Thursday, October 10, 2002


...I envy those of you out there in the world who live in big, impersonal cities where every detail of the lives of your neighbors isn’t immediately circulated, where news of tragedy only comes in the morning paper or on Tom Brokaw in the evening.

Where a person can get through an ordinary, stupid day at work without getting a shattering phone call from a friend with news that another friend just went home for lunch to find his 19-year-old daughter dead in her bed.

What do you do when you get news like that? I have tried to call my friend, the man whose assistant coach I am, a man who preserved my sanity when I was his student and continues, when we have time to get together and dish, to do so, but of course his phone is tied up with callers who are closer to his family than I. I e-mailed him to say I’m sorry, which felt like pretty much the lamest thing a person can do, but what is there to do, what is there to do?

I don’t even know for certain that it is true. Cause, circumstances, story – all is still a mystery. And I’m still in utter shock. Even as I type these words, I don’t feel anything. I’ve known this kid for her entire life, I babysat her when I was in high school – pretty much everyone who grew up with me babysat her at some point; not only is her dad the speech and debate coach, but he’s also an English/speech teacher at the high school, and her mom taught us all grade school P.E. Parachute game, square dancing, lummi sticks, gymnastics... gymnastics. Jesus. This kid was little miss baton twirler, dancer... we all watched her performing as a precocious toddler... it’s totally inconceivable that this kid isn’t running around and little like that still, let alone that she’s 19... or maybe she’s 20 now. Jesus).

I keep hoping it’s just a rumor, but how would a rumor like that get started? Who would start it? What kind of ass would start it? No kind, no kind.

It’s a cowardly thing to admit, but I wish I didn’t know. I wish I was just sitting here in my office having an ordinary, slightly boring day. I was doing some routine bookkeeping, wrapping up a final report for a grant, giving directions to hunters, playing doggie soccer with the Collie of Folly... now I’m sitting here writing this because I don’t know what else to do.

I’m thinking about this great kid and about her great parents and how everything in their lives has just turned to complete shit. I’m remembering all the other times this has happened in the world and that life has always gone on and all that other bullshit but as always, this time is different. This time it’s this kid and she isn’t like anybody else.

I never knew her that well; you maybe never really know your friends’ kids that well, because those kids look at you, even if you’re closer to their ages than to their parents’, and see you as part of the parents’ world, not theirs, so there is distance, and an acknowledgement that your love for them is mostly an offshoot of your love for their parents. It’s rare when there’s a more direct connection, in other words. I had watched this girl grow up and winced along with her parents, teachers, etc. when I saw her making mistakes that she needed to make in order to learn. I listened to her stories, bought her raffle tickets when she came by my office to sell them, watched her play volleyball, worked with her on her speeches (she did an oral interp of a Holocaust poem that should have won her a state title her senior year, but didn’t. Not fashionable that year, the Holocaust), cheered at her graduation from high school... never dreamed I wouldn’t know her as an adult, that I wouldn’t legally buy her a margarita or something someday like I have with other, older kids I knew and babysat and whatnot when they turned 21.

So what do I do now? I think good thoughts for her parents, who are probably overwhelmed with having to break the news to their parents, siblings, cousins, to their daughter’s friends. And I write in this here blog. And I wish I didn’t know yet.

But that’s one of the prices I pay for living here, and knowing people, and being in the loop.

Even while still in the womb, unborn, man is burdened with the potentialities of every disease, and is subject to them. And because all diseases are inherent in his nature, he could not be born alive and healthy if an inner physician were not hidden in him... Each natural disease bears its own remedy within itself. Man has received from nature both the destroyer and the preserver of health.

- Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, aka Paracelsus

It's common, isn't it, when a person is sick, for him to ask as I did, over and over and over again while he stares at the ceiling and thrashes around and wonders what is going on in the world that he is missing in his illness, "Why, oh why has this happened to me?"

Depending on the ailing one's background and temperament, the answers he concocts may range from punishment for misdeeds or sins to bad luck to a Darwinian turn of the wheel to a dumb mistake on his part to negligence on the part of some caregiver, safety supervisor, enforcer of sanitation standards to... oh, I'm sure the reasons we've all posited over time are as many and varied as we are.

Though as I tended to forget while I myself slogged through my recent days of fighting the mother of all sinus infections, there is another, maybe more productive way of thinking about illness and injury that is probably heretical especially to my doctor and lawyer and clerical friends: that these seeming misfortunes have a constructive purpose – and one far beyond the delivery of a moral lesson or a reminder of one's humanity and limitations, though yes, there are present elements of those, too.

A good tube-clogging, head-raking, eye-popping illness is also a way in which the body pretty much forces one to take a vacation, isn't it? Such a thought certainly goes a long way towards explaining my 13 days of solitude, at least.

Life in a small town isn't all the "getting away from it all," back to basics existence that is dreamed about by city dwellers who rush here at the merest hint of free time or an excuse for a business or personal retreat, after all, at least not if a person really lives it, as no one can deny I do. By virtue of the roles in civic and commercial life I have agreed to play here, I'm in the public eye pretty much all of the time; little that I do escapes notice or comment, and there isn't a dweller or visitor here who doesn't feel perfectly within his or her rights to demand a second or minute or hour or day of my time, in person, on the phone, by mail, by e-mail, to express his opinions, whether or not said opinions are based in anything resembling fact, whether or not his ideas are practicable or even worth considering as such, whether or not I might have been doing something at the time that was important or would suffer greatly for being interrupted.

This goes with the territory of being me, and most of the time I do what I can to bear it all with grace; however, yes, I do have a few companions who don't see the grace too often; they either know me too well and can read me or they inspire in me a confidence that leads to perhaps overwhelming outpourings of discontent or exasperation or helplessness in the face of it all. They're easy to spot for those who know me in real life; they're the ones to whose faults I probably appear completely blind because I will brook no criticism of them in my presence and will defend them to a ridiculous degree, heaping heaps of contumely on the heretic heads of those who dare gainsay my assertions that these people are saints walking among us (and yes, I'm fully aware that it's quite a stretch to call dirty old men and river scum and people who refuse to apologize for markups on merchandise and folks who cling stubbornly to obviously flawed and foolish heroes "saints").

Almost to a man, these confidantes' advice to me is to get the hell away once in a while, to "get a life", to get myself together and get some perspective. And I don't argue with them (much); I make my plans to, say, run away with an intriguing stranger to Lander for a weekend or treat myself to a road trip to somewhere I've never been in Montana or just go get a fucking massage for the love of all that's good and holy! I make my plans, and then circumstances prove the adage that "life is what happens when you have made other plans."

Meetings are scheduled with little warning; people suddenly can't keep obligations and convince me to fill in for them; problems that supposedly I alone can solve (usually because I alone know the system in which the problem has occurred, because, usually, the system is my own invention – all you computer programmer types know what I'm talking about here. It's a 24/7 world now, and the end user isn't in the least bit interested in what pursuits you were pursuing when his need of you arose, neh?) crop up; transportation systems fail; the intriguing stranger turns out to be a seriously damaged flakeroo who makes less and less actual sense with each conversation... and the sanity-saving trip or diversion gets put off.

A wise man reminded me yesterday, though, that "the world is littered with the corpses of the indispensable."

And so, my body being ever so much wiser than I am, maybe even as wise as the aforementioned man, I got sick. And since my body and I rarely do anything we truly believe is worth doing in a half-assed fashion, I got really sick. And all my "fun tickets" – even reading, which I usually don't consider so much a fun little lark or diversion so much as an integral part of the way my entire mind and soul function at their most basic levels – got yanked from my grasp.

But as good old Paracelsus said (remember him? I know this has been another long ramble, but you can scroll up to the epigraph), in every disease is contained in part its own cure.

My illness removed me completely from the world of people, even to what they've written on paper.

That really throws one back on oneself.

So what I had was 12 or 13 days of enforced meditation, enduring my own company night and day except for those rare hours when the Darvocet stopped making me vomit and rave and actually conquered my consciousness.

It wasn't fun – I don't think really serious introspection ever is – but I'm already pretty glad it happened. I faced a lot of stuff – big, universal things like mortality and possible permanent impairment and smaller, less cosmic things like my hilariously awful schedule and the stupid standards I set for myself and then rage over when I don't live up to them. I have yet to sort out all my conclusions or decisions, but it's coming, and I'm determined to learn this time (since my bout with mono I shrugged off not long after strength returned to my limbs and I moved to Kate's Landing) to take what came to me in this illness seriously and make the changes that need to be made.

Why am I sharing all of this admittedly very personal stuff with you guys? Well, I think there are probably better ways of coming to where I am now. And yeah, I'm probably the real blockhead here yet for preaching to all of you (many of whom were the very ones who said "Jesus, Kate, will you fucking license your car and get out of town for a while before I chase you out myself with a red hot pitchfork?"), but dammit, people, learn from my horrible example. Don't wait to get sick to spend some time away and alone. When things get freaky, get out of your head or get out of Dodge and don't rely on your old crutches, whatever they may be.

As for me, to keep me mindful of what really is and isn't important, I shall:

1. Only go to meetings at which my presence is really, demonstrably and unmistakably required. Or which are very likely to be amusing (and yes, I'm still enough of a nerd to count as amusing those meetings in which far-out techno solutions to ammonia discharge problems are discussed. I've clarified, not metamorphosed, dammit!).

2. Never apologize for telling someone to buzz off if he or she has interrupted me writing or otherwise diverting myself on my own time. That includes if someone stops me in the post office while I'm seeing if I can correctly mutter all of the lyrics to "I Am the Very Model of Modern Major General" under my breath or if my cell phone rings with an urgent call from someone who wants to complain about the professional conduct of one of my police officers while I'm kissing a sexy man under the trees at midnight. Not that this is likely to happen. The cell phone gets left behind if I'm going under the trees with a sexy man if any planning at all is part of the equation. But it isn't always, is it?

3. Demonstrate my commitment to timely and appropriate frivolousness by always appearing at town council and other big shot important meetings in some form of beer t-shirt. I can get away with this. It's a small town, and a) everybody knows I'm a bit of a sot but b) never make important decisions that affect others when I'm being a sot, and c) we aren't that into "dressing up" around these here parts anyway. Actual shit is frequently seen on actual boots behind the dais and whatnot here. It's good stuff.

4. The chamber office is no longer to be spoken of, thought of, or in any way treated as "town hall west." Town hall is town hall, and my office is where we plan microbrew festivals, haunted houses, Christmas parades, and dizzyingly complex economic development projects, thank you.

5. There is no rule 5.

6. Developing some sort of paper management system would probably be a good idea. I have a filing cabinet in my home office, and it's not just meant as a plant stand, right?

Cuz man oh man oh man... I don't ever want to feel like that again.

(By the way: a rumor has reached my ears that that lazy slut of a Prairie Pornographer has finally added something new to her website, but that shall go unsubstantiated here as of course your humble blogger is not quite so humble as to deign to read such trash. But some of you out there might have more prurient interests than she, and as always, she is looking out for your best interests!)

Wednesday, October 09, 2002


...But I'm still re-adjusting to life among the living. Last night was my first drug-free night for sleeping, which meant not much sleeping happened at all as I gritted my teeth and forged on through a wakeful night. I wrote a lot, but the material is incohate, much like my mushy brain is right now at 3:30 p.m.

Maybe matters will improve after tonight's super-exciting, thrilling, spilling and chilling, raring to go and real good water and sewer joint powers board meeting (my first public meeting since I was felled by nasty germs and nastier medications) and I'll be inspired to post properly later but... probably not.

Bear with your slackful blogger girl one more day, dear readers.


Tuesday, October 08, 2002


...If the cosmic messages I received at Tad the Grocer’s store today are any indication. And for once, I have a large base of people whom I can query for confirmation: pretty much everybody who’s anybody in this town, it would appear, does his or her grocery shopping on Tuesdays at the lunch hour. Who knew?

So anyway, after I finished wandering around doing my small shopping – like so many of my friends, my grocery shopping is indeed small because my main meal every day is lunch, usually undertaken at either the Hotel Wolf or the Lazy River Cantina or Bubba’s Bar-B-Que and is thus nourishing and filling enough to last me the rest of the day, hence dinner usually being something like a can of soup and a carrot stick or something – I went, as cannot be avoided, to the checkout line, there to be hit with, as always, a disturbingly high number (now slightly more frightening because occasionally I have to buy giant sacks of dog food. Small price to pay for the company and amusement that the Collie of Folly affords me, yes, but it still took a bit of getting used to) (and she never, ever says thank you, dammit) (but on the other hand she never complains about the lack of variety the way a human companion would if he got lamb and rice, lamb and rice, lamb and rice every single day) and a number of astonishing revelations.

There are now purple M&Ms and if you buy a bag that contains nothing but purple ones you can win 100 million Japanese Yen ($804,760 at current exchange rates). Why? Why on earth?

And, big news! Lisa Marie Presley, who has apparently married H.I. McDonough, I mean Nicolas Cage, is going to close down Graceland so she and Hi can live in it themselves! This has dealt me something of a crushing blow, as no longer will I be able to sing the Dead Milkmen’s classic ditty “Going to Graceland” with the same degree of hopefulness and poignancy.

“Going to Graceland/It’s going to be great/I’m so happy I just can’t wait/Going to see the bucket that Elvis Presley kicked!”

Wonder what Lisa and Nick will do with that bucket?

So with this news in mind, I was not surprised to learn that a statue of Elivis Presley has been observed to shed real tears. At last a fitting consort for the Virgin Mary, it would seem. Truly portentous.

And if that’s not enough, some janitor somewhere has managed to impregnate a 3000 year old mummy in his spare time. Maybe he was mopping with Elivis’s bucket. Maybe the child will be the second coming.

And what rough beast, its hour come at last/Slouches its way toward Graceland to be born?”

Going to Graceland/We’ll stand in line/We’ll get to have a wild time/Going to get to buy Love Me Tender shampoo

Oh that’s right – I’m out of shampoo! Better get some! Thank goodness I remembered! I used it all up taking upwards of six showers a day during the 12 day headache. I would have showered more often, but the water heater at Kate’s Landing is as weak as a twelve-legged kitten.

Speaking of headaches, the cover of Time Magazine this week is all about preventing headaches. Goodness me! Where were they two weeks ago? Stupid Time Magazine. From now on it’s Weekly World News for me and nuthin’ else. They have so much more to offer, even online, where I can play the Batboy Game, while Time is nothing but a shill for the plastic surgeons who want to shoot up more people with botulinium toxins! Ha ha ha!

And anyway, as you might guess from the new and improved tone of my writing, I’m sort of cured. I talked to my drinking buddy/physician yesterday and she said maybe it was the Darvocet that was making me want to end my life in a spectacularly messy and inconvenient fashion – it’s apparently famous for causing vomiting and other unpleasant experiences – so I chucked what was left of the bottle (rather than upchucking it) (oh, sometimes I really do kill myself!) and started sucking down some Tylenol. I still have a headache, but it’s relatively manageable and I even made it to coffee today, which brings me to my next fabulous portent...

...I totally nailed the Sewer King at coffee today. It was epic, it was heartbreaking and staggering and genius, it was one for the history books.

In the absence of our traditionally presiding Lord Macklebrains (not his real name), the Sewer King is in charge of “running the numbers,” i.e. choosing the supposedly random “winning” number and corresponding letter that will determine who among our number will pay for coffee on a particular day. Historically, the King (actually not just the King; Mackebrains likes to do it too, but he doesn’t make such a theatrical production of it) likes to take advantage of a unique opportunity this affords him, that of slightly rigging the game in my “favor” by picking a number he feels certain I will be certain to pick when it comes my turn to guess, and today was no exception.

“Gaze fondly into my eyes and choose today’s number,” he began.

We stared at each other for a few minutes, locked in a contest of wills. Sweat appeared on both our brows. The strain was incredible. Veins popped out at our temples. Teeth were gritted. I could feel the ghost of my 12-day headache beginning again to rattle its chains in the far off dungeon into which St. Tylenol had stuffed it fighting nobly on my behalf.

Then at last, the tension broke.

“Nice try,” I smirked.

And indeed, as the drama built and my companions narrowed the numbers down, my turn came up. I saw my opportunity and I struck. The trick is to stick the next guy by choosing a number that is just two away from either the top or the bottom, which works sometimes anyway, and today it did! And the guy to my left was the King! So I got to pick the letter to send around the table to see upon whose head the Fatal Letter would land. And it landed on the King! So I had to choose another letter! And I got him again! Second time’s the charm, on the letter, so the King bought the whole thing!

As I said, nice try.

Surely the ducks even now are preparing to spell out equally portentous messages on the surface of what is left of the river. Surely. I shall find out soon enough.

“What are we waitin’ for?/Let’s leave right now/We’re going to Graceland/And I don’t care how/E Pluribus Elvis/That’s what I say/We’re going to Graceland today.”

Monday, October 07, 2002


I want to write some more, I do. I feel an obligation to those of you out there who, as Angie Warhol does, click over to this page ‘most every day just on the off chance that I’ve put up something, anything, new for you to read. I know the feeling; there are web pages of which I have become a fan (the rabbit blog, for instance, or Will Leitch’s “Life as a Loser” column at The Simon, which is published on a weekly basis only but I often find myself checking a few times a week just on the off chance he’s been inspired to throw up a bonus column or something) and which continually let me down. I hate surfing over to these places or to magazines like Salon, which I try to read daily, and see nothing there new to read or nothing that sounds interesting. It lets all the air out of my day when that happens.

But the truth is, I’m kind of fresh out of things to write about right now, folks. I’ve been out sick for 12 days now and seeing little improvement, so I have no idea what’s going on in the world. I am playing through the pain right now and actually sitting in my office for the first time since my abortive, premature attempt to return to work last Wednesday, but my Enabling Assistant has no news for me; she’s merely been sitting here giving directions to hunters and rounding up businesses to participate in the Halloween Walk at the end of the month. I haven’t made it to coffee. I have tried to read the newspaper, but such concentration is beyond me – I’ve had to stop reading books, even, truly a drastic step for me. My contact with the outside world has been limited to conversations with my parents, who are mostly inquiring after my health, do I need any groceries, would I like to come watch the Bronco game, have I eaten, and the occasional visit from Officer Aimee, telling me she’s set aside some corn and zucchini from her boyfriend’s garden for me, and would I like the heart out of the elk she shot over the weekend?

Truth be told, I’m getting a little scared. I am the most pathetic sick person I know; most of the time I take my extraordinary good health for granted; I rarely get ill except for my yearly bout of bronchitis in February (though that got much, much worse than usual this year, didn’t it?), I am physically very strong and robust, have no cholesterol or blood pressure problems despite my rather portly physique, and I have boundless energy that I expend in lots of enjoyable ways to the frequent astonishment of my partners and pals, whom I routinely wear out. When I get laid up, therefore, I freak out and turn into a complete baby, crying in the doctor’s office, saying truly unkind and horrible things to the few people who try to be nice to me, succumbing with frightening ease to despair and flights of abominable fancy, and giving up on myself and my existence far too quickly. I terrify myself with my inability to see my way out of whatever illness has gripped me; become convinced that I’ll never walk/regain my voice/be able to think clearly again. So of course last night when I again could not sleep for the pain in my head and neck and could not resort to my typical time-filler when insomnia hits, that being reading a book, any book, I wound up (quietly) (gently) (but nonetheless) crying from fear that I’ll never be able to read again.

Intellectually I know that sooner or later I’ll recover from this, too, as I did from mono and pneumonia and all of that other crap. Intellectually. Emotionally, I’m still a wreck. I try as I’ve said to play through it – I came to work today, directed some hunters, went to lunch with the E.A., stopped by the hardware store to order paint for the chamber’s new office space (well, actually the E.A. did all that; I finally again resorted to the Darvocet despite its wildly emetic and mind-fogging properties and so was pretty much out of it, standing in the middle of the store and sort of watching the people bustling around me like they were on TV. That’s the shitty thing about these meds; nothing seems real and everything is sort of out of focus; not in a visual sense exactly, though sometimes I do see double for a moment, but things... things take a bit to register and it takes a bit longer for me to come up with a response. When someone says “hello, Kate” they’ve usually wandered off sort of baffled by the time I pull it together enough to say hello back, and it’s usually half a minute or more later still that I realize I’ve probably seemed pretty rude). Now, a scant hour or so later, the headache is coming back and all I’ll be able to do is go home and sit in the shower, the hot water pouring over my head and giving me relief for as long as the hot water supply holds out (my gas bill this month is going to be ungodly).

Wow, have I ever whined like this on my web page? I don’t think I have. Sorry about that. But at least you’ve got something new to read, right?