A mile away from where I lived in Tucson was a stubby building with a sign in front that said it was a bakery. I noticed it many times while riding buses to Latino supermarkets, places where the pastries were so sweet I ended up throwing them away. 

“You need to find a good panaderia,” an L.A. friend told me, reminding me of the one she had taken me to in Long Beach where the pastry made me want go back for more the second I’d polished off the one I’d chosen. That memory sent me to the bakery I’d passed by, although I wasn’t sure if it was even in business. The windows were dark and the glimpses that I’d caught of the interior looked empty. I never saw anyone going through its doors, but the sidewalk sign said it was open. When I pushed at the door, it was unlocked.

The room was large with a couple of dusty-looking cafe tables and a sprinkling of chairs. A shelf ran along the wall near the door, filled with plastic bags of bread, and a long glass case led to the counter that held an untended cash register. As I stood and stared, a man entered and another emerged from the back, carrying a Three Kings cake, which he boxed with great care. The two of them carried on a quick conversation in Spanish and when the other customer left, the baker turned to me. 

“I don’t know what I want,” I told him and he laughed. “Maybe a Three  Kings cake?” “Not this year,” I said, “Something smaller than that.” 

I looked at the pastries filled with fruit, the ones that resembled Hong Kong’s pineapple buns, a row of croissants, and noticed a tray of puffy little pigs that looked as though they were made of gingerbread. 

“Two of those, please.” “One minute,” he said, “We have some that just came out of the oven.”

The next day I came back for more. The pigs were flavorful with spices and held just the right amount of sweetness. “Cochitos,” I was told when I asked.

A friend brought some home from another bakery but they were much sweeter so I saw no reason to deviate from Mendes Bakery. I called it Fernando’s because it was his presence that made this unassuming space irresistible–at least for me. Our conversations were brief but warm and I always left with the happiness that comes from being in a place where I’ve been welcomed.

Fernando’s is on the edge of South Tucson, a tiny municipality with its own City Hall that’s encircled by Tucson’s sprawl. His bakery is across from one of the area’s oldest churches, opposite a small covered space that sold tortas, sopa de birria, and its own fabulous version of hotdogs–Sonora dogs without the bacon. Car washes and auto repair shops were prevalent and a food truck that said they sold seafood dishes set up canopies and chairs every day on the corner. 

This is a neighborhood that doesn’t give a damn about how it looks. It exists to fill needs, satisfy hungers, and nourish spirits–and somehow Fernando’s does all three.

This is my gateway to South Tucson which I began to slowly explore on foot. It’s a place where pocket-sized trailer parks coexist with walls of brightly colored tiled artwork, where hole-in-the wall butcher shops grill purchases for their customers to take home. When I walked through it, people often greeted me as though we were in a small town and I began to wonder how it would be to live there.

When covid made me understand that my long-denied roots in Seattle were very real, I returned to my family and friends. Occasionally I found a place that sold cochitos, but they were a pale memory of what I bought from Fernando. A year later when I was able to come back to Tucson for a quick visit, on my first morning I walked down to buy what I longed for, hoping they were still waiting for me.

They were. I bought a dozen to share with the house I was staying in and ate one on the way home. Fernando was still there. He’d had a new sign painted on his window, an image of a flaming heart flanked by roses, against a background of the brilliant shade of blue that belongs to Tucson. In its center was the name Mendes and beneath it was a painted scroll saying I Love Donuts.

Me? I love cochitos and I love Fernando’s unflagging spirit and I love the intangible things that I always find in his bakery–friendliness, community, hospitality. Because of these and because of him, I believe a small portion of South Tucson is mine, and, every chance I get, I return there to feed that belief with cochitos.

Although a plane ticket makes me happy, border crossings are my real true love. Knowing that walking through a man-made barrier will put me in the middle of a different way of living makes me higher than any drug I’ve ever used. That’s why it’s strange that it’s taken me so many years to walk into Mexico but in my defense I’ve been busy, spending a lot of that time crossing borders in Asia.

You’ll never hear me say, “Oh it’s just a border town.” I love them and spend as much time in them as I can whenever I have the chance. Every last one of them that I’ve explored has been a magical blend of unpretentiousness and acceptance, strangely cosmopolitan no matter what their size might be. They’re usually places that attract people from all over their native country, as well as foreign business interests and travelers in motion brandishing a rainbow of passports. They’re havens for scam artists, cheap hotels, and flimsy souvenirs. They’re the 21st Century version of old seaports, filled with wild variety, and when I’m in one, every sense I have is wide awake. 

During my brief Tucson incarnation, at about the time I was ready to explore Nogales, covid got in the way. It wasn’t until this year at he end of July that I returned to Arizona with enough time on my hands to consider a side jaunt to Mexico. Almost as soon as I got off the plane from Seattle, I was thrilled when a friend offered to drive me to Ambo Nogales, those twin cities sharing a name and divided by an international border.

The closer we got, the more foreign the landscape became, changing from wind-scoured desert to hillsides that were softened with green. “Yes. They get more rain here,” my friend told me. We pulled into a Burger King parking lot in the U.S. side of Nogales and when we went inside to pay the fee, everyone in the fast food joint was speaking Spanish. 

A quick walk toward the wall took us past duty-free shops and into a spot where bags and purses went through an x-ray tunnel. We pushed our way through a subway turnstile and there we were, in Heroica Nogales without a visa stamp. 

And in a millisecond I was surrounded by more life than I’d seen in the past three years, in a center of gleeful attention. The street we stood on was a solid mass of pharmacies, dental offices, and touts, a jolly little gauntlet that stretched for at least two blocks. The efficiency of this delighted me. Medical tourists from the U.S. could immediately get what they came for without the stress of encountering another culture. If they walked a little farther, they would enter a barrage of kitsch stalls that offered souvenirs, brightly colored and reeking with optimism. Above it all rose hillsides covered with houses, forming a horseshoe shape that wrapped around the Nogales that sat on the other side of the wall. 

I’m not a sightseer. I look for signs of how a different place functions and even in this very brief stay, Heroica Nogales showed me glimpses of a life I wanted to explore. As my friend wrestled with the inscrutable nature of Google Maps in his search for the legendary restaurant La Roca, I walked and stared–at the many tiny buses that carried people away from this portion of the city, at the supermarket that was only blocks away from the Art Museum, at the sign that proclaimed Sex-Shop resting companionably near a nail salon, at the street stalls selling food–fresh fruit, juices, tacos–and the parks and plazas that were perfect spots for an instant picnic. A freight train moved slowly across the border, heavily embellished with intricate graffiti, and a restaurant offering comida china had a small line waiting to get inside. Two men played chess at a shaded table in a park while pedestrians sauntered along a skybridge above them.

Looking ahead, I saw streets that were removed from the carnival that we were walking through, quiet and enticing with small restaurants and signs for hotels. In spite of the smell that hung in the heated air, reminiscent of sewage and durian, and the cages of puppies and rabbits placed under the sweltering sun with no water bowls, I fell completely in love with everything that waited to be explored.

I always knew Tucson was my gateway to Mexico. What I didn’t know was how I’d respond to that country. Now I know and I can’t wait to go back. Although my cat Mulrooney assures me that no we aren’t going to live there, I’m not quite so sure.

I was at Elliott Bay the night that Sherman Alexie was scheduled to appear in his first reading. The room was full and expectant when an apparently inebriated and indigenous man staggered in, yelling “Where’s that Indian poet? I heard he’s going to be here tonight. Where is he? I want to hear that Indian poet?” He made it all the way up to the podium, stood in front of the microphone, and quite soberly asked the audience “How many Indian poets do you pass by on the street every day?” The exhalations of relief were palpable but I don’t think anybody applauded. 

That was the first time Sherman Alexie surprised Seattle but he continued to do it again and again, He became nationally famous, made two acclaimed movies about reservation life, wrote with a speed that guaranteed someone in Seattle was reading him almost every day, whether it was one of his books or a column in the free weekly newspaper, The Stranger. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written for teenage readers, was on its way to becoming a classic. Then suddenly young women began to speak up and he vanished.

I know someone who was approached by Sherman Alexie. He propositioned her and then he threatened her with his fame and his literary power if she didn’t succumb. With her this didn’t work but it had been a successful technique in the past. He had betrayed and hurt women. When one of them spoke up, others had the courage to tell what had happened to them. 

It’s a story as old as Zeus and the Greeks had a word for it–hubris. However the punishment meted out to Sherman Alexie was up to that time unheard of. Many bookstores that had enshrined him stopped carrying his work. There were libraries that removed his books from their shelves. The Absolutely True Diary was no longer recommended reading in schools. In the parlance of our time, he had become “toxic.” He may have been the first person who was ever “canceled.”

The waters closed over his head and it’s as if he never existed.

He wasn’t the first acclaimed writer to have abused his fame. He might have been the first “Indian” writer to have done this and he was the first to be nullified through his books. There’s the tragedy. His future work–if not the past–was erased and I think that’s criminal.

“When we speak of diversity, we speak blurrily about race. But we rarely speak of class, education, and politics.” In one of his columns in the throw-away paper, I found this and kept it because Sherman had said something that struck me as true, something nobody else was saying. He had just recently hit middle age when he sank and he had so much more writing to do. Although he’s still alive, I think of James Baldwin’s sentence in Another Country, “He was a beautiful cat and we killed him, that’s all. That’s all.”

If we spoke about race in a way that wasn’t “blurry” and if we also took a hard look at “class, education, and politics,” perhaps we’d wonder why the two writers of our time who have disappeared in the wake of sexual accusations have been Brown men. When was the last time we read anything new from Junot Diaz? There’s more than one way to accomplish a lynching. Maybe the most effective technique is an enforced and sanctioned silencing. Kill the art, not the artist.

When James Caan died several days ago, social media memorialized him as Sonny in The Godfather. The NYT reminded us that he had first shown up in the TV tearjerker, Brian’s Song, long before Sonny beat the crap out of his sister’s faithless husband in a scene of righteous violence. Other movies followed but I can’t remember seeing any of them, except for the one that made him unforgettable, the one that nobody mentioned, not even the Times. For me James Caan will forever be Marvin, the aging grifter in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

I was living in Bangkok when a local magazine did a feature on Matt Dillon arriving in Phnom Penh with a film crew and a small budget. There were a few photos of him juxtaposed against that city’s dilapidated but still graceful colonial buildings, riding in a cyclo, and standing behind a camera. Unimpressed, I hoped the film had a budget large enough to make an impact on Phnom Penh’s struggling economy and that the movie didn’t insult Cambodia. I didn’t think about it again until several years later when I was living in Seattle, desperately homesick for SE Asia. When I saw it in a video rental shop, I grabbed it, as I had Brokedown Palace, Two Brothers, Indochine, The Lover–any movie that would give me the feeling of a languid tropical afternoon with its fierce unending sunlight.

City of Ghosts did much better than that. Beginning with jangled moments in Bangkok, it caught the blurred first impressions of that place bred by the city’s kinetic speed. It captured what could well be the mantra of the region’s Western expat men, drawled with enough irony to keep its truth from being absurd, “I am not what I was, nor shall I ever be again.” In Phnom Penh it found the undercurrent of menace that lay beneath the irresistible charm of this place at the turn of the last century. It took a cyclo driver out of the realm of stereotype and made him the movie’s hero. It showed the US-bestowed killing fields that continue to maim and murder with buried war souvenirs–unexploded ordnance and land mines. 

And it gave James Caan a role that he seemed born to play–Marvin the con artist who found a new frontier of opportunity in Cambodia. He’s a guy who’s eager to impose garish vulgarity on crumbling colonial splendor just so long as he comes out with suitcases of cash, a man without a conscience but with a love of life that’s positively incandescent. Whether he’s trying to master the grace of Cambodia’s traditional dance steps while dressed in a sarong or singing karaoke in what has to be lip-synched flawless Khmer, Marvin exudes careless, infectious joy and inexhaustible optimism. He’s the embodiment of capitalism, at its worst and at its tawdry best.

There’s an unexpected wealth of good acting in City of Ghosts. The cyclo driver isn’t the only character who goes beyond stereotype into a marvelous surprise. Even the founder of the Phnom Penh Post shows up in Gerard Depardieu’s sleazy bar, looking elegant, imperturbable, and amused. 

Like the time-worn expat in Bangkok, Phnom Penh now is “not what it was, nor shall it ever be again.” But enough truth from its recent past is preserved in a low-budget movie made by a B-list pretty boy–with much of its charm coming from James Caan. I watched him a few nights after he died, as he once again rollicked his way through his portrayal of a gleeful buccaneer, fearless, predatory, and somehow lovable. Rest well, Marvin.

It’s not going to surprise anyone who knows me that my typical household purchase is one that’s going to eventually rest on a bookshelf. But every five years or so, my thoughts become more utilitarian  and I veer off into the arena of cleaning supplies, grabbing whatever’s cheapest. 

Unfortunately “cheapest” is seldom the most aesthetically pleasing option. For years I’ve hated the plastic-bristled brooms that have come home with me, not because they don’t get the job done, but because they’re so irredeemably ugly. Occasionally I’d look for the brooms of my childhood, the kind that witches ride upon, made of wood and straw, but without a lot of perseverance. Why waste time in the household sections when there were bookstores waiting for me?

The other day I found a broom in the classical mode and decided now was the time. While I was at it, a mop would be a fine idea too–but every mop I saw was made of microfiber or a sponge of dubious origins. Every last one of them came with operating instructions and a couple of moving parts–not my idea of a good time.  

I came home with my new broom, rather surprised that it cost me over twenty dollars, with tax. Next time, I decided, I’d go to a hardware store. Certainly that would be the sort of place that understood the need for a simple cotton mop with no weird mechanisms attached and with a reasonable price tag.

The people at Ace Hardware who asked if they could help me were close to my age bracket.  That’s why I was surprised when they looked a bit alarmed at my announcement, “I’m looking for a mop that’s just cotton attached to a wooden stick.” Sensing a case of looming madness, they turned me over to a strapping lad in his twenties. “If you want a cotton mop, you’re going to have to buy the head and the handle separately,” he told me, backing away as he spoke.

The mop handles all had forbidding bits of metal attached, things I wasn’t ready to tackle on my own. I made my selection and before the cashier took my money, I said, “I’ll buy this only if you put it together for me.” 

The younger man was doubtless cowering in a distant corner after his close encounter with a lunatic so it was the older gentleman who was stuck with this fresh outbreak of insanity. It took him more than a few minutes and I clutched my receipt menacingly in case he failed at the task. Finally he heaved an audible sigh of relief and muttered, “There. I wanted to be sure it was perfect for you.”

I may be the only person who’s ever carried a mop through downtown Seattle, judging by the stares that came my way. I was too busy trying  to avoid taking out a car window with the very long, very substantial wooden handle to pay much attention to the other pedestrians. It wasn’t until I got home that the cold hard truth hit me. My quest for the cleaning tools of my childhood had cost me almost fifty dollars. I could have bought a cheap vacuum cleaner for that amount of money.. But what the hell, what price do we put on past memories brought to life? 

I try not to think of the books I could have bought instead.

We’re all sick to death of covid. As the fatality rate goes down, so does our attention span–and who can blame us? It’s been around for over two years. We’ve worn our masks, made friends with people while having no idea of what the bottom half of their faces look like, foregone air travel,and discovered a whole new dimension to “eating out.” (The day a friend and I sipped wine on a terrace with a seaside view and were suddenly plunged into hypothermia when a squall blew in from the sound is my most cherished memory of this era. What’s yours?)

The worst part of all this, for me at least, has been the lack of information. “Maybe” this, “possibly” that–the data has been squishy. Scarred by the past president, we’ve disdained anecdotal evidence–we want the science. Unfortunately we’re all the subjects in a global petri dish. The plain truth is nobody knows where this is going.

Yes, I understand. This coronavirus is novel, in every sense of the word. But as we wait for hard facts from the scientific community, we’re overlooking information garnered from past experience. I don’t know about you but I could have used some of that in the past three weeks.

I won’t say I sailed through covid–there were more days than I care to remember when it took sheer grit and determination to make coffee in the morning. My symptoms were ones I’d had many times before in my seventy-plus years, a runny nose, a mean little cough, a slight elevation in temperature that made me feel as though I was underwater. They were easy to live with. What was tough was the physical exhaustion and the prevailing sense of malaise. I spent thirteen days sitting in an armchair, feet up, with no enthusiasm for anything at all. 

On the morning that I tested negative, I was thrilled. Time to get moving, I thought with a sense of honest-to-god glee. As a carrot to lure me out of the covid wasteland, I’d bought a plane ticket and I began thinking of what I had to do in the next ten days before getting the hell out of town. Then I discovered that although the virus was gone, the exhaustion wasn’t. Doing laundry had me taking to my bed as soon as I’d put it away. A walk of a few blocks made me so tired I was in bed before sundown. It’s been ten days since I was covid-free and my energy is still missing in action. Yesterday I postponed my trip. 

Friends twenty and thirty years younger than I who had covid before I got it told me recently that they were uncharacteristically tired for weeks after their tests were negative. One of them felt this way even though she had taken antivirals while she was sick. She eventually regained her energy as have other people whom I know but it wasn’t an instant process.

Here’s where covid stops being nothing more than a bad cold. It attacks the core, the part of us that makes us feel happy to be alive, and the recuperation process can be lengthy. I wish I’d known that before I bought a ticket and made plans to see distant friends. If nothing else, it would have saved me a lot of disappointment. 

So if you get this, be kind to yourself. Don’t try to gallop back into life as you know it because that’s probably not going to happen. Ease into it, one block, one mile, one lunch date at a time, and feel appreciative of each baby step you take. There’s no choice involved. For the time being and for god knows how long, covid’s still the boss.

A recent NYT article reported findings that, even when a DIY test comes up negative while the tester has symptoms, this may simply mean the virus hasn’t enough strength to make a T line. Although the article referred to people who had recently begun to feel unwell, it seems logical that the same might apply to those who are just beginning to feel better. It would certainly explain why twelve days after I am purportedly “over” this damned thing, I still cough and feel tired. What the article didn’t point out, and what I wish I knew, is whether or not we’re still contagious with these covid traces lingering on. Even more unsettling is the possibility that “long covid” might mean that some of us have become not only permanently infected but permanent carriers.

This is all so dystopian that I feel as though I should be wearing a fetching little chapeau made of tin foil. But I just discovered yesterday that Alaska Airlines’ legendary customer service has been downgraded to a robotic voice over the phone with no option to speak to a human. Unbelievable, but true. Now I’ll believe anything.

I feel like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “wan and palely loitering.” Oh–that was the knight in thrall to La Belle Dame Sans Merci, not the poetess reclining day in, day out on a sofa with her little dog lying by her side. But to hell with accuracy. I feel like both of them rolled into one covid-wracked body and I hate it. 

If I’m going to feel this lackluster, I should at least be able to write poetry–or be the subject of a poem. However there’s nothing poetic about having to force myself to take a shower and brush my teeth every damned morning. Why bother when the high point of my day happens when I take a nap? 

Yesterday I took a nap at 4, woke up well after five, and still logged in a full night’s sleep. In the past eleven days, I’ve taken more naps than I have in my entire 70+-years. I feel as though I’m in training to become a coma patient. This is not my life.

Things were going well yesterday before I took to my bed. I grew restless. I wanted to go out. I took a walk that had me thinking of going home after the first four blocks. Instead I made it as far as the downtown library, came home, and felt drained. 

The last time I felt like this was when I had a kidney infection in Bangkok. “Why,” I asked my doctor over the phone,”don’t I have any energy?” “Give yourself time,” she told me, “You’re almost fifty.” Now I’m almost seventy-four so convalescence may take a while.

I’m usually a creature of appetites that verge on the voracious. I wake up eager for small adventures in the outside world, looking for something new to read, planning to meet a friend for a drink, making friends with other people’s dogs, buying new colors at the art supply store. Now it feels as though my world has shrunk to a do-it-yourself testing kit and its inexorable T line.

My ambitions have become humble affairs. I want to do my laundry, take a walk without wearing an N95 shield and feel the wind on my face, eat a meal without feeling as though it’s a chore. I want to go thorough an entire day without once going back to bed. I want to want again.

I know I’m lucky. I have all five of my senses, while covid has deprived others of the ability to smell or taste. I’m not kept awake by a racking cough or a sore throat. I’m not in a hospital room. And each time I take that test, the T line grows less emphatic. 

One of these days I’ll wake up with energy that will last all day. In the meantime this impatience that’s gnawing at me is a reassurance that I’m not cut out to be a languid, lethargic poetess, sipping a little port for medicinal purposes. There’s a glass of Pinot Noir and a plate of pommes frites waiting for me somewhere, along with a conversation with a good friend and I’ll be there soon. 

In 2022, here’s the thing about covid–it strips away all of your inner resources. Nothing is fun–not reading, not watching movies, not listening to music. Painting? Ha! Writing? Forget it. It even takes away your appetite, which is probably a good thing because you can’t go out into the world and buy something delicious to eat anyway. And even if you could, the Mucinex you take every four hours makes everything taste rather vile. Since you don’t have any booze in the house, there’s only one thing to do that’s remotely satisfying–kvetching.

Covid is such a sneaky little devil. One night you go to bed feeling as though a cold is coming on. The next day you go out to pick up a few things to tide you over until the sneezing stops and on the following day an at-home test immediately sports a hefty T-line. Within the next 24 hours you completely decimate the box of Kleenex that you bought the day before, which is impressive because for most of those hours you were asleep. 

Once your narcolepsy wears off, you begin to wish you were the sort of person who stockpiled dark chocolate, ice cream, and Mama noodles–or even better, had a liquor cabinet. Suddenly the aisles of Target seem like the gates of heaven and are equally impossible for you to enter. Welcome to confinement.

Grouchy isn’t the word for what you’re feeling right now. You retroactively hate everyone you saw on your light-rail trips who went unmasked–and there were a lot of them. Odd how bus passengers almost all covered their faces while riding conveyances with windows that opened–just another one of life’s little mysteries. You try to replace these ugly thoughts with Pollyanna truths–vaccinated people rarely are hospitalized with covid anymore and at least you still have the ability to taste and smell. But your grouchy side asserts itself immediately. The odor that predominates in your household comes from a miasma of Tiger Balm and your taste buds are bludgeoned every four hours by Mucinex. Yippee.

You know you’re getting better because you’re such a complete bitch. Today’s the first time you have enough energy to go beyond feeling miserable. Your cough has stopped being a dry and constant hacking and is actually beginning to clear your chest. Suddenly you want to order a pizza and get a manicure, two things you never long for in real life. 

Best of all, you’re typing again and you’re trying desperately to be funny in your own inept fashion. Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel well enough to maintain a coherent thought or two. Perhaps you’ll even rediscover your powers of concentration. Meanwhile you grumble and gretz and grouch and grump and gripe because feeling gloomy reassures you that you’re still alive.

The thing about getting older is everybody’s nice to me. Women who are much younger come up and say “I like your style,” or “Great outfit.” Young men smile when passing and tell me I have beautiful hair. Even in the building I live in, where most of us hover around the same age, we’re all relentlessly nice to each other.

After a while it becomes obvious that nice is just another form of invisibility. Compliment paid, courtesies exchanged, move on. I’d almost rather have a street person rail at me–at least that makes a good story. But when a mere slip of a girl remarks upon my “outfit,” she strolls off while I realize she has no conception of what an outfit really is–and that’s the end of it. I’ve been the beneficiary of “Pay it forward,” and I do. That’s what passes for social interaction when a woman gets older. 

My mother once told me she wanted to get old so she could be like Mrs. Hollister, an aristocratic old lady who lived on her block. Mrs. Hollister carried a cane and when cars stopped too close to her when she was crossing the street, she used it to strike their hoods with authority. Now there was a woman who still caused a public sensation by refusing to dabble in being nice. 

Sometimes I think of becoming Mrs. Hollister but unlike her, I live in the era of drive-by shootings. Instead I dabble with the idea of finding someone who would make me a lovely sword-cane, but I’m not quite the right age to carry that off properly. Instead I buy clothes.

We all greet each other in the building where I live, probably because meeting someone in the hallway is almost an event in this place that often feels like a ghost town hotel. Once in a while there’s even a spot of conversation involved, the oatmeal variety, bland and pallid. 

One day I walked through the door to the street and passed a man with whom I’d exchanged taciturn hellos. This time he was pushing something that resembled an infant’s stroller and without breaking stride I said “Nice baby you’ve got there.” 

Obviously he was another person drowning in nice because we’ve been talking in brief bursts of companionability ever since. His face lights up when he sees me and I’ve begun looking for him when I’m out in the world. It’s come to the point where I’m ready to ask him to have coffee.

It’s not easy breaking through niceness to find friends when you’re getting older. The people who nourish my life are ones I met in a past decade or three and few of them are men. I don’t want romance in my life but I long for the excitement and discovery that a new friendship brings. I want to move past platitudes into exchanges of sarcasm. I don’t know about you but I’m effing tired of being nice.

My apartment is finally doing what it was always intended to do–welcoming company. As it opens, so does my heart, inches at a time. Eager isn’t the right word for how I feel; this is like quenching a thirst.

It must be the Alaskan in me that hungers for other bodies to visit the spots where I live. The other night I watched Robin Penn in Land and understood why she began to accept another human within the isolation where she had locked herself. Company is a word that’s like a campfire in cold and lonely country and the need for it becomes more permanent than a tattoo.

It’s the one Alaskan trait that I acknowledge and foster. It isn’t part of New York or Seattle. Cafe society and street life have become art forms in New York, a city so studded with interactions between strangers that home is where you go to make sense of them all, alone. Seattle? I still don’t have a grip on its protectiveness of personal dwelling places. “Neighbor” is a word that’s tossed around a lot by residents who barely learn the names of the people who live next door. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived where I’ve been greeted with a hearty “Hello, Neighbor,” a salutation so unsettling to me that I start looking nervously over my shoulder for Mr. Rogers.

In my forty-plus years of coming and going in Seattle, I can count perhaps eight people who have invited me over for a visit. Three of those became my friends because we all lived on the same block and my cat was a feline Welcome Wagon in reverse who moved in and took over, refusing to recognize any sort of boundary. But now I can foster my own porous borders again and I feel a core of chill inside me begin to warm and melt. For me, meeting in cafes simply isn’t a substitute for being able to have people sit at my own table–and that’s Alaskan.

Or maybe that’s Tucsonian, where I was so welcomed that over two years after I moved away it still feels like home. Maybe it’s a frontier survival tactic, a matter of pure necessity that was bred by harsh circumstances and became innate. 

“Come in. Sit down. Have a cup of coffee,” were words I learned to parrot soon after I learned to talk. They still make me happy, although now I’m much more likely to say, “Have a glass of wine.”