Last time we spoke I told you I’d return to finish the tale of my smartphone situation. A long holiday with the family, some mid-level personal drama, and the problem, I suspect, of subconsciously not actually wanting to return to the topic kept me from it; I apologize for dragging my feet. But in the second half of my post, I planned to examine the existential despair that visited me upon activating my new iPhone and when you don’t feel like writing about existential despair, it’s my opinion that you ought to run with that as long as possible. You’ll be brooding soon enough; no need to rush things.
The short of it is this:
When fired up my new iPhone, Apple automatically populated the thing with contact information for dozens of people from the past six of my nine lives. I didn’t want that. I didn’t expect it. So that flood of fossilized information knocked me off my block, hard. There were old, old contacts in my new, new device, some so old as to be unrecognizable unless I concentrated very hard, and this gave me a headache and the existential despair I previously mentioned. Mona? Who the hell was Mo — oh dear God! Without Steve Jobs working his dark arts from beyond the grave, I’d have never thought of that person again as long as I lived, which would have been lovely. But no, Apple plopped her in my life without so much as a how-dee-do (on a Tuesday morning no less) and I was sucked into a downtown nightclub in 2010, going full idiot with Mona and her roided-out boyfriend whose name I blessedly do not remember because I didn’t put his name in my phone,Apple. I have myself to thank for that, I suppose.
There were a couple industry contacts that turned my stomach. If you don’t make a few adversaries over the course of 12 years in your field, you should probably take more risks. I have several adversaries. What I want is water under the bridge; what I don’t want are my adversaries’ phone numbers or every text message between us from the start of our relationship through to the bitter end, which Apple has graciously kept safe and sound in the cloud all these years, unbeknownst to my Android-using self.
But it was all there. And there were others.
Apple: Would you like to contact your ex-husband? Me: What?! No! Apple: Because we have his phone number and email add— Me: Oh my god … Apple: We saved it for you! See? Me: I’d like you to get very far away from me now. Apple: Wait! Where are you going? We also have the number for the cafe you used to work at! It closed three years ago but if you need the number, it’s right here!
All that mess notwithstanding, I gotta say: I love my phone. I’m glad I switched. And as humiliating as it is, I confess to waiting a whole extra week to receive my device because last month Apple announced the iPhone could now come a brand-new color — a very groovy alligator green — and … and … I wanted my phone in that new color, okay?? I did! I wanted the alligator green! And I don’t care who knows that I love my shiny, alligator green iPhone! I love the facial recognition function! I know Android phones have that too but I like the smiley face that pops up on my stupid iPhone when the robot inside of it gazes up at me, alright?? I love the tapback feature on iMessage! I love the way you can shoot lasers out of text messages! It’s amazing!
Me: Mary, you sheep! You worm! You don’t even like green! Apple: But you did though! Like 10 years ago!
My friend Nick did a good job with Valentine’s Day yesterday. He paid me awfully nice compliments in a card (I am evidently brilliant, gorgeous, funny, and sexy!) and he brought a heart-shaped pizza for us to have for dinner. That’s right, a heart-shaped pizza. That pizza is going to get its own post, but not tonight.
Tonight, I need to ask you all how a woman goes about hiring a handyman, because I need one, bad, and I don’t have the first clue about to get one.
“Hang on, Mary,” you say. You purse your lips and put a hand on your hip. “We’re glad to hear you’re eating heart-shaped pizzas and getting cards, but we’d be really glad if this Nick person was handy.”
I dissolve into giggles.
“Not that kind of handy! Mary! Now, seriously: What do you need fixed? Can’t Nick help you?”
I pull myself together and I thank you for your concern. One of the I like spending time with Nick is because he is extremely helpful. He’s fixed my internet, my phone, my icemaker, my computer. He always tidies the kitchen when he’s over and sometimes I go into the bathroom and something looks strange and I realize the sink is totally free of toothpaste bits and this is because Nick enjoys rinsing things. It’s wonderful.
But though he tried his dead-level best, Nick can’t fix my dishwasher, and I need that dishwasher fixed. Now.
So I need a handyman, or a fix-it guy — or girl, or marmoset for heaven’s sake. I literally do not care, as long as they/it knows about water pressure and, like, “parts.” Because a girl working full time and going to grad school full time cannot have a broken dishwasher. Cannot, cannot, cannot. The hopeless, helpless, panicked feeling I got when I opened the dishwasher for the fifth time and saw the dishes were not clean but in fact now dirtier with hardened, shellacked food and soap on them? That was a bad feeling. I can’t. I need my dishwasher to wash the dishes I put inside of it. It’s not so much to ask, right? Please?
Beyond that, I need some heavy pictures hung. I need a new faucet installed in my bathroom. I need a new medicine cabinet stuck on the wall. I need a chain on the light in the pantry. I need the vent cover thing in my closet to stop falling of the blinkin’ wall or I’m going to start throwing my body against it until it goes in its home.
Tell me how to hire someone trustworthy to help me do these things. Please?
Now, of course I know there are services online, but it’s the wild west out there. I live in a big city. It’s a shot in the dark, trying to find someone who won’t take advantage of my household fix-it ignorance. Believe me, I’ve been here before: I hired a handyman a year ago to do a few things and it was an awful experience. He did a poor job. It was so expensive. Afterward, the dumb, big corporate company kept calling me and texting me with advertisements and things. Ugh.
Angie’s List might have worked years ago but Angie sold that business awhile back and now it’s just big, corporate, plastic companies who buy space on the thing. I asked Dion, one of the maintenance guys in my building, if he knew anyone who did this kind of work; he didn’t. (And yes, my building has maintenance staff, but they do building stuff, common area stuff, water shut-offs and the like. They don’t hang pictures and they don’t do fridges, washers, dryers, etc.)
What I’m hoping is that one of you dear people has a brother in Evanston who is the best handyman in three states and you can give me his number. Or you have been using the same handyman for 20 years and why, he/she lives right down the street from me! This is what I’m hoping, because I don’t know what else to do.
Thanks, everyone. I need you. Perhaps more importantly: The dishes need you.
“Terrific!” I thought. “It’s so nice to know that people are taking time for the holiday! Perhaps I should do the same.” And off I went to do something I can’t remember, but I know it wasn’t email related. The next day, when I did a couple of habitual email checks on my phone, I still didn’t have any emails and that was still fine. “Phenomenal!” I thought again. “It is a holiday. No one should be emailing today in observance of our country’s birthday. Good job, everyone!” And then I went to sleep.
By mid-morning on July 5th, however, I grew concerned.
“Well, how’s that?” I thought, and scratched my head. For a moment, I wondered if folks were just sleeping off the firework festivities. Then I remembered that I do not have many friends who are undergraduate students but lots of friends and colleagues who have to work for a living for Lord’s sake. It was very unlikely that most of the working world was sleeping off a hangover after four days off. And though it was possible that no one in the entire world needed or wanted to reach me… Well, that was depressing to think about so I shook it off. Could it be there was something wrong with my email? I refreshed my browser for the sixth time before I saw the error message:
“Unable to retrieve mail for [email address.] Too many messages on server.”
This confused me a great deal because I fancy myself as being pretty good about cleaning out old mail and zapping spam and all that. Besides, Gmail gives you a bazillion GBs, whatever those are. I poked around to try and understand what was going on and by “poked around” I do mean that I poked at keys and looked at the screen without understanding anything. I hate that I am hopeless at anything information-technology-related, not just because this causes me untold 21st-century anguish, but also because it would be so cool if I were good at all that! Don’t you just love a gal who’s a computer whiz? Like Penny on Inspector Gadget! But the sad truth is that I can sew and give killer lectures and write stuff and tell corny jokes but I cannot, cannot fix any problem related to an email server, a modem, or a website, ever. Have you ever truly gnashed your teeth? I have.
My last attempt to at least see where this alleged glut of emails could be hiding, I logged onto my main email address’s online mailbox. (Usually, I forward all that to my Gmail account and no, I did not set that up myself nor do I understand how it works and even writing that sentence makes me all itchy.) What I found when I logged onto that site made scream in horror, a la Janet Leigh in Psycho:
My email account contained 4,000 emails. Four thousand. Why?
BECAUSE I WAS SPAMMED 4,000 TIMES.
That’s right. I had 4,000 blinkin’ email offers for Celexa, Viagra, Hot-SExy Ladiez, notices of Incoming Faxxes, etc. But 4,000?? Why? How? The only thing I could figure is that when my main email was configured to funnel into my Gmail, the Gmail robots caught all that spam before it got to my Gmail inbox but it stayed on the main email server and hasn’t been deleted off the server for years at this point and — oh, for the love of Philip Larkin, I don’t know!!
Hyperventilating is not a laughing matter, but I was having a little respiratory trouble or a hot flash or something. I emailed the customer service-like email address associated with my account and put “URGENT!” in the subject line. While I waited for a response, I bit off all my nails thinking about all the emails I wasn’t getting. What would become of them? Of me??
When the response came, I felt like bursting into tears. When you read what “Mark” suggested to me, you may cry, too:
“Hi, Mary: We can simply remove all that if you want, but I don’t really have an easy way server-side to retain anything unless you need to keep something with a specific string, or email address. I could also put them in a tarball and you could download them, rename them to .eml and open them in Mozilla Thunderbird. If this were my account though, I’d just setup POP3 in Thunderbird to download and delete everything and use spam filterer plugin to drop all garbage.”
What does that even mean, Mark? What does that mean??
What’s a “tarball”?? What’s a “.eml”?? And you’re telling me Mozilla still exists?? And it’s not your account, Mark! It’s mine! So don’t tell me about what you would do because you are an IT guy and you can hit a few keys and make, I don’t know, animated websites?? And another thing! I barely, barely know what a plugin is andI like it that way, Mark! I like it that way!
I tried not to cry as I stabbed out a reply email, telling this nice man that I didn’t know what he was saying at all — but I stopped. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t engage in this horrible, terrible “tarball” task he was going to try and talk me through. So, with a lead heart, I went to the inbox…and I started to delete things. I realize this is not a real fix; I’m going to have to talk to Mark eventually. But I figured I could at least clear some room so that my emails could come and go until that time came. I configured my inbox to show 200 messages per page; I did a search for any email with “Lexapro” or “Wedding Nite” or “Send MoN3Y” in it and deleted the pages and pages of emails those searches returned.
For now, I think I’m getting my email okay. But the spam keeps coming. Oh, it’s so awful. For every real email I get, I get four spams. And it’s at times like this when I think about the problems folks had in the old days and wonder if they’d trade with us. It would have really been lousy to break the handle of your only butter churn, you know? It would be a real drag to find a wolf got all the eggs out of the hen house again. And I know a problem with my email doesn’t involve trudging through the snow to slop the hogs, etc., but it is the worst.
Memorial Day is often referred to as “the unofficial first day of summer.” Memorial Day was Monday and I suppose there is a sense of a changing of the guard, seasonally-speaking, but the actual first day of summer isn’t until June 20th. Seeing as it’s only the first of the month, we are very much still in spring. Officially.
I’m in no rush: Spring is my favorite season. The world gets washed in spring and after winter, we sorely need it. The smell of wet leaves, soaked garden beds, damp bark — that loamy, vegetal smell makes my heart break. I welcome the breaking. All over the city, the flowers are tender explosions that line the slicked streets and I don’t care that my sandals squish as I walk along. I’m alive.
On the way to the airport at 5 a.m. last weekend, riding the El, you cannot believe the sky I saw. A storm was coming in from the west making the sky a deep sapphire blue, almost purple around the edges. But the sun was coming up over the lake behind us and suddenly, all the metal storage warehouse buildings along the Orange line route were bathed in gold, dripping with the gold light of that early spring sun. The dark heaven behind them threw each bright square into even sharper relief. It took my breath away. Not even Monet could’ve captured what I saw through my train window. Only spring can deliver that kind of beauty in the first place.
Spring has a good reputation. It’s been known to inspire all kinds of things. Lovers. Poetry. Music. Hope.
If you need any of those things, if you need to rely on any of Spring’s gifts — pea shoots, caterpillars, rhubarb pie, breezes singing through your bedroom window, peonies — you can. Spring told me.
I was going to write about how I’m what’s called “a hard stick,” how at last week’s infusion appointment and today’s infusion appointment, the gals nicked a vein and/or my IV blew and ow, ow, OW does that hurt. Did I cry? Sure, I cried. I cried like a wee babe. My bruises are gnarly. But boo-hoo, Fons. Boo-hoo. Perhaps you should think about someone other than yourself!
Capital idea, old chap. In fact, you’ve given me an idea, Mean Voice I Just Made Up. This the perfect occasion for a light rant I’ve been meaning to deliver. Yes, I shall channel my personal woe into a light rant regarding those who jog on busy city sidewalks. Thoughts of myself are already evaporating.
Before anyone gets upset, let me plead my case — and please note that I’m delivering a “light” rant. My rant is a light one because my ire over this issue does not run that deep. I’m only interested in examining a simple annoyance. If you jog and you are already bristling, if your hands are already poised over the keyboard to upbraid me, wait until I make my point. If you’re still mad, know that I have braced myself for chastisement. Sort of. I hate chastisement.
To the rant!
I have no quarrel with joggers or jogging. There have been seasons in my own life when I enjoyed a nice jog. I may jog again, though the last time I tried it was too cold and my knees hurt. But I totally get the joy of the jog, the runner’s high, finding “the zone.” And city folk who jog — or out-of-town joggers just visiting — should totally jog in the city! I’m not anti-city jog. In fact, I think city jogging is a terrific idea! Just think about all the great urban spots begging to be jogged: Central Park in Manhattan; the miles of gorgeous lakefront here in Chicago; San Francisco’s hills and that Embarcadero thing. For a jogger, a city is a runner’s paradise.
Except that paradise does not include the entire city. I’m thinking specifically about congested sidewalks in the downtown area. Jogging on Michigan Avenue, for example, on a Saturday afternoon is maybe not the best. There are so many people there. They are walking and talking and shopping and eating things and trying to navigate the north/south or east/west of the narrow cement path they’re treading. When joggers come along — they are so often in pairs — it’s a problem. You’re walking along, thinking about your errands or how you need to call your mother and suddenly a man in neoprene is running at you and you have to jump out of the way. If you don’t jump out of the way, he gives you a dirty look, like, “Excuse me. Ever heard of jogging?”
It can’t be a good jog, the busy city sidewalk jog. Can it? Duckin’ and divin’ and getting slowed down by the packs of high school kids and the ladies who lunch, the throngs watching the mimes and the picketers outside the AT&T store? Wouldn’t you rather find a boardwalk or a stretch of sand dunes? A track of some kind?
For all those who disagree with me, you have the floor. Make your case for jogging on busy city sidewalks. Someone will probably convince me I’m wrong and I’ll change my mind. (I’m either very open-minded or a total pushover, I’m never sure.)
That post has been deleted because your ol’ pal Mar doesn’t feel so funny anymore. Well, not funny ha-ha. I feel more sorta funny hysterical. Not funny hysterical as in “That’s hysterically funny!” but more like”Please, please make this day end.”
At press time, I’ve been at the Westchester County Airport since 3:30 p.m. It is now 9: 10 p.m. My plane will not board for another two hours.
But before you clutch your pearls, you must know that this is actually miraculous news. For just two hours ago — let’s call it the Planestine Era — I did not possess a boarding pass for a flight to Chicago tonight. Oh, no, no, my little marzipans. I had something else — two something elses, actually. I had in my sad, manicured paw a boarding pass for a flight tomorrow with a layover in Washington D.C. which would put me at O’Hare at nearly noon. And this scrap of paper was stapled to another scrap of paper which was a hotel voucher for a night’s sleep at the nearby La Quinta Inn. (I use the phrase “night’s sleep at the La Quinta Inn” loosely.)
It has been, as my dear mother would say, “Airport Appreciation Day.”
First of all, let me tell you that I understand the following:
No one is hurt, no one has died.
No one ought to be getting on a broken plane.
This is what I have been telling myself for the past seven hours. Perspective is crucial at times like these. Perspective is a tool that, as an adult, you simply must employ on Airport Appreciation Day. Otherwise, you are in danger of acting like a child and I assure you: A child is precisely what you want to act like when you’re in my situation. I get it.
Remember the days when you were at a slumber party or a circus and you pitched a fit because you just wanted to go home?? Remember how no amount of candy or toys or hugs and kisses from Mommy or Daddy or Gramma or Grampa would console you because you were tired and angry and fed up and grouchy and probably there was something going on with your poop (sorry, but you know I speak the truth) and you just freaked out because everything was lousier than it had ever, ever been, ever and NO NO NO.
Yeah, I know. But difference between children and adults is that we know better than to do that past a certain age. Oh, we have exquisite reasons to freak out. The feelings are totally legit. But when we’re grown, we have to try harder. We must breathe. We must recognize the humanity in the people who are working ticket counters and serving sodas on airplanes. After all, they are just like us. They are trying to earn a living. They do not wake up in the morning, stretch, and think to themselves, “How can I have the worst day of my life? How can I cause suffering in my fellow man? Oh, I know!”
No. The people who work at the airport wake up everyone else. They wake up like you. With few exceptions, these folks are trying their best to like, avoid hideousness.
I saw some hideousness today. Tonight. People yelling. People disgusted with each other. It was rough. And I wasn’t a cool cucumber the whole time: When they told me I wasn’t going to sleep in my bed tonight after being in three states this week, hot tears started pouring down my cheeks. Some people in the line might’ve thought I was a drama queen, but I assure you, those were real, bitter tears.
But I knew to dry up before long. This is life. This is travel. The man behind me, he lashed out at the ticket people working through the long line of exhausted, bewildered passengers. I’m not saying I’m better than than that guy; I’m saying he couldn’t overcome his inner, tired, sad child. Tonight, at least, I managed to overcome mine.
Writing helps me live my life. That’s why I do it. Writing is how I make sense of things, so as I wait here at the gate for two more — please say just two more — hours, it’s my only comfort. My blood pressure has dropped. I am breathing easier. This is the gift I have in my life. It’s you, it’s my journal, it’s my book. For me, I always have an escape route. Letters and a page.
Wait! I didn’t tell you how it worked out!
Right at the moment when I was leaving the airport to go to my sad, sad hotel room, there was announcement: American Airlines was going to see if they could get a plane over here to Westchester County to fly us to Chicago. I raced back through security. We all waited with bated breath. Then, the good news came: Yes! Yes, there would be a plane! It wouldn’t be here till 10:40 p.m., but it would come!
So I had a glass of wine with a few other folks in limbo and then I came down here to you.
It’s been months since I’ve seen you. Wait, how many? Six?? No way! Really! Six months. Hmph. Well, yeah, I guess that seems about right. You look good. You look older, but aren’t we all, Daylight Saving Time? Aren’t we all.
Daylight Saving Time — can I call you DST? Thanks. DST, I know tonight’s a big night for you; it’s one of the two biggest nights of your year and I appreciate that. You’ve got a lot going on. I mean, tonight, all the clocks displayed on the cell phones and televisions and the computers of the good people of America* will read “3:00 a.m.” at the very moment they ought to read “2 a.m.”, as though they have been meddled with by some insane supercomputer arch villain who has taken control of the world’s technology in order to make the people of Earth (or “the U.S.A.”) suffer by losing an hour of sleep.
Though you are not exactly an insane supercomputer arch villain, DST, you are close. We know this because I am a person of Earth/the U.S.A., and I will suffer as a result of your little time party. And I have decided you should know.
See, I am in St. Paul, Minnesota right now because I worked all day for the vivacious and intellectually buoyant quilters of Dakota County. Yes, after a long week of school and work, I spent my weekend doing more work. It was a great day — and it’s not your fault that I’m busier than a one-armed paper-hanger, DST — but I have just spent many hours doing homework and regular work at my Fairfield Inn & Suites and now I am tired but still have more reading to do and my flight leaves Minneapolis at 6 a.m., and that means that I have to get up at 3:45 a.m. and that is horrifying but it will be more horrifying because it will feel like 2:45 a.m. because of you.
And you also need to know that I have stared at that sentence for a long time and now I don’t even know if I’ve got this thing right, DST. All I know is that I have a wake-up call for 3:45 a.m. and I have set the alarm on my phone, as well, and that my flight leaves at 6 a.m. and because it’s Daylight Saving Time, I am going to be extra sad in a few hours.
You were a good idea, dear. World War I needed you. The farmers, they still appreciate you (at least that’s what people tend to say when they’re defending you.) But I do wonder, in this modern age, if you are doing what Congress wanted you to do, initially. If so, I can keep calm and carry on.
If not, if you’re just some outmoded law on the books that for no good reason hasn’t been nixed, yet — like some old law about not hitching your horse to your cousin’s barbershop pole — I shall exercise my right to be extremely grumpy about you for the next several days and grumpy afresh six months from now.
I am glad it’s not going to be dark by 4 p.m., now, though. But it’s barely enough!
*Except for the devices of the good people of Alaska and Hawaii, who do not observe you, Daylight Saving Time.
Okay, you back? Good. Did you change your hair? You look great. Here’s a tray of light refreshments and a beverage. Where was I? Ah, yes. Hand me the pecans. Okay.
In 2011, the Neo-Futurists suspended Greg from the company. Put more simply: We kicked him out. Remember, this person’s behavior over the decades — decades! — had been destructive and poisonous, but it hit a crisis point that year (and if you want details, just google “neo-futurist greg allen tml closing” and you’ll get all the news stories and at least some of the awful details.) Calmly, firmly, the ensemble informed Greg that he was not allowed to be in Too Much Light for awhile and that if he wanted to play again, he would need to petition the ensemble to come back and then be a better person. He never petitioned.
The show went on. I went “inactive” in 2012 because of Quilty and Love of Quilting, a divorce, more health problems, a move downtown, etc. And while the show was going on and I was doing my thing, it appears that Greg was plotting revenge. This is my theory. This is only speculation. You come to your own conclusions when I tell you what happened next.
One month ago, the Neo-Futurists got a surprise. After being in negotiations with the company about how much they would pay him for the rights to perform Too Much Light, Greg went quiet — and then came a press release.
In the press release, Greg said that he was pulling the rights for the Neos to perform Too Much Light after 28 years running because of Donald Trump. If you’re scratching your head, here are a couple highlights from the press release:
Faced with the pending inauguration of Donald J. Trump, Allen has decided to let the existing Chicago Neo-Futurists’ license come to an end so that he can rebrand the show with a new diverse ensemble that embraces a specifically socially activist mission.”
“[The new Too Much Light ensemble] will be comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+, artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices in order to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression.”
“I could no longer stand by and let my most effective artistic vehicle be anything but a machine to fight Fascism.” [Greg quote.]
Oh, the trouble with this. There are almost too many problems to list. But let’s try!
The current Neo-Futurist ensemble is made up of all kinds of folks, many of whom fit the description of the “new diverse” company he wants to build. So this can’t be his main goal.
By doing this with no warning, Greg instantly put around 12 hard-working, low-paid-but-paid artists out of work. How is this being visionary?
There is a New York City company and a San Francisco company, both of which also pay Greg to perform Too Much Light. He did not yank the show from them, only from Chicago. Interesting.
The Neos have always done interesting, highly-political work — and there were a variety of political opinions expressed on the stage, at least when I was around. And all kinds of people who fell on different places on the political spectrum came to the show. To make an ensemble that exclusively makes theater about one perspective on Trump/his cohort, this is not going to create conversation. This isn’t even going to sell tickets. I hope Greg is shopping for choir robes for his new, uber-progressive ensemble, because whatever show they make is going to be a lot of preaching to the choir.
So that’s all the bad stuff. Guess what? There’s good stuff.
The good stuff is that the Neos have been working so, so hard to get a new show up in the next few weeks. They’ve been raising money and have almost reached their goal of $50k. (I wouldn’t be a good Neo if I didn’t ask you to consider putting a buck or two in the hat; it’s easy and you’ll feel good knowing you’re…fighting fascism?)
And the other amazing thing is that when the news came out, all the alumni from 28 years of Too Much Light and the Neos, we circled the wagons, we lit the flares, we came together in support of the current ensemble and we’re doing a big benefit show for them on New Year’s Day. It’s the most extraordinary thing. You can’t get tickets because they sold out in five hours; I posted a note on Facebook and within minutes, it was too late. There are dozens of Neos, some coming from far away, to be in the show and be together, to remember, to play, to laugh, to cry. All that stuff.
We had a rehearsal on Tuesday and will rehearse all day Sunday leading up to the double-feature that begins at 7 p.m. The oversold house and the enormous cast, we will be proof that you can’t stop art — you can’t even contain it, can’t make it hold still.
By the way: New York and San Francisco? They quit. After hearing about all this, they didn’t opt to renew their rights to do Too Much Light. They’re standing with Chicago. Greg’s plan backfired.
As I said yesterday, being part of that company and being lucky enough to get to do TML for those years was like finishing school for my soul. I worked with people so talented it was almost embarrassing. We were rock stars. We were friends. The best art I’ve ever seen or made for the stage was the art I saw or made for Too Much Light and the Neos.
Too Much Light is dead. Long live the Neo-Futurists.
Many people who read the ol’ PG started coming around because we share an interest in quilting. You saw me on TV or online and poked around and hey, look: blog. You know by now I’m glad you’re here.
But there are other readers. The survey this summer (which you can still take if there’s nothing good on TV) showed me a goodly portion of people are here because we came in contact with each other via the world of Chicago performance. In 13-ish years in Chicago I’ve logged untold hours as a performance poet, I do a lot of “live lit” events around the city, and from 2006-2012, I was an active ensemble member of a theater company called the Neo-Futurists.
When I am dying — hopefully a long time from now, on a divan with comfy pillows, lipstick perfect — I will look back on my life and see plainly at that time — just I do now — that being a Neo-Futurist was one of the most gratifying and soul-affirming experiences of my time on Earth. More on that later.
Tonight, I want to tell you what’s going on with that company right now, for there is news. I aim to share the story so that anyone reading this blog, whether they’re Quilt Camp people or Chicago Performance Camp people, will come along. (And both of those things need to be actual camps.)
The Neo-Futurist ensemble was formed 28 years ago, back in 1988. The group became famous for a show called “Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays In 60 Minutes.” I’m not going to describe the show too much here, except to say that yes, there were 30 plays, we only had 60 minutes in which to perform them, the ensemble wrote all the plays and the show changed every week. It was not improv (go to Second City for that), and the short pieces were always true to our lives in some way.
This is because the aesthetic, or guiding principle, for the Neos was — and still is — to never pretend to be something we’re not or be somewhere we aren’t. So if I do a cheerleading routine with two other girls in Too Much Light about how I had my colon removed and how it really hurt, the audience at a Neo show knows that what I’m talking about really did happen. (I did a lot of plays about my colon circa 2011 but I never did a cheerleading routine. That would’ve been awesome.)
The one other thing to know about Too Much Light is that it was a phenomenal success. There were three performances every weekend; people would line up around the block to get in to see this thing. Our 120-ish seat theater would sell out most nights. Too Much Light became the longest-running show in Chicago theater history. Twenty-eight years that show ran.
Until it ended, very abruptly, at the beginning of this month. Which brings me to the meat of my tale.
Though the show changed every single week, the 30 plays/60 minutes format was created by a man named Greg Allen. Greg founded the company and owns the trademark and copyright to Too Much Light and the concept of “30 Plays in 60 Minutes.” Every year for a lot of years, the company would pay Greg for the rights to keep doing the show.
This was a terrible situation for the company to be in. The “rights thing” became a rug Greg could whip out from under us at any time. It didn’t have to be that way, but it was.
This is because Greg wanted it that way. A corrosive figure who behaved abominably within the ensemble, Greg abused his position of power in the company as Founding Director over and over again for years in ways too numerous and varied to detail, positioning himself for personal gain (e.g., teaching opportunities, lecture gigs, etc.) while the ensemble made the art and ran the day-to-day operations of the theater. His misdeed are legendary; every ensemble member since the company started has horror stories. He antagonized or manipulated the board of directors; he harassed ensemble members; he offended everyone; he hurt people. My grandmother would have called him “a real rat fink.” My grandmother would not like to hear what I call him.
You needn’t worry that I’m getting petty or assassinating his character: This has all been corroborated in the papers over the past month. The Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Chicago Reader, TimeOut Chicago, they’ve all covered this story because in Chicago, it’s pretty big news, what Greg did. Wanna know what he did?
Greg used the election of Donald Trump as an excuse to pull the rights to Too Much Light.
For the rest of the despicable story, for more juicy details, for my best attempt at an explanation of this foolish person’s behavior, and for a whole bunch of beautiful silver linings, tune in tomorrow, my gorgeous ones.
I don’t write complaint letters often; life is full of annoyances and disappointments, too many to get terribly worked up about. But from time to time something occurs that demands attention from an entity or person who might be able to do something about it, so I’m writing you. Every detail of this occurrence happened precisely as I will detail it here.
Heading north on the #36 Broadway bus yesterday, I witnessed deplorable behavior from one of your drivers. The time of the incident was 4:05pm; the bus number was 1893. I didn’t ask for the driver’s name when I got off the bus.
A frail, blind man with a thick Balkan accent (he looked to be in his seventies) boarded the bus around Foster. His English was poor. When he got on the bus, he tried to fold his white cane and find his Ventra card and politely made room for others to enter the bus while he struggled to do both of those things. The bus advanced from the stop and the man asked the driver, “Does bus go to Touhy?”
Your driver would not answer his question. Not turning to actually look at the man when he finally responded, he stated, “This bus ends at Clark and Devon.”
This was not an answer to the man’s question, so he asked again. I could see the man was also hard of hearing, adding another barrier to understanding whether or not in fact the bus would reach Touhy — and I knew it would not. Your driver continued to stare straight ahead and answered with great annoyance, “This bus ends at Clark and Devon.” The blind man leaned closer. “Touhy?”
Your driver then spat out, “You need to get up out of my face, old man! This bus ends at Clark and Devon! Now move back.”
I realize the driver was at that moment driving a city bus. I understand how it might’ve been frustrating to have to repeat himself multiple times. I have no doubt that driving a bus for the CTA is not an easy job. But there is no excuse for treating anyone so poorly when they’re asking for help. When the person needing help is an ailing, elderly, foreign, blind person, this kind of behavior is disgraceful.
Aside from a couple years when I had a car, I’ve been an almost daily user of the CTA for fifteen years. Anyone who has used public transit that long has seen some stuff. But what I saw yesterday was the worst interaction I’ve witnessed between an employee and a passenger.
Please speak to your driver. Chicagoans trust our train and bus operators to be safe and to help us if we need help. If they treat us in a hostile manner, if they behave half as abysmally as your man did yesterday, our transit system fails. We need it too much to let that happen, which is why I’ve written to you today.
With Regards, Mary Fons
*Letter sent to CTA customer service via online form. Also, I did get up and sit next to the man and repeated a couple times, “No Touhy. Devon only.” He got it eventually and nodded his head at me.
I knew I wanted to write about my stove tonight. And since I often go to ol’ WikiCommons to find an image before I begin to write anything — it shapes the thing, you see — that’s precisely what I did: I went to the Commons and searched for “stove”.
And what do I find, searching “stove” on WikiCommons? A picture of poet Carl Sandburg’s kitchen. That kitchen up there, that’s how Carl Sandburg’s kitchen looked in 1950! No wonder he was such a prolific, successful poet. All that white cabinetry and a big tub of Crisco? His life was a poem. He just wrote it down, probably in that kitchen.
Anyhow, this post is about stoves because I have a problem I need to think about, which is that I hate my stove. This is hard to say because my mother told us girls that we could never tell someone to “shut up”, and that saying you “hate”something — definitely saying you hate someone — is to be avoided at all costs. So I’ve been resisting. I’ve been taking deep breaths. But it’s hopeless. I hate my stove.
My master bathroom and kitchen renovations were complete two years ago, but I didn’t have much time to be with it all before I did the One Year New York City Experiment. I was insane to leave my home after enduring those construction guys in my home for nine months; insane to leave the gorgeousness that was not cheap and was also sparkly new. But it seems that this is how I do things and yes, I’m as perplexed as you are.
Now I’m home. And I’m all up in my kitchen. And this stove is killing me.
There are a number of issues:
1. The oven takes forever to get to temperature. It’s so slow, I continue to think there must be something wrong with it.
2. It’s an electric range with a glass top. I do not like electric ranges, but my building doesn’t allow gas ranges. I can’t talk about it. Aside from being an inferior way to apply heat to pans, a glass top electric stove is impossible to keep clean. Am I missing something? Every drop of water shows up.
2.a. …and it’s not safe! Look, I’m a reasonably intelligent person but if I turn a stove off and come back to it ten minutes later and do not see fire, yeah, I am likely to put something on the stove. Because I need the space, okay? With my lame stove, I have no visual cue that there is still heat coming from the surface except for an anemic little dot of light that says “HOT”. So I’m in trouble, especially if I’m not paying attention and I am often not paying attention.
3. There’s a dial you have to turn to choose your oven setting. It’s a loose dial. If you go too fast, you blaze past BAKE to CONVECTION BAKE to WARMING OVEN to BROIL to CLEAN and all you want is to pre-heat for a batch of cinnamon rolls and now the thing is beeping at you to make a decision for heaven’s sake.
4. Too steamy.
5. If you press a button on the panel twice in a row before it resets or whatever, it goes “Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeeep. Do you hear me beeeeeeeeep.” And it’s like, chill. Chill, oven. Except wait. I have a better idea. How about you don’t chill but actually allow me to get to 375-degrees sometime this decade? That’s a much better idea.
Gritting your teeth 70% of the time you engage with your stove not a tragedy. But there is a certain discontent that comes when you buy a big-ticket item and realize you may have made a mistake. I haven’t had a car since college, but I imagine discovering you hate the car you just bought is similarly rough. It’s buyer’s remorse of a legit kind: this isn’t a blue fox fur bolero you bought while vacationing in Sedona — this is one of the largest things you own and you actually need it. And you’ll probably own it for a long time. You’ll have to clean it for a long time. It looks at you. You look at it. For years.
I have not yet told my stove to shut up. There is bread in the oven as I write this. Bill Withers said, “We can make it if we try” and no one in the history of the world has ever had buyer’s remorse where Bill Withers is concerned.
How I Imagine an Interview for Employment Goes at This One Chain Coffee Shop on Michigan Avenue by Mary Fons
(The HIRING MANAGER and APPLICANT sit at a table in a busy coffee shop.)
HIRING MANAGER: Hi! Thanks for coming by. We were really impressed with your application and I’m glad you could make it today.
APPLICANT stares at HIRING MANAGER.
HIRING MANAGER: Awesome. So I want to start out just telling you a bit about the company and what we’re looking for. We’re a full-service coffee and tea shop. We have many locations across Chicago and are really leaning in, as they say, haahahahahaa, to disrupt the market, you know, as they say, which is cool. So we want team members, you know, to really be a part of the family. I want to see if you’re a good fit, so I’m going to just ask you a few questions. Sound good?
HIRING MANAGER: Okay: hypothetical question. A customer comes in. Chipper thirtysomething. Smiling. She exclaims, in a cheery way, to you guys at the counter: “It smells great in here! Wow! What is that? Muffins?” How do you respond?
APPLICANT: Just…nothing. No response.
HIRING MANAGER. Well, you’re off to a good start. Okay, next question. When there’s a line — and there is always a line at this location, always — and a customer finally gets to the register after like, 20 minutes of waiting, ignored, what do you do?
APPLICANT: Just stare at them.
HIRING MANAGER: Good. And…?
APPLICANT: When they start to talk, I guess I’d turn to someone else behind the counter and ask them something and then go to the warmer and put something in and take something out. And then return to the register and then just wait.
HIRING MANAGER: I am…impressed. That’s exactly right. Okay. Hot tea. Serve it hot or stone cold?
(APPLICANT takes out phone, plays Candy Crush. HIRING MANAGER also takes out phone. Text messages boyfriend.)
HIRING MANAGER: Anyway, the tea, whenever… Did you already answer? About the tea temperature?
APPLICANT: (Putting phone away.) I don’t care.
HIRING MANAGER: (Laughs at her own text. Puts phone on counter and glances at it through the rest of the interview. She looks up at APPLICANT.) You got the trick question? Seriously? “I don’t care” is exactly right. Oh, and here’s a tip, but don’t tell them I told you: When a customer asks, super nice, if you can heat up her beverage, be extremely, extremely sour about it. And make sure it takes forever.
HIRING MANAGER: All right, we’re almost done. I see on your application you have no prior job experience whatsoever. Nothing. That’s perfect. Oh, also… Yeah, there’s something called a cash register. Do you think you could use one?
APPLICANT: Is it hard?
HIRING MANAGER: Nope. A baby could do it.
(APPLICANT is silent, stares off into space.)
HIRING MANAGER: I know it’s scary. But we’d train you. Well, another employee who has been on the register for one day would train you. Melissa. She’s the girl who gave you the application that came out of the printer that needs ink.
APPLICANT: I guess I could learn it.
HIRING MANAGER: You, my dear, are hired. Welcome to the family! Everyone here is family. You’re already invited to the Holiday Party! It’s here in the shop during business hours, so we’re closed on a Thursday afternoon at high traffic time. I don’t think people will mind.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t know what to write about California. I’m still mourning Paris. I can’t handle the anger and powerlessness I feel about citizens of my city being murdered by their fellow citizens every day. I can’t process, much less speak about any of this so I wrote this silly play. But I wanted to say that I’m as anxious and depressed as all of you and maybe this (possibly true) play will distract us for two seconds. I just want to know how a person chooses to cut a brother or sister’s life short. I can’t understand it and I try not to write about things I can’t understand. I fail all the time. But I can’t even approach this one.
1. Never enough candy punkins
2. People hang enormous fuzzy spiders all over their front porches
3. People hang enormous rubber zombies all over their front porches
4. People hang enormous gauzy ghosts all over their front porches
5. People hang out in enormously inappropriate costumes on their front porches
6. Pumpkin spice liquor (See No. 5)
7. Orange and black are gross colors together
8. Plastic Things
9. Fake blood, real blood, blood mix
10. Not all children who trick o’ treat come prepared with a joke or trick
11. If you dress up to go to a party, you have to try to drink a cocktail without the use of your hands or mouth or both, as they are covered, wrapped up, hidden deep in a plastic lobster claw (see image), or coated with oil-based paint, usually green.
12. Everlasting Gobstoppers
14. Snow possible
15. Deep brooding on entropy and decay as the faces of jack-o-lanterns begin to rot and cave in on themselves
Today was pretty lousy. Like, real lousy. I’ll spare details for now.
It’s a good thing that I have a method of popping myself out of a miserable mood. I’d like to share with you. Note that this technique only works for a matter of minutes, but if you’re really low, it’s all you got. It works the best if you’re crying and alone, a state easy enough to find oneself in when having a truly rotten day.
Step 1: Raise your head from your hands.
Is your face hot and wet with tears? Good. Is watery snot from your nose squishing onto your palms? Fabulous. This is all good but actually unnecessary for Step 2.
Step 2: The first thing you see when you open your eyes, take a deep breath and holler at it, calling it stupid. Holler, “Stupid chair!” The hollering is extremely important. When you call out the chair and tell it it’s stupid, you must holler it. Don’t say it, don’t scream it, and definitely don’t whisper it unless you want to take a hard nosedive into The Abyss. You must holler. Holler like you’re a kid whose older brother just took his favorite pack of baseball cards. There’s no malice in this. It’s a rather innocent kind of yelling, I guess. It’s the kind of yelling kids did in 1956. That’s hollering.
Step 3: Call everything “stupid.”
Everything you lay your eyes upon, you holler at it and call it stupid. For example: “Stupid chair! Stupid table! Stupid pitcher on the table! Stupid pitcher on the table that doesn’t even have anything in it!”
Step 4: Riff. Get abstract. Turns out stream-of-consciousness, free-association hollering feels fantastic. Continuing with where we left off with the pitcher: “Stupid pitcher on the table that doesn’t even have anything in it! Stupid stuff with nothing in it! Stupid stuff! Stupid negative space! Stupid modernism! Stupid fancy modernist bullsh*t! Stupid that I still want an Eames chair! Stupid wanting! Stupid hungry-ghost-Buddhist-definition-of-suffering! Stupid Eastern religion! Stupid religion!”
TIP: If you go too far afield, just bring it back to what you can see, e.g., the couch.
Step 5: Blend in your problems and holler them, as well. “Stupid couch! Stupid sitting down! Stupid people sitting on stupid couches in stupid outfits! Stupid me! Stupid me for sending that stupid email! Stupid email! Stupid me for saying X to Y! Stupid human nature. Stupid human nature. Stupid mistakes. Stupid everyone.”
By the end of a round you’re sure to be a little calmer and this is for a couple reasons. For one, all that hollering is tiring. For two, you’ve put things in (stupid) perspective because you’ve connected with the absurdity of life. Changes are very good you’ve also made yourself laugh at some point. You can’t holler, “Stupid Spanish textbook I bought at Half-Price Books to teach myself Spanish six years ago and never even opened” without .00008 of a smile occurring.
Good luck to you. Tomorrow will be better but you are well within your rights to holler, “Stupid people saying ‘tomorrow will be better’! Stupid Annie! Stupid musicals! Stupid crushed dreams! Stupid dreams! Stupid etc., etc., etc.”
As usual, doing something important fast had consequences. Two Facebook fans, one born in Detroit and one who now lives in the suburbs, commented that Detroit has many good things going for it and should not be considered a lost cause. They are absolutely right: there are many positive things to say about Detroit and the people there are clearly not all addicted to drugs, indigent, or looking to break into your car. I apologize to the ladies and indeed, mean no offense by my commentary. It is fair to note, however, that the lady born there did not stay and the lady in the suburbs does not live in the city.
Before I begin this rather in-depth post, keep in mind that I am not an investigative reporter; I have no press credentials. I am but a naturally curious person who went to Detroit and has a blog. If you want source material for the stats I give and a list of the numerous articles I’ve been reading about Detroit — those showing reasons/data for growth and those denying any such thing — email me and I’ll share that immediately. Also, there’s no way in a PaperGirl post to cover the vast Detroit Thing. Don’t read this like it’s the news and don’t stop here if you have any interest in the topic. There’s a whole lot more, good and less good, about Detroit, MI.
Okay. The Census Bureau counted 1.84 million people in Detroit in 1950. In 2010, there were under 714,000.That’s a 60% decline in 60 years. Estimates from the Bureau put population at 700,000, so it’s still dropping. Big changes in the design of the US auto industry began all this, though it’s more complicated than that. But Detroit was Motor City, making basically All The Cars for a long time. Making All The Cars made Detroit the fourth largest city in the country during that 1950-ish period. (BTW: Motown music was born in Detroit; “Mo” = motor, “Town” = Detroit.) As the 60s and 70s came along, you had gas crises, racial unrest, foreign auto makers getting toeholds in the market, and labor getting shifted overseas to improve the bottom line.
Then the recession happened in the 80s. But according to the police officer I met and talked to for a good while, it was in the 90s things went from bad to nightmarish for the city he was born and raised in. Casinos were allowed to be built and helped only the corrupt officials who let them in; more addiction and poverty followed the casino construction. Perhaps sadder still is that school district segregation had a huge part to play in the KO punch of the 90s: neighborhoods were redlined, people moved out for better school districts. This was a racially- and socioeconomically-driven tide. The more people who left, the fewer companies wanted to invest in the city. The fewer investors, the fewer jobs, etc., etc. On the heels of the 90s, you get the 2000s: Iraq, financial crisis, etc. Oh, Detroit. Oh, honey.
By 2013, the city had to file for bankruptcy, a move that marked the largest municipal bankruptcy case in our nation’s history. Detroit was $18 billion in debt. Crooked officials, a problem almost too big to solve, and a lack of people to take a whack at it created that debt. Now, because the bankruptcy happened, Detroit actually is in better shape than it was: bankruptcy is designed to help a person — or an entire city — get right. It’s way better to pay your debts, though.
I’ve read for a couple years now that Detroit is growing and it’s getting “really cool,” which for a lifestyle magazine means that white hipsters are moving there. A one-page feature in, say, Chicago Magazine, picturing a guy with a mustache who has a food truck in Detroit is enough to make a lot of folks relax and think Superman saved the day. Superman does not run a food truck, though. This hype about Detroit becoming the next Brooklyn isn’t the case just yet. Detroit deliverance, from what I am understanding and from what I saw myself, is going to take years of deep thinking, actual doing, and leadership from people who are not stealing from the mouths of hungry Detroit-born babies.
Because when you have a small number of people living in a big city, you don’t have enough people paying taxes to cover the costs of living in a big city. Snow plowing, trash removal, street lights, public transit, etc.: these things require tax money. But if no one lives there to pay those taxes and no one who does live there can afford to pay those taxes, snow stays. Trash stays a long time. Lights literally go out. And no one wants to move into that city because the property taxes are insanely high. Huh? Yes, because the city is desperate for money. So the services are terrible and they cost a fortune.
There are gorgeous houses in downtown Detroit and just outside of it. I looked at many of them and part of my brain was freaking out, considering the possibilities. I could get a Victorian mansion for 50k or so. But most of the houses in these areas are in ruins. My ideal fixer-upper has been sitting empty since 2008. Animals live there. And pretend for a minute that I don’t work from home: if I moved to Detroit, into a “wait for it” Barbie dream house, where would I work? There are jobs in Detroit but many are in the suburbs, so I’d need a car. Not a big deal, except that car theft is so high in Detroit auto insurance premiums are the highest in the nation, hitting as high as $5000 a year.
There are 70,000 abandoned buildings in Detroit and 66,000 vacant lots. Forty-percent or more of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. In 2013, the violent crime rate in Detroit was the highest in the nation and five times higher than the national average. Roughly 40% of the street lights don’t work. These statistics go on and on. So I can’t move to Detroit right now. Not as a single woman. Not as a commuter who has to fly and out of my home city several times a month. Not as an Extreme Home Makeover story, not yet.
Look, I don’t wrap this up, I’ll be up all night and you’ll decide to read the rest of this later and likely forget to because it’s depressing to read about something once lively and energetic going on life support. As my Facebook friends pointed out, this is not the whole story of Detroit and it would take a post twice as long as this and twice as long again to detail one iota of the rich history and pride Detroitians (?) have and should have in their town.
I won’t end with some bromide about how I know Detroit will rise from the ashes, or that I hope it will. Everyone hopes that. I don’t have any conclusions or predictions. I saw Detroit and Detroit messed with me. That’s all I can say, except this one other thing: we actually witnessed a man actually breaking into a house. Two minutes after that, we saw a house gutted by fire. Two minutes after that, I saw a prostitute walk toward a man in a car at a gas station. It was all too much. The decay was killing me. I began to cry.
“Don’t cry,” said my friend. He had been most silent most of the drive, too. “It’s also beautiful,” he said. I was shocked. How could he say such a thing? “It’s hard to see, I know. It’s hard to look at all this and see how death has beauty, but you have to try. It’s part of life. Death is part of life.”
Not much. A sofa makes the news in your head or your household when you buy a new one. A sofa is exciting when you’re shopping for a new one. It’s exciting when you remove the old one and put in the new one. After a few weeks, though, the sofa recedes into the landscape of your home and that’s good because you have better things to think about. Hopefully.
But for me, for almost a year now, the object that is the couch* has stubbornly refused to leave my portfolio of active thoughts. This is because since leaving Chicago almost a year ago, regardless of the agony and the ecstasy of the entire adventure, it has been The Year of Terrible Couches. It’s like the Chinese “Year of The Goat” thing except no one is ever, ever born in The Year of Terrible Couches and we should all be thankful for that. Let’s celebrate by eating a fortune cookie. Done? Excellent. Let’s examine what I’m talking about.
When I was first in New York with Yuri, we had a furnished place for just a couple months on 10th Street and 2nd Ave. I filmed my book promo video while we were in that place. Then, when we officially moved to New York in June, we got a furnished place on St. Mark’s. Then, when everything became hard and sad, I moved into a furnished apartment in D.C. with rats in the walls. Then, the management company relocated me to the place where I’m sitting currently. That’s not one, not two, not three (I’m weeping, now), but four furnished apartments in a single year.
You do realize this is not my normal life, right? I am not a fan of chaos. Chaos, it appears, is extremely fond of me, at least this year. Thanks, chaos.
Here’s the thing about furnished apartments: they are lousy. If you have no furniture, maybe they are great. Any couch is better than no couch, right? Fine. But I have a couch. I have arguably the best couch ever. It’s in Chicago right now, being used by my adorable med school tenants. Why? Because moving to NYC was always going to be a yearlong experiment and what are you, nuts?! You can’t move a couch into Manhattan! You have to go there with your hobo stick and just figure it out from there, find someone who can take you to the IKEA in Jersey! Please! Anyway, my gorgeous couch in Chicago is wide. It’s leather. It’s sky blue leather with chrome legs. (I bought it at a sample sale at Design Within Reach.) It’s sleek and sexy, but it’s functional. You can take a nap on it. You can sit cross-legged and eat your lunch on it. You can watch a movie on it. And you can… Well, you can do a lot of things on that couch. Trust me.
The four couches that I have been subjected to over the past year… I can hardly talk about it. Do you realize how awful a couch can be? If it’s shallow, your back hurts when you try to sit back. If it’s a sectional that doesn’t have those grippy things on the bottom and your floor is slick, the parts separate and slide all around! Good grief! That’s a Beckett play! If the couch is so old it’s buckling (see: St. Mark’s) you are asking for early-onset arthritis. A bad couch is sad, indeed, and I realize this is as luxury a problem as luxury problems get. But what can I do? It’s been The Year of Terrible Couches and as the hourglass runs out of sand, as I am forced to make a decision to stay in D.C. or go back to Chicago, this much is true: The Year of Terrible Couches is about to end. If I go home, I get my couch. If I stay here, I’m going back for all my stuff, kids. If I stay in D.C., I am staying in D.C. with my couch.
A couple months ago, I was profoundly annoyed with myself. Oh, I’ve been annoyed with myself plenty since then, but this was a big one.
For a long time, I’ve had this stock comment that I share in the course of small talk about extreme weather. Say it’s blisteringly hot or dangerously cold and I’m in a taxicab and the driver and I are lamenting about how very, very bad it is outside. I frequently would share that I worried about the elderly in extreme weather like this.
I was 100% sincere. When it’s in the upper nineties or higher, when it’s negative anything, I am genuinely concerned about the eldest among us because they are vulnerable in temperatures like those. They’re often shut into their homes for long stretches because of weather that bad. Cupboards and fridges go bare; medication runs out. And if the heating or cooling system breaks, old folks can die in their homes from the weather. In America.
But what exactly, Ms. Fons, is the use of making your concern and your feelings known to a cabdriver? This, I realized with a cosmic smack, is worse than pointless. I decided that if I made that comment one more time in my life without doing something about it, I couldn’t live with myself. And I meant it.
I’ve signed up to volunteer with an organization in DC called “We Are Family.” They visit seniors, take groceries to them, check in on them in inclement weather; stuff like that. My first volunteer experience with them will be next Saturday for a grocery delivery; the Saturday after that, I’ll go on some visits. I am profoundly glad I’m going to be home for awhile so I can do this. I’ve been excited to get started but of course haven’t been home.
Old people used to terrify me. While in the process of ruining his life, my father worked at a particularly depressing, shabby nursing home in Winterset and made us visit his “friends” at that terrible place. Going to a nursing home is traumatic for any person I’ve ever met who went to one as a kid. They’re startling, confusing places for children. When Alzheimers patients scream babble to no one — or to the child directly — they’re pure nightmare.
But I’m over it. We’re all temporarily young. And I’ma say it: our culture seems to be awfully good at putting our elderly out to pasture. I’m finding it increasingly untenable that this is the case. How have I only now realized that there is a universe of solid advice and great stories via people who have so been there? I just have to ask. And can you imagine being old and lonesome, just watching TV all day while that advice and those stories get dustier and dustier, utterly unused? Nightmare, indeed.
Yo, Fons! Less blithe, passing commentary; more fix.
Far worse than the feeling I had other day was that I allowed myself to indulge it for longer than .05 seconds.
I’ve connected with lots of fantastic people here in D.C. (quilters, I’m looking at you.) Lately, I’ve been spending time with a group of people who I would describe as fancy. These new friends are warm, they’re smart, and they’ve been extremely successful in their work. As a result of this last, their homes are — the two I’ve been in, anyway — exquisitely beautiful and well-appointed. Enormous art that costs more money than many folks take home in a year hangs on the walls; the lights are low. The wine glasses are fishbowl-size. The tiles in all five bathrooms are heated. The stereo system apparently works by way of air molecule; wherever you go in the house, Carla Bruni sings to you at a soft level that is surely scientifically-proven to be best for optimal aural pleasure. There are bidets, guest houses, pools. Stuff like that.
So I’m standing in the living room of one of these houses the other day and I suddenly felt a deep and terrible longing. And I felt like a guttersnipe. I’m just some dumb kid from Iowa. I’m a writer. I make quilts. Who cares? Sure, my shoes were fabulous, but I felt like a real phony-baloney, like okay, I have this great pair of shoes but these people have closets and closets of shoes and they don’t even think twice about them and here I am, excited about my dumb ol’ shoes. Envy, as it turns out, is less a toothy, green-eyed monster and more a sad, black mold over the heart. My life seemed small and I felt so far, far away from the life I saw before me. And I wanted that life. And I felt shabby.
And then I got mad. At myself. Really, really mad.
Unbelievable. How dare I? How dare any of us compare our lives to the lives of others in this way? Look, I’ve earned my place on this earth. To allow myself to feel less-than compared to anyone (even if they have their own table at Daniel) is a grave offense. It’s insulting; it’s also whiny and indulgent. I told myself to knock it off — and if you’re given to this kind of thing or have experienced it lately, you knock it off, too. To smack around or otherwise disrespect your hard-won experience, your unique outlook and perspective, to throw your life’s portfolio in the garbage or hide it behind your back because you want to be someone else, this is the only thing you should be ashamed of. Not your shoes. Not the space you take up. But at turning your back on who you are and what you’ve earned.
I love my quilts. I love my poems; after I left where I was that day and got over my damned self, I found myself loving them more. I’m proud of what I’ve done in my life so far and you should be proud of what you’ve done. It matters. You don’t need an invitation to a gala or a Maserati in the garage to be crucial.
My apartment is only a few square feet bigger than the master bathroom in the house where I was, no fooling. But it’s mine. And when I take a shower, I get just as clean.
This post is from April, 2014. I had reason to think of it the other day and thought I’d repost. I’d tell you to enjoy but you can’t, really.
I’m in Iowa filming TV. Tonight, the editorial team and several of our guests went out to dinner.
Halfway through the day, I began to feel poorly due to my excavated intestines. I therefore didn’t eat much and had the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room at the restaurant several times over the course of our dinner. On one of those visits, something awful happened.
I was in the furthest stall from the entrance when I heard the door open. Laid out in a kind of “L” shape, I’m sure the bathroom appeared empty. Ambient noise from the restaurant slipped in and then faded as the door gently closed. The moment that it had, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone being slapped across the face.
A brief pause. Then an intake of air, and a child’s wail came high, high off the mountain and down into a deep, anguished sob. Confusion and shock and pain came crashing down in a tidal wave in a bathroom in Des Moines, IA.
“What is wrong with you?!” a woman’s voice hissed. And there was a tussle, a shake.
My rage came up fast from my legs to the very bottom of my throat. It stopped at my throat because I was speechless with horror and disgust for the slapper and an almost frantic need to console the child and take her into my arms.
I burst out of the stall the moment the two were going into the first. Their door shut. As I passed them, slowly, I could see the child now sitting on the toilet with the mother standing over her. Her scuffed up sneakers were dangling off the side of the toilet. Even now, I can see their little velcro straps.
My jaw was clenched so tight I might’ve shattered all my teeth.
“Where did you learn to make faces like that at Mommy?” the woman asked, now with a sticky, simpering tone in her voice. She screwed up, see. She thought the bathroom was empty. Now that she knew someone was there and had heard her hit her kid in the face, she was a little nicer.
The child wept. Plaintive, pathetic weeping. She was trapped. I stood at the sink and looked through my reflection in the mirror. I had to do something. I had to.
Once again I find myself, a single woman with no children, opining about parenting. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about raisin’ up a chile; most ideals and proclamations about how I’ll do it someday are so much talking. But the argument that I know zero about childrearing because I presently have no children goes only so far. I am a human, and children are humans, so I’m qualified to take a position. You can’t be angry when you punish a kid, goddamnit. You calm yourself down, you get a hold of yourself, and then you figure out the negative consequences for that kid’s bad behavior. Never, ever punish out of anger. Is this not true? Is this not a stance I can take now, as a woman who has yet to hold her own baby?
So I’m standing at the sink in the bathroom, mentally eviscerating this kid-hitting woman four feet from me, and I remember a story my friend Lisa told about a similar situation she found herself in. She was on the subway in New York and this guy was roughing up his girlfriend. Really talking menacingly to her and smacking her around. Lisa was enraged. She was panicking. She needed to stop it, to say something to the guy. But she didn’t. Ultimately, she didn’t because, as she had to so horribly reason out, it might’ve made it worse for the woman later. The monster on the subway was maybe at 60%; at home, after an altercation on the train, would he hit 79%? 90% monster? What will monsters do at full capacity? Lisa burned and was quiet and told the story to me later, as upset at the time of telling me as she was that day on the train.
No, I wouldn’t speak. I wouldn’t make it worse for that little girl when she got to the comfort — the comfort — of her own home. But then I did do something. Something else that took me as much by surprise as I hope it took the monster.
Alone with them there in the bathroom, I smacked my right hand against my left. Loud. I made perfect contact with the one hand on the other: a loud crack sounded in the bathroom, bouncing off the tile and the linoleum. The talking in the first stall stopped. The sniffling ceased. I could almost see the confusion on the woman’s face and the “Wha?” on the kid’s.
I waited for total silence and then I did it again: crack! A crisp, violent sound.
In that moment, I might as well have been a professional sound effects person, paid thousands to come into a recording studio to capture the exact sound of someone being smacked across the face. Luck was on my side; if I tried to make that sound just so, right now, I might not be able to do it. But tonight, it was exactly what I needed it to be.
The slap hung in the air like a gun had been shot. I could tell no one in that first stall was breathing. The mother was surely, totally weirded out. The daughter, I don’t know, but at least for that moment her nasty mother wasn’t in charge. Of anything. I sent a silent, psychic message of love and hope to the little girl and then left the bathroom.
I had to run this story past my mom. Until I did, I wasn’t sure if my slap sounds were completely insane or if they were effective in breaking the evil spell that had entered the ladies’ room. Mom, who cried with me when I told her about hearing that little girl get hit, said she thought it was a great move. So there you go. We have an actual parent weighing in on how to do these things.
Don’t hit your kid in the face. That’s just a suggestion. But here’s another one: if you choose to hit your kid in the face in a public place, you are in my world. And my world might be kinda weird, but your kid is safer with me than she is with you.
I touched on the subject of current events the other day; I am allergic to doing this usually (see: The Papergirl Pledge) but I keep seeing abandoned backpacks and this forces me to think of terrorism. I used to see backpacks left someplace and think of Grand Canyon hikers sick of carrying freeze-dried goji berries or students who got careless. Now I think of bombs. This makes me furious.
There was a satchel in a leaf-clogged corner outside of Union Station the other day. It was tattered, old, and looked empty as could be; a deflated balloon of a bag. No threat there, surely. But a bomb at Union Station would be a smart move for a terrorist. Abort transportation at a major hub and you abort infrastructure and flight. This morning there was an old duffel bag crumpled against the wall right where you turn in the corridor to Terminal A here at Washington Reagan Airport (I’m headed to Chicago for a do-over of my catastrophic trip a few weeks back.) It wasn’t a satchel, exactly, but it was an abandoned canvas thing and I immediately eyed it, suspicious.
The worst incident, however, occurred when my family and I were at the vodou exhibit at the Field Museum over Christmas. I didn’t mention it at the time, probably because I was too bitter about losing my Kindle.
We were milling about in the main gallery and suddenly, a museum guard said in a loud voice, “Does this belong to anyone? Excuse me! Does this backpack belong to anyone?” She held up high a very full backpack and the museumgoers turned to look.
The two girls who were standing next to me murmured, “Oh my god… That… Let’s get out of here,” and they slowly inched toward the door. I stepped toward my sisters and said, “Okay, that’s an abandoned backpack? That is not okay. Where are Mom and Mark?” We were instantly discomfited and looked for our parents and my blood pressure rose. Why the Sam Hill would someone leave a backpack in a corner of a public place? First of all, do you not care about your belongings? Second, and much more importantly, did Boston escape your attention? Do you have the context everyone else has for abandoned backpacks in crowded places?
I felt more fear as the guard shouted again, “Excuse me! Does this bag belong to anyo — ” and then it was claimed. A young man went to the guard and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I set it down and forgot.” I looked at him with dagger eyes. I could’ve socked him in the gut. Look, I’ve misplaced things. That very day, I left my Kindle on the bus. But carrying a heavy backpack ought to take up a small space in one’s consciousness. If it was set down, one might wonder, “Moments ago I was a pack mule and now I feel light as a feather. What has changed in this situation?” and retrieve one’s backpack.
When I lived in New York City, I became neurotic the moment I got a mailing address. I feared things I never feared before: hurricanes, bed bugs, epidemics, terrorist attacks. Once out of the city, I returned to my baseline outlook: naive, optimistic, Iowan. But backpacks remain a source of fear and likely always will. Maybe more in the near future. I resent this a great deal.
As my ex-uncle-in-law used to say in his heavy Croatian accent, “Eyes open. Eyes open.”
It remains to be seen if I shall be a mother in this life.
In college, I was a vocal member of the “Kids? Me? Never!” Club. There were all kinds of reasons I swore I’d never have kids, none original or hardy, but one’s twenties are for making impassioned proclamations that may or may not stick. My eyes were on work and art and catching the eye of the chef at the restaurant where I waited tables. At that time in my life, it would’ve been far more plausible for me to say, “I’m thinking about switching my major to poli-sci,” than to say, “I think I’d like to have kids someday.”
Once I got kicked in the face by post-college, big-city life, my “Kids? Me? Never!” Club (KMNC) card was further accredited. A big, red, rubber stamp traveled all over it with words like “Broke” and “Aimless” and “Too Much Vodka.” Kids were now even further out in Possibilities Ocean. Back then, you would’ve heard me say, “I’m really happy with my stock portfolio right now,” sooner than you’d have heard me say, “I think I wanna be a mom.”
Then I got married and talked with my then husband about starting a family, of course. Then I was smote by God. Then I got divorced. Somewhere in that melee, a couple doctors said, “A pregnancy? For you? With the eh and the meh? Maybe not such a good idea.” There were others who were like, “You’re fine, you can have kids, no problem.” And as all this transpired, my KMNC card started to show some wear. I would forget to take it out of my jeans and send it through the wash. I would clean out my wallet and forget to put the card back in and then I’d find it a few months later and go, “Oh, yeah. This thing.” Sometimes, I even thought about throwing it in the garbage on purpose. Because when someone tells you (me) that you can’t do something, naturally, this thing you cannot do becomes the thing you must do. I don’t believe I must have a child, but my refusal to consider it is gone. The card is gone.
The other day, I heard a woman on the radio talking about adopting a little baby and raising that baby on her own. The story was beautiful and suddenly I had something in my eye. “I should do that,” I thought. “I could adopt a kid someday.” And I wrote down on a post-it note, “I think I want to adopt a kid someday” and I put the date on it: January 28th, 2015. It’s on the fridge right now. Who knows. I figure I could give a kid a pretty good life.
A video of a man being burned alive in a cage has been playing on small screens around the world since yesterday. I haven’t seen the footage but I heard about it on the radio. Though I keep my media intake extremely low, I have been surprised that in the commentary I have heard, no one has talked about how to ensure that young children do not see videos of men being burned alive in cages. It sounds like everyone is “horrified” and that the act was “unconscionable” and “terrifying” and if it is all those things to someone who can drive and read the paper, what do you suppose it is to someone who is six?
If I were a mother, I would read to my kid. Constantly, all the time. Questions such as, “Mommy, can I get this book?” and “Mommy, can I read while I take a bath?” would be met every time with “Yup.” I would make sure the kid had clean clothes and sandwiches. And if there was a video going around of a man being burned alive in a cage, I would throw my body over as many screens as I could to protect that child from seeing something like that.
A six-year-old is gonna learn about death. Bugs, birds, and hamsters all die and this is nothing to be afraid of when you’re using truth and kindness to discuss it. But cockroaches who burn men alive in cages, record themselves doing this, and then use their footage as a dental drill on the raw nerves of their enemies, this is not the kind of death a child can or ever should stare down.
You don’t need to be a mother, I guess, to feel lioness-level rage.
I have tried, but it is plain: I cannot live in New York City.
Instead of falling in love with this place — my plan from the start — I have grown to resent it and am itching to leave. The itching could be bedbugs, but I don’t think so.*
New York City doesn’t care what I think of it, of course. New York didn’t notice when I arrived and it has stayed utterly ambivalent toward me since. Anything I have to say about New York will fall on the millions of deaf ears here, which is part of my problem with this place: aren’t two deaf ears enough? Not for New York.
For the past few months, I have been doing research. I’ve been watching interviews and reading essays and op-ed pieces by people who say New York is dead. I realize this is not a good strategy if your goal is to fall in love with a place, but when I hit Month Four and began feeling outright hostility toward the city, I launched my gloomy search. I had to find out if other people didn’t get it, if other people here were walking around perpetually sour like me. The things I liked about New York when I would visit my sister over the past fourteen years were there, but the bottom dropped out entirely when I had my own mailing address. Why?
I had a feeling my problem had to do with the way New York is now, in 2014; perhaps I might’ve had a different experience with a different version of New York. Maybe it would’ve been perfect for me in the weird and dangerous 1970s, or the wild and dangerous Jazz Age. Maybe I would’ve done better as a New Amsterdam colonist, scouring my washtub. It’s a bad skier who blames the slopes, but I’m blaming the slopes on this one: I don’t think New York in 2014 is so fantastic. The research I did showed me I am not alone in feeling this way. I’m in a crowd, in fact, which is annoyingly appropriate.
If you adore New York or if you’ve already made up your mind that I’m a weenie who just couldn’t hack it, I hope you’ll stay with me. I agree that there are valid arguments supporting New York as awesome and I’m perfectly willing to grant you that I’m a weenie.
Fran Lebowitz (lifelong New Yorker, cultural Cassandra, personal hero) has plenty to say about 2014 New York being awful. For years, she’s been watching her city turn from the intellectual and artistic capitol of the world into a theme park. (I think Lebowitz was the first to make the New-York-as-Disney Park analogy and it’s a little worn, okay, but it fits too well to ignore.) Former mayor Bloomberg — a billionaire, remember — had a goal when he took office. He wanted to increase tourism and commerce in his city. To do that, he had to make it a kinder, gentler version of itself. The safer folks felt New York was, the more of them would come here, which would bring in money. Bloomberg served three terms (he changed the term-limit law to make that possible), and thus had years to work on his New York Beautification Project. And indeed, the place is Disney-fied. You must wait in lines for everything you want to do. Extras are never included in your ticket price. Grand, sparkly attractions replace smaller, older rides because they photograph way better and push ticket prices up. And it seems that, like the planters and fences at Disneyland, everything in New York these days is rounded, never sharp, for liability reasons.
And then there’s the matter of housing. If you tried to rent a one-bedroom apartment on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I reckon it would probably cost you about $4000/month. They don’t rent apartments on Main Street in Disneyland, as far as I know, but if they did, that’s probably what they’d go for. And this is what it costs in New York for a one-bedroom, give or take several hundreds of dollars, depending on how good (read: sneaky) your broker is. If you want to live cheaper in Disneyland, you’ll need to find a room for rent way out in Toontown (a.k.a. Jersey City) or maybe further than that. Maybe just hit the parking lot and skip the broker and your silly visions of Main Street altogether.
But here’s the thing. All that can be fine. It is fine for millions of people (at least a few hundred thousand) because they have a dream. They have a dream of making it in New York or they simply want to be in New York to escape a life they couldn’t stand. That’s great — and that dream is the crucial. It is the key; it is precisely what allows the young man to squeeze into the subway at rush hour, what zeros out the rage of the woman who sees that the checkout line at Trader Joe’s begins at the door of the Trader Joe’s. You gotta want to be in New York real, real bad to put up with the bullsh-t and if you do, it can work for you. In summation: to live in step with New York, it would seem that you need either lots of money or a dream so dear you don’t care about living with four roommates in Toontown.
Well, I ain’t got Bloomberg money and I ain’t got no dream, New York. I’m gonna have to dip.
I came here for an adventure, and I’ve had one. But I can’t stay. It’s wrong for me. I never felt like I had to make it in New York City to Feel Whole. I feel more or less pleasant at least half the time in other places, but I grit my teeth and steel my face when I’m “home,” which, admittedly, isn’t that often. Perhaps I haven’t bonded with New York because I haven’t been in New York enough, but try telling that to the part of me who almost started yelling at someone on the street the other day. A woman was trying to open the door to her garden apartment on a really hairy section of St. Mark’s. There was garbage that had caught in the doorway and on the cement steps leading down. She had a baby in a stroller with her. I saw the baby and the woman and the trash and the crappy doorknob to the basement apartment that she couldn’t get into and I had to stop myself from screaming, “Have you lost your mind?? Get that child out of here! Are you insane? This place is filthy!”
There’s more to the story. More reasons why I have to leave. Where shall I go? Ah, now that is a very good question. But I think I’ve said enough for now.
Tonight, here on St. Mark’s Place, a decision needed to be made. The matter was being discussed in homes from coast to coast, in kitchens around the world. Fights may have broken out over the matter! Families torn apart! Brother against brother, father against son, all asking the simple question:
“What should we do for dinner?”
I typically figure out dinner early in the day, but work and travel kept me from any meal planning today. I’ve been here before, though, and am a decent enough cook to be able to whip up something tasty on the fly with a little Pam* and a prayer. But tonight, I was uninspired. So naturally, Yuri and I considered take-out. In a city like New York, we could have any kind of cuisine the world could offer us, right here in our apartment without stepping one toe outside. Ain’t that some moo goo gai pan.
Except that I don’t like take-out. Delivery. Whatever you call it when someone delivers food to your house. For many years, I’ve had an odd aversion to the concept and tonight, when I balked at what would’ve been a sensible solution to the dinner question, Yuri asked me to explain. I hadn’t ever considered it closely, so it was very exciting. I sipped a little apple juice and really thought it out.
It’s the effort of the whole thing. You, the food, the players in the transaction, all of it. And eating this way also feels a little cheaty.
Let’s take the last part first: If I decide I want to eat something that I don’t want to kill, shop for, carry, or cook — and if I want to do the absolute bare minimum of clean up after I’ve eaten it — ring up the Thai place and let’s do this. But Thai food does not appear out of thin air. It’s made. Out of things. When you get a rapidly cooling mass of pad Thai in a styrofoam box, the creation part is a distant memory. Personally, I think that’s a drag.
And then there’s the effort. “Effort? In picking up the phone or clicking boxes online? She’s off her gourd,” I hear someone say, and then that someone checks to see if anyone is delivering harvest gourd soup in their area. It’s not your effort, of course, but the effort of the process. Look:
You call to order —> order placed by person or machine —> order given to kitchen —> food prepared —> food put into containers —> containers put into bag —> astonishing number of condiments also put into bag —> bag given to delivery person —> delivery person takes bushel of orders to his/her car or bike —> food loses heat/freshness en route but is not discounted for loss of quality but in fact costs you more —> food arrives —> money changes hands —> delivery man leaves —> you sit down and open packages —> you eat —> you throw away all the crap that came with your sushi, including that weird plastic grass.
Good grief. Compare that to:
You take ingredients from fridge/pantry —> prepare —> cook —> eat —> dishwasher.
So, what did we do for dinner in the end? I realized I had prosciutto in the fridge, so I fried some up in a pan. I had some dates. I made some quesadillas without cheese for Yuri because his stomach was feeling bad and yes, quesadillas without cheese just means that I toasted some tortillas on the stove for him, which made him feel much better by the way. And that was dinner and it was enough.
Plastic grass is for Easter baskets! Everyone knows that.
*I do not currently keep any Pam in the house. I only wanted to link to the “Pam The Pan” entry from several months back.
When I went to the ER on Thursday, I went by myself. When I went to the ER on Saturday, I had an advocate. The difference between the two visits was stark. I’ve been to an emergency room alone before and I’ve gone in plenty of times with a friend or family member, too, but never in such short succession. Comparing the trips closely showed me plainly how one has to do these things:
You must have an advocate at the hospital.
If you are a solo person considering driving yourself to an ER tonight (or any night in the future), I urge you to call someone to go with you; at the very least, ask someone to meet you there. Of course, if your arm is hanging off or you’ve got visibly spreading flesh-eating bacteria working its way across your chest, you will probably get through the door with a minimum of hassle. I’m talking to the people out there who struggle with internal problems (e.g., possible appendicitis, possible internal flesh-eating bacteria, fissures, Crohn’s, etc.) because without someone to vouch for you, you are light years away from the care you assume you’ll get in a room created for the express purpose of dealing with people in emergency health situations.
Note: If you’re a person who doesn’t have a soul on earth to call, my advice would be to get to the ER tonight however you have to, get the hell out, and set about making some friends first thing tomorrow morning. Book clubs are good, online dating works well, and if you’re a quilter, run to your nearest guild and join the next sew-a-long. Any of these strategies will yield people clamoring to take you to the hospital before you know it.
On both trips, I was in identical straits. Pure agony. Any human being who took one look at me (and how could you miss me, howling like that) could see that this was a woman in trouble. Was I foaming at the mouth? Well, no. But I was flagging. And while I understand totally the need for proper identification and at least a cursory examination of a person before IVs and medications are flung around hither and thither, Thursday’s experience reminded me that the collective brain of the ER has been removed and a skeptical, bureaucratic, Policy And Procedures Manual has been wedged in its place. This is not news, I realize, but my shock and indignation is fresh, so it feels like news.
Additional Note: I’m sure there are at least a handful of folks reading who are now or have been professionals in the medical field. I owe my life to a number of you, first of all, and don’t think I don’t know it. I see the problem(s) I’m talking about having less to do with individuals and more with the medical industrial complex. Indeed, it is the lack of individuality and specificity in the system that does damage.
The nurse was working the night shift. I get it. That sucks. And we all have bad days. But she began from a place of inhumanity. She came past my curtain and asked quite casually, “What seems to be the problem today?” (I’m writhing on the bed at this point.) She almost snorted when I told her I needed a certain kind of pain medicine — I’m allergic to morphine — and when I refused a CT scan I felt a freshet of loathing from Little Miss Ratchett. I know roughly when a CT scan of my abdomen is needed and when it is not; it would’ve been useless to do one at that time, given my symptoms and my traveler status, most especially because my pain had yet to be treated. (It appears that hospitals do far more CT scans than they need to**, primarily because they can bill for them. To be fair, this over-scanning has something to do with protection from litigious customers, but I felt my hospital was being either lazy or thick with their order. Not that I said so at the time.)
Halfway through my time there, as I’m trying to explain my entire medical history again, somehow, and get what I need to feel better, I realized how silly it was to be there alone. It was my fault. My stoicism was ill-conceived. The nurse might’ve been a jerk, but I looked up some stats and it appears that fiending drug addicts make frequent trips to emergency rooms all the time, looking for a fix. Here I was, a woman by herself, from out of state, with no visible injuries, crazy eyes, and an increasingly petulant attitude (see: refusing CT scan), begging for pain medicine. If a junkie could pull off looking/sounding like me that night, that junkie would be pretty amazing. But I hear they’ll do anything, so maybe the nurse was right to be so totally unhelpful. I tried to get in touch with someone from the quilt show to speak with the hospital, but when I couldn’t make contact and feared waking up the whole team, I gave up. Not being able to call for backup did not help my case.
I left with the bare minimum of relief and went away, 10% better in one regard, 30% worse in others.
Tomorrow, the second visit, and the wonder of compassion, advocacy, and my friend Marlene.
**Between2000 and 2010, the National Center for Health Statistics showed the use of advanced imaging scans— CT or MRI—increased to 17% from 5% of all emergency-room visits. A Push For Less Testing in Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2014.
The mere mention of overalls on women in yesterday’s post inspired comment from both sides of the pant leg. I had no idea this would be so polarizing an issue!
The issue: Can a grown woman wear denim overalls and be taken seriously?
We could phrase the question many different ways. I initially conceived the issue to be, “Can a grown woman look attractive in denim overalls?” but that’s easy: Of course she can. A woman in love can look stunning in a paper sack.* A happy, healthy pregnant woman in denim overalls can look glowy and radiant, too. And if you’re someone with a thing for it, you’ll find any female in overalls (that original onesie) to be straight up hot. To each his own sartorial kink.
We could also ask, “Is there a grown woman on the planet who feels attractive in denim overalls?” but this shows my personal bias. When I have worn overalls, I have felt about as attractive as a caterpillar’s ass. This is due to the realities of my body shape. I have an ample bust and a derrier to match but I do possess a waist — for this, I thank Zeus every day. What overalls do to me is cruel. They eviscerate any hint of a waist. I become a stovepipe. A meaty, Viking, insty-stovepipe who looks like she ought to be butchering a moose with one hand while folding lard into biscuit dough with the other, all while sweating something smelly, like…goat’s milk. None of what I’ve just described makes sense. But neither do overalls on women in urban places in 21st century America! They’re confusing! They don’t understand their reference point! There’s absolutely nothing that works, here!
Are you working? In dirt? No!
Do you have breasts? Yes! You do! A square panel that rests mid-boob is uncomfortable and aesthetically problematic!
I have worn high heels that were impractical and painful but man, did my legs look fabulous because the shoe’s shape elongated my leg. I have donned chandelier earrings from time to time because dammit, I look like Cleopatra in them. Fashion is frequently impractical and silly, but in the case of almost anything other than denim overalls, there are reasons we suffer. Lines are lengthened. Curves are accentuated. The female shape is celebrated or made more mysterious. I’d like to challenge any female on earth — yes, every last one of you — to make denim overalls look mysterious.
Mm-hm! Didn’t think so.
Every few years, Fashion declares that overalls (“coveralls” if you hail from certain farming communities in the Midwest where such garments make perfect sense because that’s who they were designed for) are “back.” Pictured above, overalls currently on offer from company that I adore. Reformation makes clothes out of materials considered “deadstock” by other fashion companies: when clothing manufacturers and designers order way too much fabric (this happens all the time) Reformation will use that material for their designs rather than have more made/shipped, etc. It’s a green strategy and the clothes are so great.**
But Reformation. Come on. That model is so pretty. She is so thin. And those overalls are made of nifty denim, possibly taken from some high fashion house like Isabel Marant or Band of Outsiders. You all have done your best! But… I mean… The crotch. It’s so squinchy. And this young woman, she has such tiny boobies, but they are still managing to slowly seep out the sides of her little denim overall’s…frontispiece. I reject your stylist’s choice of shoes here, but could I do any better than that plasticky clog? What is better? Sneakers? A strappy sandal? No! Nothing works. Nothing works because the overalls are all wrong.
I open it to you, reader. Defend your position. Because I’m over(all) it.
Get it? “Over” it? “Over(all) it”? #stoptyping
*I love to think about a woman so in love, she forgets to get dressed when she leaves her lover’s house in the morning. The baker sees her, gasps, and hands her a number of paper sacks to put on. All day, everyone wonders where she got her outfit, if she’s lost weight, what’s new with her, etc.
**I’m wearing a polka-dot Reformation skirt as I write this. I feel very attractive in it!