Monday, December 31, 2007

A Good Cause

After Kyle died, I sort of opted out of any familial logistical decisions. At the hospital, as they prepared my brother for organ donation, my parents asked me simple questions about burial, funeral, and memorial arrangements, and the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a grave to visit. But everything else - death certificates and headstones and slideshows and biographies - I stayed out of. It just all felt so exhausting.

So maybe that's why it didn't occur to me until now to post something about the scholarship fund my parents established in Kyle's name. It's called the San Francisco State University Kyle Campbell Whitham McLeod Scholarship in Latin American History, and it was set up to provide some relief to “students experiencing financial hardship and enable them to continue on their path towards graduation.” Kyle talked a lot about the growing cost of state education in California, about how friends of his were being priced out of what is supposed to be affordable public education, so I know he would be proud that an annual scholarship in his name will help other students in his major get through school.

Thanks to the generosity of friends and family (and my parents' unions), we've already received the minimum amount needed to establish an endowment. The more contributions we get, though, the larger the annual scholarship amount, and the more help a needy kid gets each year.

SO, if you haven't already, please consider donating.

Make checks payable to the SF State Foundation, and make sure to designate that it is a donation to the Kyle McLeod Scholarship Fund. Mail donations to:

San Francisco State University
Office of Development – ADM 153
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, California

Past and future donors, thank you!

GTD from 818***7818:
Ur mom hates you

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Taiwanese Are Nothing Like Us

Christmas is over. Thank God. Let's move on.

In this era of global warming, global villages, and global economies, it's easy to get caught up in all the We Are One hype. But I'm here to remind you that we are not one. We are separate and distinct, we are nothing like our neighbors. Unspeakable customs, incomprehensible people, and absolutely disgusting dishware can be found all over this wide, wide world.

Take Taiwan, for instance. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, there's an eatery called the Marton Theme Restaurant. Marton is a derivative of the Chinese word matong. Can you guess what that means? That's right, toilet. Matong means "toilet."

I have no explanation, but Eric Wang does. He's the 26-year-old founder of Marton Theme Restaurant.

"Most customers think the more disgusting and exaggerated, the funnier the dining experience is.”

And while I would be quick to point out that he is wrong, that disgusting is not funny and funny does not make for fine dining, that eating mock shit out of a mock toilet is only slightly less horrible than eating real shit out of a real toilet, it seems the residents of Taiwan would disagree with me.

Due to its popularity, Mr. Wang was able to open a second Marton restaurant just seven months after the first.

I don't know about you, but for me, suddenly the gulf between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Sunnis and Shia, the Democrats and Republicans seems not just understandable, but inevitable.

What a world.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Blue Santa

They found this in Ohio a few years ago. Leave it up to the Germans to come up with a mascot for the sadder side of Christmas.

Froehliche Weihnachten everybody!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blue Christmas

I just got home from Christmas with my dad. We went ice skating in Central Park, trailed Leann's well-bundled grandkids through an amazing throng of foreigners to see the Big Tree, and had coco and pizza and presents under a decorated palm in the hotel suite.

It was a really lovely evening.

Now I'm home in pj's, The Godfather's on, and my Google searches show a number of permutations of "dead" and "Christmas." So I thought I'd post this. Not because I'm miserable, but because in the back of my mind even on my best days there's a soft blue whisper, a reminder that the hardest time to be sad is when you are expected to be happy.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


1. I just got a new cell phone. My old one was this overpriced piece of crap and when you called me it sounded like I was in the middle of a tornado. So I went to Verizon and, in exchange for promising to pay them an exorbitant monthly fee well into my thirties, they gave me a new phone for free.

Get excited.

The woman at Verizon was really nice, but she couldn't change transfer my contacts from my old phone to my new phone - I guess she was missing a cord? - so when I got home I went through my old phone manually. I just transfered the necessities. Mom, Dad, friends, etc. It was kind of fun, my new phone has a QWERTY keyboard that I just love, but then I got to the K's.

Kyle's number.

What should I do with Kyle's number? Transferring it seemed weird, but not transferring it, just throwing my phone away without recording it, that felt like a loss. An unnecessary loss. And we've had enough of those.

So here:






2. This will be my first Christmas without a stocking, my first Christmas in New York, the first Christmas I won't have to give my brother a present. The last, I have to say, is a relief.

Kyle was impossible to shop for. He was a semi-socialist who sneered at baubles and only wanted really expensive electronic equipment or music that I could never be cool enough to have heard of.

I bought him novels he wasn't interested in. I bought him art supplies and alcohol.

Now, I won't have to guess at what he'll like. Now, he won't have to assure me that it was fine, really. That he appreciated it.

3. I heard an organ donor story on This American Life last week. A girl who's heart came from a murdered boy finally met his family. I cried louder than I thought I would. I so, so, so very much want to meet the recipients of Kyle's organs.

Someone is walking around with my brother's eyes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Feeling Ambivalent About New York - Part II

I avoid Midtown.

Not completely - no one can avoid Midtown completely - but I do my best. Sure, I've been to a few plays there, I had a couple friends who lived unsettlingly close to Times Square and once, for reasons not quite clear to me, I ended up doing yoga under the Cup O'Noodles billboard, but mostly I've managed to stay away from that particular part of the city.

But last week my boss asked me to take a huge stack of papers up to 53rd and Park for signatures and what could I say? "Midtown's a little busy for me" is not a valid excuse at work.

So off I went. Here's what I was wearing: work boots, unfashionable jeans, a hoodie with cuffs so worn they look like lace, fingerless gloves left over from my smoking days, and a puffy, maroon Rocawear jacket that might be styling in Harlem, but is definitely not up to the rest of Manhattan's hipster code.

I got off the subway, climbed the stairs, and found myself headed east on a crosstown street that resembled nothing if not an Armani runway. Tailored suits, splashy ties, colored purses matched - but not too matched - with leather pumps. Pinstripes, lipstick, jewelry sets. Edgy buns, salads in plastic, shapeshifting cell phones. Diamonds and pearls and gold. And me dodging briefcases in my torn MFA chic, crooked glasses and all.

This alone wouldn't have phased me. I've spent years being underdressed around rich people. Besides, writers are allowed a certain nerdy carelessness, like we've just got too much going on to check a mirror on the way out the door. What got to me, what made me feel suddenly and strongly ambivalent about New York, even after all my gushing and my Metrocard miracle, was that those perfectly dressed people were just like me - twenty-somethings on $25-an-hour errands, everyone stern and eager, walking really, really fast, in desperate need of rent money.

And in that moment, I hated this place.

Young people here have to work so hard. Our rent is more than our parents' mortgage. We spend more on food than most families of four. Why else would we go to such ridiculous lengths? Matching pearls? Dry cleaning bills? Humanitarian dreams reduced to zeros? In our twenties? Even those of us wandering the creative path are only plunging further into graduate debt, grasping laughably at the slim Lotto shot of paying it back in less than forty years. We were all so desperate that Midtown afternoon, pounding down 53rd, jostling at lights for a position out front, determined to show our bosses, each other, how worth it we were.

As I neared Park Ave, a girl came towards me in a a fitted gray suit, hair and heels high, cell phone squeezed between her shoulder and cheek. She was carrying four Starbucks coffees, three shopping bags, a five-inch three-ring binder, and her purse. Which matched her shoes. "Of course," she was saying into her phone. "Whole grain, dijon, chicken breast." She looked like she was about to cry.

I almost stopped her.

"Hey," I wanted to say. "It's okay. I don't know how I'm going to make it to Friday, either. And even though my feet hurt less than yours, and your bank account is less terrifying than mine, at the end of the day we're all just getting coffee for some rich guy.

"We can live here, we can swing rent, we might even manage health insurance, but God forbid we mistake this city for a place that wants us. New York doesn't want us. If it wanted us, you wouldn't be dressed like your mother, I wouldn't be dressed like a bum, and living here amidst the millionaires wouldn't feel so much like begging."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas '05

Aunt Della just sent out new pictures she found of Kyle et all. We are, clockwise from me, across-the-pond Juliesan, the infamous Katie B, Kyle big as ever, and James and Joe, the only brothers I have left.

GTD from 530***5858:
Im gonna go up the hill but if I get called back ill come oven

Because I Call Myself a Fiction Writer

I haven't blogged all week. I'm sorry. And it's not because I don't love you anymore, or don't need you anymore, or because Kyle has risen from the dead.

It's because I'm writing again. I've finally returned to fiction in earnest, and I've found that it uses the same part of my brain that blogging does. Which means that it's hard to do both on a daily basis. For months, I've been putting all my energies into blogging, but now I finally have a fiction project I'm excited about working on.

So. I'm sorry to say that I'll be blogging less in the future. More of a weekly/bi-weekly thing. But the upside is I'll be inching ever closer to that magical day when I can beg you all to buy my book.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm Feeling Ambivalent About New York - Part I

I had a bad morning. I was late and in a shitty mood and the weather was being coy - too wet for my hair but too dry for an umbrella. I walked as fast as I could to the subway, not even pausing to pull out my iPod. That's how bad my sulk was. Music would make me feel better and I didn't want to give it the chance.

You should've seen my face. I scowled at the garbage man, I scowled at the school kids. I scowled at the tree farmer who sells Evergreens in front of the Wallgreens. The trees in the cold smelled like Christmas, but I breathed through my mouth. The cigarette stand man threw a treat to a passing Labrador, who caught it in the air, and I looked away. I'd be damned if some charming neighborhood traditions were going to make me feel better.

I stopped at the top of the subway stairs to get out my Metrocard. This is harder than it sounds. As a little girl, I watched my mother stand at a register or gas pump or ATM and fish through her massive purse for her massive wallet, which held a massive brick of receipts and business cards and credit cards, only one of which she needed at that particular time. I would think, as I watched her, that there had to be a better way.

Well, there's not.

When I finally found my wallet and finally rifled through it, I discovered two cards. One had $20 on it but was bent and unusable (they say I have to mail it in), but the second one looked okay.

I started down the steps. I could hear a train, it was going my way. If you hold your card right and hurry, it's just possible to get down the stairs, swipe through, get down the second flight of stairs, and make it onto a car before the doors close. I readied my card, I ran, I swiped, but in taunting green letters:


Sometimes a feeling comes over me when I'm frustrated like this, and I hate absolutely everything I see. Hate.

I fumbled for my bent card. This entrance wasn't a normal entrance, it was a sort of half entrance, with just a turnstile and no way to buy a new card. The nearest booth was two blocks away. I heard the train brake, the ding of the doors. I swiped.


I swiped. People started coming up the stairs, filing past me through the exit turnstile. I swiped and swiped and swiped. I was so late. I don't mind telling you almost started crying.

And then from behind me, "Hey."

I turned. It was some Spanish guy in a puffy coat. He had just come off the train, he'd seen me swiping, and when I saw he was talking to me I gave him the meanest, most slit-eyed look I knew. Even Kyle never saw a look this mean. There's something about New York, people think that just because you're on the street, you want to be talked to.

But this guy didn't say anything else, just pulled out his card, swiped me through, and walked away. He barely looked at me. Just swiped and turned. He was halfway up the stairs when I thanked him.

Here in New York, I feel like the city performs miracles. I mean that literally. The guts and steam and press of the city makes miracles happen and every once in a while you get one, right when you're about to give. This guy in the puffy coat gets off his train, comes up the stairs, and sees me cussing at a turnstile. It's 7:46 a.m. and because the train doors are closing and it's shitty out and my card is bent and it's apparent that for whatever reason this is the day I'm gonna go, because he has felt that exact buckle in his knees, because everyone here is a few ounces from breaking even if we hide it most of the time, he and New York took pity. They swiped me through. They let me through the turnstiles and I didn't have to pay a thing.

And all was right with the city, until a complicated real estate catastrophe forced me out of Chelsea's gardens and construction sites and into power pumped, pinstriped mid-50s Park Avenue. That's right, dear reader...MIDTOWN!!!

(to be continued...)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's Christmas Time, In Case You've Forgotten

Here I am, trying to procrastinate from writing fiction by writing a blog, when suddenly there is a roar - a sustained, growling roar - coming from the street below. It's followed by unintelligible singing. Then bells and cheering, and general loud drunken revelry. It goes on for a while. It's still going on. And I only notice because it's a bit early for this kind of drunken extremism, even for a Saturday, so I get up and look out and see this:

Okay, so it's not so impressive all blurry and from a distance, but that there is a bar full of Santas. So many Santas that they're spilling out onto the street. So many Santas shouting in unison that they sound like they're partying on my fire escape, five flights up, even with my windows closed.

17 days till Christmas and counting...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Normally Depressing Laundrymat Undergoes Surprisingly Inoffensive Holiday Makeover

My local laundrymat is run by a squadron of short, broad Spanish women and one white-haired man. The women do the washing and folding in back, so you don't really see them. Instead, you see the man. He wanders silently around the front of the store, always in a pair of those high waisted farmer jeans, the kind with cuffs wide enough to cover work boots. He carries a spray bottle and wash rag. It's a little unclear what exactly his job is. He dusts the tops of the machines, mops the floors, and endlessly sprays the leaves of the robust spider plants hanging from the ceiling.

Today, after a good three weeks of procrastination, J and I finally bit the bullet and hauled our fifty pounds of laundry to the mat, only to discover that it had been completely transformed. It seems the silent man has another, more creative responsibility.


I mean, just look at this:

And this:

Here, he's hand-stringing Christmas bulbs onto fishing wire to tack in necklaces from the fluorescent lights:

I mean, have you ever seen a more focused, more detailed, more thorough seventy-year-old male Christmas decorator?

I'm not complaining though. I'm generally not a fan of cheesy Christmas decorations, but when done with such enthusiasm, such flourish, such stern-mouthed passion, they completely win me over.

So thank you, silent laundry man, for keeping depression at bay with your unsmiling Christmas cheer and extensive Santa collection.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Aunt Della

On the night of Kyle's accident, it took them awhile to track my parents down. He was alone at the hospital as they wheeled him in and hooked him up and tried for some sign of brain activity. They searched his cell phone for family members, but for some reason he'd entered my parents into his phone by name, not by label, and it took them awhile to get my dad on the line. It took him awhile to get my mom on the line. By the time both my parents had been told about these, their new lives, it was 11:30 at night and the airports were closed. They were going to have to drive. They were going to have to leave my brother alone for the six hours it would take to get to Palo Alto.

So my mom called Aunt Della.

Aunt Della is not really my aunt. She's my mother's best friend, the mother of my best friend, and she's known me my entire life. Before the divorces, our mothers and fathers and Katie B and me and our band of brothers would have late afternoon Los Angeles barbeques. After the divorces, we did Christmases and Thanksgivings. We visited each other at hospitals. We knew the sound of each other's cars, the smell of each other's linens. My point is that family is about blood, but it is also about choice, about circumstance, about the strange spikes of fate a more religious person might chalk up to God.

I've taken Aunt Della for granted most of my life. She was just a mom, after all. Another disciplinarian, another set of eyes, another maker of rules and bedtimes and nutritious meals. For years I thought of her like I did a neighbor, or a babysitter, or any other familiar adult. I didn't realize she was family - not really, not concretely - until my brother died.

Aunt Della was home when my mom called. She was on her way to bed, she had work in the morning, but she picked up the phone. I don't know how my mom told her. It must've been hard to understand through the sobbing. When I try to imagine this, my mother choking in a dark car, Aunt Della sitting up in bed, trying to get her friend to slow down, to speak clearly, my mind jumps instead to when I was ten years old and crying on the phone to Katie B, trying to get out that my parents were separating while she asked over and over, her voice rising in fear, "Mir, what is it? What is it, Mir?"

But that doesn't matter. What matters is that Aunt Della hung up the phone, dressed and drove to Palo Alto, where she sat holding my brother's hand and listening to his tubes breathe while my parents sputtered up California, nothing but black farms and headlights and my number tried over and over, because I didn't know yet.

The coincidence of this is staggering. At least to me. For our whole lives, Katie B and I lived in LA. Even after we left for school, our parents stayed in or near the city. But then, last year, Aunt Della remarried and moved to Berkeley. It seemed sad at the time. Katie and her brothers would now be going upstate in December, and Kyle and I would be going to LA. No more shared holidays. No more Christmas breaks spent riding around our hometown, talking about people we used to know.

But then my brother fell, the airports closed, and suddenly my mom realized we knew someone who could go to Kyle, who could sit with him and tell him that he wasn't alone. Who my mom could call over and over as they inched upstate. And not just anyone. Family.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Teenagers are Funny

The week of Kyle's accident is pretty fuzzy. I remember the call, but not what day it was. I remember the flight, but not the airports. I remember the high school science lab smell of my brother, how it got stronger when I leaned in to kiss him, but I don't remember the doctors or nurses or psychiatrists that shuttled in and out. I remember some of the drive down to LA for the funeral - Big Sur's big cliffs and the violet ocean, the small arc of Cayucos and how it hasn't changed at all since Kyle and I walked out to the end of the endless pier. I remember some of LA - staying in a Santa Monica hotel instead of my mother's house, driving a rental instead of her car, everything both familiar and absolutely strange. I remember the funeral. I remember the coffin. It looked so much more beautiful than I thought it would look. I remember wanting to stay and watch them fill the dirt in on top of my brother, but knowing that I was expected to leave, that these things are usually done without the swollen, judgemental eyes of family around.

I also remember a song. I left New York with a strange collection of things - five sweaters for an LA summer but only three pairs of underwear, a bathing suit but no socks, a whole stack of novels I of course didn't read. I also forgot my iPod, so the only music we had for the car was J's Shuffle, and on it a random sampling of songs from his ridiculously large and obscure music collection, most of which seemed to lack a melody or identifiable lyrics. One song, though, stood out. It was by Bright Eyes (a shocker, I know), I'd never heard it before, but once I did I played it over and over.

You know how songs can become linked to events? How you hear a verse for the first time when you're falling in love, or moving to a new city, or driving around your hometown with a dead brother on your back, and it fuses to the memory of your experience. It makes you cry. Well, that's what this song did for me. It's called Cleanse Song, and I think that for the rest of my life it will be the soundtrack of my brother's week-long journey from train platform to hospital to grave.

I was looking for the Cleanse Song video on YouTube to show you, but apparently there isn't one. Instead, I found this - a teenager being painfully and publicly emotive. Just like me.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Power. To the. Peeeeeple!

Have you heard of YouTuber rx2008? He makes videos out of political footage and surprisingly appropriate songs, and the Bush mashup he did last year is one of the most-viewed political videos on YouTube:

Apparently rx2008 is a fan of Mike Gravel, because he approached Gravel's staffers at a Las Vegas dinner in November and said he wanted to make a video with him. At first they demured - despite his exclusion from the debates, Gravel is running for president and can't be making YouTube spots with just anyone. But then rx2008 said he was the guy behind "Sunday Bloody Sunday," a staffer favorite, and Gravel agreed to be filmed. Here is the "weird, wonderful" result:

Isn't it catchy? Now I just have to figure out how to get it on my ipod.

In other weird, wonderful news, My Brother Is Dead is now a sermon!

J's dad is a Methodist minister in a small Texas town, and he emailed to ask if he could quote a bit of my blog in his Sunday sermon. And, even though the last "sermon" I attended was a Unitarian meditation on peace my mother brought us to in middle school, I have to say it's a pretty cool feeling to know that, last Sunday morning, 103 people is a north Texas church were thinking about Kyle and me. The world is endlessly surprising.

Go here to read the sermon, and here to visit David's blog.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


I woke up this morning surprised to find I wasn't hung over and that it was SNOWING!!

I love the snow. I guess everyone does, but I still marvel with wide-eyed west coast wonder at the versatility of rain. This is our first snow of the season, after a disappointingly snowless winter last year, and to wake up on December 2nd to your world gone white is a really cozy feeling.

Especially if you don't have to go anywhere.

Unfortunately, poor Katie B had to wake up this morning and go to work in this stuff. And after what became quite a late night. The party was great, tons of people showed and Mom, your eggnog was a HIT. As was the decorate-your-own Christmas-cookies station and the baked brie trick I stole from Aunt Di over Thanksgiving.

Now I'm going to get back under the covers, listen to This American Life, and watch the snow. I love Sundays.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's Christmas Time in the City

Despite all my holiday grouchiness, I have to say there's something nice about a Christmas party. Carols can actually be kind of pretty when they're not being piped into a 100,000 sq ft box store, and the only gift you're expected to bring is a bottle of wine.

So when my friend Katie B decided to throw a holiday party this year, I agreed to help. It's tonight, the theme is Peruvian Casual Chic (she and her boyfriend Dominique just got back from Machu Picchu, I haven't seen the pictures yet, but apparently they're spectacular (and they brought me back the softest skein of alpaca wool, the dears)), and we're making my mom's famous hard eggnog and Aunt Della's famous spiced nuts and we're baking sugar cookies to decorate. Isn't that exciting?

The thing though, about entertaining in New York in your mid twenties is that you have nothing. After eight moves, all the First Apartment kitchenware your parents bought you when you left for college is long gone, and New York's ravenous landlords have steadily bled you of any money you've earned since. No matter how many friends you call, no one has any cookie cutters to lend you.

So as I type this, Katie is whipping through Bed Bath & Beyond for last minute necessities and I'm headed off to the flower district to buy the requisite poinsettas and holly and mistletoe. We have ten hours and a lot to do. And I have to paint these nails.