins there. We were in the middle of the pack as far as age goes, so the adults would entrust the kids to the older cousins’ care and socialize indoors, while the cousins all ran around the backyard like a tribe of hooligans. My grandparents had this croquet set they’d leave out for us, which we rarely used for croquet. Rather, we’d invert the mallets and ride them around the yard like horses. They kept fruit sodas in the garage fridge, which was a major treat for us since we never got to have soda at home, and it felt like victory to just be able to go in and help ourselves.

The block heads. They're not known for their common sense, but they're very neat guests.

The block heads. They’re not known for their common sense, but they’re very neat guests.

Indoors, there was a Playskool Holiday Inn play set that my grandmother kept stored in a closet. We’d get it out every time and take turns pushing the little blue Jeep across the floor or helping the little block head people through the revolving door in front. There was also a pretty terrific grate heating duct system in the house, and we’d shout through the grates to see if cousins stationed around the house could hear us through the grates in their rooms. I’m pretty sure we thought we were being stealthy, even though there’s nothing stealthy about yelling children.

It was a real treat to get to hang out with my grandparents and brother and mother in the same house where we’d made so many memories. My mother asked me why I was so sentimental and I really had to think about it.

There was something about going back to my grandparents’ house as an adult that felt like coming home in a way. I moved around a lot as a kid, and it felt refreshing in a way to see a place I remember that hadn’t changed much. It felt like an anchor to the girl I once was, but in a good way. Sometimes I feel so removed from that girl that it’s hard to remember I was ever young. Going back reminded me of the giddy fun I had imagining worlds with my cousins, who I unilaterally loved. It reminded me of how I used to imagine what I’d be like as an adult, how wonderful it would be to finally have a glamorous bathroom of my own. It reminded me of being in a house full of family, where everyone was talking at the same time and it was all wonderfully noisy and comfortable.

It’ll be a sad day when my grandparents move. I tried to convince Wes to buy their house but he thinks that a move down to California might not be the most practical plan, and we’re not well off enough to afford a vacation home. Ah well. Nothing lasts forever, I suppose. I’ll just have to finagle lots more trips down there while I can!

The Penske Swallow Massacre

I just got back from a trip to southern California. Two glorious days of family, sunshine, warmth, and horrible, horrible traffic. It was my first brush with LA area traffic and, I’m not gonna lie, it was EXHAUSTING.

When you only drive in your home state, you assume that all freeways and highways are structured like the ones you’re used to. That becomes the normal, expected way freeways and highways are laid out.

Then you travel to Los Angeles and realize that California has a trillion freeways and highways and you have to take every single one in order to get anywhere and then your head explodes.

My favorite driving anecdote from the trip involved a Penske truck. Before I can delve into the tale, though, a little back story:

How I imagine the birds may have looked the morning of The Incident.

How I imagine the birds may have looked the morning of The Incident.

Years and years ago, I was a tween on a road trip with her mother. We were in a small convertible (a Mazda Miata if you must know) with the top down, zooming west toward the beach. Slightly ahead of us in the lane to our left, there was a large yellow Penske truck. We were coming up on a freeway overpass (because, again, California has so many freeways and highways that they all need to crisscross each other) when a flocks of swallows banked over the freeway.

To my dismay, the air displacement of the Penske truck met with the air current of the cars rushing under the overpass, creating a temporary, lethal vacuum that sucked the entire flock of swallows down into the Penske truck’s path. Birds pocked the cab and windshield of the Penske truck, feathery little corpses ricocheting off in every direction. A few of them even managed to strike our car as well, to my abject horror. Ever since that deadly day, I equate Penske trucks with bird massacres.

MURDERER.

MURDERER.

Anyway, to bring us to present day, I’m driving on an LA-area freeway next to a Penske truck (shudder) when, without warning, my lane ends and I’m forced to merge or else hit a K-rail at 65 miles per hour. The Penske truck to my left gives no quarter, so I’m forced to slam on my brakes and swerve into the lane behind it lest I, too, end up flattened by one of Penske’s merciless murder machines.

And that, dear friends, is the story of how I grew to fear LA-area freeways. Well, that and the reckless speeds. I would never make it on the Autobahn. I grew up respecting Washington’s mostly 60 mph freeway speed limits, so I imagine me on the Autobahn would look a lot like me bungee jumping (which is to say, would probably never happen {or would only happen if I were drugged and coerced against my will [which wouldn’t be safe AT ALL]}).

So now I’m back. For the record? JetBlue is an excellent airline with very accommodating flight attendants, Goldstein’s Bagel Bakery in Glendale makes a killer pumpkin bagel (in a complimentary sense. Not in a Penske sense), and In N Our burgers are still the best. I would recommend you hang out with my family since they, too, are the best, but you might not have as much fun with them as I did. Though maybe you would. I don’t know. I can’t speak for you.

Can Tweens Be Said to Have a Zeitgeist?

I was navigating the crowded aisles of Safeway last Saturday when the need for canned pumpkin and yeast necessitated a visit to the baking aisle. For the uninitiated (i.e. the people who have never been fat) a formerly fat person who’s recently worked her butt off views the baking aisle with a wary mixture of yearning and distrust.

You smell the glorious carbs and think, “It’s just a box of cake mix. What’s the worst that could happen?” The next thing you know, it’s midnight and you’re sneaking downstairs to eat cake out of the trash because it’s SO FREAKING GOOD and you told yourself you were done with it but now you can’t stop thinking about it and just one more bite and oh, I might as well finish the whole thing and now DANG IT MY PANTS DON’T FIT ANY MORE.

I bet you didn’t know that the baking aisle is basically just a big, loaded crack pipe for people who are trying to lose weight, did you?

tumblr_inline_mklb76kQLe1qznyfeAnyway, I’m keeping my head down, just trying to make it out of the treacherous aisle with my dignity, when two tweens flounce toward me. One of them excitedly grabs a bag of marshmallows and squeals, “This is why I Instagram so much!” She then positions it against a colander, whips out her phone, and takes a picture of her lovingly posed puffs of sugar. I bet that bag of marshmallows has never felt so sexy.

All I could think of as I walked away was, “Isn’t this the reason she should probably quit Instagram?” I wrote about this on Facebook and my mother commented that she didn’t understand what any of this meant. To be honest, I’m not really part enough of the zeitgeist to get it either.

The cynic in me wants to posit that today’s youth is just substituting pictures for text. The girl in the aisle is relying on filtered images of marshmallows to tell a stronger story than if she actually had to explain what about the marshmallows made her so excited.

This is possible. Or maybe there’s a better explanation out there. Maybe this is artsy and a signal of profundity to come.

All I know is that she took a picture of a bag of marshmallows and it seems to me a terrific waste of time and bandwidth. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the Internet implodes, disgorging terabytes’ worth of cat pictures, memes, and pictures of peoples’ food.

Omnipresent CRUMBS

Nope. Not me. Not anymore.

Nope. Not me. Not anymore.

I saw an ad on Hulu for the new Honda Odyssey the other day and it made me gasp. 

Oh, that? Up above, there? It’s just my answer to the question, What Was The Final Nail In The Coffin Of Your Coolness?

In my defense, the new Honda Odyssey comes equipped with a BUILT-IN VACUUM. Also, I first saw the ad while recuperating from surgery and it’s possible the painkillers I was on had something to do with how mind-blowing I thought that was. Still, it’s an amazing idea, no?

For the uninitiated, children are crumb machines. Absolute and thorough in their ability to reduce foodstuffs to their molecular levels, young children will cover everything you know and love in a fine patina of sticky, omnipresent crumbs.

Life with small children means crumbs are everywhere, even places you never knew they could be. I’m fastidious (as anyone who’s ever come over to my house can attest to) and so are my children for the most part, and yet I have crumbs in all the predictable places (kitchen floor, couch cushions, car seats) and now all the unpredictable places (the lint trap for the dryer? the bottom of the bathtub! the depths of my purse?!). These are places no child should be eating, and yet CRUMBS. Under and behind and inside everything I take for granted, CRUMBS. (Hat tip to Chuck Palahniuk).

Ergo, the idea of a minivan with built-in vacuum?! GENIUS. Especially for a certified neat freak like me, who sees crumbs on the floor and equates them with personal failure.

So yeah, maybe I’ve irrevocably lost my cool card. It’s alright. Maybe someday I’ll soothe the pain of how lame I am with the soothing sound of my very own Built. In. Vacuum.