Thursday, December 29, 2005

Offbeat Xmas Part I: “Unhappy Hellidays”

Alan and I drove from Oakland to Las Vegas (8.5 hours) in the hopes of finding a Christmas that matched our moods this year. 

Our first choice was the ghost town Bodie, but it sits off the highway on a 10-mile dirt road that is ostensibly covered in deep snow, so we changed our destination to Portland, Oregon. Then we got the weather reports that Portland was just as deluged with rain as we were, so we decided to hit our old friend Las Vegas.

We had a pretty noneventful ride down the length of California. Near Barstow, I saw a sign for a ghost town called Calico, which got me in a frenzy of excitement. I could get my ghost town after all! Alan promised we’d hit it on the way back [insert ominous oboe sounds….]

We arrived in Vegas just after midnight on the 24th, which means we checked into our nondescript, non-strip, non-casino hotel on Christmas Day itself. 

Christmas Day included some random gambling (craps being our game), looking forward to that evening for the first event that would mark this as an Offbeat Christmas. : the Unhappy Hellidays exhibit at MTZC. MTZC is an art gallery that advertises “No wine, cheese or children.” Here’s the description that attracted us:

"Unhappy Hellidays" (First Friday 12/2/05 - 1/2/06) - Not everyone embraces the Hallmark spin on this time of year. MTZC's disturbing December exhibit is a group show that allows no fewer than 23 artists (each with their own coal-filled sweat-sock nailed to the mantle) to explore the depths of cynicism & misery some people experience during this month with the highest suicide rates. FREE

We enjoyed such pieces as the Last Bath, a photograph showing a woman’s legs in a bath of blood, and the row of yucky sweat socks nailed to the mantel. When we arrived, one of the socks had already been filled by Santa, with a flyer illustrating sexual acts. Cybele, the co-artist of this latter piece with Mark T. Zeilman, is shown here in front of it in her holiday evening gown. 

Get ready for the Oakland connection: Cybele used to live in Adam’s Point! I can’t explain her terrible oversight in choosing to leave Oakland, but she was wonderful and it was great to talk to her.

We also really liked a piece by Lorraine Leslie, pictured at the top of the post. A Dia De Los Muertos-esque Santa pulls a sobbing, terrified little girl onto his lap. The painting is framed with a “candy cane” that is smeared with blood. Lorraine was there too, and she wore a t-shirt that read, “Waste your life. Be an artist.”

Also present was Michael Kruis, who owns the gallery next door, and Brian Paco Alvarez. We had a great time with these guys and their eggnog; it was the perfect way to spend this particular Christmas evening. Here’s a picture of, from left, Cybele, Michael, Brian doing an Imitation of Christ, Lorraine and Alan.

We were so glad we went to this showing. For all the times we’ve gone to Las Vegas, this was the first time we ever connected with real people (other than the dealers’ perennial “Where you folks from?”) who actually live real lives there.

It was also the night we got some terrible, terrible advice [oboes sound again].

Next time: Alan gives blood in Las Vegas.

. . . . .

Sunday, December 18, 2005

White Coat

Well, I had been wondering how to transition in this blog from the utter sadness of losing Debi to more mundane topics. But what has arisen is another big moment in my life: watching my partner Alan graduate from the academic portion of his P.A. program to the clinical rotations segment.

To mark this transition, the school holds a White Coat Ceremony where the students actually receive their white coats for the first time. Over the last year and a half, I have watched Alan work harder than I have EVER SEEN ANYONE WORK IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

My heart was full to bursting to think of him successfully negotiating this insanely hard program… and doing it with a great GPA and earning the support of everyone around him. His classmates voted him the class speaker, and sitting in the audience with his parents watching him deliver this speech was so moving that I had to bite my fist and control the little rags of breath that were threatening to push me over into full-bore sobbing. (As it was, I wept very discreetly and in the photograph here of me with him—in his coat!—and his parents, my mascara hadn’t run… and it wasn’t even waterproof! A miracle.) 

His speech was perfect: laugh-out-loud funny, surprising, and of course with a thoughtful message and all the poignancy that such a situation demands. As a writer, I loved it that part of his “thoughtful” part was about the power of words… how someone in the medical field can build up or destroy someone with just a few words. Patients lay their hearts in their hands and present them up to their health care providers, hoping that the news back will be something they can handle. 

Another main theme was how everyone around the students wants them to succeed, and he told an anecdote about volunteering at a diabetes screening in the Fruitvale neighborhood where people gladly offered up their fingers for clumsy and multiple stabbings, knowing that they were helping PA students learn how to do it. 

Man, was that ever an impressive speech, and of course peppered with Alanisms that made everyone laugh (I saw one guy half-rise out of his chair and bury his head in his neighbor’s shoulder, he was laughing so hard). And afterwards, he got a huge and extended standing ovation. 

As many people told him, and I wholeheartedly agree, that was the best speech they’d ever seen. He was just so real, as one person said. In fact, one of his jokes was to mock the speechiness people usually deliver. Leaning into the mic, he lowered his voice and talked about how we are leaving behind the past (pointing behind him with his finger), and moving into the future (again, gesturing) and that this was the “equinox of our education.” (Alan said he was really proud of this equinox line and originally intended to use it seriously, but at 2 a.m. in the cafĂ© the night before graduation while he was pounding out the speech on his laptop, he realized how ridiculous it was.) 

I have never felt so proud of someone that it actually felt painful. I wonder what it feels like to be a parent and watch those graduations. Someday I’ll need a big prescription of Valium – and I know just the person to prescribe it!

. . . . .

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Debi's infectious grin

Here's a better photo of Debi, showing her in the grip of her seismic grin. This is what ran in the Chronicle and is in the front window of the bookstore.