Monday, July 31, 2006

Pressing buttons and burning rubber

I visited an acupuncturist for the first time last week. Along with a stick of mugwort I must light and hold next to my ankles every day, she put a little Barbie-sized band-aid inside my ear. Embedded in the “band-aid” is a tiny gold BB. When I am stressed, I am supposed to press and hold the BB for ten seconds. I really like having a tangible thing to do when I’m stressed. I’m sure my acupuncturist wouldn’t have predicted this, but I basically have my finger on that button 24/7 these days. It’s addicting.

Today, I was on the freeway, motoring along 70 mph-ish, when the driver of a huge van realized he/she was about to miss their left-hand exit. I was in the lane NEXT to the exit lane—the van, which was initially in the lane to my right, moved across my lane and over. The only problem was, there wasn’t enough time or space to do this.

I braked so hard the tires squealed (more like screamed) and the car shimmied in a desperate lurch, and laid on my horn HARD, but the van didn’t stop. It was going to exit there, by god, even though physics were not on its side.

We nearly collided. Had I not been absolutely alert, and had my brakes not worked really well, I would have been toast. After all, the van was large and I was in little Lewis, the van was aggressively moving across THREE LANES, and we were both pummeling along at 70 mph. This would have been the kind of accident that the airlift helicopter comes for.

The van exited (barely) and I continued on, shaking, smelling for miles the burning rubber coming in from my tires. I reached up and pressed my little stress button for all it was worth.

People! It is not the end of the world if you miss your exit. Take the next one and double back. It’s not worth killing yourself and others.

P.S. After I went to google and looked for an image to accompany this post, I realized my last post was ALSO about helicopters…. coinky dink?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Helicopter Dollars

If you come across a Helicopter DollarTM, it's from us! My stamp, Alan's idea. I hope our dollars make it to all fifty states. Report back if you would.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

World, I'm wearing pants

My friend, and wonderful photographer, Gaby Laz came over last week to shoot me, both for Woman of Ill Fame and for Hexe. Since the two novels are so different in flavor (one’s a romp, one’s very somber), I wore different clothes. I’m really happy with the Hexe photo, which is outdoors and I’m wearing a simple white oxford shirt.

But for Woman of Ill Fame, I wore an ice-blue camisole with an empire waist and silky fabric flowing down from that …. I had thought it was flattering, but instead it made me look like I was happily making California cheese (i.e., a cow). Then one day I was digging around in a drawer and came up with a shirt I’d completely forgotten about, eyelace lace threaded with pink ribbon, which seems a little bit of a nod to Victoriana.

Gaby offered to come over and re-shoot, but she had been so nice and gone out of her way already, charging me a significantly reduced friend price, so I felt guilty doing that.

Instead, I prevailed upon Alan and our jerry-rigged digital camera. Can I just say, photography is very hard? You don’t think about things like shadows when you’re just looking with your eyes, because you adjust and discount that. And if there’s a big object looming out of the person’s head, you just focus on the foreground and it’s not a problem. Then there are things like… sheen on my forehead because the day is so hot, or my hair looks funny, or the picture is out of focus, or my smile is crooked… Alan was a champ and didn’t complain as I’d look at the current offerings on the computer, dismiss them all and drag him into the living room again.

Finally, we came up with one I could live with (top photo), except it is framed in such a way that you can’t see my jeans. Since the shirt is a little lingerie-ish, I really wanted at least a strip of blue jeans to let people know I wasn’t posing in my skivvies… and possibly one where my smile wasn’t crooked, basically an impossibility. Anyway, Alan’s suggestion is to tell the world I’m wearing pants, so that’s what I’m doing. And I’m also including a reject so you can spy with your little eye that that was in fact the case.

My author photo will undoubtedly run in black and white so this is a chance to examine all the doodads in the background. That's an encaustic painting by Kirsten Stolle behind my head and a swan and sperm whale carved by my dad. And California Art Tile in the fireplace.

Erika and Alan spare the air

When ground-level ozone in the Bay Area is projected to be very high, a Spare the Air Day is declared. All public transportation is free, and the hope is that erstwhile drivers will instead jump on a train, thereby lowering the smog levels.

Of course, these ozone days are connected to very hot days.

Fittingly, Alan and I decided to use our free BART train ride last night to go to a San Francisco theater and see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Go see this movie; whatever your political bent, it conveys an important idea, that we are seriously, seriously effing up our planet. 

Drinking water which millions depend on is being dried up, animals’ symbiotic cycles are being screwed up, and most importantly major parts of Oakland will be underwater. Unacceptable! I do live on a hill, but I sometimes venture to the flatlands for my crack fix. 

Seriously, though, I’ve been concerned for a long time that we aren’t forward thinking. Nor are we backward-looking. Few of us think about repercussions, or study history for patterns. Part of our culture as Americans is just to enjoy now. And that’s great, that’s very zen of us, but we are just a tiny blip in our planet’s story – yet we have the power to type “The End.”

The great part about An Inconvenient Truth is that it talks about how revocable all this is, given that we jump on the problem. At, there’s a list of things each person can personally do to help out.

On a lighter note, when public transportation is free, it includes cable cars. Although it is a very touristy thing to do, riding cable cars is incredibly exhilarating and just makes you grin. Feeling the lurch of the cable beneath you as you surmount the steeps hills of San Francisco…. ah, it’s bliss. So we rode four times last night! We rode Embarcadero to the top of Powell, switched cars to go down Powell, transferred to go back up, and then switched again to ride back to Embarcadero. At each transfer, there was a cable car already waiting. 

We can’t figure out why our litigious society still allows the cable cars; you are literally holding on only with your clenched hands as SUVs and other cable cars whoosh by with only a hands-breadth between you and them. The girl next to me had to turn her backpack around so it was on her stomach because that’s how close you are to traffic.

When we switched at the bottom of Powell, the next cable car was already on the move, but I ran as fast as I could and jumped onto it, with Alan right at my heels. Unfortunately, no talent scouts were around to witness this and offer me a part in an action-packed summer movie.

Finally, we took BART back to Oakland, where ULEV (ultra low emission vehicle) Lewis Charles Honda III was waiting for us.

A special shout-out to CH. Hi old buddy!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bear Attack at Malakoff

I made reference in an earlier post to seeing a bear at Malakoff. It was in the campground! In daylight!

Alan: Uh, Erika, there's a bear!
Erika: Oh my god, you're right!
Alan: [turns around and walks other way]
Bear: [watches]
Erika: [starts to do same as Alan, remembers you're not supposed to turn back on bear]. Hello, MISTER BEAR! [loudly] What's up, BEAR?
Bear: [turns around and runs away, terrified by girl's shrill voice]
Alan: Sure, you're terrified when you encounter a little tiny bug, but when you see a bear that could maul you, you're unaffected.
Erika: I'm not scared of mammals.

One thing I like about Alan is that he thinks of, and does, things other people might scoff at. Like, for instance, hanging the entire cooler from the tree. It didn't seem logistically possible, but it was! All night long the cooler gently swung and deterred bears from eating its contents. Forget renting a bear box from REI: this is the way to go.

Malakoff Diggins

Our camping trip recently was to Malakoff Diggins State Park, 20 miles north of Nevada City. Here is a "mini Yosemite Valley," carved out by miners enthusiastically directing pressurized water at the hillsides to make the gold run off. Since this flooded farms down the valley and was ecologically reprehensible, an 1884 court case ended the diggins. By 1940, the boomtown had shut down and in 1966 became a state park.
Malakoff Diggins has a really sweet little ghost town with about six buildings you can tour. It puts Goldfield to shame!
I was pretty much in ecstasy the whole time. Plus the campground itself (3,000 acres!) is really lovely. We had tentsite no. 27, which is closest to the diggins overlook. We had a great evening walk down to Blair Lake where we saw turtles, fish that swam in tight, fast, perfect circles, weird bugs, and best of all, really BIG frogs.
Here's Alan panning for gold. Gold flakes are terribly small, it turns out, more like gold molecules. We were told that the launderers would shake out the miners' clothes to collect up the gold dust.

Striking it rich at Malakoff

We panned for gold in a trough under the auspices of a ranger who was very nice and told us if we'd shown up 15 minutes later she would have seeded our trough with gold flakes from the gift shop. Our timing is always wretched.

Nevertheless, my friends, without the assistance of said seeding, I found several flakes of real, true gold. Alan did too. The ranger in this photo uses a plastic syringe to point to a speck of gold. Yup, that's how small it is.

Panning is really mind-numbing after a while. Initially, exciting. But when you realize you will have to find many, many specks to even begin to craft a necklace, you think that maybe it IS a good idea to aim a hydraulic hose at the hillside and let mercury float down to the San Francisco Bay.

For a quarter, we bought a little vial to put our gold flakes into. Upon subsequent viewings, I think some of the "gold" was mica since it is dark on one side... sigh.

I visit the brothel

Given that I've written a novel (appearing February 2007) about a Gold Rush prostitute, I was highly interested in the Malakoff Diggins brothel. It is not open to the public and in fact looks like demolition is imminent, but we peeked through the windows and saw a brass bedstead (we think). The brothel was termed a boarding house, which maybe explains why it is situated right next to the fanciest house in town (the one that's haunted; see post below). It appears that the E Clampus Vitus guys have sort of taken it over for meetings: I'm intrigued by the clampers. Who are these guys who help out the widows and orphans in their union suits?

Alan visits the brothel

First he looks around to see who's watching... then he drops trou and knocks. Hello, ladies!

Time flies at Malakoff

You can be M. Simon and own a men's furnishings establishment, but before you know it, the building falls down and grass begins to grow and all your clients are dead and the only way anyone ever knows about your store is that there's a wooden sign to mark where it was....

How to catch rats in the 1800s

This rat trap was on the floor of the kitchen in the main house in Malakoff Diggins. Can't remember the name of the family, but the father supposedly was a grubstaker. He'd seed land with gold, sell it to excited suckers, and then sit back and watch the land fail.

He also ran a saloon and let miners keep a running tab. Now and then he'd ask them to pay up the tab, and some of them would say, "Man, I don't remember drinking at your establishment last Thursday..." and he'd say, "Yeah, that's because you were drunk." Some people think he was dishonest in creating entries in the credit log...

Kashi said this house is reputedly haunted. An audio tape left recording apparently picked up a piano playing, when there is no piano in the house. Another recording has a woman adamantly saying, "Downstairs... downstairs," as if she is ordering a bad child to go downstairs. There's a legend that a child fell down the (indeed very steep) stairs in the house and died.

Malakoff drugstore

The drugstore has an incredible array of old elixir bottles and snake oil remedies. The tour guide said once a visitor pointed out the old-fashioned version of Viagra but she's never been able to find it since. My sister is a major bottle dump excavator, so it was fun to look at these and think of them at the bottom of a riverbed in Maine. I saw some Lydia Pinkham's bottles here, which my sister has found underwater. The bottles were really pretty with all the light shining on them.

Malakoff saloon

We had a great tour at the Malakoff Diggins with Kashi, the state park ranger guide. Here she is behind the bar at the Jack King Saloon, one of seven in North Broomfield during its heyday. Jack King gave the miners free drink tokens on payday, knowing they'd stay and buy more beverages. Kashi said the miners had a fifty percent suicide rate. You can still see the hops planted by those brewers.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Till death do us part... or a dingbat

In the early days of our relationship, Alan used to take off all my rings at night and put them in a little wooden trinket box he bought just for that purpose. It was very tender/sexy and I don’t know why/when we stopped doing that. Now the box is on top of my bookcase, and I just put my jewelry in a little cluster on the bedside table by myself each night.

Now that I have a fabulous diamond ring, I tuck it in to sleep back into its black velvet box, so it looks like I’m being proposed to night after night. The first thing Alan saw me doing that, he looked shocked. “You don’t keep it on all night?” he asked.

“I don’t think so. I don’t really know!”

I was going to ask the ladies of my book club and/or watch movies very closely to see who wore theirs to sleep, but never got around to it. I do know that I take it off to do dishes and to go to the gym: just common sense.

On our camping trip this weekend, we were tramping through the woods when this little dialogue happened.

Alan: You know how you take the ring off at night?

Erika: Yeah?

Alan: And sometimes you’re not wearing it?

Erika: True….

Alan: So you won’t be angry now and then if I don’t wear mine?

Erika: Sure, as long as you wear it when you go clubbing.

Alan: I’ll wear two just in case the dingbat I’m hitting on doesn’t know which hand to look at.

And then we saw a bear!

Actually, we did see a bear but that was on a different hike and deserves its own post.

Ed. note: Alan does not go clubbing. And it’s wrong to refer to women as dingbats.