cinnamon roll with it

Before her family left for midnight mass, Alyssa ate a cinnamon roll. She scooped the gooey pastry out of the pan with her fingers, the frosting crusting to her skin as she yawned her mouth wide to cram the whole thing inside.

She emerged from the pantry with her cheeks puffed out, her jaw working hard against the sticky wad of dough. She lingered in the dark kitchen until she finished chewing, the grimy tile cold beneath her bare feet.

Her family sat together in the living room. Her mother and Aunt Rochelle occupied the couch while her twin brothers sprawled atop beanbags on the floor. They were watching “A Christmas Story” again, meaning her aunt had picked the channel. Her mom stared at her hands, and her brothers looked to be asleep, coiled like festive snails in their matching green corduroy pants and red flannel shirts.


Alyssa didn’t want anyone to catch her eating — she’d already had two cinnamon rolls with dinner. She lovingly peeled them apart layer by layer, saving the centers for last, pressing each strip to her tongue and sucking until the last bit of flavor had faded.

Sitting at the dinner table, Alyssa had barely noticed when Aunt Rochelle started pinching the skin on her shoulder.

“You’re lucky you can still eat whatever you want,” Rochelle said. “Wait until you hit 40. Then, let me tell you — then the fun stops.”

“She’s 13,” Alyssa’s mother said. “Let her enjoy her dessert.”

“No sense trying to shield her from reality, Barb. I wouldn’t, if she were my daughter.”

“Well, that’s just the problem isn’t it.”

Rochelle got quiet, clasping her hands in her lap and staring at Barb, her face sucking inward like she’d just eaten something sour, Alyssa thought.

Sometimes Alyssa couldn’t believe her mom and Rochelle were sisters. Where her mother was soft and round, her pale, freckled skin often dusted with baby powder like a lump of floured dough, Rochelle was thin and angular, her hair sleek and her lips painted the color her mom called “look-at-me red.” She didn’t have a family of her own.

When Rochelle entered a room, Alyssa recoiled as though snapped by a rubber band. Everything Rochelle said made Alyssa’s ears burn.

“Isn’t that dress a little tight?” she’d said that morning as Alyssa bounded downstairs in her green velvet Christmas dress, a plain white ribbon tied neatly around her waist.

“I wear it every year,” Alyssa said. She could feel the acid churning in the pit of her stomach.

“This is a kid’s dress. Your mother really ought to take you shopping.”

“I like this dress.”

Rochelle smiled, her makeup creasing at the corners of her mouth. “It’s too tight. Short, too. Someone needs to tell you these things, if your mother won’t.”

Standing in the kitchen, Alyssa swallowed the hard lump of cinnamon roll in her mouth and tugged at the hem of the dress, trying to inch it down below her knees. She was suddenly aware of the way the fabric clung to her round belly, her favorite dress becoming a velvet cocoon.

“What are you doing?” her mother asked, as Alyssa contorted her body, her knees bent sharply to the right, so the dress came down to her shins. She hadn’t heard her mother enter the room.

“Nothing,” Alyssa said. “I don’t feel well.”

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve. Suck it up.”

“I don’t wanna go.”

“You can’t skip midnight mass for anything less than vomiting or death. Now come on. Get your coat.”

Alyssa shuffled to the bedroom and began digging through the closet for her favorite pink peacoat, the one with heart-shaped plastic gems as buttons. She slid her arms through the sleeves, but the fabric tugged at her shoulders, straining against her back. Last year, she’d felt so pretty in that coat, but this year she couldn’t get it to button.

That’s when she noticed Rochelle staring at her from the doorway. Alyssa realized her aunt wasn’t looking at her the way she looked at her brothers anymore, with that bemused, distant stare, the way someone might look at a puppy.

Instead, Rochelle looked Alyssa in the eye, and they understood each other. Without a word, Rochelle grabbed Alyssa by the arm and ushered her into the bathroom.

“Your daughter just vomited, Barb,” Alyssa heard her say. “She needs to stay home.”

Seconds later, her mother knocked softly on the door. Alyssa sat on the edge of the bathtub, still wearing the coat that dug into her armpits and made her hands feel numb.

“You okay, Monkey?” her mother asked. “Do you want me to stay home with you?”

The childish nickname made Alyssa cringe. “Yes, Mom, god. I’m fine. Go to church, okay?”

When everyone had left and the house was quiet, Alyssa tiptoed through the kitchen. She had only been alone in the house a couple of times in her life, and she felt like making noise would somehow conjure her brothers screaming at each other in the other room, or her mom and dad fighting before their divorce.

Only when she stopped in front of the bowl of peanut M&Ms did she exhale. She could eat as many as she wanted. She shoved one into her mouth and began sucking, the candy coating dissolving onto her tongue.

As she started on her second piece of candy, a new sensation bloomed in her chest, making her throat feel tight. She hated the way she looked in that dress. As she wriggled out of the coat, leaving it in a crumpled pile on the floor, she realized everything was different now.

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36 hours

She shoveled the parking spot for her neighbor, the cute one who had trouble walking for some indeterminate reason, probably drunkenness or some other affliction. He often got home late, and she watched from her living room window as he staggered from his car to the front door.

He slammed the door with such finality that she jumped even though she knew it was coming. The sound provided unwanted closure: “Just in case you fuckers were wondering, I’m never leaving the house again, because fuck you.” She was fairly certain he lacked the ability to close a door in a way that civilized people would find acceptable.

snow day1

At least five inches of snow had fallen before she decided to start shoveling. She spent the morning slathering her face with lotion and drinking coffee, perching on the edge of the kitchen sink to smoke cigarettes even though she promised herself she’d never smoke indoors. She figured this was the kind of weather that demanded exceptions.

She wore three pairs of pants, four shirts, a puffy silver coat, and the best pair of gloves she owned, which weren’t waterproof but were better than nothing. It was the heart of winter, and the sky was impenetrable. Outside, the cold coiled around her bones like wire, and she considered abandoning the whole endeavor.

But she remembered how her neighbor looked at her when they ran into each other in the laundry room. She’d never seen eyes such a rich shade of grayish blue, almost purple. A jagged scar split the right side of his face like a canyon, like he’d gone through a windshield or been punched with brass knuckles — at least that’s what she imagined.

They both needed to use the only working dryer, and they reached for the door at the same time. She gasped when she saw him staring down at her. He was calm. He didn’t give a fuck.

“Excuse me,” she said, catching her breath. “I’m in a hurry, do you mind?”

He tucked his laundry basket under his arm, and she realized how huge he was, at least a foot taller than her and very muscular. He limped over to one of the washers and sat on top of it, his boots kicking against the hollow metal box.

“Nope,” he said, his voice rough. “I can wait.”

She loaded her stuff and rushed back upstairs, her heart pounding and her cheeks hot. When she came back down an hour later, her clothes were neatly folded. Even her underwear were tidy little squares, like handkerchiefs. She was surprised that this made her feel so special.

snow day2

It took her an hour to clear the parking spot and the sidewalk leading to the front door. After ten minutes, she started to sweat, and she peeled off her coat and tossed it on the ground. The snow was light, but there was a layer of ice beneath it that she had to hack through with the sides of the shovel.

She worked until her arms ached and the mound of relocated snow stood several feet high. When she was finished, she went back inside, put on a pot of tea, and waited by the window.

The snow continued to fall, swirling like glitter in front of the streetlights. She tried to appreciate its beauty, but she hated it. The cold made her put things off. She kept telling herself she’d make a change when the weather turned, but some days she wasn’t so sure.

When a car — the wrong car — pulled into the cleared spot, she jumped to her feet and said, “No.” She slid on her boots without zipping them and ran down the stairs to confront the car’s owner on the sidewalk.

“No,” she said again.

“Excuse me?” he said, looking somewhat amused. He was young, probably 25. He wore a Montreal Expos hat and yellow-tinted goggles instead of sunglasses.

“That’s not for you,” she said.

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“The parking spot.”

“I don’t see your name on it.”

She didn’t see any point in arguing. She went upstairs, pulled her coat back on, and grabbed her shovel. The night was getting darker and the air colder, chilling any exposed skin within seconds. She quickly got to work clearing another spot.

Soon, her fingers were stiff and painful. If she smiled, she feared her cheeks might shatter. Her toes ached in the tips of her boots. Hazardous — this weather was hazardous. The spot was clear enough. It would have to do.

She went back upstairs and sat by the window, chain smoking to stay awake. She was nodding off when she heard his old truck rumbling up the street, the muffler rattling. She peered out the window, suddenly afraid he might see her.

He parked behind the 25-year-old’s car, his tires crunching through the snow. She’d shoveled the spot in front of it.

“No,” she said.

She ran downstairs without her shoes and greeted her neighbor in the doorway. He stared at her with those purple eyes, dulled by drink but still sharp enough to register the strangeness of her long underwear and rainbow-striped socks.

“You parked in the wrong spot,” she said.

“I don’t see your name on it,” he said, and he unlocked his door and shuffled inside his apartment.

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how to suck at meditating

1. Find a quiet spot where you can be alone, like the empty Walmart lot by your office where the truckers park to nap.

2. Put out your cigarette. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply.

3. As your thoughts arise, let them go. Imagine them floating away down a river.

4. But what are they floating on? Your thoughts feel so heavy when you have to carry them around all day. If they sink, that defeats the purpose. Place your thoughts on tiny rafts, and float them down the river.


5. But where are they heading? The river is going somewhere — to the ocean, or connecting to another river, or over a cliff. Holy shit, a waterfall — yes, that’s it. Send your tiny thought rafts over a waterfall.

6. There are rocks at the bottom of the waterfall. The thought rafts hit the rocks and break apart. The thoughts explode like water balloons. The sunlight hitting the water creates prisms in midair.

7. Some thoughts are tougher than others, surrounded by the skin of an avocado rather than the skin of a grape. They can’t make it out of this meditation fantasy alive. Little cherubs on the riverbank beat more persistent thoughts with clubs until they explode and dissolve into the air.

8. This is rich; what is really, REALLY bothering you? Think of that, and send it over the waterfall so the armed cherubs can destroy it. That sounds good, real good — do that.

9. You are great at meditating. You are so creative. You deserve a pat on the back. This is it — you’re doing it, you’re really doing it. Your head is clear, thanks to the waterfall and and the rocks and the cherub thugs. You can’t wait to do this again tomorrow. It’s time to go back to work, but your whole body feels heavy — you’ll stop in a minute, in just a minute.

10. Wake up — you’re late to work.

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Filed under a motherfucking fucking spiritual journey

photo thursday: milton the melon & edgar the eggplant

This summer, my boyfriend and I planted a garden at his house. It has been producing like mad, and we’ve been enjoying countless tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, tabasco peppers, fire-in-the-sky peppers … we like peppers, apparently. We’re sharing in nature’s bounty, bitches.

I picked this stuff last weekend.

I picked this stuff last weekend.

But we also planted an eggplant and a watermelon, and watching these things grow has been a new experience for me — and nothing short of magical.

Here’s young Edgar the Eggplant:

eggplant baby

And here’s the finished product. I loved Edgar, but I turned him into eggplant parmesan later that night.

eggplant grown

My devotion to Milton the Melon actually might make it hard to eat him. He started off no larger than a pea, but he grew quickly:


Now he’s a bit larger than a softball:

milton bigger

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day 23: snow day: a poem, inspired by shit they say on the local news

Just a few degrees warmer,
it would have been a downpour,
a gift to the parched earth.

But that snow just keeps coming down.

snow day hood fuck

Plow drivers work around the clock
to keep streets clear.

But that snow just keeps coming down.

snow day car fuck

A shirtless teenage boy makes a snow angel —
youth is wasted on the young.
A dog runs outside, loving it, loving it —
then decides “this isn’t for me,”
and scurries back inside to warmth.

snow day tree fuck

The mayor has declared a state of emergency.
Traffic on 435 is at a standstill.
A truck stops to pull a car
out of the ditch.
They both get stuck.

But that snow just keeps coming down.

snow day bubba snuggle

I’ve never seen anything like it.
It was a summertime thunderstorm
just pouring down snow.

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day 15: photo thursday: the magic teapot

magic teapot

This is the magic teapot in the “Petite Cuisine” room for solo travelers at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. Deetjen’s is more than 100 years old and is a treasure in and of itself. It has no telephones, internet access, or televisions, and it uses woodburning stoves, so it always smells like campfire.

I stayed in the Petite Cuisine last December, and on my first night I went through the cabinets and found stacks of community journals dating back to the mid-90s. They were filled with the kind of raw honesty only solitude can bring.


People came to Big Sur to forget old lovers and rediscover themselves. They drank red wine and went hiking in the rain, placing their clothes to dry in front of the room’s tiny electric heater. One guest was an unusually wise teenage boy whose parents were staying down the hall. One was an old woman who had stayed in the exact same room nearly half a century earlier.

I felt an almost tangible connection with these other solitary travelers. I laughed and I cried. It was spiritual as fuck.

My cabin at Deetjen's.

My cabin at Deetjen’s.

When one entry said that I should “be sure to check the teapot,” I knew right away to reach for the tiny copper thing on the windowsill behind the bed.

I popped it open and found a collection of treasures: photographs, pieces of cloth, dried flowers, inspiring quotes written on napkins, chewing gum. I laughed and cried some more.


Before I left, I deposited a tiny pinecone from my last hike in the teapot. Multiple journal entries claimed the teapot held some sort of magic, and in a place like Big Sur, it’s easy to accept such statements as truth. A childlike part of me hoped that shoving some more crap inside the teapot would somehow bring me peace long after I returned to my cubicle in the Midwest.

But the magic faded when I got lost on the drive to the airport.

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day 6: bridget took me up to strawberry hill

The Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum is not a haunted house.

Case in point: Their website contains a designated “No Ghosts” section. To summarize: “We are boring old fuddy-duddies. Kindly usee your EMF readers to measure the paranormal activity up your ass.”

The Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum sits on a hill overlooking I-70.

The Strawberry Hill Mansion Museum sits on a hill overlooking I-70.

This is too bad, because the possibility of glimpsing the “lady in red,” a bloodied, spectral figure who sometimes pops in to greet visitors, is what first drew me to the 125-year-old mansion on a Halloween ghost hunting expedition two years ago. Unfortunately the museum was closed; now that I know their official position on ghosts, I understand why.

One thing the museum does right, though, is Christmas. My friend Bridget is a Strawberry Hill native who grew up attending the adjoining church and school. When we visited the museum last weekend, we parted ways with our tour and showed ourselves around.

The view of Kansas City, Missouri, from the mansion's porch.

The view of Kansas City, Missouri, from the mansion’s porch.

It was better that way — it really was. I loved seeing the place through Bridget’s eyes and watching as she pointed out family members and classmates in the photos hanging on the walls. Upstairs, rooms that used to house orphans and nuns are now dedicated to the holiday traditions of each ethnic group represented in the original Strawberry Hill neighborhood, which was primarily Croatian, including Bridget’s family.

Bridget and I are also both suckers for a top-notch holiday display. If we decorated a house together, the style would be “shabby chic meets Clark Griswold and Adrian Monk.”

The Strawberry Hill chapel.

The Strawberry Hill chapel.

Photos weren’t allowed, but I did manage to snap a few shots before an old man asked me to stop. Afterward, Bridget and I ate at a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint down the street, and I was reminded that, although it is only a few minutes from my home, Kansas City, Kansas, feels like not just another city or state, but an alternate universe about which I know nothing. And for that I love it.

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