Sunday, August 29, 2010

I'm a little teapot, and it's disgusting

I sometimes wonder what my friends do with their time. What happens when they go home? What do they do when no one else is around? After a week of facebook posting about my cold, I have an answer:

My friends are all sitting at home irrigating their sinuses.

Maybe not all of my friends, but I've had a bad cold all week and the minute I posted that my nose was filled with snot and I couldn't breathe, people immediately started chiming in with, "You should try a Neti Pot!"

A what? What the hell is a Neti Pot?

"Oh, a Neti Pot! It'll cure what ails ya! You use it to rinse out your sinuses."

Wait, what?

People kept chiming in about the wonders of the Neti Pot, and I started to get kind of suspicious. Everyone was raving like it was a miracle cure, but when I looked it up online it just seemed to be a little teapot that you fill with saltwater and then somehow pour into your nose without drowning yourself. I like my friends and all, but this whole thing sounded less like medicine and more like folk remedy. In short, it sounded like the ear candle.

I learned about ear candles from a former coworker, Peggy, who was pretty much the worst mother in the world. Two examples, before you think I'm exaggerating:

1) Once Peggy's kid was in the office with us, and I was eating a pudding cup. She came over and held up her hands and Peggy was like, "She wants your pudding cup. Give her some," and I was like, "No. It's mine," and ate it in front of her. I threw the cup away and went on about my business, and about a minute later heard a rustling noise. I turned around to see Peggy's kid licking my pudding cup, which she had fished out of a very full garbage can.

"Peggy, Theo's eating out of the trash."

Peggy just shrugged.

"You should have given her that pudding cup like I said."

2) Once in the middle of December some coworkers and I were out at the Boston Market for lunch when we got a call from the office telling us that one of us had to come back and be in charge.

"It's Peggy's day. We're at lunch."

"She had to go get Theo at the daycare. The state shut it down."


Later in the day our coworker Pat, who ended the school year by having the cops called on her when she tried to stab her boyfriend, explained to us that Peggy had been sending her child to a daycare with no heat in the middle of winter in central New York because it was cheaper than any of the other daycares in the area. Peggy thought it would be fine because the kids kept their coats on all day, but the state of New York disagreed and condemned the building.

Like I said, worst mother ever, or at least the worst mother I ever worked with. Anyway, one day we were sitting around the office talking about what we were going to do that weekend, and Peggy volunteered that her friend was coming over so that they could candle Theo's ears. I had never heard of such a thing.


"An ear candle. It's like a spiral. You hold the baby still, and then you light the end of it, and when it burns down it pulls all the wax out of their ears."

"You're going to light something on fire and stick it in your kid's ear?"

"Well, yeah. Everyone I know back home does it."

The Neti Pot sounded exactly like this, but when I mentioned that it sounded like the kind of folk remedy that I'd have to buy from a conjure woman on the edge of the bayou, everyone assured me that sinus irrigation was totally normal and medically sound. All you had to do was flush a little salt water up there, and suddenly you would be breathing freely like... well, like somebody with really big lungs? And nostrils? Rather than wheezing and gasping for air like when Taylor Lautner tries to breathe through his squashed nostril-less alpaca nose?

After a week of loading up on drugs, hacking, coughing, and blowing my nose, I broke down and bought a Neti Pot:

neti pot

It's smaller than I thought it would be. Everybody kept saying it was a teapot, but it only holds a cup of water. It looks less like a medical device than it does a toy, but I tried reading the instructions with an open mind. Here, let me paraphrase a little:

1) Fill the Neti Pot with lukewarm water. Don't use hot water, or you will burn out your sinuses. Don't use cold water, either, because you'll get a brainfreeze. I wasn't sure how to decide if the water was too hot or too cold, because my nose might be more temperature sensitive than my fingers, but eventually I decided to stick my finger in the water and then stick my finger in my nose, and when it felt ok I decided the water temperature was fine.

Then I washed my finger, and continued.

2) Cut open one of the packets, dump it in the pot, and mix it until all the powder dissolves:

saline packet

That seemed easy enough.

3) While standing over the sink, put your chin down, tilt your head to the side, lean kind of forward, put the spout in the higher nostril, open your mouth and breathe normally, and raise the handle while doing so. I tried this a couple times, but still had no idea if I was doing it right or not, and wondered if there might be a photo or a diagram in the instructions that could help me. There certainly was:

instructional photo


What the hell, Neti Pot? The picture of the most important part of the whole operation, and it's almost smaller than a penny. Not only that, but the woman in the picture is doing it wrong! Her mouth is closed! How is this supposed to help me?

I decided to go ahead and try to do what I could almost see in the picture. I put my chin down, tilted my head to the side, leaned kind of forward, opened my mouth to breathe normally, and raised the handle:

using the neti pot (1)

If you click on that and view it at normal size, you will clearly see a stream of water exiting my lower nostril. Just in case, though, here's a slightly blurry closeup:

using the neti pot (2)

It is the strangest feeling ever. Even though you're breathing, you can feel the water moving inside your sinus cavity, and when it comes through your nose the feeling is warm and wet and violently organic. It was so jarring and disorienting that I thought I might vomit for a second, and there's a moment of panic when you feel water inside you and try to instinctively stand up, but trust me, you do not want to do that because the minute your head shifts the water starts running into your mouth instead of out of your nose and it's all warm and salty and then you really, really want to vomit.

4) Finish pouring, remove spout, and then blow your nose.

5) Repeat on other nostril.

So, did the Neti Pot cure all my ills?

No. I still have a cold.

On the other hand, my nose has been rather clear for the rest of the day.

Back to the Old Gray

A couple of years ago, I went to Knoxville's historic Old Gray Cemetery to walk around and take pictures, and I decided that I wanted to again this weekend. I'm still working on my black and white photography, and it's the only place nearby that I know of with a lot of sculpture. I was leery of going by myself, though, since last time I got chased away by goth vampire cultists, so Kristin agreed that she would go with me.

Then this morning she stood me (but had a really good excuse; stupid work), so I went anyway, and that's how I ended up starring in "The Blair Witch Project Part III". OK, maybe not. The place was pretty much deserted this time, so I didn't get Blair Witched or Friday the Thirteenthed or even Prom Nighted, and instead I got some decent photos.

I stopped on my way there to take a picture of the MAC Auto Loans sign:

5th Avenue before lunch

That sign is on the way to Bryan's apartment, and is another one of those things that I always said I would get a photo of when I had more time. Every time I went past it, though, we were always on the way to Bryan's for something, and usually running late, so there never seemed to be a good opportunity to pull over for a minute and snap a shot. I guess I should have made a special trip.

After I stopped at the sign, I drove the rest of the way to the cemetery, pausing to get a shot of part of the church across the street:


There are a number of interesting and intricately carved tombstones in the Old Gray, especially for local history buffs, but I ignored them for the most part since my goal for today was to get statues with shadows on them. I made an exception for this carving, though:

the eye!

It caught my eye, so to speak.

The rest of the photography went well enough, I think:

praying angel

draping the cross

angel statue

sorrowful statue

horne statue in profile

lady with bible

This lady makes me think of the Vanderbilts for some reason. She just looks like someone you'd see strolling the gardens of a gigantic mansion in 1920's Newport, sighing over the lack of cucumber sandwiches:


I think the pictures came out ok, but there's nothing there that really wows me, and makes me look at it and say, "Oh, hey, that's a good photo." This one intrigues me:

slightly blurry

The slight blurriness adds something, but I'm not sure if "interesting photo" is the same as "good photo". Still, I didn't get carved into pieces and fed to vampire brides, so I'm going to count it as a good day.

Monday, August 23, 2010


I was supposed to take this picture a really long time ago:

jfg loft building

When I first moved here, the JFG Coffee building was totally vacant. There wasn't even glass in the windows. The painting on the side, which is so vivid there, was faded and a little peeling, and the sign on top, while intact, had seen better days. A couple of years ago I was walking around downtown and I tried to get a picture of the sign, but couldn't get the right angle from street level on Jackson:

jfg coffee

I didn't realize at the time that the perfect angle is available if you stand on the Gay Street viaduct, because I hadn't explored enough in that direction to know that the viaduct existed. I was still a little uncertain about that end of town, but Bryan lived down that way, and informed me that I could take a picture of the whole sign from the viaduct. I started down that way once, but was asked for change by homeless people on both sides of the 100 block of Gay Street and ended up turning back before reaching the viaduct or taking the picture.

Bryan offered to walk down there with me someday so that I could get my good picture, but somehow we never got around to it. He never let me forget that, though, and every few weeks he would randomly throw a sentence or two into some email that had nothing to do with it:

"I'll send those forms up in runner mail, and hey, when are you walking down to Gay Street to take that picture of the JFG sign?"

Once he even took a picture of the sign himself on his way in from work and posted it on his facebook to taunt me. Still, I never got around to taking the picture because the building wasn't going anywhere, the sign wasn't going anywhere, and I thought we weren't either. There always seemed to be more time, and then suddenly Bryan is gone and there is no more time, but the sign is still there and this weekend we didn't have to work. Every time I tried to think of a place to go take pictures this weekend my immediate thought was, "Yeah, but you can't call Bryan and see if he wants to go," and then I didn't want to go any more. It's odd, because when Bryan was still here there were lots of times that I never gave it a thought and just got up on Saturday and went somewhere by myself, but this weekend it just seemed horrible that I would have to.

You always want what you can't have.

So the weekend came and almost went. On Sunday afternoon I went to go see a movie with some friends at the Tennessee Theatre on Gay Street, and after the movie was over and everyone was splitting off their separate ways I realized that I was alone, it was a beautiful sunny day, I missed Bryan, and I'd never walked to the viaduct to take that picture, so I just did it. No pause, no thought, off I went, and there was the angle and the photo and the sign and all of a sudden it was like my photography block was broken. There was something to take a picture of every few feet, and plain old buildings that I see every time I go downtown looked different and dramatic:

sterchi lofts and commerce building

I found the stairs to the underside of Gay Street where it was raised in the early 1900's and saw the understructure beneath it and Jackson Avenue:

under jackson avenue

Even places that I had seen before looked interesting and new:

patrick sullivan's saloon

south central street


building on state street

Bryan thought taking that picture would make me happy, and he was right. It did. I stood on the viaduct and I remembered all the emails and that facebook posting and the times he would just casually drop it into conversation over a meal or when we were doing something else, and I felt better. I remembered Bryan, and I felt ok. I think Bryan would be ok with it, too.

I'm going to go somewhere this weekend, and I'm going to take some pictures.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Albany, I do actually love you kind of a little bit

The other day I was talking to someone about things to do and places to go in Knoxville, and they said, "You really love it here. Like, you really are excited about the Sunsphere and the gardens and stuff. You never talk that way about Albany, though. Did you hate it there?"

This is kind of a complicated answer. I was very happy to leave Albany when I did, as I was not happy working there. When I left, it was in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness less than 24 hours after my going away party, and I was 100% certain that there was nothing in town I would miss besides my friends and my comic store. It wasn't until I drove back for summer vacation a couple of years ago that I remembered that there were a few other things there that I appreciated:

1) The giant statue of Nipper:


I lived there for a couple of years before I even knew that this existed, and actually thought it was a hallucination the first time I saw it and had to be convinced by my friend Tiff that it was real. The conversation went something like this:

"OK, so last night Rich and I were leaving Jillian's, you know, after it closed, and we split a cab with these girls that Rich was trying to hook up with, and we were, like, all over downtown where all the warehouses and stuff are, and I was so drunk that I looked out the back window of the cab and I thought there was, like, a giant puppy on top of one of the buildings! And it was staring into the cab!"

"There IS a giant dog on one of those buildings."


nipper's watching you

The warehouse that Nipper sits on top of used to be an RCA distributor, which is why the statue is there. He weighs four tons, has an aircraft warning light on top of his ear, and there are only two of him in the whole world (the other is in Baltimore). He's no Sunsphere, but I guess he's still kind of cool.

2) Random vintage signs:

retro globe

bob & ron's

car wash

There are whole sections of Albany that don't seem to have changed since the 1960's and 1970's. Driving through them is like taking a brief trip back in time.

3) The Egg:

the egg

That's an amphitheatre downtown. Over the years, I successfully avoided attending a number of performances of "The Vagina Monologues" there, but the downside is that I never got invited to anything else there so I've never been inside. It is an interesting building to catch glimpses of from the outside, though:


under the egg (2)

and is near a random gigantic hole in the ground:


After six years of living in Albany, I still have no idea what that is.

4) Pride Fest:


Albany Pride Fest is the first one I ever attended. It's also the only Pride Fest where I've spilled wine on myself:


At least it didn't stain.

5) The SUNY Albany campus:

the fountain

When I interviewed with the staff of the soul sucking vampire pit of a department where I used to work, I fell in love with their main campus, which was designed in the early 1960's by Edward Durell Stone and built on the grounds of a former golf course. It was unlike any other campus I'd ever visited or worked on because, being conceived all at once, everything matched:

more trees

hanging lights

green space

In the minds of many of the students that I spoke to over the years the endless expanse of concrete (allegedly the largest poured concrete structure in the world) and tall, narrow windows:

electrical cords

(that one with the plywood in it was one of the bedrooms in my apartment) made it kind of prison-like, but to me the campus always looked kind of like dated sci fi:


round islands

looking toward dutch quad (2)

It's the kind of setting that you would have seen Captain Kirk and the original Enterprise crew beam into on a random "Star Trek" episode.

looking toward the state police academy

looking toward dutch quad

I kind of forgot about how pretty it was while I worked there, but now that I'm gone and familiarity isn't breeding contempt, I see it again.

Albany, I kind of wish we'd been better friends, but yeah, I kind of love Knoxville more.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Memoriam

I've always been told that coming out is a continuing process, something that you have to keep doing over and over and never really finish. From my own experience, I can speak to the truth of that statement, and from my other experience this week I can speak to another truth:

Saying goodbye to a friend is also a continuing process, and it feels like you just keep doing it over and over and will never really finish.

I've said goodbye to Bryan a thousand times this week, in a thousand ways, and I still feel the sudden pain of the knowledge that he is no longer a part of my life each time I do it. I was sending an email to the buildings staffs the other day, using my usual alphabetical by hall list, and there was Bryan's name at the bottom. I had to take it off. I found a voicemail from him on my phone this morning, an old one that for some reason I had listened to and not deleted, and realized that I will never get another one. When we were helping his family pack up his apartment, they gave me a box of canned goods and nonperishable groceries that they didn't know what to do with, and when I got it home I realized that he'd bought the can of chilis and the can of black olives so that he could make the wraps that he always brought to Ben and Elizabeth's house for the 4th of July cookout that he was too sick to come to.

Every time I find one of these things, sometimes in small out of the way places or sometimes in the middle of my living room floor, like the box of books that he and I got at the Boys and Girls Club fundraiser, I have to say goodbye again, and it hurts. People keep pointing out to me that someday it will hurt less, but that's like the people that tell me that someday my prince will come. "Someday" is as unreachable now as "yesterday" is, and yesterday (metaphorical yesterday, anyway) Bryan was still with us.

Yesterday we had a memorial for Bryan, for people to remember and try to say goodbye, and to celebrate his life. About halfway through, there was a spot for friends to share stories, and I stood because none of his friends were speaking. Other than a lot of sobbing, choking, and at least one snort, the only things I remember saying are that Bryan was my friend, and that I couldn't think of any stories to share. It was like my brain locked up and my mouth locked up and I didn't know what to say, but it was also kind of insane because my friendship with Bryan is all about stories.

Bryan is the friend that went on adventures with me. They weren't usually places that he wanted to go, or, sometimes, places where anyone in their right mind would want to go, but he wanted to make his friends happy, and if I wanted to go to Bizarro Philly or Parrot Mountain or on a road trip to the World's Largest Ten Commandments then Bryan wanted to be the one who drove the car. On the weekends we got in the car, we drove around, I took pictures, and somehow this was fun for us both.

I gave Aileen, Bryan's sister, a CD of pictures of him to include in the slide show she was making, and after the memorial she mentioned that they looked at the pictures and tried to figure out what was going on, what the stories were, so here's a brief rundown.

Picture #1:

please stop talking

This is from Kristin's birthday party at Tragic Mexican Hooters. Bryan was trying to explain to Kristin that he was planning to drive her home if she got drunk, not to get her drunk and then drive her back to his home.

Picture #2:


This is from a pool party at our apartment complex. About a minute after this picture was taken, Jeannie's baby peed all over the concrete patio because she had somehow fastened his swim diaper on wrong.

Pictures #3, 4, and 5:

Inappropriate mirth?



These were all taken during the day trip Bryan and I took to the International Towing and Recovery Museum, the Lookout Mountain Civil War Battlefield, and the Bloodstained Crypt of Little Nina Cragmiles, where Bryan couldn't resist climbing onto the playground equipment.

Picture #6:

guinea pig (2)

This is Bryan serving as a guinea pig, and being the first one brave enough to eat the Cheelows that I made. I adore Cheelows, and Bryan kindly ate a square or two every time I made them.

Picture #7:


That's Bryan holding up the tiny, tiny menu at the pizza place we went to lunch at after we toured the uranium enrichment plant and went to the Secret City Festival.

Picture #8:


That's Bryan impatiently waiting for the roller derby bout to restart after the sprinklers in the arena exploded. We waited for play to resume long enough for Kristin to have about half a dozen cigarettes.

All of the other pictures I gave her:

bryan on the prow




017 (2)

are from our trip to the Parthenon (of Nashville, not Athens).

Like I said, Bryan was my friend, and he was the friend who went on adventures with me. Even when he went into the hospital, we still treated it as another adventure, something that would be a really good story when he finally got out again. We made it a story about balloons and bitching about how the hand sanitizer smelled and that incredibly terrible apple cobbler because our stories were safe. They were fun, and they always ended the same way: everyone got dropped off at their apartment and we made plans to meet up again soon. Our hospital story didn't end that way, though, and instead of saying goodbye until next weekend we have to figure out how to say goodbye forever instead.

Bryan is still on an adventure, but he's travelling somewhere that we can't follow, and the story he is telling now will have to wait a while for us to catch up with him. I still have all these stories though, and I understand now why I was unable to pick one out to share.

Bryan Murphy was my friend, and in the end all the stories become that story. It's the story of who Bryan was and how he lived and who he was to all of us, how he taught us to be selfless, and brave, and to cherish our friends because we won't always have them.

It's a story that's not over, because now it's a story of how we have to learn to say goodbye.