Mom was staring at my plate in shock. It was covered with a messy pile of bacon, cheese and chicken.

“What is *that*?”

I was stunned myself. “It’s…it’s a…salad.”

Ah, the danger and the mystery that is the American roadside restaurant. You never know quite what you’ll get served. Somewhere, underneath all that protein, a few wilted green leaves could be found, or so I suspected.

But I was a wimp compared to my fellow eaters. Other families seated in the Kozy Kitchen dining room placidly awaited their deliveries of greasy eggs and meat, with two and three dishes per person, while here I was, a rank amateur, unable to handle a simple “salad”.

“There’s no way you can finish that.”

“Maybe I can, but I’ll need a stent right after.”

Let’s face it, on our trip through the towns of Southern Oregon, we must’ve acted like the most obnoxious of tourists. “Do you have anything with kale in it?” “Why doesn’t this store have an organic veggie section?” And things got even worse when it came to the alcohol department. “What do you mean you only serve Bud, Coors and Corona? This is a joke…right?” At least I dissuaded Mom from her idea of bringing her own personal lime into restaurants with her, so that she could “fix” the Caesar salad dressing. I figured the natives wouldn’t take too kindly to that.

Leaving my little hipster nest to travel the rest of the state has made me realize just how Portland I’ve really become, and has made me appreciate living here much more.

And my bacon and cheese salad? Well, I managed to eat about half of it, and was sick for the rest of the day. Like I said, I’m a total wimp. My review of the Kozy Kitchen–it’s only for the strong.


You talk about science fiction, but you sneak novels with titles like “The Sheik’s Mistress” into your purse.

You listen to public radio in the morning, but you love your reality TV at night.

You say you like jazz and indie rock, but you sing Lady Gaga songs in the shower.

You support the Democrats, but you vote against higher property taxes.

You always eat your kale salad with a side of potato chips.

You’d kiss a girl for fun, but you dream of a man marrying you.

You still like to wear your old pair of Uggs around the house.

You’re not as cool as you think you are.  And admit it–when nobody’s watching, you’re okay with that.

It’s possible I’ve said it before, but it needs to be said again:  in these difficult times, I often find myself taking my amazing hometown for granted.  I whine about my life, I wonder if it would be more spectacular if I lived in Brooklyn, and then I read a news article about how our bike lanes or our microbrews or our seasonal organic food is the envy of other cities around the world.

So here’s to you again, Portland.  I love your costumed erotic balls and your steampunk-themed croquet matches and your confusing art festivals.  I love your fantasies about a city filled with bicycles and streetcars, its shiny buildings run by sun and wind alone.  They may never happen, but damn it, I dream about the same shit, so I’m a good fit for you.  I love that if the country turns Republican, we Portlanders will continue to be that tiny band of brave progressive resistance–and that we are so progressive right now, Obama seems like a Republican to us.  I’m willing to forgive you for some of the things which annoy me, like hipster moustaches and guys playing banjos.  The unemployment may be high and we may be low on the list of business-friendly states, but that’s not a bad thing.  We know there’s more to life than money.  And yeah, I love the beer.  More than that, after hearing what was on the menu during the caucus at the Iowa State Fair, I’m thankful for the food, too.  No midwestern style cuisine here, please.

So I promise never to take you for granted again.  You may not be as big or famous or exciting as other cities…but you’re perfect for me, you hopeless little dreamer, you.

I snuck up the stairs to our apartment, sweating, dripping with shame.  I had committed the darkest possible sin:  I had voted Republican.

Never had I imagined it would come to this, but one fine day, it happened—I couldn’t handle yet another tax hike.  A new campaign was going on to increase the alcohol sales tax to help the schools, and as much as I loved schools, I loved beer more.  At this rate, I soon wouldn’t be able to afford my drinking habit.  So I voted against the tax measure and for the Republican candidate.

Even though our town was under liberal rule, it allowed the continuing existence of the local Republican party, mostly due to the smug knowledge that almost nobody would vote for them.

This was my one comfort.  No matter how guilty I felt about my vote, it would be a minority voice, to be swept away by the election winds.  None of my loved ones would be any the wiser.

Still, my conscience weighed me down.  I had nausea and panic attacks when I went to bed.  I felt as if I had, in some indirect way, raped somebody.

And then the tax measure failed.  The Republican candidate didn’t get elected, but fifty-five percent of our town residents quietly voted against the tax increase.

My friends gathered to mourn at our place, ashen-faced.  They were in shock.

“How could people be so short-sighted?  So selfish?  I mean, really?”  Nova wondered.

“I feel like burning something down,”  Julian stammered.

“Maybe the voters like to get drunk,”  I suggested.

“I guess so.  I’m glad they’ve got their priorities,”  Nova said angrily.

“I wish I knew some Republicans, so I could argue with them right now!”  Julian said.

I refrained from comment, at least until later that evening.


“Ah, so how does it feel to be me for once?”  RedGirl asked.

“Go ahead, you can gloat,”  I said.

“I can’t believe that you actually did vote Republican.  What happened?  What made you see the light?”

“Not so fast.  I still plan to vote Democratic in the general election.  It’s just that our local lefties are so inept.”

“Sure.  Well, being a political minority isn’t easy.  But remember, you’re strong.  You can survive being a social pariah.”

“You’re not very good at the comforting thing.”

“Would you like to come to a Whiskey Party rally with us?”

I had seen what the rallies against the local government looked like:  lots of waving of tri-cornered hats, guns and American flags.  “Er…no.”

“Okay, but you’re always welcome if you change your mind.”


It was when I made the fateful decision to check my Facebook that the temptation appeared.  My sister had Liked the I’m So Happy Measure 569 Didn’t Pass! page.  I knew it was a bad idea, but here was the chance to assert a different opinion for once, and it was so deadly easy—all I had to do was click.

I moved the mouse back and forth nervously.  The word Like glowed and danced before my eyes.  I felt as if I was about to climb the barricades.

I clicked Like, turned off the computer and rolled into a ball under my bedcovers.

An hour or so later, Julian came into the bedroom.  When I peeked out from under the sheets, he backed away in horror.

“Don’t do that, baby.”

“I don’t understand what you’ve changed into,” he said.  “I thought I knew who I was sleeping with.  Now it turns out I’ve been having sex with a…a conservative.”

“You haven’t.  This was only one issue, one election.”

“One issue ruins everything, Blue.  You’re not pure anymore.”

“Are you serious?  Where are you going?”

“I need to be alone so I can deal with this Like thing.”

“Will you be coming back?”

“I don’t know.”  I heard the living room door close behind him and then the sofa squeaking underneath him.

At work, all my stuff had been packed up into a box.

Leah was tense.  “It’s too bad.  We could have been sisters in the struggle…”

“Maybe I can Unlike the page.”

“No, it’s too late now.  You’ve crossed the line and you can’t go back again.”

Jobless and possibly single, I went to the only place I could think of where I could express my powerless rage.


A large man in a tri-cornered hat bumped into me and my cardboard box.  “Get a job, whiner!”  he bellowed before joining the rest of the shouting throng.

The Whiskey Party rally in front of City Hall.  Small but loud, with a whiff of insanity.  It fit my mood perfectly.  I strained my eyes until I found RedGirl.  She was lifting up a sign which read “Arrest The False Messiah,” referring to the President.

She wagged her sign at me in greeting.  “Hey,”  she said.  “I Liked your Like on Facebook.”

I nodded.  “Thanks.  You’re the only one who did.”  I hesitated.  “After all this time we’ve spent fighting each other, you may have been the one who was right.”

She gave a sideways glance at the protest.  “Can we walk away from here for a few minutes?”

She let her sign slump at her side as we walked.  “You’re the only person I can talk to about this…   I think I’m going to vote Democrat in the upcoming election.  I’m scared of the cuts in retirement and Medicare and everything…”

For a moment, we faced each other in silence.  “It sounds like we’ve both secretly sinned against our ideologies,”  I said.

“Ideologies can get so difficult,”  RedGirl sighed.  “So now what?  Which side am I on again?  And what are the sides?”

I pondered it.  “As horrible as the realization is, we may be on the same side.”

She shuddered.

“I know, I know.  But when it comes down to it, we’re both getting screwed.”

“Well, I am, at least…”

“Whatever.  My point is, take a look at the Squircal guys and how their approach to life works.  No matter which political group is in charge, they’re always in power.  They have no problem with being the government or a corporation, depending on which suits them better.”

“Yeah…but that’s how the world is.”

“Really?  Why is it that they get to do all the things they get to do?  Why do you have to spend your life doing what they tell you to do?”

“Fine, fine, it’s true and it’s painful, okay?  What do you want me to say?  It’s not like I can do anything about it.”

“By yourself, you can’t do very much…but what if we joined forces?”

RedGirl was quiet for a while.  Finally she said:  “You know how you could never fly, and I could?”

“Yeah, I’m kind of a lame superhero.”

“Let’s try holding hands.”

I wasn’t at all sure this was going to work.  RedGirl took off, pulling me along with her at first, but as we went on, I felt it happening—I became lighter, and then we were flying together.

We didn’t have to say anything to each other about where we were going.  We sped as one in the direction of the tallest skyscraper in town.


The Squircal men were none too thrilled to see me on the top floor of their building.

“Not you and your democracy crap again.  We don’t have time for this,”  one of them said.  He saw RedGirl standing next to me.  “Oh, good.  Take her away,”  he ordered.

She refused to move.  “Boo-Boo, you’ve been lying to me about the economy.  I don’t believe you anymore.”

He groaned in annoyance.  “Look, there’s a nice fat bonus in it for you…”

“No.  We’re sisters,”  she said, and took my hand again.  Now that we were united, our energy was finally strong enough to defeat Squircal.  It grew into a giant ball of purple light and shot gleaming rays into the sky, piercing the clouds.

The executives squealed like a herd of pigs.  Exposed to our light, their skin burst and the air escaped out of them, until they crumbled and there was nothing left of them except a few shriveled lumps of charcoal.

As the dust cleared, the sound of fluttering wings was heard.  The Bat briefly perched on the remains of his followers, sniffed at them with contempt and then flew away again, no doubt to search for new and better minions.

The fight was over.  The skies were clear.  My sister and I stared at each other across the empty Squircal offices.

“Yay us!”  She pumped her fists in the air.  “So, what happens now?  What kind of political system do we have now?”

“Um…I think it’s up to us,”  I said.  “We build it.”

“Oh.”  She leaned against the wall, the first traces of fear and regret in her face.

I looked down at my hands.


“Your problem is you haven’t defined yourself,”  Nova told me.

We were sitting on the balcony of somebody else’s apartment, drinking from a bottle of wine we pulled out of one of the cupboards.  As hard as it was for me to admit this to myself, I had been desperate enough to search for Nova, until I found her here, slumming with some friend, as usual.  At this time, she was the only one left I could complain to.

“You’re a leftie, but you’re not one of the liberals,”  she continued.  “You don’t agree with the power structure, but you’re not a conservative.  You have to pick one.  You can’t be neither here nor there like this.”

“What’s the point of defining myself?”  I said.  “It’s all turned out to be a bunch of hypocrisy anyway.  I might as well stay the way I am.”

“The way you are, you can’t get ahead in society, and you also don’t get the perks of being a rebel,”  Nova pointed out.  “You’re getting screwed twice over.”

“So how do I define myself?”

Nova scratched her chin.  “Well, the people in this town signal which group they belong to by how they dress.”


“Not exactly.”

“Okay, so which group do I belong to?”  I was wearing a flowing skirt and a ruffled top.  “Am I a hippie or something?”

“You don’t belong to anything, you’re just a relic.  Nobody dresses like this anymore.  We’ll have to fix that.”  She took another sip of wine.  “What’s your favorite color?”


“Hmmmm, that’s not an easy one…  But I think it places you more on the Republican side.  I’m picturing a countryside picnic…”

“What?  No, I don’t like the countryside.  I’m an intellectual…”

“You can’t be an intellectual who wears yellow.  If you’re going to be an intellectual, you have to wear black or gray, maybe dark brown.”

“What about a rebellious, screaming yellow?”

“You keep trying to go down these dead-end roads that don’t work.  Make it easier on yourself, please.”


I stepped out of the bedroom, fighting the urge to spin around.

“Ta da!”  I said to Nova, who was waiting for me out in the hallway.  “I found my blackest of black dresses.  Do I look like a more intelligent person now?”

Nova cocked her head.  “No.  It’s the wrong cut of dress, plus it’s got all that lace.  This one makes you look emo.  If you keep wearing this, you will need to do interpretive dancing and cry a lot.”

“I’ve worn it before and I haven’t cried.”

“Yeah, because you don’t understand the purpose of getting dressed.”  She thought about it.  “This may be a stretch, but if you really want to be turned back into a Socialist, we could do it with one of those little gray jacket and cap combos, kinda Lenin style.”

“What’s that gonna do, make me angrier?”

“No, it’ll make you acceptable.  You’ll fit in.”

Julian, however, seemed repelled by my new getup.  “You look like a boy…  a boy who’s about to hawk newspapers on the street.”

“According to Nova, this is very current.”

“Well, Nova does know about this sort of thing.  Huh.  I guess that should be fine, then.”


“That’s the worst fashion advice I’ve ever heard.”  RedGirl was aghast.  “Dressing up isn’t about politics, it’s about picking colors that go together.  What was this Nova person thinking?”

“I’m not sure.  I had no idea people cared this much about clothes.”

My sister had called for me to come over, as soon as Julian told her what I was wearing.  I was more than happy to accept her advice.  I wasn’t all that worried about Julian’s chilly reaction to the new me—I was used to that.  I was much more freaked out by the warm reception I got at work.  The minute she saw me in my newsboy cap, Leah gave me a friendly rowr, and that scared me much more than having her for a frienemy.

RedGirl rooted through her closet.  “You like yellow, right?  Perfect.  I have something here for you…”  She pulled out a pale yellow dress, so fluffy it resembled a custard.  “Wear a lilac or light pink jacket over this and you’ll be all set.  Always a classy combination.”

I watched myself in the mirror and wasn’t convinced, but I was willing to give it a try.  I couldn’t imagine Leah being attracted to the Mormon missionary look.

As I left the house, I waved at the next door neighbor, the one RedGirl liked because he was a right-winger and owned a collection of strange weapons.  He was dragging his giant lawnmower out of the garage, but he stopped to wave back.  Then, he squinted at me.

“Rowr!”  he said.


After that, I would have preferred to just go naked.  Not only would it have offended everybody, but I would have defined myself, in the end, exactly as I was:  the clichéd human being, defenseless and insecure.

But that wasn’t realistic, of course.  It would never happen.  I had gone way past the age for that kind of honesty.

“What’s the message you’re trying to send?”  Nova asked me the next time she saw me.  I was wearing a shapeless gown made of something that looked like sackcloth, although without the ashes.

“None.  I gave up on sending messages years ago,”  I replied.  I was perched on the edge of her friend’s balcony.

“For the time being, I will remain undefined,”  I said.

To his credit, Julian noticed that I was depressed in the days following the war, and he got me a pug to make me feel better.  I found it sitting on our kitchen counter, dressed in a little coat and hat, staring at me with its bulging eyes.  I shuffled towards it, uneasy.

“I know, I know, those eyes!”  Julian crowed.  “I took the liberty of naming him.  He totally needs to be called Buggin.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea for us to get a dog right now?”

He hesitated.  “We kind of have to, Blue.  I mean, think about it, we don’t have any kids.  I don’t have anyone to carry on my family name.”

“Dogs don’t outlive people…”

“In this case, I’m not so sure.  I’m so fragile…”

I put the dog in my lap.  My political ideals were all but dead, my dreams were never going to happen.  My relationship wasn’t working.  Would this be my only legacy—a pet animal in costume?  What was I giving this world?

Buggin stuck his tongue out and rolled onto his back.

“Oh, he likes you!”  Julian said.  “Quick, scratch his belly!”

I scratched the upturned belly with difficulty, my fingers stumbling on the many fat folds.  Buggin appeared to be pleased.

“Don’t you think when he smiles he looks at least a little like me?”  Julian asked.

I figured I would be able to ignore Buggin most of the time.  Later that afternoon, I felt a sharp pain in my leg.  Buggin was biting into my calf.

“I think he’s trying to suck my blood, Julian,”  I said.

“He might just need you to feed him,”  Julian advised.

“Oh, right,”  I muttered.  “Food.”  I gave Buggin rice and beans, and watched him from my chair as he ate.

“He is almost like a real child—trying to suck my life essence away,”  I thought.

When he was done eating, he stuck his tongue out at me.

“He’s just way too cute!  You can’t be mad at that face,”  Julian said.


That weekend, I decided it was time to introduce Buggin Williams to the rest of his family.  I wrapped him in a blanket and took him on a trip back home with me.

“Look who I brought!”  I said.  Mother and RedGirl bent their heads over the swaddling clothes.  Buggin’s wrinkled face peered out.

“He’s beautiful!”  Mother said.

“Well, it’s good that you’ve got *something* to spend your time on,”  my sister observed, strolling off to the TV.

I followed her, handing Buggin off to Mother.

“I know I don’t have the kind of traditional family you think I should,”  I snarked.

My sister’s eyes were focused on the TV screen, but her face was drawn.  “For me, this isn’t just some game.  If Paul was still alive, maybe I could have a real baby.”

I sat down on the sofa, not sure what to say to her.  The thought of being pregnant had always filled me with terror.

When I got home I gave Buggin an extra long belly rub and let him sleep in bed with me.  He curled up on my chest, his body heavy, his claws skidding over my skin and a broad fold of a smile on his face.


“I want custody of Buggin,”  Julian told me a few weeks later.

“Why?”  I thought things had been going much better.  Except for him sleeping in the bed, Buggin and I had fallen into a peaceful routine of indifference to each other.

“You’re not very good at fulfilling your basic responsibilities.  Buggin has to bite you to get fed.”

“I’ve never seen you even try to feed him.”

“Isn’t that something the Mama’s supposed to do?”

“I’m not a Mama!”  I snarled.  “He’s a dog.”

“Still, I bet he likes me better,”  Julian said.

“Why would you think that?”  I felt weirdly worried.

Julian wiggled his fingers at Buggin.  “Buggie Bugs!  Tell us, Buggin, who do you love more?”

“Hey there, Buggin,”  I called out, a bit shakily.  “You like me, don’t you?”

Buggin didn’t react.  He sat looking out into space, his eyes impassive and his belly sticking out.  He probably wasn’t hungry just then.

“I don’t think he likes either one of us,”  I said.

“But you’re our baby!  Here, Buggin, come!”  Julian knelt down and stretched his arms out to him.

I couldn’t bear to watch this any longer.  “I hate to say this, but we might want to think about adopting out.”


It was plain to see that RedGirl was dying to tell me all about the sanctity of motherhood, but she made the wise choice and smiled at Buggin instead.  He wagged his tail slightly.

“He’s not very expressive,”  I said.

“Of course not,”  she chided me.  “He’s just a baby.”  She picked him up.  “It’ll be nice to have something to cuddle with,” she said.

“I’m glad to help.”  I was happy for her.  And I was happy for myself—I wouldn’t have to feel guilty anymore about not wanting to cuddle.

After she left with Buggin, I found Julian moping in the bedroom.

“We just never managed to win him over….  We couldn’t win a dog over,”  he repeated.  “What’s wrong with us?”

I flopped down on the bed.  “I thought when we got together you agreed that you didn’t want kids.  You don’t want to have kids, right?”

“I don’t know,”  he replied.  “It doesn’t matter.  It’s too late.  I don’t think we’re capable of raising children anymore.”

I rolled over and away from him, pressing my face into a pillow.  I wanted, more than anything, to go back to sleep.

Although he was arrested when the new government first came into power, Paul didn’t spend very much time in prison.  He beat up a few guards, dug an escape tunnel under one of the walls, and headed off into the surrounding woods, the knife he had swallowed before his arrest and hidden in his large intestine now clenched in his teeth.  He survived out there for months, fighting off wild cougars and picnickers, and then circled back into our town after the political unrest had died down a bit.

Or at least, that’s the story my sister told me.  Or the story he told her as he re-appeared in her life.  Neither one of them was angry at the other.  He brought excitement back into her world.  She stopped doing crafts.  During his wanderings in the wilderness, Paul had picked up one of those huge Hummers people used to drive back in the day.  Hardly anybody used them anymore, so you could find them along roadways and in ditches.  Paul and RedGirl raced the monster around the streets of their neighborhood.

“I’m amazed that you can keep that thing fueled up,”  I remarked.

“I know, we’re in luck.  Paul drilled an oil well in the backyard,”  she said.

“No kidding?  What does he use a Hummer for?  To go shopping?”

“That, and possibly to invade something.”  She didn’t sound certain.  “He’s been talking about blowing up that rail line they’re building out of the city…  He says he needs to disrupt any potential communications system.”

“No!”  Not my beloved light rail!  It wasn’t even there yet…  it wasn’t supposed to be finished until two years from now, but I was already excited about it, envisioning the exotic trips I would be able to take to places outside the downtown area.

RedGirl launched into her usual lecture.  “You know, they’ve done all kinds of polls, and the people of this town don’t *want* your stinking light rail.”

“But what about someone like me…?”

“Like I’ve told you a bazillion times:  buy a freaking car.”


“It’s time to introduce you to the new responsibilities of your position,”  Leah said, her head popping out from behind my cubicle wall like the trap of a carnivorous plant.  “Follow me—we’re going to have to discuss this in the conference room under the building.”

We took the elevator all the way down to one of the rooms underneath the parking garage.

Leah sat across from me at a small table.  “As you may or may not know, senior complaint associates are often involved in what we call extracurricular activities.  And this one should be right up your alley.  There seems to be a militia movement brewing in your corner of the suburbs.”  She never failed to remind me where I came from, even though I’d lived in the central part of the city for a couple of years by then.  “It’s a bunch of people driving very big cars, led by a guy named Paul.”  She chewed at her lip with a small smile.  “Do you think you can get us some more information about them?”

I paused for a second, then shrugged.  “Sure.”

Leah was disappointed.  “Oh?  I expected more resistance than this.  Aren’t these militia guys practically like your family?”

“It doesn’t matter if they’re family—their opinions are wrong,”  I said curtly.  “I hear that they’re planning to sabotage the light rail line, and I’m not about to allow that to happen.”

She leaned back and examined me.  “I have to say, I might be gaining a new-found respect for you.  I didn’t think you were this committed.  You are willing to choose your principles over your relationships, which is very good.”

She gave a wistful look to a little side room.  “Still, it’s almost too bad you said yes so easily.  I was looking forward to using some of those enhanced techniques we were recently trained in.”

I squirmed in my chair.

“We’ll have to leave that aside for now,”  she said.  “There’s only one thing left:  the matter of your bicycle.”

“But I don’t have a bicycle.”

“That’s a problem.  Once we’re ready to hit the militia, you’ll bring a small group of guerrilla fighters with you.  They will be on bikes, of course.”

“Why?  Can’t I just take my army on the bus with me?”

“You have to be forward thinking, Blue.  The bicycle is the tool of the future.  It is mode of transportation and weapon in one.”  She stood up.  “We will get one for you, and we expect you to use it.”

I nodded.  It wouldn’t be a big deal.  Besides, I needed to go call my sister.  I wanted to see how she was doing.  I also wanted to find out where Paul would be driving next.


I could believe in the future as I looked out over the battlefield.  It was a few weeks later, and from up on the West slope, I saw my city below as I loved it most.  In between the islands of greenspace, there were groups of bikers at the ready.  Behind them, three of the downtown streetcars slid slowly down the tracks, carrying reinforcements.  Buses blinked their lights in a friendly signal, scattered along the highway into the burbs.

“It’s like Paris in the Second World War or something,”  I thought, moved.

The bicyclists were starting to trickle out onto the highway.  This was the moment for my triumphant entrance.  I raised my arm in a sign to my own squad of bikers, wobbled forward on my jittery bike and instantly fell into a giant pothole.

When I finally limped back out of it, the battle had moved into suburbia, and it wasn’t going well.  From the treacherous, quiet streets and cul-de-sacs, an opposing force of vans and SUVs was knocking the bikes over and squashing them like bugs.

As Paul had once said to my sister, “It’s all about who’s in the bigger vehicle.”

I glanced back at my bicycle, tangled up at the bottom of the pothole.  “Fuck it,”  I thought.  I should have followed my instincts in the first place.  I had always trusted public transit most of all.

Fully transforming into BlueGirl for the first time in what felt like centuries, I fell down the slope until I landed at the bottom in a painful heap.  I jumped onto the roof of the nearest streetcar, propelling it with my energy until it flew off the tracks and, throwing off sparks, moved through the air over the river, the highway, the hills and came down with a grating sound right in the midst of the war.  I ducked to dodge a water bottle and tried to get an idea of my surroundings.

And then, there it was in the distance, the Hummer I had heard so many tales of.  Rolling down the hazy street, it looked more like a tank.  It had a bumper sticker which read “I Wipe My Ass With Hippies”.

I gritted my teeth.  I accelerated again and went riding the streetcar into the fray, clanging the bell.  Cars and bikes alike swerved out of my way.  The streetcar crashed into the Hummer, sending it spinning over its side.

A swarm of bicycle soldiers gathered around the overturned car and pulled Paul and RedGirl out of it.  One of them spoke on a cell phone.  “Yes, ma’am.  We got them.  Thanks.”

Paul smiled up at me.  “Well, hello.  I’m not surprised to meet you here.  I could always see through your supposed liberal values.”

“Be quiet,”  a bike activist ordered.  “We will talk to you about your crimes against the planet shortly.”

RedGirl was already being led away to a bus on standby, designated for the holding of POWs.

Paul laughed.  “You are about to learn yet another reason why cars are superior.  My Jeep has been set up for just this kind…”

His voice was drowned out by the explosive he had rigged up in his Hummer detonating.  The blast was so strong it knocked me off the roof of the streetcar and straight into the bed of a rusty pickup truck.


A couple of days after she was released, I called my sister to apologize.  I was having twinges of conscience, even though that went against my principles.

“Don’t feel bad for me,”  she said.  “You’re still a loser who doesn’t drive.”

“I’m just glad they let you out….”

“They know who I was friends with.  I’m part of a group they oppose, but I am part of a group.  Paul was independent—that was his biggest mistake.”

“Yes, sorry about Paul.”

“It’s okay.  He went out the way he wanted to go, like a warrior.  He will be remembered,”  she added, in a tone of voice which suggested that I didn’t understand what she meant, although I did.


In honor of our victory, we had a poetry contest.  I hated poetry, but as one of the heroes of the army, I was required to sit through the recitations of the contest winners.

“With two wheels and a brave spirit….”

A question clouded my mind as I listened.  I bent to whisper to one of the soldiers in the audience.

“I don’t remember Leah being at the battle.  She wasn’t there, right?”

“Well, she was one of the commanders of the war, so no, she wasn’t.  She was the one we called when we arrested the militia guy,”  he said.  “But she was watching the battle from her car.”

“Her car?”

“Yeah, she has that silver PT Cruiser.”

“But I thought our goal was to have no cars at all.  Isn’t that what we were fighting for?”

He frowned.  “I guess the way it works is that as long as the majority of us don’t have cars, then it won’t do much damage if a few of the deserving leaders have them.”

I got up and left the auditorium just as the poet bowed to thunderous applause.


Outside, in the rainstorm, Leah closed the door of her PT Cruiser and drove off to her house in the eastern suburbs of the city.

About the time I was having problems at work, Julian decided to rediscover his masculinity.  He started going to soccer games.

“I hope you don’t mind,”  he said to me nervously.  “We don’t do anything much.  It just gives me a chance to drink beer and chant some obscene slogans.”

“Knock yourself out,”  I said.  The Hatchets, our town’s soccer team, was a complete failure, but its fans did have some great chants.

I had to admit, it was a relief having him out of the house.  But then, he gradually turned into a Hatchet Man.  He dressed in the team colors of red and silver (“silver for the blade, red for the blood!”).  He walked around the apartment on game days waving a foam hatchet.

“You consider yourself to be an intellectual,”  I said.  “Don’t you find all of this slightly ridiculous?”

“What you have to understand is that this town is way too intellectual.  We’re so intellectual around here that we need to come down from the heights we’re on and experience flesh-and-bone existence, so to speak.  Team sports are very good for that,”  he reflected.  “I just ask that you be patient and let me run with the wolves for a little while.”

“Sure.  Get as much flesh-and-bone excitement as you can.”

“Would you by any chance be interested in going to a game with me?”


“Fine, but could you at least try to catch it on TV?  I have a banner I’m going to wave.”


That Friday afternoon, I turned on the television.  Julian had donned his blood-soaked scarf and stocking cap about an hour earlier and had taken off for the stadium.

The voice of the local sports commentary barker filled the silence.  I had intended to ignore the game, but then an amazing sight drew me to the screen.

This match was a particularly big deal, because the opposing team was visiting from overseas.  I watched them file onto the field, hypnotized.  They were Europeans.  They were strapping and healthy with their universal health care system, obviously well rested from their many vacations.  The confident grins on their faces were those of people with good wages and pensions.  Culture was seeping from their pores, mixed with their athletic sweat.

There was instant recognition of them deep within my DNA.  They came from the ancient land where my liberal values were first born.  They were casual and comfortable about being progressive in a way I could never hope to be.

I had to talk to these men and touch them.  I knew that by the time I got to the stadium, the game would be in its second half, but I didn’t care.  I was going to get the chance to cheer for my favorite team.


I waited outside the stadium until it was all over and the spectators began streaming out.  Within seconds, I was surrounded by a wave of red and silver, drunken choruses singing about lumberjacks, busty Hatchet Women with foaming cups of beer.  I elbowed my way through the crowd, searching for the otherworldly visitors.

I saw the flash of their bright orange shirts.  Ah, there they were.  They were walking to their bus.

I pushed forward until I could get near them.  I ran up to one of them, a very tall blonde, and pulled at his hand.

“Hi…I’m BlueGirl!  Welcome to America!”

“Nice to meet you, BlueGirl,”  the player said sadly.  “Would you like me to sign your boobs?”

“No, but could you please tell me about your retirement system?”

“Not today, Yankee.”  He patted me on the head and shuffled on with the rest of the team, their faces long and suffering.

Could it be?  Could the gods have lost a match?  And against The Hatchets?  Now I understood why the chants were even louder and more slurred than usual.  I turned and watched the huge Hatchet Guys slam their bare bellies into each other.

“Disgusting savages,”  I thought.

Suddenly, the festive atmosphere vanished.  There was movement near the eastern entrance of the stadium.  I could hear the sounds of glass smashing and angry screams.

I climbed on one of the concrete head sculptures around the stadium so that I could see better.  A whirlwind of violence was cutting through the post-game party, and it was orange.  The overseas team had brought European soccer fans with it.  They set cars on fire, punched out old ladies , and threw beer bottles at anything in their path.  The Hatchet People dropped their foam hatchets and ran.

“Stop!  Why are you doing this?”  I called out to the Europeans from the top of the giant head.  “What’s happened to your sophistication?”

“Aw, shaddap, ya little American bitch!”  one of them shouted and hurled a bottle at me.  I slid off the back of the head and fell on the sidewalk on my hands and knees.  I still had my supernatural falling talents, so I didn’t get seriously hurt, but I found myself in the middle of a raging riot.

As I scrambled away through the smoke and the fighting, a tattered banner floated towards me.  It had a happy smiley skull on it, with the motto “Death To Our Foes” written in beautiful cursive next to it.  This one had to have been made by Julian.  And when I squinted at it once more, I realized that “I Love BlueGirl” was printed in smaller letters at the bottom of the banner.

Ahhhhh, I thought.  But where was Julian?  And was he okay?  I couldn’t picture him coming out on top in a fistfight.

I finally found him, hiding behind an overturned cotton candy stand and clutching at a black eye.

I knelt down close to him, trying to shield him from the rioting.  “How are you feeling, baby?”

He blinked at me.  “Why are you here?  I thought you didn’t like soccer.”

“Uh…”  This was one of those times when I wished I could be a better liar.  “I was watching the game…  and then I really wanted to see you…”

“Could you cut the crap?”  he croaked at me and snatched his shredded banner from my hand.  “You’re here for something else.  Who are you rescuing now?”

I looked in the direction of the European team’s bus, but my view was blocked by a belching soccer hooligan in an orange scarf.

“Nobody,”  I replied.

The hooligan spotted the banner Julian was holding.  “Check it out,”  he muttered.  “Death to our foes, eh?”

He picked up a shard of glass from the concrete and approached us.

It had been ages since I had used my blue energy as a weapon, but I pulled some out from inside myself and shot it at him.  He continued on, unaffected.

Of course—my liberal energy wouldn’t do anything to him.  He was already a liberal European.  Where he came from, he was probably on the dole.  Dammit.

He cackled at us, swaying from side to side.

So in this case I did not have the advantage of political superiority.  But I did have something else.  I was sober.  As he wavered and his eyes went blank for a moment, I jumped up and gave him a hard kick to the groin.

He collapsed and blacked out on the ground, smiling in a puddle of his own drool.


“Thank you for defending me today,”  Julian said quietly.

“Would you like to take me to more games sometime?”

“No…  I don’t think soccer is my thing after all.”  He curled up on the bed, pressing an ice pack to his eye.  “I think I need my sleep.  Have a good night, all right?”

“Night night.”  I stood up and went into the kitchen.  I noticed that the banner was crumpled up in the garbage can.

I leaned on the counter and wondered what was wrong with me.  The life I had was good.  Why was I wrecking it?

I pulled the scraps of Julian’s banner out of the garbage can and put them on a shelf in the dining room.  From now on, I would try harder.

How I missed my sister and her bacon.

Well, not really.  But I did miss the days when my sister and her bacon were my biggest worries.  The days when we had our family dinner parties and I would bring my standard bag of chips and she would fry her bacon.  Naturally, her bacon was superior to my chips, but at least the chips went with the bacon.  They could co-exist in harmony on a cheap paper plate.

Now it was time for another one of our company potlucks and the theme this month was International Peace.  I went to check the sign-up sheet again.  You could pick one of six continents, but it was filling up rapidly and I was running out of continents.

I read the entries.  Fried miniature speckled duck eggs.  Special cheese from Iceland.  Grape-flavored hummus.  Chicken encrusted in dark chocolate and mushrooms.

What the hell was all this?  Where did people get this stuff?  With the food prices going up, I could barely afford my non-encrusted chicken and a bottle of discount cola.

“So, what are you making?”

I spun around to find Leah standing behind me.  She was wearing a very high ponytail which swung from side to side when she talked, like a whip.

“I was thinking barbecue potato chips,”  I faltered.

She wagged her ponytail at me.  “No, you probably shouldn’t bring those,”  she said.  “How do barbecue chips contribute to international peace?”

“Oh.  Well…”

“They don’t.  They’re clearly a vulgar American food.”

“I’ll grant you that.  But is it fair to ask the working class to buy exotic foods for this thing?”

She bristled.  “Our workers are just as capable of buying gourmet food products as they’ve ever been.  We’re going to prove this with the potluck.  And you’d better help us prove it, too.”

“Fine.  I will bring something…”  I bent down to peer at the sign-up list.  “Something, um….Australian with me.”


“Like what?  Kangaroo steaks?”  Julian wondered.

“I don’t know,”  I snapped.  I looked around, feeling lost in my own kitchen.  Unless a recipe involved the microwave, I did my best to avoid it.

“I have no idea how to cook a steak,”  I lamented.  “I don’t even like steaks.  Is there anything else Australians eat?”

“Why don’t you make something you like and know how to do?  Make a salad.  You love salads,”  Julian suggested.

“I can’t make my Caesar salad.  It’s too ordinary.  So is my spinach salad.  There is nothing unusual about it.”

“Seeing you cook is plenty unusual enough,”  Julian said and then, following the time-honored tradition of  boyfriends everywhere, slowly backed out of the kitchen.

I pulled out my shiny, hardly ever used cookbook, and leafed through it.  It was hopeless.  The book was called The Old Batchelor’s Kitchen and the recipes were all five-minute meals for non-cooks like me.  The potluck was no place for amateurs.

Then a tip on one of the pages caught my eye.  “It’s easy to turn a dish into a unique experience.  Simply add an extra ingredient which reflects your distinct personality.”

Maybe I could make a salad and add a unique ingredient.  I searched my mostly empty cupboards for something different.  Out of desperation, I finally opened up our stash of Apocalypse canned supplies.  We were keeping them in case of societal breakdown, but hey, this was urgent.

Pickled beets…herring in mustard sauce…peach halves.  Which would go best with a Caesar salad?

I dumped some lettuce into a plastic bowl.  Well…wasn’t cooking supposed to be an art?  Weren’t you supposed to be fearless, to throw clashing flavors together, like you would contrasting colors in an abstract painting?  I opened one can, then another, sprinkling the contents into the bowl.  As I went along, I added ingredients faster and faster, in a blur of panic, never tasting what I made because I was so scared of it.

When the time came for the potluck, I called what I brought the Grand Mixture, and for its ethnic origins, I wrote in “The International Waters of the Pacific.”


“It appears that Blue has made the least nationalistic dish of the potluck.  Hooray for her,”  said Cassie, one of my co-workers.  “A symbol of the perfectly blended mixture we may one day become upon this planet.”  Cassie got a little carried away by the poetry of the moment sometimes.

“It’s what I strive for,”  I said modestly.

She put a spoonful of it into her mouth and spent a few minutes working on maintaining a pleasant expression.

“What did you base your recipe on, Blue?”  Leah asked with suspicion.

I shifted my eyes away from her.  “It comes from an old tale about sailors in the Pacific…It is about several ships that all crashed around the same rock, and it was Christmastime….and the men from the ships had Christmas Eve dinner together on the rock, and they made this dish out of everything they had on board.  This is also why it’s made out of canned items.”

“Hmmmm,”  Leah said.

After a struggle, Cassie had managed to swallow down her mouthful.  “It’s not that I don’t appreciate daring food choices, but this just doesn’t…taste good.”

The co-worker to my left must have noticed my worried face, because she nudged me.  “See, someone very important is enjoying it.”

It was true.  The head manager of our floor, a big healthy man with red cheeks, was shoveling my Mixture into his mouth.

“Seconds, please!”  he roared.  “Just like my Nana used to make back in the fatherland, God bless her!”

He was quickly handed more.  In between bites, he inspected everyone else’s plates.  “It’s delicious!  Why aren’t you ladies having any?  What, are you afraid of real food?”

The ladies hesitated, then spooned out small portions of it for themselves, and ate along with the manager.  They faked smiles while they chewed, as difficult as that was.

“Mmmmm!”  one of them said in a strangled voice.

“This really is quite interesting,”  another one added.  She then had to put her head down on the table and her shoulders heaved a few times, but she got herself back under control and raised her face again, her forehead covered with droplets of sweat.

Leah made no move to try it.  “Why aren’t you having any of your own creation?”  she questioned me.

“I already had a full bowl at home,”  I explained.

“Believe me, some more padding won’t hurt you!”  the manager boomed and he ladled a sizeable chunk out onto my plate.

I hadn’t realized just how bad it was until I tasted it.  It was so bad it was existential.  It made me question the balance of the universe.  Every possible flavor was in there, and when all the flavors of the world were unified, they became a nauseating mush.  I leaned my head on my hand and closed my eyes, acting as if I was savoring the taste.  The women at the table watched me, and this time their smiles were genuine.

As I forced myself to keep eating and everything was swimming in front of my eyes, I heard the manager say that I was the winner for best dish of the potluck.  I passed out before I could find out what prize I’d won.


When I came to, weak and clammy, I was on the sofa in our apartment and Julian was standing over me, concerned.

“Don’t ever cook again, okay?”  he said.


“You gave yourself some serious food poisoning.  You made everybody else at your office sick, too.  Except the manager guy, he was fine.  He said he’s inviting you to his house for dinner as a reward.”

“Oh, no.”  The nausea was back, stronger than before.

“I don’t know about some of those women you work with.  That Leah chick said she was happy you were in the upper management’s good graces.  She sounded kinda threatening.”

I stuffed my face into a pillow.  “She’s pissed off because the manager is her direct supervisor.”

“So you think she’ll be gunning for you?”

Gunning for me?  Even though she made a big deal of girl power and women having each other’s back, she was always gunning for me.  There was only one option for me:  I had to make myself look bad at the dinner.  It would put my job at risk, but getting promoted ahead of Leah would be much more dangerous.

I was going to do what I should have done in the first place—bring a bag of chips.


“Wow!  Just like the brand I used to eat in college!”  the manager yelled out.  “I love it!”  He tore open the bag of chips, and he and his two kids began devouring them.

Failure!  I thought not bringing his favorite Mixture would be the surefire way to irritate him, but my plan didn’t seem to be working.

“Well, I have to confess this isn’t a foodie type of food!”  I said.

“As you can see, I’m not a foodie!”  he replied, wiping the crumbs off his shirt.  He slapped a plate with a steak on it on the table in front of me.

There was a wilted piece of broccoli next to the beef.  “Gotta have your greens, it’s good for you!”  he lectured his children.

“Aw, Dad, do we have to eat that?”  the older boy complained.

I hung my head over the steak, unable to get started on it.

“The chips were excellent!  I’m going to promote you to senior complaint associate, the same pay level Leah is at,”  the manager said.  “Congratulations!  And don’t look so worried!  Keep making that salad and you’ll do great.”

“I will,”  I murmured.  “Thank you for the honor, sir.”

I bit into the steak, feeling as if it was my last meal.

When I got home from work, Julian and Nova were building a giant replica of a teddy bear.  Nova thought that this childhood toy was the source of her obsession with bear costumes.  So she was working through that.  Also, it made for a good conceptual art project.

The bear was made out of recycled newspaper and was kind of unstable.  It loomed over me as I walked into the living room.

Nova was standing on a chair, applying extra texture to the ears.

“You poor thing!”  she cooed when she saw me.  “Did you get through your day at the office?  Would you like some tea?”

“I’m doing okay.  What have you guys been doing?”

“We’ve been gluing and painting all day!”  Nova said.  Julian emerged from the belly of the bear, covered in glitter.

Nova climbed down from the chair.  She gave me a hug and I got stuck to her.  “I wish you could have spent your time with us.  You would have had so much fun.”  She was right.

For a long time, I had a feeling of guilt over being employed.  I couldn’t see how my work was helping anyone.  In fact, more often than not, I made my customers’ lives worse, delaying or denying their requests for services.

Nova created art.  That at least sounded meaningful.  Julian worked for a co-op.  I was never quite sure what it was they produced, exactly, but it seemed important.

Maybe I should try doing something creative myself, I thought.  Something that would make me feel like I wasn’t just a machine for paying the bills.  I never had much of a talent for anything except ranting, but….

RedGirl no longer performed superhero deeds, so she had become involved in endless hobbies instead.  She was always doing something, making one thing after another, embroidering, scrapbooking, carving, baking.

It had been a long time since I’d been in her bedroom.  I didn’t recognize it.  It was overflowing with her projects.  They were stuffed on her shelves and piling up at my feet.

She sized up my confused face.  “Paper sculptures,”  she decided.  “They don’t last long, but they’re very easy.  You can make animals, or you can make folk art patterns—that would fit your political issues.”

She handed me a book titled Paper Miracles.  Apparently this was a volume for the remedial crafter, with an undertone of “even you can make something pretty!”

On my way out of the house, I stopped by the kitchen, where my parents were sitting at the table.

“Have you seen what’s happened to her bedroom?”  I asked.

“I don’t ever go there anymore,”  Mother replied.  Father hid his face behind a magazine.

I spent the next few evenings swearing loudly and gluing myself to multicolored strips of paper.  It was hard for me to imagine why people would choose to torture themselves like this in their spare time.

But I was determined to finish my project.  The book contained a menagerie of paper critters, and I wanted to make the complete set, so that I could display them in a neat row for everyone to admire.

Unfortunately, all my animals looked like they were dying or severely disabled.  They were lopsided, one eye larger than the other and one leg shorter than the other, collapsing and folding in on themselves, their tails broken.  When I arranged them on the shelf, they looked like a cross between a zoo and a psychiatric ward.

I sighed as I regarded my line of crippled children.  Still, this would prove that I was more than just a cubicle monkey.


As I was getting ready to go to work, I found Nova in front of my paper menagerie.  Her chest was heaving.

“I know they are not very…”  I said.

“Oh, those are perfect,”  she sighed.  “They take me right to that place…all the ugliness and the sadness…”

“Well, I’ve never crafted anything before, so…”

“I love them.  I don’t need my teddy bear anymore,”  she said.  “I feel so traumatized…in a good way.”

“Thank you.”  I supposed I should accept the compliment.

“Would you like to be in an art show?”

“With paper animals…?”

“We’re setting something up in my friend’s pizza restaurant.  It’s going to be lunchtime experimental art.  It will remind the businesspeople of how miserable they are.”

“I gotta run to work, or I’ll be late.”  I moved towards the door.

Nova stretched her arm out to me.  “Call in sick.  You’re an artist.”


My family mocked me when they found out I was in an art show.

“A pizza restaurant, huh?”  Mother asked.  “I guess all the starving artists have to start out somewhere. Haha.”

At the opening day of the show, the artists got free pizza.  When the customers entered the restaurant, the newspaper bear wobbled over their heads, and when they sat down to eat, they were confronted with a display of my misshapen animals.

Nova and I ate our pizza and tried to pretend we weren’t eavesdropping on the reactions to our work.

“Those are so cute!  They must have been made by kids.  Look, that one’s a giraffe!”

“Ha, have you seen these fucked up animals?  They’re hilarious!”

“Hmmm, this is not what I expected,”  Nova said.  “I was hoping for something more like, I didn’t realize my life is so futile.  It’s like they think this is entertaining.”

RedGirl came too.  “I don’t understand.  You did them wrong,”  she said.  “This is not how the book says to do it.”

“I think that if you want to be artistic, you have to do things differently from what the book says,”  I offered.  “That’s what it seems like, anyway.”

“But I thought you had to have skills.  So does this mean art doesn’t have to be good anymore?”

I was already slightly embarrassed, and this wasn’t helping.  I went out of the dining room and hid in the back, in between the empty pizza boxes.

Nova came searching for me.  “Why aren’t you out there?  The question and answer session is about to start.”

I shook my head.  “Nova, we both suck at this.  What are we doing here?”

She sat down next to me.  “The art reviewer from the weekly is here.  He thinks we’re refreshing in our simplicity.  What are you talking about?”  She put her hand on my shoulder.  “Stop worrying about unimportant crap.  You could get to spend the rest of your life doing this—you’d never have to have a stupid customer service job again.”

I leaned back against the boxes.  I would have loved to give up my soul-draining job.  When I thought about it that way, I had no problem picturing myself making ugly paper toys until the end of my days.

I got up.  “All right.  I better go talk to them about what inspires me.”


Leah was not pleased with my activities outside of the office.  She was at my desk the morning after the show.  “Silly bourgeois hobbies,”  she said.  “What a waste of your time…  We have serious problems to deal with.”

“The reviewers liked it, and they were all progressives…”

“Reviewers,”  Leah snorted.  “Yes, I heard you were a success.  Who knows, you might have a good chance of getting an arts grant from the city.  You probably don’t need this job anymore.”

“Hold on,”  I called out after her as she left.

I felt the cold sweat on my neck.  The experts at the restaurant had hailed my new and exciting perspective, but they had not paid me.  I couldn’t afford to lose my job.

All that I had been given was a positive review—words on paper.  I tore it to pieces in a bathroom stall.


“Nova, I’ve got it.  I know how we can pull this off.”

“Hrrrmmmf.”  Nova stirred underneath her blanket on the sofa.  “What…do you have an idea for your next project?  Is this that midnight inspiration thing?”

“No, I have an idea for how I can be an artist and still make it financially.”

“How’s that?”

“You should get a regular job.  Then I could quit mine and make my paper animals full-time.”

“Huh…no!  Where will I find a job that fast?  And what about my art?”

“You can get a job at a coffee shop like before.  I’ve worked for a couple of years—now it’s my turn for a break.  Besides, it sounds from the weekly article like I’m the one with the destiny, if you know what I mean.”

Nova stood up, shaking.  “I’m so sorry, Blue, but I can’t do this for you.  I’m going to have to leave.”

“But I need your help…”

“I’m sorry.”  She pulled on her shirt and jeans and shoved the blanket into her backpack.  “Bye.  Tell Julian I’ll call him.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have places I can go,”  she said as she walked out.  She was going to knock on somebody’s door in the middle of the night, the way she had knocked on ours.

I sprawled out on the abandoned sofa and smiled.  I would never be an artist, and I didn’t want to fake being one.  I would stick to the familiar art of getting rid of people.

I wondered what I was going to do with the extra money I would have now that I was no longer helping support Nova.

Maybe I’d become a patron of the arts and buy myself a giant stuffed teddy bear.