Baby redwoods

wrong picture!Ever since I visited Muir Woods in San Francisco, I have been wanting to grow one of the redwoods seedlings that they sell in the gift shop in my dorm/apartment. This wouldn’t have worked out in my dorm since it was only 12×11 without the desks, bunks, and my “storage units.” But now in my apartment, I have more space and the ceiling is about 8 ft. The redwood could have space that almost amounts to a bedroom. They grow about a foot a year. Opinions?

-Valerie

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Beard Diary: Day 9

Hey readers, just wanted to update everybody on how my first beard is growing. I’ve always given up after a week or so because it was too itchy, but I feel that this time I can pull through. The shave last saturday was satisfactory and gave me a great canvas on which to sculpt this facial art. The first few days of growth were boring and regular, but on the fourth day, the texture began to interfere with my face, and the scratching began. By day five, I wasnot comfortable, and every night I had an urge to cut it off so I could sleep soundly. Day seven was the worst, when my uncle offered me his old electric razor, as he had bought a new one. Unwisely, I took it. Now it sits on the bottom of my medicine cabinet, ready, for when I crack. Today, however, I feel fine. The beard is nicely visible and I feel that I have the stones to carry it to a full growth.

Chapter 2

If you’re new, here’s chapter 1:
https://mikeandvalblogging.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/chapter-1/

As I lit my first cigarette for, what I assumed was the night, I thought of how I’d spend my next eight or so hours. I’d probably do the usual: read through that bad book of poetry I found last month; spin the radio dial for a while, just curious to see if Minnesota was broadcasting IRB yet, but only because they played bad jazz after midnight; and then start the heavy drinking, when my brain finally cleared up enough to focus on Marcy.

No, not yet. I reached for the bottle to calm myself when I heard something from outside that made me reach even faster. There were only so many noises a zombie could make, and none of them sounded like the scream that came through the wall. It was a woman’s cry, loud and scared. But something seemed off. Anyone with any experience fighting knew that sound only attracted more zombies. And some girl couldn’t have made it all the way up here without running into her fair share. Something didn’t seem right about this, and for a second, I thought about minding my own damn business and drowning out that memory with some scotch. I’ll regret it every day I live, but I got off that lumpy futon for the last time and walked out the door.

She stood in the freshly fallen snow, surrounded by three lurching zombies. Just over the moans, I could hear the “click, click, click” as she kept pressing the trigger of her empty rifle. I tried to steady myself, connect my sights with the heads. My hands were shaky, I hadn’t fired my gun since my last grocery trip, just over three months ago. I thought to myself how i should have taken that drink; my hands wouldn’t be shaking like the useless limbs that they knew they were. I planted my feet firmly in the ground and pulled the trigger. Three bangs later, and the zombies lay on the ground, bowing in semidarkness to this stranger. I lowered my rifle and got a good look at the woman who had just ended my career as the selfish man i thought I was.

From the moment I had time to drink in the view, I knew that she sure was the trouble I had guessed she was. Even in her bulky parka, I could just see the faint outlines of her figure, daring anybody to just imagine what else was under there. Down from the bottom of her parka, I could see those legs shooting down into the snow. She wasn’t wearing the IRB pants that I’ve seen desexualizing so many attractive women. No, she was wearing skintight leggings that made a man take a second breath and be glad to be alive. I was certainly impressed, but thats not what made me nervous.  Her long black hair was draped over her shoulder. Just peeking out from the shadows it cast across her face were those dark eyes of hers. The trepidation was clear in them; but from the way those eyelashes framed those black marbles, I knew they held some secrets that I would have rather died not knowing. That darkness that gave me the creeps. I should have turned around then, having saved her this once. But I swallowed that sense of foreboding that she carried around and curiosity got the best of me.

The woman gave a sigh and from what little light there was, I saw a few small glistening teardrops fall from her chin and smack into the snow near her feet. My heart grew soft for a second and I wondered if I had judged too soon. She brushed the hair from her face, only for it to fall exactly where it had been.

She gave me a sheepish smile and said, “thank you so much, sir. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here…” Her voice trailed off as I nodded in return. No girl like this would leave with just a thank you, I thought and was interrupted with just what I was expecting.

“May I p-p-please come in?” she stammered. I grunted sure and showed her inside.

“Sorry toots, I guess I wasn’t exactly expecting  company today,” I said as she noticed ashtrays stuffed with grime and the empty bottles scattering the floor like a forgotten train set. I pulled an old wooden chair out from the closet and offered it to her. I lit myself another cigarette and paced around her. She gave me that pout I’ve seen from so many girls who were too pretty to buy their own cigarettes. I pulled out a second and lit it for her. I took one last drag while trying to understand what that secret was behind those dark eyes.

“Thanks again for saving me back there…”

“Don’t play that damsel in distress act.” I interrupted. “I’ve been fooled by too many gals looking like you with that kind of attitude. I’ve been held up in here for 18 months, and you’re the only woman with a heartbeat who has traveled through. Theres no safety north of Chicago. If, of course, Chicago is still standing. Don’t be coy with me, why’s a thing like you all the way up here to talk to me?”

She seemed to realize I was more perceptive than I looked, and she loosened up. Her cigarette held more gingerly between her fingers and her mouth looked like it wanted to curl into a smile.

“Mr Roberts, I need your help.”

Help. If there’s one thing in post apocalyptic America that was in short supply, other than ammo, it was charity. When widespread disaster had hit, you only survived if you made sure not to stick out your neck, for nobody. But curiosity was getting the best of me. When you haven’t seen humanity in months, the sight of a beautiful woman with smoke rising through her maze of hair, further obscuring those mysterious eyes, well, that sight makes a man pause for even his most basic instincts. She seemed to sense my hesitation and resumed her plea.

“My brother had so much to say about you in his letters. How you were the top soldier in his battalion and how you’d never lose your cool when dealing with hoards of undead. When he told me how you were getting tossed, I thought at first that it’d be good for you, having time to relax now and all. But then I remembered how he had said zombie killing was your life. No soul can just quit from that and just take solace in a bottle. Now I see that I’m more right than I’d thought.”

“Strange things, what war does to a guy.” I responded. I didn’t have to defend myself. Any other gal off the street wouldn’t have had the stones to kick a washed up soldier when he’s down. But this one did, and I couldn’t deny my guilt. “Enough about my sorry state of being, why are you of any concern to me?” I asked, already regretting the words as they tumbled out of my mouth, sure that they would get me tangled in whatever she was involved with.

“Well when Brian last wrote me…”

“Jennings?” I asked with just a little too much excitement in my voice. Oh she sensed it and I knew I’d be paying for showing that moment of weakness. She smiled for the first time and I felt those shivers up my spine.

“Your brother was one hell of a man. He saved my life more times than I care to count.” I recalled. On so many late night patrols, a zombie had seemed to appear from nowhere, and Brian had saved us both. I used to be a damn good soldier in those days, but Brian had that ability to just sense whenever an undead was near.

“My brother is one hell of a man,” she sternly corrected me with a look that would’ve sent any other guy into the binge that I was already on.

“Or, so I’m hoping…” she trailed off as doubt and sadness rose in her voice.

“See, every week he would send me a letter, assuring me that he was doing fine, but it’s been three months since I’ve heard anything from him. I… I don’t know what to do.”

She paused and glanced through those bangs and right into my soul. I didn’t want to give her too much hope. When the world has more undead than dead on it, a missing man is most likely to be found covered in bite marks, trying to get you to join his ranks. I tried to keep my mind off the image of such a good friend helping what we had dedicated our lives to stamping out.

“Well, if he ain’t writing letters anymore, I imagine its because he’s too busy out there on the front lines. Sometimes that happens, you know? We’d be trying to reclaim a city and they’d just keep coming and coming. I’m sure you’ll get his post soon enough.” I don’t know why I tried even feeding her that lie. With a bat of her eyelashes, she dismissed it, and gave me a glare that told me I didn’t have to sugarcoat this for her.

“I know damn well what this should mean” she said coldly. “But I called my local barracks a month ago for confirmation, and there was no answer. And when I came in person to check, it was closed down. Not a person in sight. You explain that one to me.” Damn. The only purpose of the US’s martial law was to protect established cities and be ready to strike if an attack was needed. I had never heard of a barrack not answering their phone, let alone not having guards stationed on base.

“Well, I guess things aren’t going so well for Uncle Sam, then. What does this have to do with me?”

“I want you to help me find Brian. He always said that you were a great fighter, and I could use your help finding him.” I don’t even know why she bothered asking. I had already left my hibernation to save her once. And when a girl with mysterious eyes asks a broken down man for help, he’s putty in her hands.

“I don’t know about this. I’ve got a pretty decent living situation up here. I don’t have to keep my brain sharp any longer. A pretty little thing can’t just uproot a drunkard and make him fight.” I lied through my cigarette. She knew what I was doing. She complied and gave me that one ounce of respect and dignity that I was clinging to.

“Please, I have no other options. I need you.” Ah there it was.

“Sure sure.” I relented and she breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently I wasn’t as easy to read as I thought, or maybe she just wanted me to think that.

“You can call me Lauren.”

travels

Notes from abroad………..

(California)

Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf
If you are unfamiliar the area, Alcatraz Island is located in the bay area of San Francisco; it was initially used for its lighthouse and military fortification, but is really known for its now-abandoned federal penitentiary. Via a ferry ride or desperate swim from Fisherman’s Wharf, you can reach Alcatraz in a matter of minutes.

My dad, Sonja, and I took the audio tour of the prison and the surrounding ruins, a few of which were victim to fire some decades before.

The prison is actually not very large; it can house, as a maximum, around 360 prisoners, but was never full. It contains the corresponding number of cells, staff and guard accommodations (including some small offices and lookout points), a library, cafeteria, communal bathroom, and modest recreation facilities. Aside from this, the island has no permanent residents.

I found the entire island to be really spooky. First, there is the cragginess of the buildings that continue to decay; they are exposed to the elements of the bay, and the wind is super fierce. Further, the accounts of prisoners and guards are really chilling; the efforts to escape involved decoy body parts, starvation, and supposed drowning at the hands of the bay. In the most elaborate of instances, three men successfully fled the prison by stealing spoons from the kitchen and using them as drills in the decayed, softened drains of their cells. The three somehow managed to construct rudimentary decoy body parts using papier-mâché; jarringly (get it? like body parts in a jar), the body parts fooled the guards for long enough. Also this was the least violent attempt to escape.

The location of Alcatraz is probably the most eerie part; it’s very possible to hear city-happenings and voices drifting from the bay from the inside of the cells. The barred windows did not conceal the prisoners from the bitter weather of the bay, and the sound travels easily. The isolation cells were located in this area, but were also almost completely dark and dank. Prisoners were released and fed once or twice per week in this part of the prison.

Eventually, the prison was abandoned for the maintenance and living costs of the building and prisoners (respectively) became too high to continue; the prisoners were dispersed to other high-security federal prisons. The adjoining gift shop had a ton of prison tchotchkes, almost none of which I would like to have brought home, with one exception – the Escaped Inmate sweatshirt. It was a flattering orange. That said, there were plenty more opportunities to buy such items in the shops at Fisherman’s Wharf, which was depressingly commercial, but really scenic on its periphery. Hoards of sea lions were sat upon docks afloat the bay; they barked, brayed, and snored in the direction of eager onlookers, I among them (the onlookers, not the sea lions).

From the piers, it is also possible to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond, the Pacific; on the other side is the skyline of San Francisco, when the fog is mostly dissipated. Note: rampant fog anyway.

Muir Woods, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate Bridge
So, I’m a huge fan of nature walks and fog, but not mountain driving. Anyway it’s all really close to San Francisco, making it the most geographically diverse city that I’ve visited. Just across the Golden Gate Bridge is Muir Woods – and a harrowing mountain-driving experience if you decide to visit. Peering over the single-lane roads, one can see steep drop-offs that imply certain death if road conditions worsened to a light rain. There are also few guard-rails. I think I prayed and insisted that the radio be kept at a barely audible volume. My dad swerved the car to “shake things up.”

The wooded region is actually a national park and a serious conservation project. The lush vegetation and abundance of redwoods is largely due to the coastal fog that shrouds the entire area; it feels like a perpetual misty rain as you approach the apex of the hiking trails. In response to the large volume of visitors, the wildlife tends to be very shy, with the exception of the occasional fawn and a few benign growths on fallen trees.

We decided unanimously to hike the more vigorous of the two known trails. Bam. With a steep ascent and no loops in the trail, it was kind of strenuous, but still doable. The temperature remained under 60° for the entirety of our three-hour hike. The conifers dripped with dew; the ground crunched softly beneath our shoes; and the trail was magnanimously fit for inexperienced hikers, even with its sort of sharp inclines. (The trail, named “Ocean View” was actually a misnomer, we discovered, as we reached the peak. Due to some recent sectional closings of the trail, hikers were actually only able to hear the ocean.)

After a second harrowing mountain-driving trip back, we drove through Sausalito (which is an extremely quaint and seaside-y area), and on to the Cliff House, which sits atop the Pacific. Now I’ve seen two oceans.

The Cliff House is now a posh restaurant dating back about a century. Parts of it have been renovated and entire sections have been demolished, but it once overlooked a bathhouse and amusement park during a time when that was all anyone had to do for fun, I think. The wind is nearly unbearable and was extremely harsh on the building; only its foundation remains; they are filled with salt water and some grasses. It was actually pretty sad. I got a poster.

-Valerie

Pickup Lines (Part 1)

Pickup lines that I’d use on the cashier at the local supermarket:

  • Yup, these are pie ingredients! I can’t imagine that it would be as sweet as you though… Where are you going?
  • How come you only work as a cashier? You should try out some other positions (with me).
  • Yes, I am planning on eating this entire pizza alone. Care to help me burn off the calories (via sex (with me))?
  • You don’t appreciate creepy guys hitting on you at work? Why don’t you end your shift early so one can hit on you at his apartment?
  • ‘Getting the manager’?! I barely know ‘er!
  • Seriously though, I’m making pie.

Chapter 1

I’ll be posting my novel in short increments; please enjoy!

Chapter 1

The clock read 5:00. I couldn’t tell if it was it was morning or night. Just another beauty of living out of a whiskey bottle in the dead of winter in Duluth. Saying I was hitting rock bottom wasn’t near the truth. I had hit bottom a year and half ago, and had been crawling ever since; lost in a sea of cigarette butts and empty bottles. I heard another groan from outside the window. Hell, how I wished it was the sounds of that yuppie couple that used to live next door to my new york apartment, fucking every chance they got. Larry and Sandra, that was their names. I feigned a laugh that at least those “urbanites” probably weren’t around any longer. No, the grunts I was hearing wasn’t from Sandra, oblivious that her husband had been screwing the landlords daughter just two hours earlier in that bed. Those moans were from the living dead, clawing to take down the one guy left in the city. The guy who didn’t even care if they did get him.

“What the hell”, I thought to myself. “If I’m up, I may as well have a cigarette”, celebrating another day left to sit in my stupor and pretend I wanted to make it to another. I pulled the sweat-stained sheet from my body and stretched out my legs. As I stood, my eyes immediately darted to that same piece of paper, tacked to the door. I scanned it again, even though I knew the words by heart. “Mr. Roberts, we regret to inform you that your services in the Dane County Infected Resistance Battalion is no longer required. After demonstrating repeated signs of disregard for your lives and the lives of other servicemen…” Unbelievable, when the government first mobilized against them, they were pulling every man and woman with two legs out of their houses, slapped a rifle in their hands, and said “aim for the brain”. But now, I can’t do the only thing on earth that I’m good at. Jennings said that if I would’ve done my patrols without my flask, they would have kept me. No way, one more killed wasn’t worth it for me if I had a splitting headache and couldn’t relax at the end of the day. They used to love the way I worked, in those first year. Yeah, I was angry at them. Officers used to say that was very important. “You shouldn’t view them as former human beings”. That was no problem for me, probably because I wasn’t even a human being anymore. Just an angry husk of a lug, pissed at mother nature for taking someone away, someone so close. That anger was my drive.

I would wake up every morning, excited to get rid of this infestation, to show that Marcy’s death could be avenged. Over the years though, that began to fade. I started to realize; these zombies, they weren’t some weird fluctuation of nature. They were nature. Just as humanity was a virus that spread throughout the world, now a virus was spreading throughout humanity. Fuck it. I was holed up in this place good and tight. When I received my discharge papers, I was already aching to go. I hitchhiked as far north as I could get that summer, and found the dead remains of Duluth.

It seemed empty at first. I knew the states only had three safe zones: Vegas, Chicago, and Florida. But I figured the zombies would have cleared out of an empty city. Whats the point of sticking around, when theres nothing left to eat. I suppose they were just waiting for someone to come back. As I took my steps from the highway, I held my gun close. I suppose my training hadn’t worn off quite yet. There was no trouble at all until I started heading down one of the main roads, trekking as fast as I could, looking for a supermarket. I had met some guys who holed themselves up in rooms for years, and remembered what they said they had. Those survival suggestions, of course, were second in my mind to the fact that I could finally have some decent booze and ciggs. I didn’t have to deal with the IRB rules about “looting” and having to smoke shitty wartime cigarettes made from what must have been cardboard. No, when i found a store, I ran in and dove right into the tobacco counter. Sweet sweet nicotine. As I reached up to grab a carton, I heard the door chime and glanced up. Duluth sure as shit wasn’t empty.

I dealt with my fellow shoppers as politely as I could. By then, I no longer felt the giddiness of taking them out that I used to. I just wanted to find a place where I could sit by and let myself waste away. I loaded up a shopping cart with a few industrial size boxes of meal replacement bars, four cartons of cigarettes, and as much liquor the cart could handle. I wandered around town, looking for a place where I could live my final years in peace. I finally came upon a cabin at the edge of a lake. It looked like it had served its last resident well; until, of course, he tried to make a run for it and got caught on his fence on the way out. Or, I assumed, based on the headless decayed body with its legs stuck in the barbs.

After taking my cart inside and finding the futon with the much too firm mattress. I was ready for the long haul. Good thing the running water still worked. I could spend my time here, with nothing to do but miss the old days with Marcy and drink until I felt enough hope to try to fix the old radio that the previous tenant left behind. Well, 18 months later, and I was still sitting in this shithole. Only differences was that I was running out of smokes, and I finally got that radio to work. Damn thing only picked up static though.