Archive for July, 2011


Caitlin on American Education

27 July, 2011

3:00 am
Alexandria, Virginia

Let’s examine teaching for a moment. When I was a young man in college, still nauseatingly optimistic about my ability to change the world and not yet beat into a cynical middle-aged woman by the life lessons that begin when we turn nineteen and never stop, I told my advisor that I was not going to go into the ministry. My reasoning, there was too much politicizing and back biting among the congregation toward each other and the pastor, between the pastor toward the congregation, other pastors, and the synod, and between the denomination toward itself, other denominations, and the world in general (and when I say world I am not using that term with its colloquial understanding of humankind, I mean the whole bleeding world). I also thought the average pastor was bug-shit nuts and spent more time preaching against Christ than for him. I told my advisor as much and he agreed. Then he asked me a single question that haunts me in the three am hour, and every other hour also: If you leave who is left to teach my children? Bloody hell. Such a manipulative question. But also a legitimate one. The answer, of course, is the numb nuts I was trying to escape. (This is why the few good pastors I know, such as Mr. Hunter, are a God-send. Literally.)

I’ll come back to that question in a bit.

As I examine the last three years of my career, I find myself at a crossroads. (Hopefully not the kind Robert Johnson sings of where you bury you a hodo, deal-makin’-demon summonin’ box in the dirt.) Do I continue to teach or do I start looking for another career and, if so, what?

Teaching is boring me. Granted, with any career path there will be boredom. That’s why it’s called work and not Caitlin Song’s Funtime Hour and Polka Revue. I think, if it were just the boredom, I could handle the longterm career aspects of teaching, but it’s so much more than that.

It starts with the opposing dichotomy that is the American attitude toward education that consists of a snooty devaluing of education in general and the classroom instructor in particular as effective and socially relevant components in a utilitarian society, which leads to cutbacks, over crowding, shell game transfers of reduced but un-fireable staff, outdated and inadequate resources, and furlough days. This then leads into the other completely accepted and just as inaccurate belief about educators that they are solely responsible for the mass of illiterate, undereducated morons that our children have become. After all, if that lazy, incompetent, no-good, very bad, horrible teacher had just tried to do their job the children would have magically advanced from know-nothing puddinheads to brilliant scholars curing AIDS, cancer, and crows feet and inventing a truly viable alternative to the facebook. Am I the only one who sees the complete irrationality it takes to cling firmly to both of these exaggerated beliefs as social gospel.

The pressure on teachers to create the perfect American Scholar through sheer tenacity and sixty to eighty hour work weeks, without expecting help from outside sources like parents, administrators, local, state, and federal programs and government structures, or even the know-nothing know-it-all American Christian (we are working our way back to that manipulative question), has mounted to ridiculous proportions. For example, the FIRST program that offers a monetary incentive to teachers to perform better in the classroom and raise test scores, but actually punishes good teachers by requiring them to be a failing teacher who turns things around and becomes brilliant in order to get the money. If you are already succeeding there is no money for you. Like society, the programs designed to enhance education are all founded on the misconception that all teachers suck the sweat off a donkey’s balls when it comes to commitment and qualifications. I cry bullshit. Pick the cards up and try again.

(To be fair, some parents, administrators, politicians, and, yes, even Christians are intelligent human doings capable of original, sane, and by current standards, radical thought. These human doings are rare in a country full of human demandings who expect the silver platter package without even a thought to putting in the work that we, as entitled and sodded-up as our generation was, recognized had to be put in before that tray would be handed over.)

It’s time to get out of education because we are about one step from mutiny. And to be perfectly honest I’m not sure which side will be the ones with the blindfolds and which with the rifles. Though it isn’t looking promising for the educated human. (Hell, if we could all just become human learnings we would find ourselves in a position to succeed and maybe even grow as a culture.)

Which brings us back to that manipulative question. If I and others like me abandon the field as an unwinnable war, who does that leave to do the job of educating? I shudder even as I purchase my one-way ticket to Australia—an American-like country that will surpass America because they value education and support their teachers.

How do you spell screwed? T-E-A-C-H-E-R.


The Bar That Wasn’t

23 July, 2011

[A note on the language mechanics of this piece. Given how the evening felt like ill luck was happening to us, I chose to write this primarily using passive voice to convey that feeling of having events occur outside our control.]

3:00 pm
Alexandria, Virginia

Thursday night was to be a simple evening at home chatting on the phone with my parents followed by a night out with Sarah at a little bar called Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern. Things didn’t quite work out like that.

To begin with, I was extraordinarily ADHD. I couldn’t have focused on any one task even if an adorable puppy’s life depended on it. Lucky for the puppies it did not. I bounced from activity to activity, only half completing one before moving on to the next and then coming back to the previous. At one point I was running two laptops, carrying on a text message conversation, and updating the facebook from my iPod all while rubbing the cat’s tummy. Spooky, for his part was just as ADHD, as he kept dashing about the efficiency apartment, leaping on the furniture, and swatting at invisible lint specs.

As the hour for my departure crept closer, I began my finishing touches. You can picture me in front of the vanity, speaker phone on my left, make up spread in logical sequence on my right, a razor in my right hand, and a styptic pencil in my left. I am simultaneously freshening my face, carrying on the most natural conversation I’ve had with my Dad in months, and gesticulating to emphasize my thoughts (though this last was to no ones benefit as my father couldn’t see it and I was holding a straight edge). And I would have left on time if I hadn’t had to go back to take my pills, then go back a second time because I had set my purse down while taking my medication and forgot it, then go back a third time because my car keys were in my other purse. After all that, I was running half an hour late.

But that was all right. Sarah was later with her students than she planned. (Why is it students are always the most engaged and focused when you actually have the rare social engagement?) Because of her scholarly students she saddled up to Oliver’s five minutes ahead of me. Or rather she arrived where Oliver’s should have been, but wasn’t. For inexplicable reasons, Oliver’s had a website, a ranking in Google’s Places app, and data in Sarah’s and my GPS units but lacked physicality. Imagine my surprise when I received this text:

I’m where Oliver’s is supposed to be, and it’s not.

Silly me, I had been so worried about getting lost that concern the building might get lost never crossed my synaptic gap.

In spite of The Bar That Wasn’t our determination to have a drink and catch up was undaunted. But our challenges weren’t over yet. The next place we decided on was a restaurant/bar, Bennigans‘. We took one car to this new destination, ensuring one of us (me) wouldn’t get lost. Again, we should have been more concerned about the building. We circled the area three times and saw not a trace of the restaurant, not even a derelict building to suggest there may, at one point, have been a restaurant. Two for two. Our next choice took a more direct approach: we would only chose from among those restaurants we could see, which is how we ended up at Famous Dave’s twenty minutes before they closed. We were jerks and went in any way. (Actually, when I was waitressing, I liked the just before closing customers. Guilt made them better tippers.) Our late arrival guaranteed two things: a) Our Blue Moons came without orange slices and 2) our meals came without Johnny Cake (that’s cornbread for those of you not up on your Civil War jargon). While we waited for our not quite complete meals, we were approached by a waiter who was either on an amphetamine-based stimulant or was mad in the mind because he raved with an intense, bordering on Charlie Sheen enthusiasm about the salad he’d just eaten. According to the madman, this was the best of all possible salads in the best of all possible worlds. Though my brisket and roasted chicken were excellent I remain unconvinced of his bold salad statements; rib joints aren’t especially known for their salads. For her part, Sarah seemed to enjoy her meal, with the exception of the jalapeño laced mac and cheese.

We left the restaurant somewhat satisfied. Our food cravings had diminished but the required drinks per evening (two drink minimum) had not been met. We again set off in search of a bar. The first place we tried had been recommended by our server/bartender at Dave’s, a little dive known as Nuzback Bar, or as I loving termed it Nutsack. I can’t tell you what Nutsack was like on the inside. I can tell you there was heavy gangsta rap involved (you know, the type where the lyrical genius of “bitch beater” is rhymed with creative, original phrases like “mother fucker”) and the steel-plated door had two prominent signs: CASH ONLY and AS OF 7/8/11 MEN MUST WEAR AT LEAST A TANK TOP!

We didn’t bother opening the door.

Next it was off to Sam and Elsie’s, touted by the Famous Dave’s bartender as “an old style mom and pop tavern.” We almost didn’t make it to Sam’s. the GPS had us turning on a road that didn’t exist (I’m quite concerned about PG County’s vanishing landmarks) and then detoured us through an abandoned storage facility surrounded by parked semis and trailers. (Come get raped and murdered on the pleasant Laurel pub crawl!) Sam and Elsie’s had a physical location and there was no evidence of Hicksville signs or angry throttle your mother rap. Unfortunately, there were also no signs of life. It’s heavy, windowless, steel door was soundly locked. Though we did see two people come out just before we drove off in search of another bar.

Our last hope was a place Sarah knew of in Columbia but couldn’t quite remember the name. She sounded a few variants out before hitting on the right one, Pub Dog. A brewpub that followed a (can you guess?) dog theme with their beers. I like dogs and was desperate to find somewhere open, safe, and physically present so I readily agreed to the extended drive home from Columbia. This time we drove separate (so we could each head in our respective directions after the pub) and the names of the streets and cities did not fill me with hope and the promise of great things to come. We started on Scagsville Road, drove past the cities of Scagsville and Savage, and turned on Brokenland Parkway (Gorgeous Prince George’s!) before reaching the pub. Though a bit loud, Pub Dog has a friendly, attentive wait staff and bartenders and the beer was uniquely served. Two small pint mugs for four dollars. Typically a trick like this would be a warning to avoid the craft beers (They’re so bad you need to order two sight unseen.) but my brew, the Muddy Mutt—Pub Dog’s version of a black and tan made by combining their Thirsty Ale and Black Dog brews,—was excellent. Here at last we could sit and enjoy casual conversation without the fear of being gang banged, force feed salad, or vanishing from existence.

In the end was the Sarah company and the special craft worth all the Mystery Spot evening eeriness? Without a doubt.



20 July, 2011

The following is a letter written to a close friend, a second brother. It so acutely touches not just my current state, but also the state of America that I have republished it for you, Constant Reader.

8:35 am
Alexandria, Virginia


Your last email was neither a rant nor overwhelming. Frankly, there are so many other overwhelming tasks in my life at the moment nothing else can reach the top of the heap.

Transition is a difficult pain the arse. The issues most troublesome to me are the time involved and the resurgence of adolescence. I am a person of mixed responses to waiting. When I am in the process of examining and deciding I possess Zen Buddhist patience; once decided, however, my patience bottoms out. It takes me so long to finally settle on a course of action that once the choice is made I have no tolerance for anything less than instant results. It took me thirty years to understand, assimilate, accept, and chose to act on who I am. (The struggle of “playing the game” always seemed less than the trials of being myself. Well, until this year, that is.) Now that my decision has been made, I want my instant results. The speed at which I want the results is inversely proportional to the time it took to decide. By my calculations the process should occur in a blinding flash of light that encompasses the worst pain imaginable but lasts .135 of a second. This logic seems perfectly reasonable to me and I fail to understand why the universe does not function on it.

Another issue I have, which ties into the second puberty problem though not directly, is the feeling of running away. That’s not to say I am going to run away (though that would certainly be nice; it’s just a shame Buddhist monks don’t have a medical plan) but that I am running away, or it seems like I am. It’s been so ingrained in my psyche through years of Midwest life amid the last of the wolf-men that you stoically accept everything life throws at you that I now feel like a coward for not accepting the inevitable decline and destruction guaranteed by the Parkinson’s. “It was activated twenty years prematurely? So what? Take it like a real man and accept your death sentence with some dignity. Being yourself is not as important as being what others need you to be. Self-preservation is the act of a coward.” Coward I am. I don’t want to die a slow death that gradually robs me of everything—from ambulation to the ability to wipe my own arse. I don’t want to valiantly struggle on pretending to be what I’m not for the good of society. I guess I would have made a piss poor soldier.

It’s quite easy to be down on myself though. This is the whole second puberty issue. Puberty is difficult for everyone. It’s a time of figuring out who you are mentally, discovering what you will become physically, and surviving your hormonal onslaught emotionally. The brighter you are the more self-reflective you are the greater the degree of angst tainting the process. While trying not to sound egotistical, and I am about to fail at that, I’m bleeding brilliant. I think on a level most people cannot achieve. I do my best to demonstrate humility and keep this fact to myself, but fact it is. And as a result, puberty both the original and the redux, proves to be a hellish torment riddled with over examination, hyper-critical sensitivity to myself and my failings, an intense need to self-justify, and dark bouts of deepest depressions cycled with euphoric highs that make Robin Williams look like the Beatles’ Nowhere Man. I oscillate between overbearing self-confidence (as narcissistically unrealistic almost as often as it is plainly deserved) and overwhelming self-loathing (as plainly deserved almost as often as it is narcissistically unrealistic). Add to that the traditional moodiness and growing pains (physical and psychological) associated with this period and I don’t even want to get out of bed and shuffle the six an a half feet to the computer to run agent inquires let alone cross the street amid the “normals” to go about life’s mundane and pointless routine. I am emotionally and physically spent.

Worst of all, I am bored. I am no longer “out running the rust,” as Reed would say. I want change and I want adventure, which seems a ridiculous desire given the amount of change that I am now subject to. But there it is. The simplified truth: I need to get out of here. I need to travel, to explore, and to discover myself. I feel as though I have so many anvils weighing me down that I’m beyond grounded, I’m inhumed and suffocating. I feel, if I don’t get out and lower the artificial horizon line that my stagnation has created I will go mad.

The Australian Aborigines have a rite of passage called “walkabout.” In this rite a teenaged boy goes into the wilderness for up to six months and lives in isolation, tracing the “songlines” of his ancestors and duplicating their heroic deeds. It is similar to the Native American “vision quest.” Our pop culture mirrors this essential need: shows like “Route 66,” “Quantum Leap,” “Promised Land,” “Johnny Bago,” and “Supernatural;” movies like “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Due Date,” “Carnival of Souls” (the horrid 1962 version), and every damned Dean Martin and Bob Hope “Road” flick; books like “The Old Man and the Sea,” “The Lost City of Z,” “Travels With Charley,” “Sea Change,” and “Angela’s Ashes.” This demonstrates that though we have lost the tradition we have not evolved beyond its purpose and necessity.

I NEED a walkabout.


Caitlin Song
Sent from Caitlin’s iPod

“I’ll be a story in your head. That’s okay. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? ‘Cause it was, you know. It was the best. The daft old man who [got some] magic blue [pills] and ran away.”
~The Eleventh Doctor, “The Big Bang,” (Doctor Who)


Caitlin on Changing Fashions

18 July, 2011

Written: Sunday, July 17. 2:07 pm. Alexandria, Virginia

Today I went shopping with Miss Allison. I enjoyed her company and we found some nice pieces, but the shopping experience was draining. Shopping for women’s clothes is a completely different activity than shopping for men’s clothes. A fact that few, if any, men truly grasp. It’s not in and out for women. The only thing my Midwest mind can compare it to is hunting, it requires craft, knowledge of yourself and your environment, and a fair amount of cunning.

Here is where men have it simple: the all-shop one-stop. Standardization exists in men’s clothing. There are three basic looks: casual (t-shirt , Hawaiian shirts, and jersey’s paired with jeans or shorts), work-casual (Polo and Oxford shirts paired with khakis or trousers) and formal (suits coats, sport coats, dress shirts, dress slacks) and there you have it. Within each class there is little to no variation. The color spectrum is, also, fairly uniform with few articles deviating from the standard black, white, gray, and blue. The flamboyant man may step outside the norm and purchase an Oxford in red, purple, yellow or—gasp!—pink, but other than a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western how often do you see them in a pink shirt with piping and a ruffled front?  Men can go into most any store and find what they need to purchase because sizes, cuts, and colors all meet a socially understood pattern. A suit is always a suit, a t-shirt is always a t-shirt, and a thirty waist is always a thirty waist. This is why men so easily go in, grab something off the rack, check out, and go home. This is also why they tend to have no fashion sense; when most decisions have already been made, it’s easy to forget about or ignore the few decisions you have to make. Get in, get out, convenience.

I am still a bit out of my depth when it comes to shopping in the women’s department. Which is why, when we entered the first store, which by-the-bye did not carry a full selection of women’s apparel, I found myself overwhelmed by the myriad colors, patterns, designs, cuts, styles, and inconsistent sizes and completely incapable of answering Allison’s first question: So, what’s your style? The answer to this, though once quick to figure and easy to articulate, came out as a halting, “I don’t know.”

Let me break this down for the men. As a male you go into the store to purchase a t-shirt. Either you get one with a design, without a design, or with a pocket. You know that if you have a paunch you should avoid the athletic fit and if you’re skinny you don’t buy extra-large White Castle shirts. Now, as a woman, I go in to buy a t-shirt. My first choice is the same as yours, design or no design. Simple. Well, not so much because the choices are just starting. Say I find a cute graphic tee. My first consideration is the sleeves. Does it have sleeves? If not then I should get a medium because I have small, teenage breasts and a large will hang loose around the sternum because there isn’t enough up top to hold the material in place properly. But, this shirt as an elongated V neck so it will emphasize my flat chested status, the other one in my size has a deep scoop neck, again showing off what isn’t there. (And boys, this isn’t just a transitioning issue. If you have a small chested girlfriend ask her how she looks in a scoop neck. On second thought, don’t; she’ll punch you in the neck and ask how you look in a bruised trachea.) Now, let’s say I find a shirt with a rounded neckline and no sleeves in medium. I try it on and, lo and behold, my flat stomach now looks like I’m carrying a sumo wrestler’s twins. Have I gained weight? Nope. But apparently a medium in this brand is the same size as a small in this other brand. Are you beginning to see the complications? Because that’s just a small segment. If I wanted I could go into sleeve length and styles. You know, capped sleeves for thinner arms, three-quarter length sleeves for thicker arms (note how they aren’t described as athletic for women), or how once you find a shirt that fits the shoulders it might hang too loose in the midriff and too tight across the chest, or how a shirt that flatters your flat tummy is too narrow for the broad-shouldered (a term which never would have applied to me as a man). Oh, and don’t forget to throw frills, sequins, patterns, and prints into the mix. And that’s just to buy a t-shirt, boys! Think of the complications involved in skirts or worse still dresses which join the multiple combinations of both the upper and lower body into a hellish conundrum of Gordian Knot proportions. Choice after choice, option after option. Slowly I turned; step by step, inch by inch. It’s enough to drive any sane woman mad. Did you ever wonder why your girlfriend or wife drags you along only to hide in the changing room and refuse to show you the piece? It’s because she needs an alibi for when the police come around asking questions about a fitting room attendant whose backside was violated with a hanger after bringing your gal one too many cap sleeved, size extra-small-mediums with a deep V neck and large, gaudy floral prints.

Despite the complications we did manage to find some nice pieces: a flared, khaki-colored skirt, which will help create the illusion of a defined waist line; a light, almost heather gray pair of slacks with white pinstripes, great for accentuating long legs and flared nicely at the bottom for heels or boots; a stone brown, cap sleeved peasant blouse with a floral pattern, very hippie-chick chic; and a waist length, short-sleeved, black cardigan with a delicate floral ruffle, also done in black to avoid gaudiness. And we only had to stop at two stores to meet the day’s fashion goals. Pretty damned fortunate.

Now, extreme thanks go out to Allison and her patience with a newbie shopper and her sharp eye for the rare quality-style-price combo. Without her, a two and half hour trip would have been all day and not nearly as successful. And thanks are also due to my sister-in-law, Casey, without my first excursion with her and her primer in fashion I would never have had the courage to go shopping with someone else.



16 July, 2011

1:15 pm
Alexandria, Virginia

I went to a new support group last night, MAGIC. I’m not sure how they got the name but it stands for Metro Area Gender Identity Connection and bares no connection to the card/battling game of the same moniker. MAGIC seems like a solid group. I liked Jessica, my contact person from the group. She was very articulate and seemed to have her life put together. I would trust her opinion on things. Others in the group seemed equally organized and confident. Also, I was not the only new member and there were some, though members longer than I, not as far along in the process as I am. The ages range from early/mid-twenties to late fifties/early sixties. There is a slight aura of self-absorption, but that is the case with any support group.

Halfway through the meeting a co-founder of the group twenty-five years ago arrived and attempted to usurp the group’s attention. The person (identifies female but for reasons of attitude and behavior I can’t help but think of as male) is a biker straight out of a 1960s B biker-flick (Biker Chick Pricks Ride Through). Rough, crude, greasy, arrogant, and almost completely self-orientated. A bit of a frightening presence. And I believe zer  to have tipped the bottle before coming.

There was talk of surgeries both SRS, which left me feeling wistful and overwhelmed with a general anxiety that I will never achieve it, and FFS, which given the descriptions of pain, swelling, bruising, and general procedures (cutting bone and flesh out, carving the face up like a hunk of whittling wood) I would never even consider doing. This discussion started off useful but after twenty minutes boiled down to graphic and stomach churning details.

Other topics were also addressed. Actually, how they addressed topics is worth mentioning. They didn’t call on people nor did they wait for someone to blurt something out. At the beginning of the meeting they passed a clipboard around and interested persons wrote down questions or topics they wanted addressed in the meeting. This was quite effectual and helped keep the group focused. Anytime discussion wandered from the topic or got too detailed—as with the facial surgery discussion—the clipboard could be invoked to bring the focus back to supporting the community. It was very much like the conch shell in Lord of the Flies.

Topics addressed that I found useful revolved around body image, feeling fake, and knowing/figuring-out who you are. I commented once on a younger, part-time gal’s question about the usefulness of solitude in figuring out who you are. The Biker interrupted me with some rude comments designed to draw attention to hirself but Jessica was quick to shut hir up. I briefly explained (three quick sentences) how I found journaling effective in producing solitude and reflection and that it didn’t take a trip to the remote areas of Alaska to achieve solitude.

The meeting went till ten, a several women went to a nearby diner to socialize, but I was too socially anxious and exhausted by that point to join them. The next meeting is in a month, but I will be in Minnesota then, so I’ll have to wait till mid-September for the next one I can attend.

One of the largest impacts the group had on my thinking did not originate from what they said, but from who they were. To be in a room with so many other women going through or having gone through my experiences was at first overwhelming and, oddly, slightly off-putting (I think this springs from years of denying who I am to myself) but looking around at the variety of experiences and physical appearances eased those feelings. Some I know think the myriad ways of being transsexual/transgendered underscore the impossibility of community, but I found it enhanced the connections between the group members. The ability to retain individuality in the midst of shared experience is a vital and enriching component in community. Something all communities (regardless of gender or any other labeling concept) need to hold firmly before them.


Caitlin on Corned Beef and Home Cooking

9 July, 2011

Bob and Edith’s Diner
2310 Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA

Today I am at Bob & Edith’s Diner in Arlington. This place is popular; it’s one in the afternoon and I barely found a place to sit. I’m having the recommend specialty: two eggs and corned beef.

I’m at the blue formica counter on a short swivel stool with matching cushion and I can watch the cooks prepare the food in the open air kitchen. The kitchen area is a flurry of motion and non-stop griddle action. The four men in the walkway between counter and griddle navigate the confined work area with ease, demonstrating familiarity with their stations, their habits, and each other. The conversations at the tables behind me are boisterous and good-natured. This is the mark of quality food: that people will wait patiently and in good humor first for a seat and then for their meal.

Yes, it takes time to get your meal, but given the quality—or lack of—fast food sets as it’s acceptable standard would you honestly want it any other way? Okay, ignore that question. McDonald’s “one billion served” sign answers it for us. Be aware, this is not a in-and-out, quick-and-greasey dive. If you are going to eat here, bring company or a distraction. (I busied myself starting this entry.) I reiterate, the food is worth the wait. They prepare it in front of you (if you’re at the counter) so you can see them using fresh, quality, ingredients to produce a homestyle meal. Their hash was on level with any homemade corned beef hash that I have ever had, or made. (the inclusion of a little sweet chili sauce is the only thing capable of improving upon its flavor.) They served the hash up with two eggs cooked to order, home fries, and buttered toast. All this plus coffee for under ten dollars.

The only thing some might complain about is the portion size. I will repeat, this is not McDonald’s or Denny’s. Their goal is not to addict you to grease and lead you down the miserable path to coronary failure. The portions are sized to what a person should be eating. And it is filling. I had to abandon most of my toast so I could focus on finishing the main course. But that is what quality food prepared in a traditional way does; aside from tasting better it fills you up so you eat less and feel satisfied longer.

Ultimately, what sells Bob & Edith’s is not the fantastic food but the environment. It feels like a small town café. The servers are polite and amiable, the customers are courteous of each other, and even the cooks offer the occasional smile or nod. It is an unwritten rule that you are civilized. Even boisterous conversation has a limited decibel range, as was demonstrated when a cook stepped out from behind his station and asked a woman to lower her voice—asked with genuine politeness, I will point out.

Overall Rating: five out of five scrambled eggs.


Caitlin on Chippers

8 July, 2011

Eaomonn’s — A Dublin Chipper
728 King St
Alexandria, VA

I headed to Old Town in search of royalty or, at least, a good chipper. I drove down Duke Street, went past Prince and Queen Streets and turned on King Street. There I parked, paid the ticket meter, and walked along King taking in a plethora of delis, bistros, cafés, and restaurants ranging from traditional Italian and French to Greco-Asian fusion sushi. My flip-flops and I covered half a mile before coming to Eaomonn’s, located conveniently on the corner and easily spotted from either King or  its cross-street, S Columbus.

From the outside it didn’t look like much and first glance of the inside doesn’t improve that opinion. The average harried professional would have passed by this tiny, order at the counter and find a seat chipper. But to those wise enough to slow down, Eaomonn’s offers much more than a portable meal served in traditional wax paper wrapping and a brown paper bag.

The waiter—there’s only one—takes your order at the counter and gives you a choice of cod, halibut, or whatever special they were able to pick up at a good price. And it’s fresh! That’s right, they buy the fish daily, direct from the market. This isn’t a frozen fish franchise nor do they serve you languishing in its own juices, “aged” mystery fish. Expect quality ingredients. Aside from the mandated red wine vinegar on the varnished walnut tables, they offer a variety of dipping sauces from traditional tartar to chili to a homemade speciality called O’Shea. I tried a variety and have to come down in firm favor of the slightly sweet O’Shea which pairs nicely with the vinegar.

When at Eaomonn’s desert is a must. They offer a variety of sweets, all fried of course. If you’ve never had one, you need to try the fried Snickers bar. A whole Snickers, rolled in a flour batter, fried till golden brown then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Order it when you order the meal and it will have cooled to the perfect temperature by the time you finish your main course, still warm and gooey on the inside but cool enough you won’t scald your mouth or dainty digits.

For those few odd-ones that don’t like fish, you can order yourself a butter burger, served up in variety.

The only downsides to Eaomonn’s is the slightly stuffy heat resulting from deep fat fryers in a small space and the price of beer. They offer the perfect lager or ale for any fish and sauce combination (most imported–Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, Boddingtons), the price per bottle is what you would expect to pay for a draft pull at other shops its size. Unless you have a particular hankering for a traditional Irish or British brew to wash down your meal, stick to water and pick up a sixer on the way home.

Overall Rating: four out of five cod up.


A Flash in the Night Sky

3 July, 2011

I’ve been up all night with a sick cat and a security catastrophe but, though I am physically exhausted, the joint stimulation of Mirapex and Strattera has left me unable to sleep. I’m sure by mid-afternoon I will be capable of dozing off, but until then I will suffer this bizarre wired-exhausted feeling, being high and low simultaneously.

Along with exhaustion, I am feeling painfully homesick. My brother had a barbecue at his house yesterday. Present at this barbecue were the combined kin from both the Songs and the Johns. With myself as an obvious exception. A great time was had by all present. There was food, family, and lively discussion (I purposefully avoided the cliché completion of that trinity of schmaltzy Fs). People felt complete. In the words of the attendees, “nothing could have made it better” except maybe “a yacht.”

I don’t know what to feel when I read stuff like that. I’m ecstatic for my brother and thrilled with how his life is coming together. No one deserves this measure of happiness more than he does and I begrudge him none of it. But there is another part of me, a petty and bitter part that I would just as soon excise than acknowledge, that wants to post: What about me? Wouldn’t having me there make it better?

Now, I know that they would say yes and they would truly mean it; this is why the thought is petty and bitter. And what reeks of wormwood more than anything else is that despite knowing this, I still feel like everyone’s lives are truly complete without me. I have become a distant thought and a memory of times-past; I have ceased being a present force and influence. My parents transition into retirement without me being there to help. My brother and sister-in-law form bonds that will hold their new and extended family together without my presence. My nephew grows-up barely knowing who I am.

You see, the person I was, the son/brother(-in-law)/uncle, is, in a lot of legitimate ways, dead. Hell, I don’t even legally exist as that person anymore! Aaron is gone and their lives are continuing, moving forward, growing new tissue around the hole that Aaron once filled.

And me? I am on my own some thirteen hundred miles away becoming someone else. I am learning who I am, what I like and am like, developing a personality, taste, and style without them around to impact this development. In a foreign environment forged and influenced by strangers, losing my sense of connection to my past, alone and shivering I will suffer the pangs of birth into this world every day for the next two years. I am so far from where I was and so disconnected from those who knew me, that each day seals me off a little more from a family that functions well without me.

On the East Coast my marriage has ended and the world has shattered as easily and surely as a well thrown stone ends the warmth and security of a greenhouse. I have lost the family I had knit from separate wholes and suffered the emotional equivalent of being drawn and quartered. And still worse I am seperated from my given family and am hurtling down, falling ever faster and farther away from them. I am a meteorite, a hot, brilliant flash in the night sky burning away to nothing in the friction of the atmosphere. I want to see my family again before there is nothing left of me they recognize, before my regeneration is complete and I become a stranger to them.


Lewis Carroll and Children’s Literature

2 July, 2011
Illustration to the poem Jabberwocky. A work b...

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the fourth time in half as many years. Even before transitioning this book held great appeal for me. I remember when I was a little girl (back before I tried to be a boy and buried my Alice qualities in order to please others) my Mom read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There out loud to my brother and me. I will never forget hearing “The Jabberwocky” for the first time (“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, . . .”) and how this mythic beast frightened me yet drew me. This deep fear of the bizarre and macabre yet feeling this compulsive need too see it, to touch it with the mind and plumb its depths. It built in me a love of the nonsensical that has earmarked my careers as writer and instructor.

As an English teacher in the middle school environs “The Jabberwocky,” and indeed the books, are staples in my classroom. Students say it reads like a typical children’s story but they are only half right. It is typical of today’s children’s stories but was quite atypical in its time because it was written without moral or message. L.C. was a literary revolutionary. He dared suggest children were playful and imaginative. The idea that children should be free to think, imagine, and play is very dear to me. My parents did their best to encourage this mentality and to show it could be held close even as an adult. So many adults, both where I grew up and in the world at large, try to rob this from children, to beat joy, imagination, and fun out of them—sadly some try to do this literally.

If there is a moral to the story it is to these same joyless souls and it is this: children are not miniature adults but the best adults maintain child-like wonder. This is what the end of chapter twelve is about. When Alice’s sister closes her eyes and listens to the sounds emanating from Alice’s dream. She knows what the sounds are in the mundane adult world but still she lingers, imagining what Alice saw and heard for just a moment longer and then her wish for Alice, that she retain her imagination into adulthood and share her adventures with the generations coming after her. That, my friend, is why this book is a classic.