Internet, this is my own personal Rickroll.
There’s Nutella inside. Yeah there is.
So this is what happens when it rains. On the plus side, it lends verisimilitude to my rendition of “Love Bites.”
Hey, I forgot to tell you that Kelly and I tore it up at the Anthology Magazine launch party. For those of you raising an eyebrow at the idea of “tearing it up” at a party held in a West Elm store, I’ll have you know we bought the shit out of some stocking stuffers. Also, the DJ was amazing.
The magazine is also pretty amazing, so we thanked Anh-Minh and Meg for making a print pub to help us recover from the tragic loss of Domino and Blueprint. Then Holly and I took some photos in the photo booth.
In most of them we were mid sneeze, or inexplicably triple chinned, so these are the only ones I’m showing you. I have my pride.
Also, Holly said she would gut me if I let you see the rest of them. Although, she did say it with a British accent, which made it sound less like a threat and more like an invitation to some novel kind of sporting event where there are mallets and no one wears helmets.
After much merriment and squealing over one another’s outfits, we returned to the parking lot to find the Ghia dead, because I’d left the lights on.
This is a thing I do, by the way. I’m accustomed to driving a car with lights that switch off automagically, rendering me soft and stupid in the face of early ’70s technology. Which is to say, no technology whatsoever. Karmann Ghias are essentially blade-free lawnmowers with rearview mirrors.
Fortunately, Jordan and Rebecca were still around to give us a jump/mock us. So they followed us until we got over the bridge, and then Kelly and I had too many gimlets at the neighborhood bar, which is becoming a tradition with us.
In conclusion, good times.
In an effort to gather all my writing in one place, I’ve been posting articles that originally appeared elsewhere, or work that has been gathering dust on my hard drive. This piece was originally published in 2002 by The Morning News. Thanks to Rosecrans Baldwin, for the edits.
A village that dies overnight, a town where the ground is on fire, real-life Atlantises. This is a small collection of stories about normal towns where strange things happen.
It’s the premise of nearly every solid horror novel, an ordinary place where something unexpected happens. The unusual event often begins as something small—a trickle of water, a puff of carbon dioxide, or a match flame that takes on destructive proportions over time.
As an editor I spend a great deal of time thinking about little things and their consequences, so I’m particularly fascinated by towns where a single event has led to abandonment or decimation. Though these places feel dispossessed, they also have an inherent sense of expectation to them. A few of the most interesting:
In 1981, Todd Dombowski was twelve. He was playing near a tree in his grandmother’s backyard when smoke coiled up from the dirt. As he watched it, the ground beneath him suddenly gave way. Todd grabbed at the tree’s roots, caught hold, and was left dangling above a smoking, 80-foot-deep hole until someone heard his cries for help and came to rescue him.
By this time, anthracite mines under the town had been burning for nearly 20 years. Anthracite is an extremely hard coal that is difficult to ignite, but—once lit—is nearly impossible to extinguish. Centralia authorities discovered this in 1962 when a fire at the local dump managed to ignite one of the coal seams. The fire department pumped thousands of gallons of water into the mines, to no avail. Experts from the U.S. Bureau of Mines estimated that the least expensive solution would cost at least $20 million, an astronomical amount at the time, and so the mines were left to smolder.
By the time grandma’s garden tried to swallow young Todd, the fire had already claimed one cracking, bubbling highway, and townspeople had begun to notice that their basements were unusually warm. Within days of the backyard collapse, cave-ins in Centralia became commonplace.
The federal government evacuated the town, demolishing homes as residents fled, clearing away the rubble. They left a tangle of empty streets punctuated with driveways leading to empty spaces where houses once stood. The fire hydrants and traffic signs remain intact, as does the local church and a handful of scattered businesses.
A few residents decided to stay put, despite the increasingly nauseating levels of carbon dioxide in the air, and the smoke that has permanently settled just above the ground. No doubt the residents have learned to forget about the white-hot inferno blazing just below them. Perhaps they hope the fire will eventually burn itself out.
Unfortunately, 24 million tons of anthracite is a whole lot of coal. Enough, according to mine fire authorities, to burn for a thousand years.
Lake Nyos, Cameroon
Almost every living thing near Lake Nyos died in a single night—1,700 villagers, thousands of cattle, and most of the wildlife and insects. News of the disaster traveled quickly, and scientists from all over the world rushed to Cameroon to learn what they could about these mysterious deaths.
The bodies were almost peaceful. Their flesh was untraumatized, and many villagers seemed to have died in their sleep. Locals believed the disaster was the work of a mythological spirit woman who was said to live in lakes and rivers. This idea, it turns out, wasn’t too far off.
Lake Nyos is a crater lake settled in the saucer of an active volcano. The volcano had been steadily releasing carbon dioxide into the bottom of the lake for years. On August 21, 1986, the lake rolled over.
Scientists were unsure of how this happened at first, but surmised that the recent and rapid accumulation of rainwater could be the culprit. If so, the rainwater was likely pushed to one side of the lake by strong winds. Because this water was colder than the lake water—and therefore denser—the mass of rainwater sank into one side of the lake, causing dissolved gases to ‘undissolve’ (or ‘exsolve’) and rise to the surface violently.
Those nearby heard a deep growl as the gas cloud rushed into valleys below, crushing vegetation in its path. The wave of carbon dioxide was 165 feet thick and reached speeds of 45 miles per hour.
In addition to the 1,700 killed, 845 residents were hospitalized. Those who lived through it said they felt faint and fevered before passing out. They awoke to find that most of their family members and neighbors had perished.
Countless North American towns have been submerged to make way for dams and the reservoirs they create. Four communities in Massachusetts—Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott—were consumed by the Swift River to improve the Eastern Massachusetts water supply. Houses were razed and the cemeteries of white inhabitants relocated. Factories were likewise demolished, and trees cleared.
In fact, almost anywhere you find a reservoir, the footprints of sunken towns are likely impressed beneath. Sopris, Colorado, was drowned when the Trinidad Dam and Reservoir were built, and the state’s McPhee Reservoir covers the town of McPhee. St. Thomas, Nevada; Heroult, Kennett, Baird, and Copper City in California—all are underwater now, as are several towns beneath the Neversink and Roundout Reservoirs in New York.
In the U.K., the Ladybower Dam flooded the villages of Derwent and Ashopton. The dam was completed in 1945 amidst protests, but many buildings remained standing. Graveyards were relocated, but Derwent Hall (built in 1672) is now waterlogged, as are several farms that had been around for generations. For a long while, the spire of a local church pierced the water’s surface whenever the reservoir was low. Unfortunately, the church was later demolished for safety reasons. The Dam is now a thriving tourist attraction.
The Thing Is
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
In an effort to gather all my writing in one place, I’ve been posting articles that originally appeared elsewhere. This piece was originally published by the The Morning News in 2006. Thanks to Andrew Womack, for the edits. (Andy!)
There seems to be a park every few blocks in San Francisco, so people often favor the park closest to their apartments. We meet in parks all year to listen to music, to share food, to celebrate together. Friends of mine married atop Tank Hill near their Cole Valley apartment, and my own husband proposed at a nearby dog park with a hurricane fence and a sweeping view of the city lights. There are too many parks to list, and possibly to count, so these are a few of the standouts. I highly recommend coming to visit, so you can choose a favorite of your own.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a lot like New York’s Central Park, only larger, and you can walk on its paths at night with a reasonable hope of emerging alive. The lush, 1,017-acre expanse was coaxed from a desert of unstable sand dunes at the west end of the city. Two Dutch-style windmills once pumped water through the park, maintaining an electric-powered waterfall, several small lakes, and the running creeks connecting the lakes.
For a few years, I rose early Sunday mornings, laced my red Converse with leather glued to the bottoms, and rushed to meet the lindy-hop dancers who gather in the Music Concourse. People came from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and as far as Sweden to dance together there in the park, while a tai chi group moved in slow motion nearby. Afterward, I would walk over to the five-acre Japanese Tea Garden to read over a cup of green tea and a plate of almond cookies.
Model-yacht enthusiasts head out to Spreckels Lake (near 36th Avenue), which was specially designed for mini-yachting. We go to watch the little boats when my niece and nephew are in town, or rent paddleboats on Stow Lake and take turns directing the kids to keep their hands out of the murky water. We gawk at the herd of bison whose ancestors have called the park home since 1892, and visit the recently restored Conservatory of Flowers to hunt for geckos on the panes of milky glass.
The park is a throughway for the annual Bay to Breakers race, attracting tens of thousands of drunken, costumed revelers pushing fully operational tiki bars up and down San Francisco’s hilly landscape. Golden Gate Park is the only place to relieve yourself on the route, which means that everyone stops to pee in the bushes together. Now that’s a San Francisco treat.
Ocean Beach is where Golden Gate Park meets the ocean. It’s also where everyone goes for bonfires, mostly in October and November.
After the holidays, San Franciscans are known to collect truckloads of withered Christmas trees to burn on the beach. (If you’ve never watched a Christmas tree burn, I highly recommend it. It takes about 15 chilling seconds for the entire tree to go up in a whoosh of flames, and the tinsel makes sparks!) Regular police patrols keep the fires moderate, so hide the flask when they stop by.
Next door is Baker Beach, where a few friends met in 1986 to burn an eight-foot-tall wooden man, the humble beginning of the unabashed Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
One of hundreds of small neighborhood parks scattered throughout San Francisco, South Park has a distinctly European flavor. It feels as though you should be able to visit a butcher, a baker, and a cheese shop simply by crisscrossing the grassy oval.
But the park’s denizens, with their heavy-framed glasses and silk-screened graphic T-shirts, betray SOMA’s actual economic engine. Tech geeks flock here to meet, eat lunch, and grab a quick espresso fix.
Around 1999, I worked at a web magazine a few blocks from South Park, and I would queue up for half an hour to buy lunch at Café Centro on the edge of the park. The area was awash in dot-commers attracted by the low rents and artistic potential of the newly renovated warehouse spaces.
A few years later, the pigeons were the only company. A local artist trucked in dozens of tumbleweeds and set them out on the grass. Those of us who’d somehow survived the bust could almost hear the harmonica on the wind.
But today, picnic tables are scarce as ever. Geeks are back in force, and everyone seems to know everyone else. That makes it hard to plot secret business plans on the back of a café napkin, but easy enough to get them funded.
You may remember Alamo Square from its cameo in the opening sequence of the regrettable ’80s sitcom Full House. The family is picnicking in the park, in front of the Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies.
Because of the Painted Ladies, Alamo Square is the park mostly likely to be seen by tourists and forgotten by San Franciscans. Buses stop at the top of the Hayes Street hill so passengers can snap a photo, and then everyone climbs back aboard—leaving the park blissfully crowd-free and ready for the locals.
I mention this park for one reason only—Pug Sunday, people. The first Sunday of each month, pug owners from all over the Bay Area gather here to unleash their pugs on hapless trees, fire hydrants, and picnic blankets.
Go to gaze upon the romping, wheezing mass, and listen to the baffled owners calling out, “Prudence?” “Winston?” “Reeeeehmington!”
Wait for the end, as the owners try to re-gather their pets. A few pugs will have shaken off their identifying bandanas and stretchy collars, making them indistinguishable from one another.
When the sun is high, Dolores Hill is one of the most popular and stunning parks in the city. It boasts a panoramic view of downtown, and row upon row of achingly beautiful gay men working on their tans.
The Speedo Nation shares the park with a small population of homeless people who use Dolores as a sleeping and meeting place. You’ll also find Scrabble-playing Mission hipsters, Frisbee-tossing dog owners, and families taking advantage of the large playground and barbecue areas.
The park was a Jewish cemetery until 1894, when San Francisco outlawed burial inside the city limits. Most of the remains in the city’s graveyards were exhumed and moved to nearby Colma, where the dead now outnumber the living.
Dolores Park takes its name from the Mission San Francisco Dolores, which is up the street. On Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, I meet friends here to pass flasks and watch the fireworks, which are invariably obscured by fog.