January 1999

[Authorís note: portions of this newsletter were taken from the following letters:
barbar70 and gabe06.
]


the fruitcake newsletter
vol. 2----issue #4----January 1999


introduction

The Lord is not serious.

In fact, it is a little hard to know just what else He is except loving.

And love has to do with humor, doesnít it?

For you cannot love someone unless you can put up with him, can you?

And you cannot put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at him.

Isnít that true?

And certainly we are ridiculous little animals wallowing in the fudge bowl,

and God must love us all the more because we appeal to His humor.


-- words written by Ray Bradbury



. . . Ah, well; here we are, in that last year of this entire millennium. Who really
has any idea what the next year will bring? The best I can tell you, myself, is what the
past month has brought: a healthy mix of surrealistic joy, sheer panic, and dreadful
dullness. Who could ask for anything more from life? Oh, and I almost forgot--I offended
yet another person with my writing! Granted, it was a clear misinterpretation, but still . . .
this is getting a little redundant, isnít it? I might as well stop writing about it, and just
have you all assume every month that I have angered at least one person in the past
month. It takes people a while to get over it, but, you know, they usually do eventually.
But it takes some time to get used to biting humor that can cause physical pain if one is
not careful.

The truth is, through most of the past month, I have thought about things that have
more to do with the future than either the present or the past. This is 1999, people! That
year that no one other thing has been looked forward to with more anticipation by the
entire twentieth century is just around the corner. Whatís to happen? Will all the power
go out? Possibly. Will it be the end of the world? Doubtful. Will there be some
disruptions? Quite likely. Will nothing of even remote significance happen? Almost
impossible. Will people panic just because theyíre stupid and believe everything they
read? Also quite likely. Is there any reason to flee the city and run for the hills?

. . . Only if I donít like you.

But, since I do quite like you all, I donít wish it for you. Indeed, I myself fully
expect the following year to be a weird one, for multiple reasons, all of which revolve
around the fact of the year-date. However, I donít think some nuclear bomb is going to be
inadvertently launched or anything like that. I have a friend who knows someone who
works for Microsoft, and apparently the guy, who is a computer programmer, thinks this
whole thing is going to be one major big deal. Well, whatever.

I have taken the advice that I have chosen to be the best of all the many types of
advice I have come across: be as prepared for the potential y2k bug problems as you
would be prepared for any natural disaster, as everyone really should be anyway, if they
were smart. I am systematically taking cash out of the bank and putting it into a drawer, a
fixed amount on the first of each month, but not a very high amount, in preparation for
the very real possibility of bank runs from panicked people that will leave banks stripped
of cash (even my hairdresser told me she thought she would take out all her money
sometime around November; I told her thatís one of the dumbest things she could do).
Iíll have only a few extra things, like toilet paper and cat food and such. But Iím not
stocking up on a yearís supply or more of anything, as a very many people are doing even
as you read this newsletter in your hands.

Panic in itself causes much danger, and thatís what concerns me more than
anything--so I do everything within my power not to perpetuate it. However, I am also
not going to completely ignore the possibilities here; I find a happy medium of
preparation. I read on an ABC news web site that the y2k bug is going to be the second-
most expensive disaster in history (second only to World War II, making it still more
expensive than any earthquake or hurricane disaster). To find such things from very
reliable news sources is kind of disheartening, but getting all freaked out about it still
isnít going to help anything. In fact, right now, at this very moment, what I am most
anxiety-ridden about is this jerk living below me with his base too loud.

Anyway, I am making what I see as fairly minimal preparations for something
that is at best a possibility--but I regularly take an umbrella out on a sunny day, because
itís always better to have something and not need it than to need it and not have it, and
you never know when the sky may change. I just hope the sky doesnít change too much
here.

In any case, such things have been on my mind over the past weeks, amongst all
of the events of the present, which are always instantaneously being converted into the
past --that is, for my purposes here, January. And I have my sixteenth desire to share it
with all these people I know . . .

1. Thereís an Angel down South somewhere with a halo of children and wings
that are apparently broken, for she never flies very close to here . . .

2. The laws of the Courtney bring fresh perception and perspective and new
percolating percentiles.

3. I heard a damned yell in the phone like a canned cell in my home but from
Danielle itís gone second to none . . . and I nevertheless I send the tome.

4. Seems to me I remember some woman named Darcy . . . hope I never have
to identify her in a lineup . . . Iíd end up putting the wrong person away!

5. This is the beginning of a Dawn of a new era . . . but somehow, nothing has
changed, and we wouldnít want something that started so great to come to any sort of
end, now would we?

6. Have you seen a Regina with a system of whimsical movement? I know I
did, and I quite enjoyed it . . .

7. I know a Kim and a Dad who are not oriental . . . I drank some Sherri
from a Bonus Mom who is more than ornamental . . .

8. Could I possibly have the huevos to be apPaulled by any suggested blatant
innuendo? Not likely!

9. I once met an Ant who went by the name of Raenae but was by no means
a tiny slimy insect. Besides, insects canít read, and are therefore useless to me.

10. So here we are with a Rick and a Tammy . . . weíve all been out of town
for so long . . . but correspondence . . . of sorts . . . keeps slight connections held . . .

11. Thereís no shame in a shine from Shane . . . and thereís no sense in the
tense on the other side of the fence . . . but hey, the electricity isnít completely out, in any
case . . .

. . . Well! Now that Iíve made myself perfectly clear, I have yet one more thing to
say to all of you. Nothing too important, really, just a quick mental note for you to
remind yourselves to PPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPBBBBBBBBTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


a month in the life of a fruitcake

Now you just dig them up front. They have worries,

theyíre counting the miles, theyíre thinking about

where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather,

how theyíll get there--and all the time theyíll get there anyway,

you see. But they need to worry and betray time

with urgencies false and otherwise,
purely anxious and whiny,

their souls really wonít be at peace unless they can latch onto

an established and proven worry and having once found it

they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it,

which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it flies by them

and they know it and that too worries them to no end.


-- Dean Moriarty in On the Road by Jack Kerouac




Outward happiness! What in fact is it?

There is a certain class of human beings who seem to be the favorites of the gods,

whose good fortune is their genius and whose genius is their fortune:

they are children of light, and with the sunís radiance mirrored in their eyes

they move lightly, gracefully, charmingly, playfully through life,

admiringly surrounded by everyone, praised and envied and loved by everyone,

because even envy cannot bring itself to hate them.

But they return the general gaze as rather spoiled children do,

with a kind of whimsical irreverent mockery and unconcluded goodwill,

secure in their good fortune and in their genius,

never for a moment entertaining the thought that things might be otherwise . . .


-- words written by Thomas Mann



Well, the first logical thing for me to tell you all about would be New Yearís Eve,
when Danielle planned on coming to visit me for that weekend, and ended up calling me
to cancel because she came down with the flu. This happened after the Tuesday of that
particular week, when my boss told me he was not going to need me again until the
following Monday, without ever giving me any advanced warning of this. I ended up with
five days in a row off of work as a result, with New Yearís being a part of it, which
turned out to be the first year I spent that particular holiday alone in my entire life. It was
kind of lonely. But for a few moments on that particular evening, it really wasnít so bad.

I actually decided to walk over to Seattle Center, at the last minute. I am so glad I
did; the experience would not at all have been the same had I stayed on the roof of my
building. I did go up there at first, at about 11:30--despite the signs that say not to go up
there past ten p.m. I was standing there, looking at the Space Needle in all its glory and
then some--there were some eight search lights swirling about in the clouds above it, with
different colors of light projected onto the stem of the building--well, at least the top
quarter of the stem, which was all I could see past the Grosvenor House apartment
building. I was suddenly overcome with this urge to just go over there. I knew I had at
least twenty minutes, which meant I could get there with a few minutes to spare.

So, within just a few moments after first going out onto the roof, I raced down
and out of the building. I even thought to myself that I was making an unprecedented risk
by going outside on my own this late at night for the first time--but I also knew that a lot
more regular joes (instead of the typical late-night bums) were going to be out and about,
so I was probably just as safe as I would be at two in the afternoon.

As I walked closer to the Needle, the crowds got thicker--and most everyone was
walking in the same direction. On the corner of Fifth and Denny (which a third street also
runs into, annoyingly typical of this downtown) thereís a park with a statue in the middle
of it-- perhaps some of you remember it. There are little streams of water that come out
of the base of it all around it . . . anyway, there was a ton of people there, waiting to just
watch the fireworks show. There were also a bunch of people on top of the neighboring
apartment building on Fifth, and just as I was passing they decided to start screaming
things like ďHappy f---ing new year!Ē to the crowd below. I could have easily gotten a
very nice view of the show from there, but I felt pulled closer--I had to get closer. So I
went through even thicker crowds which were also generally going in the same direction.
As I walked further up Fifth, bordering the Seattle Center park, the crowds got even
thicker--until I was finally within perhaps thirty yards of the building itself, where the
crowd was thickest. Still I just maneuvered my way through the crowd to get as close as I
could--only to find that the park was actually gated off. No wonder my pass isnít valid on
New Yearís Eve.

Anyway, not far from the fence itself, I just stood there and waited the five
minutes or so that I had left to go. I overheard a couple of guys talking behind me, about
how many years ago they had actually gone up there; one guy, who I suspect was actually
a Seattle native, said he was up there once when he was a kid. It was such a strange thing
for me to hear, after having gone up there so many times in the past six months--I lost
track, but a realistic number would be around twelve times. Itís like itís just old hat for
me to go up there, and thatís only after a matter of months! I tend to forget how many
people live in this town, and the probable percentage of those who have never gone up
the Space Needle. The thought had crossed my mind to get tickets for New Yearís Eve at
the top next year--but when I asked about it later, I had been told that itís been all rented
out since 1992. I couldnít believe it. The following year is also completely booked; even
1998-9 has been booked for years. The soonest I could get a ticket would be for 2000-1. I
didnít even bother to find out the no-doubt mind numbing cost of tickets; I have no idea
where Iíll be or what Iíll be doing that year, so itís best to just forget the whole thing
there.

Anyway . . . it was not long before the fireworks display started, and I cannot
remember a time I was more in awe of a fireworks show. Granted, seeing the New Yearís
fireworks display over the ocean horizon in Honolulu last year had its own special
quality--but this is the Space Needle weíre talking about, the best looking downtown
building in Seattle, if not the country! It had sort of its own countdown at the beginning,
with streams of fireworks being launched all around the stem in one horizontal plane, in
second-interval increments working their way up the building, until finally the fireworks
started launching from the top. Then, every so often, more would come off the stem--and
often they would go up and hit the bottom of the outcrop at the top. It didnít seem to hurt
anything, though. At one point there was nothing but these white, sort of squiggly things
shooting off the top, for a minute or two--so for some time it looked like the building
itself was simply a gargantuan sparkler. It was soooo cool! The finale was by far the best,
which left me with my mouth gaping and my eyes wide: a ton of fireworks went out from
all sides of the building, from its top to its bottom, all at the same time. It made the
building look like it was in its own fireworks halo, or aura, or something. Itís hard to
explain--but trust me, it was spectacular. Far better than the Independence Day display I
saw from the waterfront.

Anyway, I was very happy with my last-minute decision to walk over there. It
would have been a nice view from my building, but I know that it would have been
nothing compared to the angle I saw it from. I originally thought that being so close
might detract from the experience, but I guarantee it added to it infinitely.

Oh, I almost forgot. First of all, people in one of the monorail trains got to watch
the show from the monorail, stopped strategically on the track. It came out just a few
minutes before the display of fireworks, honking back at the crowd cheering at them.
Then, when the show was over and I was trying to ease my way out of the crowd of
screams and lovers kissing (I never saw so many of those in one spot before), this guy
just suddenly extended his hand and said to me, ďHappy new year, man!Ē I thanked him
and shook his hand, then moved on. It was cool, though, and I should have made eye
contact with the guy. Iíve got to stop being so damned shy, itís cramping my style!

The vast majority of the people there, with perhaps ten percent being exceptions,
were young people clearly within two, or four years at the most, of my own age.
Everyone was in a great mood and very festive about the whole thing--and for some
reason I didnít even mind the guy in the crowd who incessantly blew a fog horn. I felt
good just standing there amongst them, despite the fact that I was still by myself. So
what? Itís that kinetic energy again--everyone there felt good, and it made me feel good
too. I would never have felt the same thing from my own roof.

So after I saw that little show, which lasted no more than a half hour, I went home
and wrote about the experience in a letter to Barbara. Thatís the way I rang in the new
year.

Thereís still a few things I need to tell about before the new year came along,
however; most notably something Grandma McQuilkin mentioned to me in one of the
letters I got from her this month--the fact that I failed to mention what she got me for
Christmas, while I listed my gifts from everyone else. When I have to remember a bunch
of things like that, itís not uncommon for me to forget something, and this was the
unlucky thing this time. In any case, what Grandma got me was something I like just as
much as all the other gifts I loved so much--a 1999 calendar full of pictures from their
year in Hawaii (actually, two of the photos are from Dad and Sherriís own tenth-
anniversary trip to Hawaii in 1994--but donít tell anybody). I was the only one of the
grandchildren to get a calendar with twelve photos (the only others to get the full deal
were my grandparentsí five children), because I helped decide what sequence to put the
photos in (and I must say that I think I did a rather good job; June, October, and
December are especially ingenious). The rest of the calendars made were simply
lamenated sheets with dates for all twelve months surrounding the one photo that would
otherwise have been used for January--it looks quite like a placemat. But mine is a full
calendar, and itís possibly the coolest calendar I have ever had--and certainly the first
calendar I will not rip apart or throw away at the end of the year.

In the letter that Grandma told me I failed to mention this gift, she suggested
perhaps I didnít like it, and if so I should hang it up in my bathroom to scare the mice
away. Well, I donít have any mice to scare, so I hung it up in my living room. The cats
donít seem to be too frightened by it.

The Monday after Christmas, when I was back in Seattle again and even worked
that day, Gabe and Suzy came up to visit me for the evening--we all went out to see The
Nutcracker. But before we left for that, we exchanged gifts; for Gabe I had bought the
board game Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, and for Suzy I got the video The Princess Bride,
and a star-shaped candle holder that was silver colored and had five holes in which to set
small white candles, inside each of the five points of the star. They were both quite happy
with their gifts, as I recall.

What they got for me was, for the first time, all from both of them instead of
individually. Two of them, however, I know for a fact Gabe decided on by himself; I
have now heard the story twice, of Gabe buying one of these gifts at the Bookie in
Pullman and coming to Jenniferís cash register--and Jennifer said, ďGee I wonder who
this is for.Ē It was a really cool, double-long calendar with photos of skyscrapers from all
over the world, with really interesting facts written about them as well. So that makes
four 1999 calendars I have now; thank God I didnít get any more, otherwise my
apartment would start to look like a calendar store.

The other gift I know Gabe bought for me on his own was a book, by one of his
favorite authors, Ray Bradbury (author of the very famous Fahrenheit 451), called The
Illustrated Man. Itís a collection of short stories set in the future, all of which are
different distances into it. Gabe described it as a ďMatthew-book,Ē since I am addicted to
books like 1984 or, my all-time favorite, Brave New World (which I plan on reading a
third time here very soon)--that is, long-ago prophetic visions of the future that basically
take us to today. I find such stories intensely fascinating, and, indeed, The Illustrated
Man was quite good. I wrote a 27-page letter to Gabe full of individual responses to, and
thoughts about, each of the stories in the collection, complete with my own little parody-
like vision of the near future called Catzilla, in which my cat has grown to be so gigantic
that he walks through downtown Seattle and knocks all of the buildings over.

The other thing they got me was a widescreen edition of the directorís cut of what
is now one of my favorite movies, Blade Runner. I find it a very thought-provoking,
smart, and engaging film that just about everyone else I know (besides Gabe and Suzy)
thinks is dreadfully boring. Oh well. That movie was released in a reissue in a cinema
later this month, and it was yet another slightly different cut of the film--the one shown to
test audiences in 1981. We were told in the audience that we were amongst only about
5000 people given the opportunity to see this particular version of the film. Its only
differences were a couple scenes a tad longer, different graphics in the opening credits,
and most of the voice-over narration taken out (thankfully--I never liked that part and itís
all done away with on the directorís cut video version that I have). But I was thrilled to
be able to see such a visually stunning film on the big screen; it was great.

Anyway, back to The Nutcracker, the first ballet I ever saw--and what a perfect
one for it to be! I thought it was stupendous, incredible, spectacular, and definitely want
to see it again next year. Indeed, part of the thrill was that I had never seen it before, so it
wonít be like seeing it the first time--but I donít care. It wasnít as difficult to follow as I
thought it would be, the dancing was great, the music to it has long been my favorite
classical music, and the set was awe-inspiring. Itís weird when you look upon a certain
kind of beauty that you have never seen before--sometimes it almost makes you cry. I
came pretty close to doing so, but I didnít. I sure left with a big smile on my face, though;
it was just one of the coolest things I had ever seen. To this day Iím baffled by the detail
and technical wonder of their stage set.

After the ballet we all went out for dessert, ending up at this horrific restaurant
called The Hurricane, where the waitress looked at Gabe as if he was a moron when he
told her the little glass of green liquid without any ice was not the strawberry daiquiri he
ordered. I had a piece of blackberry pie and then we got out of there--it was the worst
service Iíve had since I moved (though it probably wouldnít be difficult to find a place
that could break the record). Gabe and Suzy dropped me off and went home. It was the
day after that when I went to work and was told I did not need to come in again until the
following Monday, and I struggled for the next week to find things to keep me occupied
enough so I wouldnít feel lonely.

But I fared all right, I think. Over the next month, with the exception of one
visitor, Iíve just found things to keep me quite busy--which would include receiving more
letters from different people in the mail within the space of just one month than I believe
I have received in that amount of time in a number of years. Just last week, I spent almost
all of my free time either working on letters already started (the one to Gabe, and my
letters to Barbara are consistently written in a diary-like fashion with daily entries) or
answering letters from other people--Jennifer Miga, Jennifer McQuilkin, Grandma
McQuilkin, Barbara, Danielle, Auntie Rose. For a full week I averaged one letter a day,
which has not been a common thing since about 1993; and this was in addition to the
many e-mail messages I would get, whether from Mom, or Lynn, or Beth, or whoever
else (also including my former work study boss from Pullman, who has suddenly stuck
up a sort of on-line conversation with me).

I have also been reading for recreation more than ever before, for a couple of
reasons. First of all, the book On the Road by Jack Kerouac, if any of you recall, was
given to me by a coworker at that aforementioned work study job on my last day of work
back in May. I did not start it until June, and was not able to get it finished until just a
couple of weeks ago--which was very much helped by the fact that I now have a job, so I
read while I ride the bus to and from work. The book turned out to be quite good in the
end, though, and so I e-mailed the woman to thank her again, and thatís actually how the
on-line conversation with my former boss started, because it was revealed that the
woman who gave me the book has been married to this former boss of mine for ten years
and I never had any idea. Anyway, for a while I was reading both that and The Illustrated
Man at the same time. Then I finished On the Road and started a book by German author
Thomas Mann called Tonio Kroger and Other Stories, which Barbara sent to me in the
mail back in October of 1997. I was never able to get into it until now, and now Iím
discovering itís quite an excellent collection of stories, despite its being written a century
ago (in fact, that in itself adds to the bookís charm--even though all the stories are quite
decadent). Then I read about a book by a gay comedian called Openly Bob that was
described by Entertainment Weekly as ďhilarious,Ē so I went out and bought it, and am
quite enjoying it as well--itís by far the most light-hearted reading Iíve done in some
time. So, for a while, I was reading three books at the same time; it was like being back
in school again, only this time all the reading material was chosen by myself. But then I
finished The Illustrated Man, and now Iím reading only two books at the same time.
Anyway, this is an unprecedented manner for me to do my reading, and I donít mind it. I
want to try and stay in the mode of reading all the time, because someone who wants to
be an author should definitely be reading a lot anyway.

So anyway . . . the next significant occurrence to happen this month was on
Thursday, the 14th. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, you see, to the sound of air raid
alarms. They were not coming from within downtown; but they were from a distance not
too far, for I could hear them perfectly clearly once I was alert and paying attention. I
suspect they were coming from somewhere in the north, but I couldnít be held to that. I
did not even realize what it was at first--indeed, at 4:30 in the morning, I was asleep. But
the sirens were persistent enough to slowly pull me out of my sleep, and at first I thought
perhaps I was hearing the sound of cars coming and going--perhaps on the freeway, the
way the sound is low at first, is at its height of noise when it is closest to you, and then
lowers again at the same steady rate at which it rose, as it heads toward the opposite
horizon.

But soon enough I realized that, if these were cars, then they were going around in
circles: the sound raised and lowered, at that very familiar slow pace, again and again,
constantly. I sat up from my bed and into the light cast by the street lamp outside through
my closed blinds, and then poked my head in between those blinds and my window: no
doubt about it, it was sirens--not of any vehicle, but of the sort that comes from horns
mounted atop tall posts for use in case of emergency. What the hell is going on? I
thought. Could there possibly be something horrible going on? Remembering the scene
from downtown Kansas City in The Day After, where there were people running in
random panic through the downtown streets as a nuclear bomb headed their way, I
looked at the street outside my window. There was nothing but any average, normal
scene from downtown at 4:30 on a weekday morning--hardly a car in sight; and two
people walking down the sidewalk in front of another person alone perhaps ten feet
behind them. One of the two in front turned toward the one behind and shrugged,
presumably to say they didnít know what the noise was for.

My god, the fear of the unknown can be powerful. I know I was completely
stupid, but I couldnít help it. I wanted to know why these sirens were going off, dammit!
And my heart rate accelerated like I canít ever remember it doing before, and I can
actually remember hearing myself breathing heavily--though I only heard it in a sort of
detached manner. How on Earth am I supposed to know if this was some sort of test
somewhere, or if itís normal around here? I have never lived in such a place before this
past June, and this is the first time in my entire life that I have heard such sirens in my
own reality, as opposed to what I have seen in movies--where the sirens only happen if a
bomb is coming. I knew in my mind that Seattle couldnít possibly have suddenly been
converted into ground zero, especially with no preceding warning in the media. However,
a person develops conditioned responses to certain things, and my conditioned response
to this particular noise was elaborate panic. This made me think later that, if this were to
have been revealed as a true emergency of catastrophic proportions, I would probably
faint; either that or turn into a raving lunatic. If I were to be revealed to the fact of
imminent death, I think it would be in everyoneís best interest to leave me in isolation. I
think Iím too stuck on my conviction that, no matter what the circumstance, Iím simply
too young to die. I havenít had enough time yet to make an indelible mark on the world.

Anyway, I rather hurriedly took my glasses out of their case and put them on, not
paying any attention whatsoever to what I did with the case--and as a result I couldnít
find the thing for the life of me for the next two days (I later found them in between my
bed and the wall that contains the aforementioned window). I rushed over to the
television and turned it on, first on the major networks, where there was only regular late
night fare (one of which, oddly, seemed to be a daytime soap opera); so then I frantically
tried flipping around to find the Northwest News channel, not remembering what it is. At
the same time I looked all over for my TCI Cable channel list, which I could also not find
beneath my piles of junk on the counter. I just couldnít stand not knowing anymore, and I
had no idea what else to do but call my mother. Talk about pathetic, huh? I want my
mommy! But I felt like I had nowhere else to turn.

So I woke my mother up at 4:40 in the morning, half-expecting to get the
answering service--in which case I would have hung up and called again--but she
somehow managed to answer the phone after the second ring. I immediately told her
what was happening, and asked what she thought it might be happening for. She clearly
didnít know anything about it; and she said that obviously nothing to be concerned about
was happening, otherwise it would have been all over the TV. She said I should call a
local news station and ask them.

So thatís what I did: I called KOMO TV, and the woman who answered the phone
must have really thought I was an idiot. My first question was, ďDo you know whatís up
with the sirens?Ē--not thinking at all that she would naturally think I was talking about
fire engines or ambulances or police cars. So I had to qualify, not remembering what the
specific name of the alarm was: ďUh, this is going to sound kind of corny,Ē I said, ďbut
you know the sirens that go off in the movies when thereís a nuclear bomb coming?Ē So
she said, ďlike an air raid?Ē--and I said yes.

She obviously checked all the necessary dispatches while we were talking, and
she could not find a single thing going on. She had no more of an idea what it was than
Mom did. Just my luck, once she asked if the sirens were still going, I told her to hold on
so I could check--and no, they were not; they had stopped. She must have had to have
special pivots installed into her eyes so they could roll far enough to truly express what a
naive little moron she thought I was being. She did say that such sirens would go off if
something like an eruption of Mt. Rainier were happening, which I had never thought of
but decided I would probably get just as freaked out about. Clearly, though, if that were
happening--and if a bomb were coming, or some sort of meltdown happened somewhere,
or something or whatever--the sirens downtown would have been going off as well. But
they were not.

I explained to the woman that I just moved here in June and am not used to things
like this; I asked if it might be common for people to run tests on those alarms--and she
said yes. I have never heard of tests made on air raid alarms, but hey--now I know. I canít
remember being so scared since I was a preteen, though; I had to laugh at myself a few
minutes later when I realized I really had to pee, which confirmed that the whole episode
genuinely scared the piss out of me. I had told Mom on the phone how freaked out I was,
and she mentioned how she could hear that clearly in my voice alone.

I never did find out what it was, or even if it was a test of some sort (and I have
since been told by more than one person that they have never heard of an air raid test so
early in the morning), or what. I donít think my conditioned response will be so severe
next time--but I did not go back to bed until after 5:00; I was just too wired by my rush of
adrenaline. I had to write about in in a letter to Barbara and then e-mail Mom to let her
know what I found out--which was, of course, not much; except that clearly there was no
danger anywhere.

The whole thing sure put me into a mode of introspection, though; self
evaluation. What is my problem, anyway? I always tell myself there is a perfectly logical
explanation for everything--but my actions early that morning were clearly not rational. I
sure found it a horrid sound to wake up to in the middle of the night. I was shaking.

In fact, the sounds haunted me for more than a week afterward, and if I woke up
in the middle of the night and heard a passing car making an even remotely similar noise,
my heart would jump. I think itís just because it was the first time in my adult life that
something put me into a genuine panic, and the feeling of panic in itself scared me nearly
half to death. The whole thing was rather bizarre . . . but I moved on, trying to just forget
about it. Barbara suggested I call an emergency preparedness number that must be in the
phone book and see if they know anything about it, but I never got around to it, and now
it seems too late to try that idea. I wonít forget soon what Jennifer said when I told her on
the phone that I had woken up to air raid alarms: ďWhat are you supposed to do?Ē

Thatís a very good question.

It was the first full week after that, though, when I was swamped with so many
things to write and get done, so all of my business at home helped take my mind off of
what I now consider to be one of the most eerie noises ever emanated from anything
whatsoever. (It really gives me the creeps.) While at work, how much my boss
increasingly gets on my nerves helped to distract me during those hours of the day.

My boss actually leaves on business trips, gone for as long as a week at a time,
quite often. I always like those times by far the best, because heís the only person I work
with who I donít quite like. It never matters how phenomenally Iím working, nothing I do
is good enough on the first try (while I occasionally actually surprise other coworkers
with my promptness of getting things done). He also loves to wait until a ton of different
last minutes to tell me he needs something done--such as carrying his suitcases out to his
truck for him--and as a result I end up being forced to scramble as much as he does, I
assume, during every waking moment of his life. He really reminds me of Gabe: he canít
be still, and is always a bit of a basket case. Every time he is supposed to leave, he ends
up going outside and back in, for whatever reason, three, four, five times before finally
leaving for good. I canít stand being around people like that; I prefer to be calm, but this
is like trying to meditate in the middle of a swarm of bees. I remember when I lived with
Gabe, he would deliberately wait to get out of bed until the very last possible minute to
barely give him enough time to get ready for school. As a result heíd be practically
speed-walking from one end of the house to the other, over and over again, as I tried to
peacefully just sit at the table and eat my cereal (I always woke up early enough to get
ready at a comfortably leisurely pace). Being around my current boss is much like that,
and it consistently gets on my last nerve.

I donít think it matters what it is, I get sick of things too quickly. My job doesnít
bother me right now, but Iím sick of it anyway. Today I spent three hours doing nothing
but addressing catalogues--is there anyone who really enjoys doing that? But it was
heaven compared to last week, when my boss was still here (and because of his absent
mindedness, I was forced to come in at 8:30 in the morning instead of the usual 12 p.m.
on Friday, so I could finish constructing books for him that he needed for the trip, for
which he of course waited until literally the last minute to get the covers copied). I donít
know, maybe Iím just a spoiled little brat.

Thatís what Gina told me this last weekend, anyway. I was telling her the latest
thing my writing had done to anger someone, and she told me my last newsletter had
annoyed her. She said I had made some unappreciative remark about the share of stock in
Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing that I got from Dad and Sherri for Christmas; I
could not recall what she was talking about, but assured her that it was never my
intention to sound unappreciative.

Well, I just looked in the disk file of my last newsletter, and I think I found what
she was referring to--that is, when I wrote, ďAs for what I got, I got lots of cool stuff.
From Dad and Sherri I got a share of stock in Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing,
which matched my initials: MMM. I thought it was really cool--and it doesnít matter to
me how many stocks I already have.Ē Gina did mention to me my saying something in
my writing that it didnít matter how many stocks I already have--but she obviously
misinterpreted my message here. It appears as though she thought I was regarding it with
indifference, since I already have more than I need, as far as financial need is concerned,
and so she told me she thought, What a spoiled brat! But my message was actually quite
the opposite: many people in my position would take the expected stance that, since they
already have so many stocks, this one really doesnít matter--what I was trying to say was
that the others donít matter, in relation to this one. I donít think of them as all-inclusive; I
think of my inheritance only in terms of a gift from my grandparents, of the share of
Disney stock only in terms of a gift from my Auntie Rose, and of the share of Minnesota
Mining and Manufacturing only in terms of a gift from my parents. Not one of the three
separate contexts has any more importance to me than any of the others, and they all have
the same level of meaning to me, despite the differences in monetary value--which is
quite irrelevant. On the other hand, the one thing about the share from Dad and Sherri
that I did like more than any of the others was the fact that its call letters match my
initials--which I find very cool and creative.

So anyway . . . are you happy now Gina?

I did have a wonderful time with Gina when she came up to visit me, which was
just this last Sunday. I had long been trying to get her to come up and visit me, and after
literally months of failed attempts, I finally just sent her an e-mail telling her I was fed up
with it, and wanted to know just exactly what I would have to do to bribe her into finally
coming up. So she e-mailed me back and said sheíll come up, and said she had only
Wednesdays and Sundays off of work. Not too many days after receiving that message, I
called her (inadvertently waking her up; I discovered I have an alien for a sister, who
goes to bed by 10 p.m.) and asked if she meant she was to come up the following Sunday.
She said no, thatís not really what she meant--and then rather quickly thought about the
fact of her availability that day and then told me, okay, it would be that day after all.

And so it was, and it turned out to be a beautiful day too, and only for the day of
her visit--days upon days beforehand it was ugly, overcast, gloomy and drizzly, and the
same has been the case in the days following. Itís kind of weird how this happened. The
first time Gina was planning on coming to visit me, when I planned on going to
Enchanted Village with her, I called to confirm her visit only to be told her father had
died; naturally I understood her need to be at home, and in fact it greatly worried me
about the emotional well-being of much of my family. She said that she would still come
up later, though, and we would still go to Enchanted Village at some point.

Then she went with someone else a couple months later, without even telling me
about it, which of course was nice.

But it was not long after that when I finally convinced her to come up again--only
to have her boyfriend lose his job at just about the exact time she was supposed to come
up. This was when I made the completely regrettable comment that bad things seem to
happen every time she wants to come and visit, and she embraced that notion like a child
does a security blanket. A number of times she said she didnít want to come up, because
something bad would happen. Then, this time, I finally got her to come up, and within ten
minutes after her arrival, her boyfriend called, and it freaked her out--she was just
convinced it was some sort of terrible news. (As it turns out, it was just an odd question
he wanted to ask.) Needless to say--but I will of course say it anyway--no terrible news
was to be heard, and we left the apartment for the standard Tour With Matthew around
downtown Seattle.

And that was when it became stunningly clear what a beautiful, sunny day it was,
as if the world itself were making a strong effort to reaffirm that now that sheís finally
here, everything will turn out perfectly fine.

I first took her to the roof of my apartment, which she thought had a nice view.
From there we went down to the street, and walked over to the pseudo-park near the base
of Rainier Tower (the building that curves inward at the bottom--banking on a pedestal
was their slogan), which has my favorite ground-view of downtown; thereís a place
where you can stand and see nothing but the buildings--no streets, none of the mountains,
no water; just buildings. It gives a sense, almost, of being in New York City, and I love
the nearly mystical feel the full-circle scene has to it. Gina looked up at the Rainier
Tower from its base and nearly fell over, because it made her dizzy (she did the same
thing to a number of buildings). It was a kind of strange thing for me to see, because I am
so used to craning my neck to look up at all of the tall downtown structures--such things
donít ever make me dizzy.

I then showed her the tunnel that goes from Rainier Tower over to 2 Union
Square, collectively called Rainier Square. We looked in the Convention Center just
across the cement court area outside 2 Union Square, and we also walked briefly through
Freeway Park, which goes right over the freeway (and was precisely where we were when
Gina told me why she thought I was a spoiled little brat, as a matter of fact--and then I
demonstrated to her all of the downtown buildings I knew the name of). From there we
walked down to the waterfront, via Pike Place Market, to have lunch at Steamerís. That
was when we finally got struck up in truly engaging conversation, which I must admit
was most of the time quite one-sided; I got myself going and then was unable to really
shut up until she left later that evening. We talked about all sorts of things, and ended up
sharing more information with each other about ourselves than we probably collectively
have in all the years we have known each other prior to that day (ďWeíre bonding!Ē Gina
jokingly said, as we talked at Steamerís--but the truth is thatís precisely what we were
doing).

We went from there to the Space Needle, where I took what might very well be
my twelfth trip up to the observation deck (I think I have gotten my moneyís worth out of
that annual pass a full four times over by now). Gina grabbed my coat in a mild panic as
the elevator ascended, which I thought was odd but didnít really mind, so her apology at
the top was unnecessary. We spent a sufficient amount of time looking at the view from
the top, which I could probably now draw a detailed picture of from memory--but it still
wouldnít be the same; I donít ever really get sick of going up there, particularly if I am
taking someone who has either never been or has not gone up in many years.

We had ridden the monorail there, which was my first ride on it since the year
started, because I didnít want to have to pay $2.50 for a round trip, two-mile ride on a
regular basis. However, having a guest makes it okay, and so we went on it. We rode the
monorail back and then looked in some of the stores at Westlake Center. We walked into
a very expensive chocolates store with a name I cannot recall, and I was so appalled by
their prices that Gina insisted on buying one for me. I picked out a rather small morsel of
a chocolate with caramel in it, which cost 95 cents (one of the cheapest chocolates in
there, and by far). I was so amazed that something like that could be so expensive that I
hesitated at the idea of eating it, kind of just staring at the thing in my hand in wonder.
We took the escalator to find a bench to sit on, Gina saying that ďWe have to sit down for
this!Ē So we sat at a table and ate our chocolate, and both ended up saying ďWell, itís
okay.Ē Certainly not worth ninety-five cents, and Iím glad Gina was the one who wasted
the money instead of me. She did tell me of course what many of you are probably
thinking: Come on, whatís ninety five cents? I told her, ďI know itís not that much money,
but itís the principal of the thing!Ē She told me I was being cheap. But then we both
agreed that most people get rich by being cheap--you donít lose your money if you donít
spend it.

We went out to dinner at a restaurant I had never been to, which has been the
most reasonably-priced and at the same time sufficiently nice restaurant I have yet been
to in Seattle: the Old Spaghetti Factory. It had a quite nice atmosphere, and rather
different--the booths are made out of beds, with the table replacing the mattress and the
seats set against headboards and footboards. We didnít get to sit in a booth, but that was
okay after our more than a half-hour wait in the bar. Our engaging conversation truly
accelerated while we were there, and I talked so much that evening that I barely found
time to eat more than even half of my entree (the rest of which I ate for lunch the next
day) and had a bit of a sore throat by the time we were leaving. She dropped me off in
front of my apartment building, and left Seattle on the hour that her ex-husband had been
told she would be there to pick up her son. I just went inside and wrote some e-mail.

So that was Ginaís visit . . . and that just leaves the following week, which is this
one as I write, and last week as you read this. Not much more has happened aside from
the usual: lots of writing, a bit of reading, and working four hours a day. The only
preview I can give you of next month is Valentineís Day weekend, when Christopher and
his family are actually going to pick me up on their way down to Chehalis to visit
Grandma and Grandpa McQuilkin for the weekend.

In March, however, fully half of the month will be spent with those same
grandparents, giving me my college graduation present by taking me on a two-week trip
to San Francisco. I also already know much of what is to happen, at least on a long-
distance social level, in both April and May: I will be in Olympia for Easter, at a friendís
wedding the weekend after that, and possibly at the Tulip Festival near Mt. Vernon the
weekend after that (at this point I donít have a clue what Iíll be doing on the weekend of
my birthday). In May I will probably be going to Gabe and Suzyís graduation ceremony,
if they donít find a miracle to let them both study abroad in New Zealand for a semester
first, and Iíll be visiting Auntie Rose again for the weekend after that (which I found out
in a letter from her this week is apparently also Port Townsendís Rhododendron festival),
and will be taking a trip to Disneyland with Jennifer McQuilkin later in the month.

It looks like January is just turning out to be a sort of ďrestingĒ month, because
packed weekends like what I experienced through the late summer and all of the fall are
quite in store for me yet again. So maybe Iím turning into my grandmother--I donít care!


the writing history

[Your poems were] great stuff! So was ďBonus Mom.Ē

Only one kind of asshole could write a poem like that!

Rigorous honesty!

Matthew, you are very dear to me and Iím so glad youíre my friend.

And I think I know how Sherri feels. And why.


-- Barbara Burnett




Our remote ancestors probably only evolved to stand erect

just to enjoy being able to sit down.


-- Bob Smith


As I have already mentioned at least a couple of times so far in this newsletter, I
did quite a lot of writing this month. I would be tempted to say that it was ďjustĒ letters,
but that wasnít quite the case this time. I had a lot of fun with letters to both Barbara and
to Gabe, in which I wrote sections of fiction, my own tongue-in-cheek visions of the
future, both near and far. I wouldnít say that any of it is necessarily publishable--not
immediately, anyway--but itís still helping me get closer to being on track as far as
writing for publication is concerned. A writer is supposed to do regular writing exercises,
of different sorts than just writing something like a letter to someone. That is basically
what I have been doing (although in recent days I have not, because itís taken a back seat
to my working on this newsletter), and I consider that a rather good sign--especially since
it had been months since I had actually written any prose fiction. In fact, most of my
creative writing of recent months has been poetry.

As far as writing for a living goes, though, I have taken one more step there, as of
the past month: I sent four different resumes to Amazon.com, the online internet book
superstore based here in downtown Seattle. The positions I applied for were for three
administrative support positions and one copyediting position--I donít care if I donít get
to write much when I start; what I want is to have the opportunity for potential advance-
ment into such a type of job, which is completely nonexistent where I work now, despite
the fact that I am getting very good and useful experience at Cleaning Consultants
(otherwise known as Cleaning Business Magazine, a bunch of issues I physically put
together--folding and stapling is about all it involves--yesterday). I have of course not
gotten any calls from them, but Iím not going to completely lose hope for a number of
months, because I now know from experience that such time is often how long people
take.

I have given myself a new deadline, however. If I do not find a better, more
writing-related job--or, at least, a similar job somewhere else where I can advance into a
more writing-related job--by June, then I am going to give up on this form of a search for
it. Since June will be one full year after I moved to Seattle, if I havenít found what I am
now specifically working for, then I will quit at Cleaning Consultants and go back to
Business Careers to have them find me a full-time, permanent clerical position that
actually gives me decent pay--and find some way to pursue actual publication on my own
time. Iím not concerned about the amount of money I might spend in the meantime; even
though itís only part time, now that I have an actual job, my life is far more structured
and I spend far less. Besides, my job allows me to spend my inheritance on only rent and
school loans, leaving pretty much the rest paid for by my job, and with that kind of
spending, I will not lose but 7% or so of the inheritance money I still have left (and I still
have more than 70% of my original amount left--so I really have nothing to worry about
here). And if by some miracle I find a full-time job before June, then that 7% will turn
into an even smaller number.

Anyway, with my current plan (and back-up plans), I donít seem to have much at
all to really stress over. Still, I really do hope I can at least get an interview at Amazon.

Now, when it comes back to my own writing done on my own time, as I said, Iíve
done a number of things. There is a particular poem I wrote about a week ago that I
would love to print in here, but I will not because it contains too much profanity (it can,
however, be read at my web site). I will still include a poem in this issue, one I wrote at
the end of last month, inspired by the film Stepmom as well as what Sherri told me one of
the filmís stars said she likes to consider her stepson--a ďbonus son.Ē I agreed that it was
a pretty cool concept, and it ended up spawning the poem you will be reading
momentarily.

I e-mailed it to Sherri, and she liked it even more than I expected (and trust me, I
expected her to love it). She had to call me instead of chat online, because, as she said,
she was ďcrying and shaking.Ē She said a number of times that it was perhaps the nicest,
most meaningful thing anyone had ever done for her. Regardless of its obvious and
overtly significant meaning, I was still quick to dismiss that specific remark--until
Barbara wrote to me and seemed to be almost as affected by it as Sherri herself was,
which indicated to me that perhaps the poem has more power than I expected. In any
case, now, here it is:


Bonus Mom

I won a prize so many years ago
For something I didn't even do
The roots were pulled and replanted elsewhere
We didn't even know how we felt there
But time is a friend when goodness comes to stay
And I wouldn't have it any other way
Finding a niche in a web of relation
Is so beautiful as all of creation
You are a permanent part of my mind
You are a permanent part of my life

I won a prize so long in the past
'Cause I ignored all who said it wouldn't last
All the visitations were dated for
Every second Tuesday I waited for
I remember puzzles set on the rug
I remember feeling a sincere hug
All the visitations were slated for
Every single summer I waited for
I gained a bonus mom so far back when
Who compliments the family now as then

I have a prize so clear in the now
I never played the game of wonder how
'Cause I just like to take it for granted
That you are so simply always wanted
You deserve more than abbreviation
You deserve more than appreciation
You are as solid as an ancient pearl
You are a fixture in my world
You are a permanent part of my life
You are a permanent part of my mind.

("copywrite" 7:46 pm wednesday december 30 1998)


. . . Itís too bad I donít get paid for every time I truly touch someone with my
kindness--Iíd be so rich Iíd be even more of a greedy bastard than I already am! On the
other hand, some obviously misguided people seem to think that I could stand a little
work on the mere idea of embracing a little humility . . .

All joking aside, I have to stress that a poem like this is always genuine when I
write it; I never exaggerate or understate what my feelings really are. What you see is
what you get. I actually just felt a little weird when the above poem caused such an
unprecedented reaction--I wasnít really expecting it. But, now that Iím used to it, such
appreciation of it across the board of readers (my mom and my brother also com-
plimented it) has made it become one of the most significant poems I have ever written,
ranking right up there with Sky, the poem I wrote for my maternal grandfather and was
read aloud at his memorial service. But, of course, this time the poem is available to be
read by its recipient long before the subject passes away--and that sure does make me
feel good.

this has been presented 2 u by matthew mcquilkin
on behalf of fruitcake enterprises
(1/27/1999)


P.S. Donations accepted.