Year: 2022

“To be or not to be in Death Valley” outfit

My longstanding quest for Cheep has been to capture the look of a disinterested bohemian model in an Anthropologie catalog. She side eyes you in her cotton patchwork gown against a distressed backdrop—fingering strange, decayed objets d’art—like an end-of-times queen of leisure. At long last, a solid decade into thick of Cheep, I finally reached my goal in a ghost town in Death Valley called Panamit City. Here’s a step by step guide to achieving this rare look: STEP 1: Get stupid lost and stranded in the desert. Idiotically go to the entirely wrong side of the mountain to the rockiest road in Death Valley. Foolishly drive straight up it and viciously slash your tire to bits. Fail to locate a jack. Contemplate your slow, lonely demise for at least one night and one morning. STEP 2: Get jacked. Somehow get cell service for just the tense five minutes it takes to call your dad and get him to Google where Honda painstakingly hid the jack in 2001. STEP 3: Stress shop in Pahrump, NV. …

“Electric Kool-Aid acid test site” outfit

Two camo jet planes flew in between the Panamit Dunes of Death Valley directly behind me as I stood for the shot. I didn’t notice until the first one passed my line of sight. Then the second came through sideways beside me before horizontally sweeping below me through the desert floor. I’ve encountered this once before in the dead silence of the deadest of desert. Because military test sites and the bleakest of wilderness get paired up side-by-side in the US, like toxic outdoor survival buddies. You spot the stealth jet first, nearly at eye level, alarming you with its massive size and strength and speed that comes from out of nowhere. Like a whale suddenly undulating beside you. Then the sonic boom knocks you flat. The aftershock sound terror somehow more power-packed than the sight surrealism. I imagine the pilots this day….wondering *squawk* “what the hell’s this pale woman doing here” *over*. Done up in an acid-colored muumuu in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. Giving off eccentric 80s aunt vibes. She’s lit by your …

“Military fatigued” outfit

I was into dystopias before dystopias were de rigueur. Among the things I carried on a spur-of-the-moment exchange trip to Russia in 1998: worn-out copies of A Clockwork Orange and The Gulag Archipelago. Dumb American style, I unwittingly landed into political and economic turmoil. The ruble was in freefall. Yeltsin’s rule…spiraling too. Putin, then head of the ruthless FSB, would soon take his place. Never to leave. Masha Gessen best explains the crushing impact of the iron fist of Putin in The Man Without a Face. Here is the little I know: Russians love a strongman. Every town in Russia had multiple busts of Lenin. (By then the lingering Stalin statues had been exhiled.) I wandered through the streets of Moscow wondering which ordinary buildings hid the secret prisons of the Gulag. I wondered how ordinary people could accept the state-sponsored disappearing and the society-wide gaslighting. But no matter how bitter and cold it was outside, inside their homes, Russian hearts and minds were brilliantly warm and open. Now I understand, just as Russians were …

“Quitting cherry bomb” outfit

My first real quit: DirecTV call center, February 2002. Crippling social anxiety and a lifelong phone phobia had my number, so I excelled at awkward pauses, nervous laughter, and average call times. Even if custom designed by the damned to torture me singularly, no greater corporate hellscape could exist. With its fluorescent lighting. Forced cheery attitude. And “this call will be recorded for quality assurance”s. This “O Fortuna” doomed workplace realization hit hard on September 11th, 2001. I squirmed in a vaguely ergonomic desk chair, staring up at the reality show terror on the big screen surrounds, while numbly guiding shell-shocked midwesterners through common billing question. This, I’ve come to learn time after time, is what we do during a disaster in America. Put on our capitalist blinders. Pretend everything’s normal. Vainly attempt to blandly exist. Blessedly, in the back of my mind, I had a plan. An Edward Abbey-style monkey-wrench one to wander in the wilderness for months on end. Every needling workaday torture concealed the tiny gem of my freedom. I put in …

“Soy el amor de mi vida” outfit

I wondered as I wandered solo down the boardwalk on Isla Mujeres in Mexico… in a wave-like refrain while staring into the “where is my mind” Caribbean… who will be the love of my life? On the next turn, in a splash of spray paint and Spanish, the concrete answer: “Soy el amor de mi vida.” I wasted many years steeped in a bitter hate of myself. No matter which way I looked at me: I did not fit in. Anywhere. Too little. Too much. (Somehow simultaneously.) Too weird. Too black sheep. I spent many years vainly attempting to escape myself. Thus, a little wonderer becomes a little wanderer. “Wherever you go, there you are,” my uncle (a ceramics artist-now gone from this world) warned before I left on my first wild hare of a trip to Russia at age 18. He was right. There I am. Wherever I go. And I have been to hell and back. Routinely. Like a sick commute. But I found that I can turn the worst of times into …