Stupidity Strikes Again

I picked up the morning paper and in a matter of a few pages stumbled across two articles brimming with rampant stupidity. I learned in kindergarten that I'm supposed to share, so here ya' go.

The first fell under the headline, "Canadian leader to claim rights for Arctic," about how the Prime Minister says the Northwest Passage should fall under Canadian ownership. Here's the paragraph that made me put down my coffee:

"Canada claimed the passage in 1973, but competition to control the Arctic has intensified with global warming. Shrinking polar ice has raised the possibility of new shipping lanes and development of what one U.S. study suggested could be as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas."

Absolutely brilliant. Some great cyclical thinking going on there.

The next article was in the same vein of stupidity, but reduced down to one man's reach. Said man sold his inland home and bought a nice beachfront house in the Oregon Dunes. The trouble was, the dunes blocked his view of the ocean, and he wanted an ocean view. So he hired a bulldozer to flatten the dune in front of his house, moving about 200 dump trucks worth of sand, thereby giving himself a nice ocean view. Needless to say, the neighbors were not happy to see an entire dune gone from the Oregon Dunes, nor was the state, which technically owned that dune. As of yet there is no clear way how to punish the man because it's up to the county to dole out the fine, but the law is set up so that only the landowner (the state) can be fined, and of course the state did absolutely nothing wrong, so the issue is stuck in a perpetual loophole.

I don't know. I'm going to go out on a limb and say if you don't want a view of sand dunes, you probably shouldn't buy a house in the sand dunes.

I was sent a link to this last one by e-mail, and it baffled me so much I thought I should pass it on. It isn't necessarily stupid, per say, but it probably grants the appearance of stupidity to anyone who tries to navigate it. It is a Magic Roundabout in Swindon, England.

Sort of makes the killer roundabout in Pittsfield look like a game of hopscotch, don't it? The site also provides a handy chart of navigation, plus a video of what it looks like to drive through its clutches.

Me? I'm definitely sticking to the red dotty line. A-yup.

Thoughtful Consumerism

My personal odyssey of becoming a thoughtful consumer has been carried along by timely boosts and nudges. It started the very first time I need to stock my own pantry, when my only guiding principle was the price and the goal of matching those familiar brand-name labels in my parents' house. But the more I have learned about the story behind each item in my shopping cart, the less automatic the choices have become.

My first great change was deciding that cheaper generic labels were often just as good as familiar brand-names, a convenient discovery for a college kid. My second was in choosing foods and products that were the healthiest for me, which was spurred by a five-month semester in the rainforest, where my diet was simple (rice and beans) and every lotion and detergent had to be biodegradable for the sake of the local river. But my latest change is much bigger and far more encompassing than anything I've tried to do before - to pick products based on what it costs to bring them to my shopping bag.

It's not the financial cost that I am trying to focus on. It is the cost in principles, in waste and suffering and greed. It is the sort of cost weighed in when, for example, after my recent trip to Ecuador I discovered that the cheap roses you see for sale in the florist section of the local Safeway or Wal-mart or King Sooper's almost all came from plantations in South America. In order to inexpensively mass produce them, these fields of roses have to be drenched in a variety of toxic chemicals, many banned in the US, which leach into the surrounding soil and water. The producers keep costs even lower by failing to supply their mostly female work-force with the necessary protective clothing, and so many suffer the effects of being poisoned. You can read more on this here. These chemical-laden roses have also been blamed for poisoning their US consumers. And yet who, when strolling down the aisle of a Piggly Wiggly's, looks at an affordable bouquet of flowers and thinks of where they were grown, or at what cost? Where is the tag that says, "Front counter price- $5.99. Real price - $dying fish, $miscarriages, $cancer?"

That is the element I am now trying to incorporate into my shopping, trying to find the real cost of each product, deciding from there whether or not it's a cost I want to pay. I've been nudged in this direction increasingly by the consumer alerts about Chinese goods, and now long gone are the days when I cheerfully snatch something of the shelf simply because it looks yummy or pretty or cheap. I remember still the first shopping trips when I started comparing unit prices (feeling quite savvy) and when I began to read the nutritional labels seriously (discovering that, wait a minute... everything has corn syrup in it!) Now my goal is to find the "Made in" label, which is written in teeny tiny writing upside-down on the inside lip of the back packaging, or some other hidden place. (Unless it's made in the USA, in which case it is emblazoned on the front.)

Far more aggravating are food products, which usually say "Distributed by." Those two words are a magical door to a realm where anything is possible, where your Smiling Sun Happy Nut Muffins may have been churned out by a radioactive slave-powered factory in the bowels of an Indonesian brothel and you just don't know, they don't have to tell you, and you have no way of finding out. I am constantly stymied by those two devious words, and so I have come up with two counteractive words of my own, "Farmer's Market."

Future posts will talk about some of the bigger changes I've made and why, but this introduction on the thinking behind thoughtful consumerism is longer than I intended, and it reads as dry as dirt (so if you've made it here, I commend you.) I'm just sitting here going blah blah blah, unedited, the curse of a blogged essay. Anyway, I am attempting to document the changes in my own personal consumerism without whacking people over the head with them, but if I was allowed an "I'd like to teach the world to sing" moment, it would be this - "I'd like to teach the world to pause for a second in the super market and look at that thing they're holding in their hand."

Just Because I Can

And because I like random old-style etchings, and because it makes me smile. (It's Andrew Jackson, if you were wondering.)


The Author's Corniche - 3

My corniche has a roadblock. A corniche, if you did not know - heck, I didn't - is a road that hugs a precipice, a route of great beauty and danger and constant vigilance. I find it cheery, minus the imminent-death part, because it reminds me of the coastal roads of my hometown. More importantly, it seems like an appropriate analogy for anyone who dares enter the realm of writing.

The realm of writing... When I say it like that, I suddenly picture the JAWS shark rising up out of my page while I'm trying to write. Okay, so perhaps writing is nothing like driving alongside a sheer drop-off, but the psychological impact of failing to write well can certainly feel like falling off a cliff.

Which makes a roadblock a bit of a relief. I have not been speeding along those dangerous curves lately, but rather leaning against a rockslide picking my teeth with a toothpick and saying, "A-yup...gonna have to wait for this to clear." I am being a lazy, lazy writer, solving my literary problems by ignoring the fact that they exist, or at least giving up trying to address them through the tips of my fingers.

I suppose I should be panicking, kicking myself towards the computer (and ignoring the siren lure of "Minesweeper" once I get there,) but honestly, the wax and wane of writing seems like a natural thing. Writer's block is a bit like waiting for the tide to come back in, not furthered by me jumping up and down on the beach flailing my arms and shouting at it. Relax, says I. No deadlines to meet.

Which randomly reminds me - they say that authors who publish one book are oftentimes signed on to deliver follow-up books within a certain time period, which is why second and third books want for quality. There are many interesting discussions in writing circles about how publishing, as a business, is suffocating the life out of good writers. Once you cram a deadline down an author's throat, the thoughts that should be allowed to simmer in the pot get suddenly dumped out al dente, underdeveloped, or scorched to the point of hackneyed cliche. ("Hackneyed cliche" is a hackneyed cliche, I have just realized.) The publishing world also does a disservice by publishing so many peanuts, making it harder to find the few almonds and cashews, but I suppose they figure if they flood the market with books they'll have a better chance at snagging a reader, and the peanut author is then vindicated in their life-long dream to become a writer, so everyone wins. I would rally for publishers to be much more selective, but I have a vague suspicion that my own stuff may be a bit peanutty, and so I'll keep my mouth shut. (At least I'm a passionate peanut! Even peanuts can have standards!)

Am I digressing?

Anyway, I did something absolutely fantastic this morning, something which I almost never do - I freewrote. It was an attempt to get my writing pilot light going again. Though I agree on principle with all the little tricks of the trade - the freewriting, the "artist's date," the morning thought journals - I almost never indulge in them, because I, logical person that I am, say, "Every moment writing something irrelevant is a moment I could use to work on current projects!" (And I jump up while I say it, and there is a crowd of cheering people in my head.)

But freewriting is such a lovely forbidden thing for a stodgy red-pen-loving grammar freak such as myself, especially since I was wearing my piratey eye patch on one eye. My other weaker eye inexplicably likes to rearrange letters on the page, great for anagrams but not so much for reading, and so I wrote with my eyes closed and it was wonderful. Oh, I get to indulge myself here on Fifteen Feet every now and then, but to write without the chance that anyone will read it gave me free license to do all those things that are so wrong, so deliciously wrong.

I used nouns as verbs. I twisted verbs into adverbs and then into convoluted unpronounceable adjectives. I strung pearls of adjectives into long necklaces, where the poor little noun was hidden at the end like a clasp. And the run-ons, oh delight! My paragraph sentences would have made Faulkner blush.

Ah, the naughty little pleasures of the freewriter. I suppose the real trick is to slap yourself out of it after you've had your fill, get your grammar back in order, imprison punctuation, and return to the real work at hand. Pesky....pesky plotlines.

I do love the writer's art.

This is Me Complaining

I'm here today to talk about iritis. Iritis is a very painful, sucky, sucky thing. Never heard of it? Neither had I, and neither have most people, but left untreated it is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. This is what it looks like.


Mmm, pretty. What does it feel like, you ask? It feels like there is a little hand inside your head clenching the back of your eyeball and squeeeezing until you want to claw yourself blind, and when the sun shines the light makes you hiss and shrink deep into the shadows, that's what if feels like. (I suspect Dracula suffered from it.) Boys and girls, isn't it fun?!?

My doctor made me laugh when I first went to see her. "My right eye hurts," I said.
"You have iritis," she said.
"Eye-rightus?" I repeated.
"Eye-rightus," I said again. dumbfounded. "As opposed to eye-leftus?"

Alas, it was not a made-up diagnosis by a lazy ophthalmologist, but a real and very dreary disease. What an incredibly random thing to have happen! I have to admit, I've gotten rather annoyed after I realized that it wasn't going to be getting better anytime soon. (Weeks instead of days.) Frustration with little things like reading and driving mounted into full blown panic last night, when I discovered online what a serious and potentially recurring problem it can turn into. (Which is probably why my doctor said, when handing me the information brochure, "You really shouldn't believe all of this.") Don't shop online for a bunny rabbit unless you want to take home a grizzly bear, that's what that lesson is. I guess. I really don't know what that's supposed to mean, but my eye hurts. And so I don't care. Because I'm grumpy.

So today's public service announcement, folks, is this - If your eye turns pink, go get it looked as ASAP, unlike idiotic yours truly.

7-5-7's at the Dinner Table

Poor little Dungeness crab
Small sweet thing, you don’t
belong in a burrito

Surrounded by refried beans
and smothered in cheese
Oh, what an insult to you!

Rather, you should be intact
Red shell, spotted claws
Sitting next to hot butter

Cut Off

At six in the morning I woke up in agony. The sky was getting brighter, not direct sunlight - it takes time for the fog to burn off - but an overall increasing brightness, and all that growing light was shooting pain into my right eye. I should have gotten it looked at sooner. It's been red for nearly a week, but I thought it was merely allergies. It's amazing how delicate our bodies are, how fine a balance we walk between health and sickness, and how a minor irritation can so quickly turn into pending blindness.

I have often considered my vision a borrowed gift. My eyes are not as bad as some stories I've heard, but they walk the line. Astigmatism, myopia, macular degeneration, blind spots, lazy eye... I am an ophthalmologist's candy shop. One strong blow and I could lose it all - the art, the music, the sunsets. How do blind people survive?

I should not have been driving, but the eye doctor was 45 minutes away. Driving seems like such a luxury when it is nearly taken away from you, an inexpressible freedom to care for yourself. Another day more and I would be forced to call around town for someone to drive for me. Without my car, I am cut off from the world, stranded.

This morning as I, bleary-eyed, fought my way to the doctor's, a major fiber optic cable was accidentally cut, severing all communication out of my home town. For most of the day the internet was down, long distance phones were down, 911 was a busy signal. The stores were reduced to cash-only transactions. Cut off, completely cut off. Since the pharmacy could not call out, I wasn't able to get all the eye drops I needed, nor pay for the rest with credit. Luckily the pharmacist knows me and let me walk out with them on an IOU, and such is the blessing of a small town. How thin is the thread on which civilization hangs!

Back home, I sat around utterly stumped. I could do nothing that involved eyesight, nor call any distant friends or family for consolation. Cut off, a game of waiting. The solitary life is at its loneliest when you need physical help.

But I am, even now, listening to reports from the mines in Utah. Last night as I was falling asleep, before a woeful day of my own, I tried to imagine what those six men are going through, trapped in the darkness alone for so long, so cut off. How hungry must they be? Are they cold? Are they talking to each other, or have they focused on silent survival? Are they praying?

I prayed last night for them, and I prayed this morning for myself. It is the one connection I know will never be cut off.

The Reunion

Ten years have passed, as years often will, and I got an invitation to my high school reunion. It was a message in a bottle, sent to the wrong address, crushed in the mail, appropriate. It took a corkscrew to open the bottle, and inside was sand and shells and the invitation.

Ten years have passed, and I have just experienced a most bizarre weekend. Old memories dredged back to the surface, names and faces I can just barely recall. Ten years ago I was a different person, as were many of my classmates with whom, this weekend, I have had Relationship Take-2.

The guys had mostly become wider and balder, the girls more or less the same. I surely offended more than one person by completely forgetting their name, further evidence, I suppose, of a life left far behind. Two comments followed me throughout the evening - one, "This is more than I've ever heard you talk before! You were really shy in high school." Can you believe there are still people in the world who think I'm a quiet person? And two, "Dang, Kt's a hottie. If you had looked like that in high school, I would have totally hit on you. Is there an award for most improved?" What does one say to such a compliment? Yes, a dorky appearance is the natural defense God gives His beloved to protect them from inadvisable high school relationships (with jerks), thank you very much. People grow up. Oh, the things I would have changed ten years ago!

The corkscrew for the invitation was a good indicator for the weekend, because both main events involved unchecked drinking. Very strange to see former high schoolers get drunk, especially with ex-cops and ex-teachers mixing into the crowd. By the end of the first night, the drunkest of nights, the crowd was conveniently thinned into people who have changed impressively - who were still sober enough for conversation - and the people spilling drinks on the carpet. I caught up with the latter the next day, when they were much more subdued.

Saturday night was our grand luau, not bad for a party of haoles. (Drinks in coconuts. Mine a virgin and extra large, since "No one else wants a virgin," quoth the bartender. DD's forever!) I couldn't make much ground on our class questionnaire - Do you have kids? How many kids? Are you pregnant? Are you married? Are you engaged? ("How about a prize for Least Attached?" I shouted.) But I did take home the prize for Travelled Farthest From Home, which was good and well deserved, since no one in our class is an astronaut yet.

I shall always remember our reunion as shouting at each other over the top of music, random hugging and high-fiving and dancing. My voice was raw from the shouting and the smoke, and I slept poorly in the aftermath, mulling over familiar faces saying such unfamiliar things. The camaraderie, the stunned frozen moments, like our class had been thrown in the middle of the highway all at once with a blinding semi-truck of Change bearing down on us.

I love the changes. I love being able to look through my yearbook now and add on those final memories. The jerks have disappeared. My high school persona is laid to rest. Words that have been left unspoken for ten years, confessions and new revelations, and above all, that elusive sense of finality to a turbulent time. I close the book and move on, smiling.

Love Song to the Sea

Go to the seaside. I have heard it in a song, and now it is my call, a cry for the voiceless gull. Go to the sea, and see the white midden slopes of oyster shells and the black vultures above. The harbor is swirling in the wake of the seals, the smell of fish and seaweed, and the whale-topped weather vane is turning to the north, the grinning wooden whale gazing to the north.

You should be here, with a thousand footprints in the sand behind you. You should see the sand fleas jump in the lines of green algae and fossil shells. For today the sky has turned upside down, and today the clouds touch the water, the blue sky hidden far above. There is sunshine there, and warmth, but here on the bay only clouds. The fog is pressing, and the waves are pressing, and the limestone cliffs tilt a little further, showering their fossils into sand crossed by footprints.

The children of the bridge are laughing, they are looking over, they are driven to the sides by the traffic, the people of the bridge. They walk on the edges. The egrets below are probing deep mud, are standing silent, the gulls flying around them, and the dust rises from the road. Gulls are there too, lying dead on the side of the road, and the traffic drives on. We are all pressing on, we are pushing on, we cars and gulls and clouds of dust, past the marshlands and the flatlands, the saltflats and the saltwater sedges, with the sand dunes rising alongside them, the fossil sand dunes, rising to the ocean. We are pressing northward, we travellers, we pilgrims of the coastline, north from the grinning whale. To our left are the ports and the oysterbeds and the shell shops. To the right the inland rivers that reach out to touch salt, the fingers of cities and civilization. We do not go to the right. Straight ahead are the forests and the ghosts of the forests. To the left are the driftwood graveyards and all ahead the road, the road, dark and grey and stone.

The waves are breaking against the jetty. The northern bar kills, drives the ships down. The southern bar is mild and tame, milkwater. The tide pulls out, leaving the oyster beds speckled in the bay. And the seagulls are calling. They are crying and calling. The sun dips low. It is catching the first light of the water. The trail, the red, shoots out towards me and me alone. On all of the west coast there is no other eye that aligns with the sun. In all the west coast there is no other body that sits directly east of the setting sun, its edge slipping down into the water.

And now the day is closing in on itself, and in the bar a trawler, its broken arms hanging over the water, fighting up to port. The smoke rises from the trees of the campground below, and the fog has lifted. I wish you could be here. I wish you could see it. The sea, the lighthouse, the Fresnel lens turning around and the crystal light beginning to shine. The land loses its color, turns grey and gold, and the foghorn, slow and steady, howling "Home, home." Home, even if this isn't your home. Home, even if you are leaving.

How I would like you to see the carousel of lights, the red and the white against the trees, how they rake the skin of the dead trees. Soon it will all be gone, the trees and the houses and the whitewashed keeper's house, and the night will be nothing but the light and the carousel, the foghorn and roaring waves. How I would like you to see it, the beam of the lighthouse trolling out to sea, scooping up the horizon, calling to the mariners white and red and white. That beacon, that light, that safety.

Now I have written it out of myself, the sound of the sea. The fog hides sirens, the tug of the outgoing tide, a horizon with no ending. It is haunting if you listen. Nothing is settled in the western sea, nothing but the clouds against the water, and how I wish you could see it.

Wandering the Web Occasionally Pays Off

I just stumbled upon this excellent little blog, Brooklyn Arden. It's written by one of the editors who worked on the American version of the Harry Potter series. I'm only just beginning to explore it, but she has provided some interesting thoughts on the series (with lots of spoilers and no warnings, so be careful), as well as a plethora of info for aspiring writers and editors. It's well worth a look if you're into that sort of thing.

(That sort of thing being "writing," which, if you are not into, implies you are of the Neanderthal ilk, but who am I to judge?)

From the Vaults

After rediscovering the files for my poor extinct comic strip, I read through them again and got a few jollies. I guess that means I'm laughing at my own jokes. Here are a couple of early favorites, including the dinosaur strip that originally got me the job. They are too small, I realize, but I am not techno-savy enough to enlarge them.

Here's one for Stew-

And just for you, E, for your correct answer-

War of the Ants

Picture me atop a ladder holding a caulking gun, laughing maniacally as I bounce the ladder forward to follow a seam in the wall, and you have a good idea of what I've been doing for the last four days.

It all started as a simple exercise in logic. There are sugar ants in my kitchen. I can either spread around the same chemicals I've been trying to avoid with my recent organic shopping, or - aha! - block all of their access points into the kitchen. Seems like an innocent idea, doesn't it? Very earth friendly, very ant friendly, everyone wins.

I've always been an ant friendly sort of person. My very first comic strip was all about ants, starring this fella here:

Oh look! Ain't he a sweetie?


Ha-ha! Look at my crappy old style drawings!

And so one bright sunny afternoon I entered the kitchen with a caulking gun in one hand and an open Nature Valley "Fruit and Nut" granola bar in the other, thinking, "Oh, I shall follow the trail of ants, and I shall block it, and then I shall be able to pour my hazelnut syrup ant-free into a cup of coffee that doesn't have ants swimming at the top."

Four days, five million ants, and one tube of caulk later, my jolly little project has turned into a full blown war. I seal a crack, the ants freak out and scatter across the counters, and as I brush the stragglers off myself I exclaim, "Ah-hahaHA!" The next morning, the ants have found a pinhole in my defenses, or that they can go through the electrical outlets, or that they can chew through the packing tape that I have used to cover the electrical outlets. I am absolutely convinced that, given enough motivation, a single ant could find its way out of a deep sea submarine, with enough time to reappear on top of my butter tray in the morning.

It's becoming a bit of an obsession, I'm afraid, and not just because of the caulk fumes. I see ants when I close my eyes. I see phantom ants on the walls. I feel them crawling on me in the night. I... I kid you not, when I sat down to write this post, I felt something on my cheek, and I thought "Oh, you have got to be kidding me." But alas, it was in fact an ant, no doubt trying to sabotage my attempted contact with the outside world. The ants feign absolute focus on their target granola bar, but in fact are waging subtle psychological warfare. This is why if anyone had chanced to visit me yesterday, they would have seen me out on the roof crouched at the seam of the skylight shouting, "I know you're in there! Get out of my house!"

Ack. Despite the madness of fighting an unwinnable war, sometimes I can still throttle enough sense into myself to admire the complexities of the ants. They seem to be God's shining example of stupidity at a brief glance, drowning themselves in puddles of water no bigger than a dime, creating U-shaped trails with no concept of cutting the corners, and bludgeoning blindly into each other head-on, repeatedly, acting surprised each and every time. This is my frustration, that a spastic creature times one thousand equals an entity that can outsmart my best efforts. Well, perhaps not "outsmart." Perhaps "overwhelm" would be the better term. The result of a hundred monkeys with typewriters.

Still, there are those small gleaming moments when a single ant becomes something more than a moving speck on the wall. Yesterday I saw five ants congregating on the windowsill, and in my caulking madness thought perhaps that they were trying to chew through the wooden seam. Rather than startle them with a puff of air, as I might often do, I leaned in to try to figure out what sort of trouble they were conspiring. I have to admit, I look less at the insect world since I had laser surgery on my eyes and lost the ability to focus on things closer than my nose. I used to be able to see the hairs on the back of a fly, the chewing juicy mandibles of a grasshopper. I didn't realize this was an unusual ability until my eyes were "normal," until they saw those delicate antennae and shining eyes as no more than black dots on the counter. I had lost a gift I never knew I had.

I don't try to look closely anymore, maybe because I don't like to be reminded of that loss. But here my curiosity was piqued, and so I leaned in, and there was one of those small gleaming moments - rather than chewing or plotting or searching, the ants were carefully grooming each other in a manner to suggest affection. Such a tender little scene, when all around them their companions were still waging war. I had to smile.

That's why I'm still caulking, you stupid ants. I'm doing it for you, so I don't have to spray you or crush you or wash you down the drain. So you can do your thing and I can do mine. Stay out of my kitchen!

No Poem

I couldn't get this out of my head today, and believe me, I tried. It was there when I woke up, which is what happens, kiddies, when you only get four hours of sleep. So I wrote it out, and now it's all better, and I can leave my head free to get other things stuck in it.

No Poem

I will not write a poem
about the morning fog
of how the slanted sunlight
is pushing it away

I will not write a poem
about the early crows
of how their treetop quarrels
are bringing in the day

I will not write a poem
that's dripping metaphor
where flowers are like forests
are like cities are like seas

Nor poetry that's choking
on pearly pretty words
that only find the author's ears
when seeking ears to please

For there are poems ample
about the crows and fog,
most as harsh and hazy as
the subjects that they cheer

And that's a awful rhyme
I'll spare you from the rest
I will not write a poem,
except for this one here.

Before Page 1

Ah, at long last I hold a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in my grubby little hands, and am proceeding to read it as slow as humanly possible. - Note. Now I have finished it, and it was good. End note. - Did anyone else make the most of the release night? Thanks to the hospitality of my good friend W, I got to experience what surely was one of the best parties in the nation.

-Yet another note. Obviously, I wrote this a while ago, but it's taken me this long to load up the photos. There are NO SPOILERS here. This is a happy spoiler-free post, so read on with gusto! Also, I hate Blogger's photo assist and it hates me back, so sorry if some of the formatting is screwed up, frown.-

The place - Powell's City of Books, the one of the largest independent bookstores in the world, whose main store occupies a whole city block in downtown Portland. For the release party they had closed off a whole street on one side of the building, and by the time we arrived, circa 7:30pm, it was already half-filled with a zig-zagging line of people. A quick trip to Whole Foods and back to the line, where thanks to a costumed employee holding a tall flagged pole we found the end, settled onto the pavement, and laid out our spread of sushi, cherries, candied walnuts, gourmet chips, chocolate, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Jelly Beans, and Blood Pops, determined not to go hungry in the remaining hours.

Photo caption - An entire block of Harry Potter fanatics. Good times.

The street was crammed full of characters. The first in line, a couple who had arrived the night before, watched the crowd serenely from the opening in their tent. Next in line was a man holding a sign from the Portland Literary Club, followed closely by a chattering group of Gryffindor girls. Nearly everyone was in costume, mostly dressed as students or teachers, including such stand-outs as a man with a baby dragon on his shoulder, a wizard on stilts, a woman stroking a pet toad, an entire Quiddich team, and Powell's official Dumbledore, Professor McGonegal, and Professor Sprout, who were posing for pictures. The standout of all standouts, however, was Hagrid, who towered high above everyone else. (I still can't figure out how he did it. He must have been that tall to begin with.) He was the best to watch, certainly the easiest to find. And he was great fun to chat with, especially as he attempted to imitate - poorly - Hagrid's accent. W and I jumped up at the sight of him and sang, "Hagrid is fun to hug! Hagrid is full of love! Just don't get stuck in Hagrid's beard!"

Photo Caption - Yes Virginia. Half-giants really do exist. Yeeks.

Soon the rest of the closed block was full. The line curved out of sight around the side of the bookstore. As we sat eating, we began to chat with the fellow directly behind us in line, a visitor from New Orleans. We tossed around book theories for a while until the Morris dancers, who came prancing and clattering their sticks only a few feet away, distracted our attention. Shortly after they had jingled themselves into exhaustion, they were replaced by the fire jugglers, who rather than separating themselves from the crowd plunged into the middle of it, shifting the already shaky line structure into near chaos. In their wake followed magicians, fake fortune tellers, and face painters, all roaming wildly throughout the jostle. "Remember!" the MC called through his scratchy microphone, "Every time you cut in line, a baby hippogriff dies!"

Photo caption - The second group in line, kindly holding up a sign for any confused person who thought it was...the line for something else?

Periodically the MC would climb to the main stage and announce where the end of the line was: One block away... two blocks away... three blocks away. One of the Powell employees wrote on her blog:

'A few passersby quizzed me about The Event and their reactions to the crowd and the traffic ranged from perplexed to bemused. "All this for one book?" was the refrain of the night. I occasionally considered replying with something like, "For a bunch of guys in short shorts bouncing a ball up and down a court and occasionally popping it through a net, traffic jams and crowds would seem normal, but for an extended narrative that draws on folklore and carries subtexts of power, societal alienation, and primal fear, it's bizarre?"'

The night threatened rain, and we Prepared People patted our closed umbrellas smugly. Rain in July? Well, it is Oregon, after all. No chill was dampening the mood, as a fire eater climbed the stage to general applause. W and I tried the Blood Pops for the first time, both agreeing that they were the very exact flavor of synthetic strawberry syrup. A group of Gryffindor brats cut the queue in front of us (several hippogriffs kicked the bucket) and began to play 20 questions. (Answer: The Sorting Hat.) Nearby one of the many Harry Potters was crouched down with chalk, drawing Snitches on as much pavement as he could reach.

Eleven-o-clock, and the store closed its main door for the final hour. The crowd grew tense, more excited, and yet everyone was still as polite as could be, joking and yelling compliments and shouting "I love you, Harry!" and "Voldemort sucks!" Voldemort himself, or at least a man dressed as him, was serenely holding a tiny baby with a lightening bolt scar. (He made an appearance in another form when a bald man drew a scary face on the back of his head with a ball point pen to the cheers of approving onlookers.) The MC mounted the stage once more to announce that the books had arrived in the store. The street exploded with cheering and applause.

"A very special vehicle is about to arrive," announced the MC, "and if you all sit down, you'll be able to see it!" The crowd nearest him sat, an effect which rippled away in both directions to the edges of the block, and yet somehow the people at the very ends didn't catch on. "Sit down, please!" begged the MC, a chant which the crowd quickly adopted. "Sit down! Sit down!" And now W gave me my favorite moment of the night, because she suddenly shouted in her mom voice, five times louder than anyone else in the crowd, "SIT DOWN!! SIT DOWN!!! S-I-T, SIT DOWN!!" Everyone stopped and became very quiet, except for me and a woman immediately next to me, who both began roaring with laughter, me so hard that tears streamed out of my eyes. Hooray, W!! Sonorus!

MLS, you would be proud. As per the suggestion on your blog, at one point when I was dragged up onto the main stage I gestured at the front door and shouted "Alohamora!" Strangely, they really did open the door shortly after that. Coincidence? (I was sad to learn after I got off the stage that the crowd was cheering for the open door, and not me. Oh, poor deflated ego!)

I was a little confused about the real opening, because at the time I was in transit through the crowd, but I think it went something like this - Dumbledore appeared riding in a carriage pulled by white horses, holding an enormous silver key over his head. The carriage circled the block once, then came to a stop at the end of the street. Dumbledore hopped out, followed by the rest of the Hogwart's staff, and carried the key to the store, past platforms 9 and 10 (which had been set up on the outside), all the way to the main door, labelled Platform 9 3/4. To the cheers and waves of the frenzied crowd, he turned the handle. The doors burst open with light and smoke, and... weeeee! We were moving!

Photo caption - Hey, check it! Dumbledore's got a really big key! Look how happy he is with his really big key!

The first few people came out of the store with books raised high in hand. "RAAAH!" cheered the crowd. A car drove by honking, a hand holding the book out through the sunroof. "YAAAY!" the crowd shouted. Despite the excitement, there was not a single rude person to be found, and I think everyone would have done a group hug had we not been moving. The face painter came by one last time, and W reached out to snag her. "I'm only doing little pictures now," the painter said, "Snitches and owls and Dobby..."

"I want Dobby!" said W. The resulting "Dobby" ended up looking, by my estimation, like a grumpy Kreacher with his arms pulled off. 8')

And then...

Photo caption - HOHYEEEAH! BROO BRAA! (Translated: "Oh look, my friend. We appear to have reached the door.")

When W and I reached Platform 9 3/4 a short time later (foaming at the mouths, fainting, etcetera), we were met by a conductor outside and a Dementor inside, both who showed us the way to go. (W said, "I'm not going to argue with a Dementor!" The Dementor tapped his head as though to say, "Smart thinking.") After being outside in the misty dark for so long, the inside of Powell's was ablaze with light and color. We passed underneath a replica of Fawkes, weaving down to the stacks of prized books while the people in the long line outside ogled at us through the windows. It was a blur. "Here, take a box! Take a USED BOX!" one of the employees was shouting, shoving the Harry Potter-branded cardboard into the crowd. Madness loomed in the air. "Do you want a bag?" the cashier asked. "Duuuh..." I said, my brain a piddly mush.

Photo caption - Booooks... Shiny, tasty, booooooks....

Ordinarily, immediately after purchasing such a spoiler-prone book, I would have high-tailed it out of there as quick as possible... but there was another line to get the book signed by Dumbledore and McGonegal and have it stamped with the official release date, so I opted for the dangerous option of standing amongst people who were already flipping through. One girl said, "There's a chapter... blah blah... dragon something..." after which I immediately shoved ear plugs in and began going hum hum hum, shut up stupid people, hum hum. W said she had overheard a woman who immediately turned to the last page STUPID STUPID PEOPLE!

Photo caption - In case anyone was wondering where Voldemort was... Well, he was buying his'self a book, wasn't he? ("Gee, I hope I win," he was saying.)

Needless to say - freaking. awesome. I haven't had so much fun in a longly long time. All that, and the best part was that we hadn't even opened the book yet!

For that anticipated event, we first swung by the famous and sketchy 24-hour Voodoo Doughnuts, where I snagged one of their signature creations, a maple bar topped with bacon slices, and then wearily crossed the river to an all night coffee house, mysteriously themed like a Colorado cabin. With doughnuts and coffee, W and I kicked up our feet on the couches and turned to page 1...

Photo caption - Yes, I said a maple bar with bacon. You'd be surprised what sounds good at 4:30 in the morning...