So I've started a food blog, and I'm kind of shocked at how seriously I'm taking it. It actually started as an excuse to keep the stove clean and the sink empty of dishes and has managed to take over a fair chunk of my time so far. At the moment I'm happy with it as an excuse to create a professional writing portfolio, but what it's missing in this nascent stage is an audience.

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She was too drunk to tie them herself, so I did it for her, pulling each shoe's purple sash around the ankle and into a bow.

"What are you doing?"

"Laces. Hold still."

Earlier that day, before the bar and the ad hoc houseparty, I'd decided to task the donkey with being my favorite animal for the foreseeable future.

It wasn't a very impartial appointment. Mules beat out donkeys when it comes to traits - that's the point of them, I think, to combine the best of the donkey with the best of the horse. Sure-footed, tenacious & brave.

Still, there's something about donkeys and their bearing that I like tremendously. Whenever I've seen them, they've always impressed me with how placid they were, nearly celestial in their total calmness. Buddha-faced.

And this is one of the things I remember talking about yesterday, to drinking companions whose precise identities are amorphous at best in the thick of my morning-after hangover.

Hey, hey, hey, listen. So there's, like, this town n'Arizona. And it's called Oatman. And there are these donkeys there, only they call them burros, because it's Arizona and people there speak Spanish - not all of them, of course, but some of - and anyway! They're wild, these donkeys - these burros - and they wander around this town, nobody owning them or anything. And they're the tame kind of wild, where you can feed them fistfuls of grass right from your hand. And I'm going to go there and see them next week, because they're near to where I'll be, and feed them from my hand, like -

And I stuck out my hand, palm up.

It's funny, I remember most of last night in a cursory, superficial way, but I woke up this morning to two memories whose details are so dynamic that I can almost see them in realtime technicolour: tying the sashes on a drunken friend's shoes and monologuing embarrassingly about donkeys to an underwhelmed audience. Of all things, right?



In Antarctica I saw penguins wandering hundreds of miles from their only source of food, the ice edge. Having used up all their energy reserves to explore, they had no hope for return. Wandering is a penguin suicide mission.

I wonder if they know it.





My home is in the lee of the Santa Cruz mountains. We have a county park at the end of our block. It is a pastoral hillside with a clearing that in the spring is green with tall grass, and in the summer is mown to a yellow stubble by workers on tractors. The rolling hills are covered in spruce and oak. There are a couple redwoods. I walk my dog there every evening, so I am getting to know the place very well.

In our local park there are some park benches. There is also a tombstone. There are words engraved on each of the benches. These are memorials to the dead. The tombstone also has writing, which is a memorial. Sure.

The bench by the park gate says: "In Loving Memory of Tim O. Nobody Loved These Hills More than Him"

The bench in the middle says, "Rick K : 1930 - 1995 The greatest patron of these hills."

The one farthest from the entrance has the words: "For William H. The greatest friend to these hills"

The tombstone is a white circular stone with an inscription to Rick K., with his birth and death year. It is usually covered by fresh flowers. There is a small wooden cross stuck in the ground near the stone circle.

As we were walking my dog around the park last night I asked the blonde haired girl, "So, who do you think is winning?"

"Winning what?"

"Battle for park loving-ship supremacy."

"Loving-ship? That's not a word. Speak a language I understand."

"Well, for you monolinguistic types, what I'm wondering is: who is really the greatest dead friend to the park? I think Rick's urn is here, plus he has a bench."

"So?"

"Rick, Tim, or William? Each bench says he's the biggest lover of this park. I'm going to sponsor a grudge match."

"A what?"

"Full-contact, ultimate, winner take all."

"Are you talking about..."

"Los Gatos dead guy grudge match."

"I don't think so."

"Three park lovers go in, one comes out. Fight to the death. We may have to amend the rules as they're already dead, but fundamentally, someone needs to rise to the top of this heap. Tim and William have one bench each, but Rick's got a bench and a possible burial spot and they're putting more shit over on that side of the field. He's flanking."

"I don't think it's Rick that's doing it."

"One day we'll be walking the dog and we'll step across carbonized patches where two of the park benches used to be. And I think Rick K. is going to come out on top as the truest lover of these hills."

"It's probably going to be hard for me to tell when you completely lose your mind. I mean, the difference between then and now probably won't be that noticeable."

"When I'm totally gone you can park me at Walmart and tell me I live there. I'll greet people all day and nobody will know the better."

"You think those Walmart greeters never go home?"

"You think they actually have homes? Where do you think the nursing homes put people who can't pay?"

This is what we talk about when we walk the dog.

This is what passes for real life for some people.





When I first went to Antarctica a really cute lab assistant offered to sleep with me. At the time, I was starry-eyed about Antarctica and also I was married. We were in a jamesway building way out in the middle of nowhere, and only the two of us were awake. So the whole thing pretty much went unnoticed by everyone, including me. Because I was so not expecting it, her proposal evaded me until the very last moment when I basically had to decide whether to go back to her tent with her or down to the hut where my two old-guy colleagues were snoring away.

I went to the snoring guy hut.

As it turns out with such things we will tend to revise history to suit our needs, and this cute lab assistant now has her PhD and is going off to work somewhere important, though she has kept me on her emailing list and occasionally I hear from her and I think of things that might have been, and repeatedly count the disasters I evaded by going to the red snoring hut that night.

Though when we talk, it stands now there was never was any such proposition, and how could I have imagined something like that. I think facts are generally on my side, though nothing is ever certain. The cute lab assistant had many evening guests that year, which caused her not to be invited back to the ice in subsequent years. I did go back in several subsequent years, which means that if I was making a nuisance of myself by sleeping with the post docs, nobody ever was wise to it.

Or it wasn't happening, which is my version of truth.

And she was so cute, in fact, that all icemen presumed any so propositioned heterosexual would necessarily capitulate. Thus I earned the theory of my colleagues that I was gay. However, upon kindly rejecting the advances of the equally cute men on the station, I earned the title of "Saint".

Thus, my radio call sign became "Saint Joe", and it stuck with me for my five ice deployments.

If I went to the ice now, though, I would need a different radio name.

"I need to get you back to Alaska," I say to the blonde haired girl. Summertime California dog walks are very difficult for her. She's a polar girl and summers in the lee of the Santa Cruz mountains can be toasty.

"But first, you need to finish what you're doing here."

"Yes," I say. "I need to finish this exploration. Then maybe we'll go back to the ice."

"Someday."

"But not today."

Every day we get farther and farther from the sea edge.

Five years ago, a portion of North America was plunged into the largest blackout in the continent's history. I was in the heart of downtown Toronto — the largest city in Canada and the 31st largest city in the world — at the time. I was 17 years old. I did not know the city well.

This is what happened to me.

I spent the summer between high school and university interning at a non-profit journalism organization for "young people." August was half-over, the internship was drawing to a close and I was gearing up for the beginning of my post-secondary educational career. During lulls, I frequented the university's website for incoming first-year students, scanning it for advice on everything from getting used to wildly different schedules to how to avoid registration lineups. Strangely, it is here that our story begins.

I needed my ID card. The website suggested heading down to campus well before the official registration period at the end of the month in order to avoid delays. This seemed like a good plan, so with the kind permission of my internship supervisor I left a few minutes early and headed on down to school. I normally would not have had any idea where I was going, but the administration had the foresight to put signs everywhere. I posed for my (terrible) photo, provided my signature for the card using an electronic tablet and left the building some time after 4 p.m. ET marveling at just how easy that had been.

By the time I hit the closest major intersection — less than a minute later — the streetlights weren't working. Thinking it a fluke, I headed over to the closest subway station (perhaps another 20 seconds, if that, away). The doors had been shut. Somewhere nearby, a random woman yelled out something about a power failure. I tried to call home to the suburbs to no avail; sometimes a recorded message said something about a signal being unavailable, other times the phone line just sounded dead. A total stranger wielding a handful of loose change approached, clearly having seen me just try to use my phone, and offered to "buy a call" from me.

"I can't get a signal," I told him apologetically.

"If you try for long enough you can get one," he persisted. My battery was almost dead and I needed to call home. I told him so. I kept walking. I felt bad, but what was I to do? I tried again. I don't remember how long it took before something connected and the phone started ringing.

"I know," my sister said when I told her the power was out and the subway wasn't running. "It's out here, too." The GO Trains (the rail system run by the government of Ontario that connects the southwest's major cities), she went on, were running. I said I would walk to Toronto's GO hub, Union Station, and call back when I knew when I could get onto a train.

I consulted the city map posted on the bus shelter as to where I was and where I was going. I headed south.

Rather, I headed what I thought was south. It turned out the map I'd consulted was correct, but backwards because it was posted on the north side of the street. It was my own fault, really, and I didn't know the city that well. But I walked multiple blocks north before, seeing no sign of a train station, I finally asked someone for directions.

Along the way — in both directions — I saw people helping each other out and civilians cheerfully directing traffic in the absence of functioning streetlights. I heard no shortage of conspiracy theories about the cause of it all, particularly after passing a battery-powered radio broadcasting the news that the entire eastern seaboard had gone dark. Some people tepidly questioned whether it could be the unthinkable, the memories of another day that started normally still fresh in our minds.

I was tired and sore by the time I finally arrived at Union, thinking I was home free. The trains would be packed, usually an inconvenience, but I was more than willing to deal. The station was functional, though shrouded in darkness; trains were running and people lined up to have their tickets stamped manually. (I chose to try the automated ticket validator before joining a lineup. It paid off: the machine worked.)

I bounded up to the platform, relieved to be going home, and boarded the westbound train. It all passed without incident for less than 10 minutes, until we arrived near one of the stations along the route and the backup power supply for the electrical switches failed. We sat there, motionless, for half an hour.

Amazingly, people took this in stride. Strangers sat and talked about everything from where they were when the power went out to how much perishable food they had to consume as quickly as possible once they managed to get home. When my cell phone battery finally died, a woman sitting nearby lent me hers. All told, it took me nearly four hours to get home.

Like most other people, we had a barbecue and ate as much ice cream as we could before it melted. For the first time in my life, I saw the stars in the city. Before going to bed that night, I turned on the radio again and heard the deejay encourage anyone who saw any gas station hiking their prices in an attempt to take advantage of the desperate to call in so they could warn others.

I went to bed that night thinking that people aren't so bad after all.

Hours later, I was awakened by screams outside my window. The only discernible phrases were "Wake up, please, wake up!" followed by a different voice asking whether someone needed an ambulance. Seeing nothing but darkness outside the window, I went back to bed. The next morning, I learned that someone had been murdered — not directly outside the house but further down the street — and I had to explain what I'd heard to a police officer.

It was a bizarre day, one that showed me humanity at its best and at its not-so-good. Today, news networks are focusing on the fifth anniversary of the blackout, complete with the requisite shots of various familiar skylines plunged into darkness and interviews with people recounting where they were and what they were doing at the time. Meanwhile, a family is coping with the fifth anniversary of their son's senseless death.

As for me, it's hard for me to not remember being 17 and about to start university even in the midst of these more important events. There is some strange balance in the fact that the fifth anniversary of the blackout — the day I picked up my student card — is the day I picked up the keys to my first real apartment. It's funny how things work out.

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