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I Hope You Pants



I hope your trousers suit you well as public speaker,

You’re never bullied into heals when you’ve got sneakers.

May you never take an ankle sock for granted.

God forbid you ever leave your hair unbanded.

I hope you still feel hot when rocking jeans and t-shirt.

Whenever someone mocks flip-flops, you’ll never be hurt.

Promise me that you’ll give hats a fighting chance.

And when you get the choice to skirt it up or pants…

I hope you pants.

[Maudlin strings, dance break, sweaty cool down, resume.]

I hope you never fear those workouts in the distance,

Always balance your aerobic with resistance.

All your heft will carry weight, but it’s worth bearing;

Playing sports will lead to bruises, they’re worth sharing.

I hope you still stand tall when surrounded by the shorter,

Whenever someone orders wine, you’ll have a porter.

Give your laurels more than just a passing glance,

And when you’re hearing lots of “no”s or “don’t”s or “can’t”s,

I hope you pants.


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I awoke fogged, soggy. Opened my eyes to a room full of dense air, morning haze milky-distilled through cheap bed-sheet curtains.

Sixty-seven nights on this island. I still wasn’t used to living alone.

Well. The house was nice, at least. A gentle presence during my move-in interim, a warm welcome through the door jambs. It put up little fight, this house, to my frantic fitting of coat hooks, of spice racks, night lights into its heights, into its orifices. Polite. An old stone-and-wood structure, much accustomed to humans and our awful, post-traumatic nesting propensity.

Still. I may have been worse than most. I tended to ignore the house’s affections, I’m afraid. Overlooked its kindnesses. I saw only neglected duties—the overgrown walkway, the pipes beset by roots, stuffed up by a busted marriage, a stillborn child. In its closets, after mere weeks, all my suits had gone to mildew. The house had gotten lazy, I assumed, distracted by its own proximity to the shore.

Stuffed up. I had myself on my mind.

That sixty-seventh day, routine: A mouth full of morning-breath brine, creaking back, cracking ankles. Fine. Sleepy hobble to the bathroom, bare feet leaving warm, wet prints on the clay tile. From the floor, the house tugged fondly at each step, held the impression for a moment before it smoothed itself over, became indistinct again. The softening, exhausted structure still trying to be supportive, even as it sank.

What she might’ve looked like.


Hips braced against Formica, I studied instead the bathroom mirror, stretched my face into grotesque expressions, struggled to see through the condensation.

I strode down the hall, past box after box of my life’s detritus. Three decades of wrack, still packed: skeletal sand-dollars, dulled sea-glass bracelets, some awful platitude wall-hanging etched in faux-weathered wood: The cure for anything is saltwater—a housewarming present from concerned friends. Those prospective channel markers for my new, unwanted independence.

“I don’t plan to wallow,” I’d snapped upon unwrapping. The gifted trinket had now sat two months neglected, its bottom edge swollen by the damp.

I don’t see them much anymore, my friends. The day’s agenda eludes me.

It was supposed to be healing, this outpost, a quiet cottage on a quiet road, six blocks from shore to shore. Soothing, they’d said.

But I had come to suspect that the sea had more sinister intentions.

Outside, at all hours, the eaves dripped a slow, uneven drumbeat of off-weighted metronomes. Not rain so much as fog transformed, ticking limped rhythms, all those little droplets headed downward. Out here on the island, melting seemed the natural order of matter. The setting seeped in all directions. Wood, glass, asphalt, air—every substance turned itself inside out with weeping.



I dusted sand from the pot, made thick, drip coffee, poured muddy brew into the mug, clasped my hands and cozied over the cup. The burst of steam stirred the living room’s mist upward and around. I shuffled to the couch, sat with a squish into damp cushions.

A grainy layer sand sat, too, atop the coffee table, dusting the magazines, accumulated in tiny dunes against the remote. “You,” I wrote in the grit with an index finger, “deserve this.”

On the wall, framed photographs, once vivid grass and sky blue, now hung weathered and faded: the Eiffel Tower a sepia blur; sun-bleached granddad.


At slackwater, mid-afternoon, the mailman trundled up in his little truck, pulled open the aluminum door, set coupon sheets and credit card invitations into the cubbyhole and closed the box. Rippled tiny wake as he drove away, casting back a glare for his waterlogged route wasted on generic correspondence, as if to say: I came all this way.

Drowsy, the house nodded admonishment. I couldn’t be bothered, but to fret at the folly of my forwarding address.


That night, a storm rolled over the island, stuck its bristles into the dark. In the window, I watched from the couch as colored light from a car lot TV commercial flickered against the periodic pierce of lightning outside. Over and over, white foam slipped down the glass like lace, sinking slow, in a line, and waited there for another wave. Nothing but pitch black beyond the froth.

I crept to bed and fell asleep amid the torrent, rocking.

The thick, dark fullness of the night finally ebbed, left me still and warm under piling cover, insulating sand.



I awoke matted. Day sixty-eight: seaweed and salty hair stuck to the pillow, the mattress and most of my bottom half buried in the night. I managed to pull my legs from the heaps of bed-drift dune, put my feet down into the chill of wave wash, ankle-deep.

Creaky, still bogged in sleep, I stretched my arms upward, flexed wrists, yawned a pop to equalize ear pressure and set my teeth with a crunch: shells. In the bathroom I brushed them anyway, spat shards—coquina, cowrie, scallop, Aquafresh. The sink’s sandy bottom suspended foam saliva for a moment, then absorbed. Within the froth, tiny clams wriggling to cover themselves.

Why is this happening? I pestered the leaking ceiling seams, the soggy matt, the flooded sconces. Where am I supposed to go? I attempted to mop, to sop up the spot where the coffee table had been. I stirred puddles. The house resigned, sighed and settled, curled further into its corners.

This time, the mailman emerged from the haze already rolling his eyes at the deluge, stuffed the box anyway with envelopes and magazines that were, even in his hands, soaked through, disintegrating. Half-submerged, his truck shuddered and stopped, spat back to life and limped away into the fog, landward. He left with yet another sour look: See what you’ve done.

The house, now unconscious, no longer sensed its surroundings.

I thought to wade out to the box, to fish out its contents or at least scoop the scraps, but I was stopped at the stoop. I couldn’t see the street for whitecaps.

I thought, I thought, I thought. More coffee?


The house went quietly that night. It drifted off to the thrum of laundry tumbling.

I’d been knelt by the dryer, swearing into the barrel of hot, sodden clothes. The seawater snuck in at my knees, crept up my thighs like teenage advances. Then a crest came, crashed icy cold over the small of my back—made me wince in an arch—and it swept me off my moorings. I clung first to the appliance, then shelves, doorjamb, threshold. But my fingers, and the things they clung to, were already wrinkling away. I succumbed to the undertoe.

Helpless, sure, but I’ll be fine. Supine. From the rush of water I saw the house’s walls dissolve. The lone laundry room lightbulb above me spread itself thin, disintegrated into sheen and darkness, a sheet of starlight.

Lips pursed the surface, eyes lapped by saltwater, I watched my own jetsam float past—multicolored rubber bracelets, a lone left sandal. I flashed on driftwood platitudes, on shifting outlooks.  No need for that anymore, I thought, my limbs expanding, absorbing, dissolving into the brack. No need for those either.

I looked up at the wavering firmament, picked a wet, wriggling star to wish on, splashed a smile from underneath, admiring its sparkle. It’s warmer than I thought.

I saw the ripples as I became them, shifted and twisted myself translucent, shrugged off solid lines in exchange for infinite fluidity. Eyes closed, melting, I shimmered moonlight.

Liquid ubiquitous, what once had been the house welcomed me yet again, as I exhaled a final breath of warm brine. I could get used to you, I sighed, an eddy into the depths. This isn’t so bad, after all.



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She stood, a solitary stalk, ball at her feet, bright-lit green field against a black fall sky. The breath between whistled-dead and play-resumed.


Half a field away, a pack of other players stared back at her even as they jockeyed in the box, twisted fistfuls of jersey. Waited for the kick to come.


She set her stance, a few paces back, and stood. They could wait.


Her hours previous spent self-conscious in the school day, a bulky bulb in cold soil. Around others, she arched, slumped shoulders curved over and caved in, shrank. Arms crossed around books to cover her breasts, new and awkward and obvious at eye-level to her classmates. Bell to bell, blood cells coursing through vessel halls, pooled classrooms, hour after hour. Geometry: right-angles, hypotenuses. History: Pyrrhus, attrition. Anatomy: the bones of the foot.


Baggy jeans and ponytail, sneakers and plain tee. Between first and second she spoke to a boy as he smoked by the gymnasium doors. Volleyed observations. He was short and comfortable, and she tugged at her own belt loops, her pockets, her shirt seams, kept tucking hair behind her ears, touching her face. May have stayed too long; awkward retreat.


And at lunch, seated alongside teammates who discussed lipstick and bangs, as in her mind she replayed the exchange with the boy, pulled at it until it lost its shape, a tangle of threads that no longer resembled stitched fabric. Realized that her fly had been down the whole time.


Calcaneus: heel. She leaned over cafeteria Bolognese, collarbones hovered above the edge of the tray.


Alone on the field, though.


Upright, transformed, hands inert, arms hung an afterthought. Eyes forward, chin-to-chest, she scowled scrutiny toward the horizon, ignored the mass of players, a blur of blue and white in the foreground of three sharp lines, their squared corners. Measured her distances: goal to ball, ball to body. Rocked up on her toes, posturing. Proximal, middle, distal phalanges.


From this vantage, she could see clear mere seconds into the future: rhythmic steps to a rooted plant-foot, leg arced, pendulum, cranked down, across, over, into and through. She could hear the coming solid thwock of seams against leather cleat (cuneiform, metatarsal). The ball’s trajectory, she knew, was predetermined: just a few feet farther than the spot where the 20 other players had set their stances, would crane their necks, eyes wide, to watch as it arched, skimmed heights of humid air. On the silent field, from 50 yards away, she could hear the upcoming wisp of the keeper’s gloved fingers miss, the arc dipped under crossbar, upper 90, line crossed, the rattled skim down the back of the net. And only then the ball would finally find the ground again.


All this she saw before it happened. The tower of a girl, standing alone in the middle of the field, stock-straight as limestone statuary casting starburst shadows, the crisscross worship of stadium lights. The strength in immensity. She strode toward the ball.

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On the Hook

A not-uncommon circumstance highlighting one of the less-graceful aspects of my freelance game:


I had an interview scheduled for 2, and that always derails me. Telephone anxiety in general, plus the professional obligation to ask good questions, to mine from this real person all of the info I’ll need to write what needs to be written.


Too specific a prompt and you may only get a “yes” or “no.” Too general and you won’t get any info at all—or worse, still, you’ll be met with confused silence before your subject responds, “Wait…what was the question?”


It doesn’t really break down that cleanly, but there’s an art to an interview, and it doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s like a duet where your part is responsible for conjuring the other part on the spot. And you don’t know what instrument they’re playing until they answer the phone.


(Don’t think about that simile too much, please.)


I have trouble concentrating sometimes. In this case, the interviewee is 3,000 miles away, his industry conceptually just as distant from mine. If he wants to talk, that’s brilliant, but if he needs me to drag it out of him, well…that’s harder. I can stockpile six good questions, maybe, and if each of them only elicits a five-word answer, then I’m sunk.


For a 750-word assignment a few weeks ago, encompassing a spectrum of circumstances, I managed only a 20-minute interview. She was pressed for time, and I hung up the phone feeling I hadn’t properly honed my approach. It was an ultimate success, though the writing process was filled with self-doubt, assuming I’d failed to get adequate info.


On the other hand, I interviewed a sports broadcaster the other day for a quick little 300-word profile, and I kept having to make myself move on, lest we bog further in the career of Vin Scully or the charged atmosphere of a stadium or the nuances of narrating a bowling tournament. After quite a few years of fighting for questions to fly even a little bit, it’s a happy glide on thermals when they come easily.


That doesn’t happen often, though. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at winging it, sometimes, as needed, and that helps with confidence. But every new interview is a potential soul-scarring lurch of an awkward, unproductive conversation. When it goes really bad, every instinct tries to steer you out of it ASAP, but being in it is the whole point. And once you bail, it’s that much harder to get it back.


Anyway. I called, left a voicemail, and was greeted with a text reply. “Can’t talk now. I’ll call you back later.” Could be 10 minutes, I figured. I kept my voice recorder rolling.


It’s been four hours. I can’t concentrate on the topic of the call, but I’m afraid to let myself get too focused on anything else. I’m still sitting here toying with potential questions trying to maintain at least some low-grade focus on the topic in case the phone rings and I have to do my little intro dance and then ask the right questions that get him to say stuff.


(My little intro dance often involves run-on sentences.)


There’s a certain relief when you realize it won’t happen today, but I well know that just means it’s going to have to happen some other time in the future. If I could do it without the chat, I would. But being in it is the whole point.

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Mostly Nomads and Sheep

From The West Wing, “The Leadership Breakfast”


I was reading an article the other day that listed some of Roman Polanski’s most prominent films: “Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown.” And my first thought on that last one was, “Wait, the one with Kurt Russell?” No, see, that’s Big Trouble in Little China.

Several times a day, I catch myself in imaginary conversations with people I’ve never met, and in those convos I suddenly confuse two similar-sounding titles or terms or people, which means that whatever little daydream intellectual chat I was imagining is derailed by my fantasy person thinking I’m an idiot. (Yes, this is often how my daydreams go.)

Years ago, I got into an actual argument with someone stemming from confusion over actors John Heard, John Hurt and William Hurt. (John Heard and William Hurt have similar looks; John Hurt, rest in peace, looked like neither of them.)

I live in fear of the moment my daydreams come true and, in trying to speak eloquently and intelligently, I am instead revealed to be a complete idiot by talking about, I don’t know, Orson Wells as a pioneer of 19th century science fiction literature, or how H.G. Wells depicted the perils of communism through barnyard allegory, or I’ll make a joke about George Orwell’s beloved sled, Rosemary.*

*(All of these things are wrong.)

Here are some other idiotic moments waiting to happen:

I cite fraught family dynamic of The Little Foxes by playwright “Katherine Helmond.” (Nerp: That playwright is Lillian Hellman; Helmond was in Who’s the Boss?.)

I wax poetic on the influence of 19th century celebrity and feminist “Sandra Bernhard.” (Wrong-o: I’m thinking of Sarah Bernhardt; Bernhard is a current-day stand-up comedian.)

I wax poetic on the influence of 20th century celebrity and feminist “Simone Bolivar.” (Yeah, no, I’d be aiming for Simone de Beauvior there; Bolivar put an end to 19th-century Spanish rule in, like, all of South America.)


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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Final Escape

Seriously, Lena, put a fucking towel down or something.


Holy crap. I have been looking for this little nugget of television for years.


As a kid, I watched an anthology TV ep that scared the pants off me so well that, even at like age 7 or whatever I was at the time, I passed through terror and came all the way back around to admiring the shit out of the storytelling.


Then I forgot about it for most of my adolescence.


But every once in a while, it pops into my brain, and within the last decade, it seemed like something I should be able to track down, what with the interwebs and all. Here are the details I could remember:


  • Anthology scary stories TV series (not Twilight Zone).
  • Prissy rich blonde woman in prison, desperate to escape.
  • African American dude who works in prison’s carpentry department or whatever—ie he makes coffins—needs eye surgery.
  • Lady bribes/tricks him into helping her escape via coffin.


Yet I was thwarted, every google.


Then today, in the midst of a British comedy-panel podcast binge, someone described this exact story as portrayed in an Alfred Hitchcock show.





One search (“alfred hitchcock tv show buried alive”) and thirty minutes later, here we are.


Turns out it’s an 80s-tastic reboot of a 1964 episode, and OK, you can maybe-probably guess the terrifying last-second plot twist, but it blew my wee little brain back then, and like any quality scary story, even if it’s predictable, it still bears retelling. Knowing (or figuring out) the ending doesn’t spare you the intensity of the experience.


Give it a watch, won’t you? Filtered through my acknowledgement that it’s 30 years old, I think holds up well. It suffers from some mid-80s TV-as-an-art-form style issues, but even cinematically, they do some things here that filmmakers these days are still fucking up.



Also, here’s a moment-by-moment recap (low-budget live tweet) of my rewatch.


Alfie’s intro: I…do not understand. It seems to be maaaaasssively misogynistic, with the “wives peek in from the kitchen” bit and the woman…stripping…behind him? But I maybe it’s all part of the tongue-in-cheek gag? I, uh…y’know what? Let’s just get on with the story.


Scene: a courtroom, “Lena” being found guilty of murder in the first. “I’m sorry, your honor, could you repeat that? I couldn’t hear you over my MASSIVE SHOULDER PADS.”


According to IMDb, Lena is played by Season Hubley, who was once married to Kurt Russell. So there you go.


Oh! She’s a cunt! She’s very much a cunt. I’d totally forgotten. All this time I’d thought she was just pathetic. This is good texturing.


Scene: the confiscation of her possessions. Enter the Golden Lighter of Meaning, which will go off in the second act because it’s pronouncedly absent in the third. That’s some fan-fucking-tastic Chekhovian yoga when you think about it. (Don’t think about it too hard.) (EDITED TO ADD: Although…if they’d worked in somehow that she’d gotten the lighter back and had it in her possession for the final scene, it may have been even more powerful. Hold please, I’m fixing Hitchcock.)


Lena and her wet hair just kicking back on the bottom bunk bothers me more than anything else in this episode. Cellie seeeeeriously needs to be like, “Bitch, get off my mattress.”


Scene: Lena tries to “charm” Shirley the Olive-Skinned Queen of the Prisoners (played by steely-faced Irishwoman-by-way-of-San Diego Patrice Donnelly, 5’9”), who is now in possession of the Golden Lighter of Meaning. Lena has all the flirting game of Noel Shempsky. Shirley, on the other hand, has a wicked left hook.


Enter Doc (played by Davis Roberts, the Morgan Freeman of Mobile, Alabama) and his vague coffin duties. Unnecessary Wood Planing is the most overused bit of carpentry business. Artisan fucking bespoke DOC caskets hand-made by a caring and sensitive blind man? Why escape? I’ll bet the canapés in the mess are to die for.


“They’re all idiots,” Lena mutters to herself while attempting a prison escape inspired by the children in a Tide commercial.


Enter Angry Warden. EPIC BOW TIE ALERT.


“I’ve been thrown in solitary in better places than this!” Yeah, OK, Lena. “Good one.”


Wowsa, for a minute there I thought that ass-kicking scene was going to get rapey. That was some intense woman-on-woman violence. I like to think Ms. Hubley got all method and kept fighting back too hard so Ms. Donnelly (who is now, per IMDb, a personal trainer) finally had to kick her ass for real.


Scene: the infirmary. Why is Doc, Master Casketeer, hanging out the clinic? CASING HIS NEXT “CLIENTS,” PERHAPS?


Oh my. I could’ve sworn I heard, “My husband used to work with black kids.” BLIND. She said “blind kids.” Thank you for not being THAT bad, 1985.


Oooooooh, that broken glasses/“Let me read to you the letter that reveals whether or not you’ve received funding for your eye surgery” shit is proper devious. Respect.


Playing up the awfulness of climbing into a coffin that already contains a corpse is a great move. Excellent misdirection. Same for how relaxed she is when she hears the dirt hitting the lid. Jesus. Makes my palms sweat.


Slow descent into panic, natch. Jerk-laughing “Who do you think you are?” to the corpse is both sinister and totally on point for that character.


Aaaand here comes the reveal. Man, acting in a confined space with a lit match deserves its own award. (Though fire in a limited-oxygen situation is dumb. WHO’S AN IDIOT NOW, LENA?)


And there it is. Points for the screams (I’ve always thought full-throated screaming is an admirable talent that not all actors can commit to) and for the simultaneous stillness of the corpse. Yep, still gives me chills.






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A Retrospective, Of Sorts


The backside of the sunset.

Re-summoning creative juices while recovering from sciatica and a lull in freelance projects, I just rediscovered some old articles that held up surprisingly well on the reread. So here are six of my favorite mag stories from over the years, annotated with thoughts about what I experienced while trying to write them (because I don’t expect to be interviewed by Terry Gross any time soon).

Presented in reverse chronological order.


The World Rowing Championships

A narrowly defined assignment with a lot of “suggested” topics to try to pull into a continuous narrative. The volume of interviews–usually a big stressor–was actually easier to handle here, since this was one of my first assignments as an unemployed lady, and I realized it’s much easier to schedule and conduct phone conversations from the comfort of your own living room, pacing.


My Life as a Rink Rat

Relatively easy, top-of-my-head, no-research essay. This was something I’d toyed around with in my head for a few years, and it was fun enough to assemble the details from 12 years of firsthand experience. But more than anything, I’m hardcore chuffed that the hockey folks have been so goddamn effusive about the final product.


Wonder Underground

Leading up to this experience, I hated that I had to go camping by myself, but in retrospect I would absolutely repeat it, right down to the three hours (not featured in the story) that it took me to get the fire going on the coldest night of 2016. I’m tickled at how the concept of Florida-ness and all the juxtaposition of imagery came together, which was just an accidental result of mulling things over for a week or two. (Also, in real life, the cave tours were actually sold out when I arrived, so the chronology of everything is reversed.)


Was Justice Served?

“Investigative reporter” is a tricky title for me, considering I’ve done very few projects that required this much capital-J Journalism. And yet this is the only story I’ve ever gotten an award for, presented in the category of investigative reporting. I’m happy enough with the story itself–and I learned a ton doing the research–but I regret that a more intrepid Hannah could’ve made a much better meal of the whole topic.

Also, I still owe a couple of apologies, I think, for how cranky-stressed I was during the whole process.

Also-also, I can hear my editor’s voice in her reworking of the final graph, and that still twists my knickers.

Also-also-also, it seemed totally logical at the time, but the structure now catches my attention–the repeated chronology of events; telling the story, more than once, sort of, in overlapping sections. I dunno. Structure is a real stressor to me, and I always go about it awkward and organically, just putting one bit of information next to another to another to another, and rearranging according to what details seem to need to be revealed in what order. In this story, it’s not that it doesn’t work as-is. It’s just that I remember feeling comfortable with the order at the time, and that’s probably what seems weirdest to me most in retrospect.


A Day at the Beach

Like a gut-punch is the memory of trying to put this together, an assignment both massive and with vague parameters, where a big chunk of the research involved walking up to strangers and trying to perform spontaneous interviews (*shudder*). Though I recall being happy with the writing in the end, I mostly associate this story, like the Charles McKenzie one above, with a sense of regret–ie “If I hadn’t been so overwhelmed with anxiety, I would’ve done a better job.” On the reread, however, I’m pretty impressed I kept it together. I half-expected the anxiety would have bled through to the writing.


My Life in the Theater

This may have been my first big feature for the mag, and it required very little research beyond combing through memories, but I remember I agonized over the writing of it. I’m still surprised at how well it holds up. Twenty-six-year-old me did OK.

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