For the last five or six days I've felt like shit—nausea, dizziness combined with achy muscles and what Evan refers to as "dragon breath." This period has coincided with switching medicines. The last medicine may have caused tachycardia. After my heart pounded, I also felt like shit, so there hasn't been much of a transition between these two problems. I suppose I just have the flu, but if I end up dying from some exotic disease, they'll probably say, " Hmmmmm. Felt like shit, breath like a dragon. Yep, shoulda' gone to the hospital." Evan drug me from bed late this afternoon and made me illustrate my woes, which at the moment include nausea. As I lay in bed wallowing in my discomfort, I thought of a scene I remembered reading in Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie where the heroine was called upon to save a cow in extreme discomfort. The cow mooed and bawled in pain and either Anne or Half Pint came to the rescue by cutting a quick hole in the cow's protruding stomach to release the pressure of the colicy gas. I have visions of a gingham dressed girl stabbing me in the stomach and instantly curing me. Evan says he's keeping all the knives out of reach until further notice. He's not sure that the cow got better. He thinks playing doctor helped Anne or Half Pint feel a lot better, but the cow probably died from infection. I have to remind him that cows only die in the real world. Oh well—burp—time for a hot shower and some mouth wash.

My Thoughts on the End of the World

69 Stub

Well, maybe not the end of the entire world, just the world of drive-ins and hot rods. Paso Robles gets a new bank soon on the corner of 21st Street and Spring. Woo flippin hoo. Like we needed one. Down the tubes go nearly fifty years of memories and tradition. My part was the order with no tomatoes, Evan's was the one with a thin chocolate malt. He likes to drink his malts, not lick them off the spoon. Sounds easy, but try ordering one. We waited this long to say anything because we just couldn't believe it. There's no more drive-in. The last good burger in Paso Robles just bit the dust.

The Neighbor's Dog & Our Old Friend, Shadow


She's barking at trucks and intruders in heaven, but she's no longer at the back door begging biscuits. We'll miss her. All dogs go to heaven. I hope she'll put in a good word for us, and recognize us when we get there. Bye, Shadow.


...and Amie on the Banjo.


I was asleep the past few weeks while my body was adjusting to a new medicine. When I wasn't sleeping fourteen hours at a stretch, I was a walking zombie, barely taking in the world around me—I held on to chairs to keep my balance, processed each word said to me as though the other person was speaking a foreign language. The new pill is designed to slow down my thoughts. It has managed not only to do that, but to slow down the world as well. Monday, I was jarred awake by a banjo.

What started as light banter between two guests and myself at the front desk of the Inn ended in an impromptu lobby concert and banjo lesson. I turned out to be in the presence of Greg Deering, founder of Deering Banjos, and Todd Wright, his Director of Artists Relations & Events, two otherwise ordinary guys. Todd did most of the playing, picking four or five songs in a row, bringing smiles to passersby. Greg, the man who actually made the banjo, sat smiling across the room. Steve Martin, a banjo player in his own right, once said, "You just can't sing a depressing song when you're playing a banjo." Well, the otherwise cold and depressing lobby was filled with warmth and welcome. I grinned from ear to ear while he played. Todd said, "I'll play the first few, you play the next." I assumed he was talking to Greg. Eventually, I realized he meant me. Just as suddenly, that innocent looking five-stringed instrument turned into a mass assemblage of strings and pegs only a professional could sort out. I was scared stiff. Both Greg and Todd seemed used to this response, and calmed me down. They coaxed me out from behind the counter, put me in a chair, and then set the banjo's weight in my lap. Banjos look featherlight and seem like tambourines from a distance, but in fact they weigh a ton. I cradled this one like a baby. Todd showed me how to strum the strings this way and that. As I did so, I could feel the vibrations through my entire body. Banjos are surprisingly powerful. Todd showed me two simple chords, gave me hand signals for when to play one, and when the other. I'm now a banjo player!

I obviously don't know a damn thing about banjos, but if the people who make and sell them make a difference, then I just can't imagine owning anything but a Deering. They range in price from about $300 to $1,500, which is what the one I was holding sells for. (After that, you're talking Brazilian Rosewood, Mother of Pearl inlay, and If you have to ask, you can't afford it.)

For those of you familiar with my Steve Martin obsession, I feel obliged to say that Steve Martin is not on the list of people who officially endorse the Deering Banjo, a fact that deeply troubles me. Of course, he could own one. Come on Steve. Loosen up. Your banjo playing may be endearing, but your banjo's not a Deering. Ho boy! Can you hear the banjo in that last statement? Okay. Everybody... "Hang down your head Tom Doooooooley..."


Black Cat

Evan complains that I "leave shit all over the house," which I suppose is true. If I spent less time being a nut and more time focused on my art, I'd fill the house more with artistic things than the piles of thoughts and papers I currently accumulate. Things like the cat he doesn't mind. I went through a naked lady phase, there were pieces of ladies everywhere. I enjoy doing cutouts at Borders, but I think the thing that pushed me over the edge into cats and horses was cutting out breasts in the café, turning to Evan to say, "Do you like the nipples on this one?" It had a way of turning heads, and I'm not one to offend. I went through a collecting-stuff-on-the-walk phase, pocketing little gems and displaying them in every blank space throughout the house. Evan longs for the stark minimalism he sees in design magazines. Me, when I look at those same magazines, I see so much potential space to put stuff, though I have to admit, stark modern does appeal, in theory. Maybe in another lifetime.

30 Flowers, 3 Horses


Some nights I'll come home from work and Evan will be sitting at the computer wanting to read something he's just written. It's as if while I'm slaving away at the Thankless Inn telling people for the umpteenth time how to light their fireplace (turn up the fucking thermostat) and explaining to them that — big surprise — sulphur water smells like... well... sulphur, and that yes, three months ago when they booked the room with their own private sulphur spa, they paid extra for that smell, Evan sits down with angels and transcribes their most eloquent thoughts. Don't get me wrong, it's not as though I believe someone as sensitive as Evan couldn't write such thoughts, it's just that it comes so easily to him. I slave over a sentence, Evan turns out perfect little pieces of prose, masterfully crafted, each word placed carefully and thoughtfully. I ask him where he gets it. He shrugs. If he told me it was from an angel, I'd find it easier to believe. Anyway, that's how I see it.

Evan has similar feelings about me and meaningless little pieces of paper. My first love, as I always say, is cutting paper. (Evan reminds me that Steve Martin came later.) A friend of ours recently celebrated her thirtieth birthday, and to commemorate that, I decided to do what I often do, a cutout. I pondered for days what would be appropriate. Evan pretty much knows to leave me alone during this stage, because I will inevitably, as he says, "pull something out of my ass" at the last moment. Evan may not work that way, but I do. So, while he loves the cutouts, he more often hates me, or my method, it's hard to tell which. He bites his tongue and reminds me from time to time that I've commited to do something. He says he feels like his whole life is going down the drain everytime he gets involved in a project with me, because I say, "Don't worry. I'll think of something." "Something," he reminds me, thinking back to that trashy novel of the 70's, "is not enough." I usually retort in a phony French accent, thinking back on that trashy French wife he had in the same era, "Ah well, you 'ave your opin yon, I 'ave mine." I decided on thirty flowers in a vase. I did all this the morning of her birthday party, all before Evan even rolled out of bed. I guess he was right, there it was, ripe for the picking.

3_horsesNot long ago, I was a frequent poster on the Steve Martin message board. One of my favorites there, who went by ShellC, and who was one of the saner voices in my opinion (God knows I wasn't among them,) sent me a hard-to-come-by copy of the only Steve Martin biography to date, Steve Martin: The Magic Years. When the book arrived, I was stunned. She even had it autographed by the author before sending it to me. I gather he is an acquaintance of hers. This was all about six months ago. ShellC's "something witty," or quote under her message board screen name always fascinated me — "2 Bits, 4 Bits, 6 Bits, 3 Horses." I have absolutely no idea what it means. The cutout I made to thank her is a representation of... well, that should probably be obvious by now. Horses have always appeared in my mindless doodling, along with a lady in a mid-length skirt holding her hands behind her back — I also have absolutely no idea what that one means — so, the three somewhat abstract horses took almost no time at all once I had spent six months figuring out what to do with them.

Evan says my next investment should be a camera with a non-shake function. Both pictures are ever so slightly blurred. It's really hard closing one eye, squeezing the camera with one hand and pressing the shutter with the other. Somehow, with all that going on, my knees and shoulders feel obliged to get in on the act. God forbid I should be chewing gum at the same time. Oh well, the originals are crisp and clear. The flowers now sit on a bookshelf in San Luis Obispo, The Horses are somewhere between here and their ultimate destination. I'm tracking them on the Internet every step of the way.

Hi Midgie!


Midgie is Jeff Nutter's mother, and Jeff Nutter is the Authorized Dealer of Jeff was among the first readers of Evan's blog, and later, among the first to comment on mine. We teamed up to design a template for his blog that really suits him, I think. Late last year Midgie made the move to a care facility called Ashton Gables in the vicinity of Birmingham, Alabama. The effort to keep her at home with nurses and daily visits from the family finally required superhuman effort. The spirit is willing, as they say, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41) A prolonged stay at the hospital turned out to be the final straw. Anyway, I don't think they're used to the new arrangement, even after all these weeks and months. Sending cards has helped not only Midgie, but helped me get back into cutting paper again — my first love. It's one thing to have a desktop littered with old files, but something else again to have the kitchen table and surrounding area covered with tiny scraps of paper. Paper is just more REAL than computer screens.

This is a photo Evan snapped before I licked the envelope and walked down to the post office. Evan had the idea to do a pop-up card. I think his world is more three-dimensional than mine. He dummied up a card in white cover stock to demonstrate how it worked. It grew into the work you see here. (It's really a lot more impressive if you see the sign pop up as you open it.) Like Evan, I see only the mistakes and the insufficiencies. I'll have to admit, though, it came out looking really nice. We agonized over what the sign should say. We started out with: HI MIDGIE!. She's ninety-one, so we considered Midgie.....91 mi. We thought, maybe she won't get it. I did a really nice Midgie's Diner, but we each had an image of her saying, like old people have a tendency to do, "I DON'T OWN A DINER." So, after a while, HI MIDGIE! looked better and better.

Evan's tinkering with some new pop-up mechanisms. I seem to have acquired stacks and stacks of paper. X-ACTO knives, glue stick, cutting pads, steel rulers, and sketch books litter the kitchen table for days on end. We had dinner in bed the other night. Oh, sorry, that was Valentine's Day. But, I really need a paper room and work stations with big speakers. We all have our dreams, I guess.

Evan adds the following:

If you'd like to buy or make your own card and send it to Midgie, you can do so at the following address:
Mildred Nutter
c/o Ashton Gables #137
2184 Parkway Lake Drive
Birmingham, AL 35244

She won't know who you are, but if you just say you know Jeff from the Internet, it will all kind of make sense. Jeff says the cards really lift her spirits. Then she hides them and finds them all over again. Remember, you don't have to be a nice person to do something nice, but the more nice things you do, the nicer you get. If you're trying real hard to be bad, just sign it with an alias. Remember, HI MIDGIE!

Valentine's Day


The celebration of Valentine's Day owes as much to Hallmark as it does to the Calendar of Saints. The Barnett tradition of presents and spaghetti dinner is as shrouded in mystery as Saint Valentine himself. It's really Linda's tradition, a Barnett through marriage, who thinks of me as a kind of miracle — I was born holding an IUD in my hand, according to her. So, the whys and wherefores of Valentine's Day tradition exist in a realm well beyond rational investigation.

In other words, if you think I'm crazy...

My cousin Angie lives in the vicinity of downtown San Luis Obispo. Since we gravitate to the same sorts of places, we tend to run into each other a bit more than might be expected. For example, her parents have a business in Paso Robles about half-a-mile from where I am typing this. I saw them about three years ago. Last month I ran into Angie three times about twenty-five miles from here. The first two times she had just come from having her nails done and was having a very careful cup of coffee at the Border's café. The third encounter was in Barnes & Noble. She had just come from having her nails done. "You must think all I do is have my nails done and hang out in bookstores," she said. The reality turns out to be that she spends most of her time playing Bingo at the Chumash Casino. Angie is easily the most vivacious person in the world. After a visit with her you feel both bubbly all over and totally exhausted. Anyway, we got to talking about one thing and another near the magazines at the top of the escalator. The subject of Valentine's Day came up, probably because they were just starting to market it back then. Angie reminisced about the time when as a young girl she stayed with us while her parents were in Vegas or somewhere on what was probably a Valentine's Day Special. She said she will never forget opening presents after dinner. (I'm not sure she remembers she had spaghetti.) "It was like Christmas all over again."

There's definitely a crazy gene in the family. Evan says it's a happy crazy. Angie got her fair share of it, so she's never dull, but my mother takes the cake. She's been shopping for Valentine's day for at least a year now. That means Christmas and Valentine's Day overlap in her world, as do birthdays, anniversaries and whatever you do, don't tell her about full moons and equinoxes. So, this year — all good things take time — we noticed that we too had accumulated a small stash of Valentine's Day goods. It was really just a matter of wrapping them up and sending them off. No, I have not started my Christmas shopping. I'll do that a day or two after Christmas like I do every year. But the thought of a large, heavily taped box set to arrive precisely on the 14th of February filled with all manner of goods red ranging from cute to disgusting, then all the way back sometimes to delicious, has at the age of thirty-one finally worn me down. I find myself saying, "At least I don't have to wear pink."

The illustration at the top of this post is the outside of the card I am sending my mother this year. She won't see it, so don't worry. The Internet is something they mention on television from time to time. Inside, the card reads, "Guess where your Valentine's Day present was on Valentine's Day. IN THE MAIL! We love you very much, Amie & Evan." We reciprocated, finally, with a package of our own. There's also a t-shirt with the same graphic on it, some chocolates, red and white candies from The Apple Farm, a sort of hourglass thing that leaves "I LOVE YOU" and a heart the other way when the red sand runs out, wrapped in handmade paper (via Judy last year) and matching jute. It's really cute. But, when the UPS man knocks tomorrow, I guarantee we'll feel cheap all over again.

There was a lot of talk about keeping Christ in Christmas this year. I doubt there will be much talk about keeping Val in Valentine's Day. If you have a sweetheart, just get her something, or him something, and I'm sure there's a little something special you can think of to go with it. Just do it. Smile and say, "Happy Valentine's Day."

Amie + Evan