Being a hardcore devotee of Bugs Bunny when I was little, all I could think of today was, “I knew I should have taken that left toin at Albukoykie.” I mean, where have I landed? I meant to come to Ulaanbaatar, but somehow wound up in Phoenix. It cracked 100° today! It’s a testament to The Mooj’s love – or perhaps just his fur-brainedness – that he snuggled right up to me during this afternoon’s unavoidable two-hour siesta.
It’s good to be home and, curiously, Mongolia really does feel like home.
I arrived in such a fine mood, due to a marvelous 12-day sojourn in America’s Pacific Northwest. I’d always wanted to check out that part of my country, fond as I am of big forests on big mountains, moody weather, and exceptional coffee (um, so why does Mongolia feel like home, exactly, Konchog?). The icing is that such environs happen to be inhabited by a fave cuzzin and some of my best friends.
A shining star among the latter is my girl Sarah. You probably have a friend like this (and if you don’t, you really oughtta get you one) – the one who guarantees thirty minutes of gasping, wipe-the-eyes laughter any time you give her a ring, who’s generous and spontaneous, thinks your worst faults are just funny quirks, and will bag work to drive three hours just to hang with you at a BBQ (OK, she was also lured by her sister’s offer of Nintendo dugout seats at the Mariners’ game that afternoon, but whatever). That’s Sarah.
Following said BBQ, we spent the morning hiking the loop at Seattle’s lovely Discovery Park (unusually nice pix at this link), during which time I finally snagged my life Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and paused to refresh ourselves soundside (lakeside? Seattle has the most confusing mélange of fresh and salt bodies of water) with fish ‘n’ chips at a Seattle landmark, Ivar’s. It is a measure of the NW’s deep civilization that this was one of two places where I was offered malt vinegar with which to douse my fries. After making sure Sarah didn’t have any cole slaw in her teeth, I snapped this pic:
Fueled with whiting and oysters, we trucked on down to Olympia for my PowerPoint gig at the public library, arranged by DODR commenter Carol of Seattle, and then zipped through the night down to Chez Horton in Portland, lamenting along the way the dismal state of American radio (Sarah: “Hmm. This station seems to be stuck on suck.”).
One cannot hang at Sarah’s without loving, or at least summoning some tolerance for, exuberant doglife. There’s elegant Alice who always seems slightly put out to find herself in a dog body that won’t allow her to don expensive pumps and a strand of pearls…
…and Molly, the earnest love monster whose constant state of excitement constantly expresses itself with the compulsive licking of everyone and everything within range. Sarah says the animal shelter outdid itself with this marketing doozy about Molly: “Loves to give kisses!”
And Liza, dear Liza, who Sarah and her husband Alan plucked from the side of a New Mexico highway. She’s mostly border collie, with that breed’s OCD to a power of ten. If you throw her toy once, it is assumed you will then throw it again and again forever and ever and ever. Synaptic miswiring also causes her to perceive unlikely objects – say, a small digital camera – as a nemesis that needs to be barked at and licked into submission. This, fortunately, makes for a hilarious series of photos:
A great deal is made, of course, about whether someone is a “dog person” or a “cat person.” I’d say Sarah and Alan are pretty clearly the former and as I watched them with their three charges, I realized how well suited they are for the adoptive children they’re in the process of acquiring. They make sure to spread love equally among the three, they’re very good at distracting them away from neurotic behavior without resorting to negative reinforcement, and they find their bizarre personalities utterly charming.
Me? I tolerated the pooches, but fell into a torrid love affair with their kitty, Minizzle. The first night she hopped right in bed with me and curled up purring on my stomach. My theory is that Alan’s no longer as suitable for this since he’s really slimmed down the past couple of years, whereas I…well, let’s just say my friends Ben and Jerry accompanied me for much of the trip.
The next day we explored Portland a bit. Whereas Seattle is groomed to the point of being, at times, almost prim, Portland’s like Seattle’s younger brother who presents an attractive eccentricity, but whose smile suggests darker currents and strange appetites and a block of years where he’s not exactly welcome home for the holidays, but everyone secretly misses him. Voodoo Doughnut sells “crüellers,” while the nearby Stumptown Coffee Roasters supplies shaven-headed monks with the essential “Hairbender Blend” for the long Mongolian winter.
First stop was the legendary Powell’s Books, where I bought for travel reading Dan Koeppel’s To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, A Son, and a Lifelong Obsession. Wanted to get Pynchon’s Against the Day, but it was still in its cloth printing at $35 and as many pounds. Another Pynchon nut tells me that Mongolia and Shambhala figure tangentially into the narrative, so someday.
The rest of the time, it seems, we ate. Sushi, pierogi, teriyaki, gelato, little nosh here, little nosh there, boba tea, fresh-ground coffee. The coolest moment came in downtown at lunchtime. Portland provides space for a couple of lots full of camper-kitchen lunch trucks and the variety of ethnic food offerings is dazzling: Bosnian, Ethiopian, Indian, Louisiana BBQ, Polish, Thai, El Salvadoran. But I really had no choice. As we passed a Vietnamese wagon, the man called out, “Hey! I give you free food!”
“You Buddhist monk, right? I give you free lunch.”
Thought he was putting me on, but not at all. He dished up some noodles with sausage and veggies, and then get this. I told him I’d do a little prayer for his business and trotted out the little I know in Tibetan. Afterward he reached into his pocket and offered me 20 bucks! That would be a first. He told me that Portland has a large Vietnamese community of at least 40,000 who support three Buddhist temples. Long may they prosper.