The Porsche, Isabella Duncan, and Performance Art.

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Story 0
I couldn't find a good picture of the Porsche; James Dean is as cool. Film still from East of Eden (1954). Photo: Wikipedia
I couldn’t find a good picture of the Porsche; James Dean is as cool. Film still from East of Eden (1954). Photo: Wikipedia

If I have one iota of coolness in me, I learned it at the Motley Cow Cafe in Iowa City.

When I was a junior, the guy I was seeing wanted to get a bartending job at the newly opened and clearly rad cafe, so we went in one day so he could talk to the owner. They didn’t hire him, but they hired me. (Sorry, Wes.) I worked there for the next two years as a waitress and sometime prep cook and I can say with certainty those were two of the best years of my life thus far. I learned about food, about wine; I learned how to dress, honestly. Everyone in the Motley Cow orbit was cool and soaked up the codes.

The cafe was named for a town in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which tells you half of what you need to know about The Motley Cow. The other half is that the food was incredible and the spot created a community: small restaurants in small towns tend to do that. There were many regulars and it was part of the magic of the place.

One of my regulars was Hans. Hans looked like Ernest Hemingway and was a big deal in town because he started the Intermedia department at the University. He taught there from 1966 until 2000 and has been an influential artist in intermedia and performance art in America for decades. I think there was a sandwich on the menu named after Hans. It was basically a croque-monsieur, if I’m remembering correctly.

One day, Hans asked me if I was interested in working on a project with him. I was floored. I was also intimidated and scared because a) Hans! and b) he wanted to record me screaming. Look, he needed audio of a young woman screaming — this is what intermedia artists do. Who am I to question? And I said I’d do it. He also wanted to take pictures of women in the woods, which I would’ve done except the women needed to be naked. The scream was all I was brave enough to do at the time, but it’s a bummer because the naked-women-in-the-woods project on went on to be a seminal one in for Hans. Just think: a picture of my naked, nubile, twenty-something body could be on the walls of MoMA right now. Dangit!

Hans picked me up from the cafe after my lunch shift one spring day in his vintage Porsche Targa ragtop convertible. I had never ridden in a convertible and the Targa was a decent one to break me in, I guess. I was wearing a long, pretty scarf (I had agonized over my outfit; what do you wear to a famous artist’s house to scream into a microphone? this is a wardrobe choice that would stump the most experienced stylist, I feel.) Hans told me I’d better take off the scarf because the famous dancer Isadora Duncan was decapitated when her scarf got caught in the wheels of a convertible.

“Thanks for letting me know, Hans,” I said. I was very pale.

The house was a farmhouse out in the country, every room filled with camera equipment, photography equipment, lighting, etc. I went. I gaped. I screamed. It was fantastic. And the lesson is that all you have to do is get out of bed in the morning and stuff will happen to you. If you show up, you will encounter adventures. If you say yes, you can go on them.

The Motley Cow Cafe is still serving beautiful food on Linn Street and if you’re in Iowa City, do yourself a favor and eat there.

A Bird Pooped On My Head

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 1
Women in bird costumes at Mardi Gras, 2008. Photo: Wikipedia
Women in bird costumes at Mardi Gras, 2008. Photo: Wikipedia

A bird pooped on my head yesterday.

Hang on.

A bird, high in a tree over the Klingle Bridge, pooped. I was crossing the Klingle Bridge and happened to be directly — and I do mean directly — under this pooping bird, so I got poop on my head. “A bird pooped on my head” makes it sound like the bird pooped on me on purpose and I don’t think birds choose where they poop.

Or do they.

I was walking back home from a quick trip to the grocery store. Time: nine o’clock. Weather: pleasant. General mood: excellent. On the way to the store, for some reason I recalled the night I found a $100 dollar bill on Clark Street. It was the night before my 31st birthday. I was riding my bike and there it was, right in the bike lane in Wrigleyville. This is relevant because it shows that last night I was already thinking about odds.

I’m just at the start of the bridge when: ploop!

I gasped. No. No, no, no. That was not a bird, I thought to myself. I did not just get pooped on by a bird, I thought. No. Oh dear Lord … It was an acorn. An acorn?? No, it was water. I don’t know why it would be water and be … heavy, but it was not bird poop. This is what I thought to myself, what I tried to think.

Slowly, I raised my hand to my head. Wet. I brought my fingers down, looked, and yes, ’twas poop. Have you ever recoiled from your own head? It’s pretty weird.

I was about two blocks from home and there were a lot of people out walking; I immediately quickened my pace to escape their eyes. I was sure — sure — someone would see that my number was up, that I had been pooped on. The shame! Though even in my pain and disgust, I found it amusing that I was literally holding my head up high. When in disgrace, it’s good to keep your chin up, your head high, right? Yes, but last night I held my head high so that maybe no one would see that poop on it.

“It’s a good thing you’re so tall, Mary,” my friend Marlene said on the phone today. “Unless someone was way taller than you, there’s no way anyone saw it.”

The odds that someone taller than me would have passed me on the bridge last night are pretty good. Better than finding $100 bucks, better than getting pooped on by a bird. But no tall man came. This is why we roll the dice.

False Alarm, Real Terror!

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 1
Exodus; Sweet Media Publishing. Illustration: Wikipedia
No M&M trail mix. Perhaps the real hardship. Illustration: Sweet Media Publishing via Wikipedia.

I’ve been trying to get more sleep. Much, much more.

Over the past few years (eesh) I’ve been getting around five hours a night. But All The Studies show that this paltry amount of is hazardous to our health. Of course, this is deeply depressing; even when we’re resting, we’re doing something wrong. Thanks, culture.

But a friend encouraged me recently to stop trying to compete with Madonna (she proudly claims to get about 4 hours a night) and shoot for 8 to 9 hours. Oh, I thrashed. I protested. Eight hours?! But that’s eight hours of doing absolutely nothing! Didn’t he understand that life is an hourglass continuously leaking sand? Sleep is sleeping on the job! My friend looked at me with compassion and said something like, “Only someone who is sleep-deprived would say something so foolish.”

I took on the challenge and for about a week, I have slept eight hours each night, except for the night before last. This is because I was ripped out of sleep by an air raid siren.

Actually, it was a fire alarm in the Kennedy Warren. This building (which I fall more deeply in love with daily and I haven’t even tried the pool, yet) contains over 400 units. It’s a monster. I learned yesterday morning around 6:30am that this building is ready to evacuate the people inside all these apartments quickly by instilling abject terror in their hearts and minds. The most unbelievably loud, tormenting siren began to scream across into my home and across the building. It sounded like the world was ending, and then a man’s disembodied voice said, “Attention residents: smoke has been detected in the building. All residents must move toward fire exits immediately. Attention residents: smoke has been detected in the building. All residents must move toward fire exits immediately. Attention…” You get the idea.

My heart did a trapeze flip and I got up off my little sleep mat, promptly tripping on the hem of my nightgown.* I got up, fumbled for my robe, grabbed my cell phone, which I felt was really smart of me, and jammed my feet into slippers. I raced to the door and opened it, maybe expecting smoke? Certainly, I was expecting other people on floor ten to be spilling out of their apartments, hopefully in curlers and with…houseguests. But there was no one! Not a soul! I looked up one long hallway and down the other, but I was the only one out there! Talk about disorienting. I really thought I was dreaming at that point, but the siren was so loud it couldn’t be possible.

Then, with absolutely zero sense of panic, several people began unlocking their doors and sticking their heads out. A dog sniffed out into the hall. I was looking wild-eyed and insane in my robe, clutching my cell phone and these people were eating bagels. The air raid siren stopped and the woman a few doors down said, “You think that’s it?”

Then the disembodied voice said, “Attention residents: there is no danger of fire. Smoke was detected in maintenance room but has been repaired and poses no threat.”

Great. But I couldn’t go back to sleep.

*Yes, I DO wear a nightgown. I’m practicing being a grandmother because it’s never too soon. 

Spring Fever.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story, Travel 0
Springtime in Flemming, apparently. Those horses are FREAKING OUT.
Springtime in Flemming, apparently. Those horses are FREAKING OUT.

I was in a taxi the other day and my driver was cursing under his breath in a foreign language. I could definitely tell what words he was using. He was cursing at cars who were cutting him off, cursing at pedestrians who were taking daredevil crosses from one side of the street to the other. He was justified in his cursing, I’m telling you.

“People are crazy!” he said to me, throwing up his hands. “They don’t look! They don’t care if they die!”

I shook my head and said, “It’s true, man” though I think most people do not want to die; I’m very sure most people don’t want to die by Uber.

But then I remembered what time it was: early May. People are insane. They are. It’s because they are emerging or have emerged from the icy chrysalis they’ve been in since October. Spring fever is a real thing. People are giddy for the smallest reasons: no coat needed to go outside, a green thing in a tree, a pretty girl walking by in a skirt and sandals.

“You know what?” I said to the driver. “I actually think it’s the spring. Like, springtime. People are wild and crazy because they’re happy. It’s really dangerous, but they’re just happy, I think.”

The driver thought about this for a moment and he actually scratched his chin. “I think that you are right,” he said. “Crazy.”

The Year Of Terrible Couches Shall Soon Come To An End.

posted in: Chicago, D.C., Paean, Rant, Story, Tips 1
This doesn't look too bad. But you should probably try out that couch before you sign the lease. Photo: Wikipedia
This doesn’t look too bad. But you should probably try out that couch before you sign the lease. Photo: Wikipedia

What can be said about the sofas in our lives?

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. 

Sofa. Whatever.

*I’m from Iowa; it’s a couch

Quiet Windows.

posted in: D.C., Story, Washington 0
Cutchogue, NY, 2005. Photo: Wikipedia,
Cutchogue, NY, 2005. Photo: Wikipedia, 2015.

On Saturday morning, I had my first experience delivering groceries to seniors with We Are Family D.C.*

There were about thirty-five people at the meeting place when I got there; the man in charge said our numbers were lighter than usual, so we’d have to pull together to get it all done. Lucky for us, Girl Scout Troop 714 was there that morning, so really, we had the strength of the Light Brigade!

There were undergrads there, too, as well as folks working in conjunction with other charity organizations, and there were a handful of people like me who just came on their own. (About 1/3 of the entire group was helping for the first time.) Our first job was to take over 100 bags and dozens of boxes of non-perishable groceries from the back of a huge van and stage them in the parking lot. Then we all pow-wowed in a big meeting room so we could get the plan for the day and meet each other. After that, we were split up into groups.

I was teamed up with James, a twenty-something who helped start “Sonos Familias,” the Spanish arm of the organization, and Pete, a seventy-something who has been delivering groceries and paying visits to D.C. area seniors for twelve years. We loaded up Pete’s car with our share of bags and boxes; James got our list of names and addresses. Pete drove, I sat in back.

“Okay, the first house we’re going to,” Pete said, turning the wheel, “is Esther’s. Now, Esther is one of my favorites.” (Pete said this about every person we visited.) He told us all about Esther, how he makes sure she’s taking her insulin and how some weekends he’ll take her a bag of vegetables on his own dime. “Toward the end of the month, she needs it,” Pete said. Then he honked at a driver and made a creative left turn. “What a jerk!” Pete said, and then went back to telling me and James about Esther.

I listened to all Pete’s stories and looked out the car windows. We drove through parts of D.C. that I hadn’t been in, yet. Without doing something like this, how will I ever see the whole city?

Pete would wait in the car while James and I took bags and boxes to the doors. Some folks weren’t home or weren’t answering, but most people came to the door. Some wanted to visit a little, some didn’t. Everyone was grateful, everyone smiled to see us. The man in charge told us when we were in our huddle that a lot of these older folks had been in their houses for forty years, fifty years.

“They were in their neighborhoods when the civil rights riots were happening, through the crack epidemic in the ’80s. Now the neighborhoods are changing and it’s… I mean, if anyone earned the right to be there, to stay there, it’s them.”

James and I were buzzed into one house that was all shuttered up. From the outside, it looked empty. We stepped into an entryway that was dark but tidy. The whole place had a strange smell to it: a combination of face powder, dust, and canned green beans.

“Coming down,” a weak voice called from upstairs. James and I stood by the beautiful, dusty oak bannister and watched an elderly woman ride a chair lift slowly, slowly down the stairs. James and I were patient and talked to her while she made the trip. Pearl had big sunglasses on, compression socks, a housedress, and orthopedic shoes. Her dark skin was ashy and she didn’t have many teeth, but — and I’m not just saying this — she looked great. She was getting around. She was sharp. When James asked her how long she had lived here, she said, with great pride, “Forty-nine years, honey, right here.”

“We love this bannister,” James said. “It’s beautiful.”

“It was painted, you know, but that wouldn’t do, so I did it.”

I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly. “I’m sorry, Pearl, did you say that you stripped the bannister and stained it?”

“Yes, I did.”

James and I took the box of groceries to the kitchen, visited a while longer, and then went back out to the car to go to the next spot. The group meets several times a month. I plan to join them again, and probably a lot.


*The organization is remarkable not just for the service it provides but for its efficiency, history, and reach. If you’re in the D.C. area and think you might like to do some community service, I can’t recommend WAF enough. 

Finally! Answers! I’m Pteridophobic!!!

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 2
I do not know or care what kind of fern this is. I couldn't even put it into the post until I was ready to hit "Publish."
I do not know or care what kind of fern this is. I couldn’t even put it into the post until I was ready to hit “Publish.”

I took a pleasant walk with my friend Elle, her baby Miles, and her husband Brian at the National Arboretum on Saturday. This was after my first experience delivering groceries to seniors with We Are Family, which you can read about here; a full report on that tomorrow.

The weather was chilly — I have a knack for going to gorgeous gardens under steely gray skies — but the stroll was perfect. Brian stayed in the car while Miles napped and urged Elle and I to start off ahead. We went to the Bonsai garden and I learned a lot about Bonsai trees, namely that they do not grow like that on their own. It takes me awhile, but I get there.

We were remarking on life and plants and I thought I’d share something rather personal and embarrassing with Elle, something I don’t tell many people because it is just so totally weird. But in the circumstances… Well, I went for it.

“Elle? I have this weird fear. Like a phobia.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I’m deathly afraid of ferns.”

Elle laughed, not cruelly, but in surprise. “Like, fern-ferns? Ferns.”

I nodded and tried to explain. “It’s the spidery-ness. The uncurling thing. They’re so big. And dark. Prehistoric, you know? They seem really, really old and really, really…intelligent. And they’re vascular. Like, they’re described as vascular plants. That is so…” but I shuddered and couldn’t finish my sentence. Elle granted that the fern characteristics I described had a slight creep-factor, but clearly she did not feel the same way about ferns.

Friends, I do hope you feel that when you read this blog you often come away having learned something of value, and not just about my hilarious family. But if you’ve never learned anything before, you’re about to: there is a name for my fern phobia. It’s pteridophobia. It’s a thing. It is so a thing that not only did spellcheck not freaking underline it — I’m not alone. In fact, there is a very, very famous person who also was pteridophobic. Would you like to know who that person was?

Sigmund Freud.

When I read this, I choked on my juice. Spluttering and coughing, I put my laptop to the side and jumped up so I didn’t get juice on my laptop or the couch, just on my pretty vest.

“What?!” I hollered. “Sigmund Freud was afraid of ferns??”  I picked my laptop back up and wiped my chin. My eyes were big as dinner plates and glued to the screen, now; I clicked this and that tab, trusting but verifying. It’s true: Freud was deathly afraid of ferns.

Do you realize what this means?? Sigmund Freud was not just the father of psychoanalysis, he was also the father of phobic baggage. He made people feel worse about their phobias than they already did! Some nice guy was afraid of banana cream pie and then Freud got a hold of him and you know what happened to that guy. And here I am, a person with the same phobia Freud himself had?? And it’s ferns?? Do I not brood enough? Am I not hyper-analytical (emotionally speaking) enough? I am now bound to Freud in our irrational fear. We are sister and brother in weirdness, bound forever by unbearable terror when we step into a greenhouse full of…

Full of…

I can’t say it. Please don’t make me say it… Siggy! Siggy, I’m afraid… Run, honey! Run!!!

Saturday Story: My Experience In a Sweat Lodge.

posted in: Day In The Life, Story 1
Chaiwa-Tewa girl with butterfly hair arrangement. Photo: Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian': Photographic Images, 2001.
Chaiwa-Tewa girl with butterfly hair arrangement. Photo: Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s ‘The North American Indian’: Photographic Images, 2001.

In 2005, I went to a sweat in a sweat lodge in the desert of New Mexico. The ritual was lead by a Native American from the Tewa tribe* and it was, as you can imagine, really hot in there.

Going to a real sweat lodge for a purification ceremony sounds like something a person would seek out and pay handsomely for in the name of spiritual enlightenment or woo-woo. But my sweat happened by pure chance and that made it more remarkable (and more woo-woo, I suppose.) Here’s what happened:

I was in Albuquerque for the 2005 National Poetry Slam. I was slamming on the Green Mill team that year; I can’t remember how our team did, but just being at Nationals was good enough for me — Nationals is the biggest competition of the year and a huge party. Plus, I was excited to be in Albuquerque; I had never been there before and was taken with the adobe, the baked streets, the tumbleweed, the dust. At that time in my life, I was what you’d call “straight-edge.” That meant that I didn’t drink alcohol or take drugs, ever, not even a little bit. That might not seem impressive, but it sorta was because I was twenty-four and hung out with poets and writers. Poets and writers are not known for temperance, I don’t know if you heard. My position on such things made me an odd man out; I had to look hard for my kinsmen.

I found some on that trip. Over the few days I was there, I fell in with a group of people who also strictly abstained from all mind- and mood-altering substances. We hung out in the downtown area after the slam competitions wrapped and watched poets from Portland and L.A. and Asheville get absolutely wasted as they went from bar to bar. We felt self-righteous and enlightened, I’m sure, and we were probably as insufferable in our own ways as the hard-partying poets were in theirs.

On the morning of the last day, while everyone else was nursing hangovers (or still out from the night before) one of my new friends asked us if any of us wanted to do a “sweat.” He was a 6’10 Native American man of indeterminate age. He wasn’t a poet at the competition but a friend of a friend and I had spent enough time around him by that point that I could make the call about his skeeviness or lack thereof: no skeeve detected. I’ll do it, I said, as long as we could be back by lunchtime to head to the airport. No problem, our friend said, so several of us — including two women and I wouldn’t have gone if I was the only female — hopped into the back of his pickup and we headed out into the desert.

The sweat lodge was a homemade hut in back of the man’s clapboard home. It looked like an igloo wrapped in blankets and furs with a hole up at the top where the smoke could escape. Before we went in, our friend told us what to expect. He told us to remember to breathe, breathe, breathe, and to not freak out when we felt like freaking out. He also said that if we felt like we were dying, we needed to say something. He told us this as we stood around this enormous fire pit — the stones needed for the ceremony were deep in the bottom of the fire pit, for this is how they would get hot enough to use. We threw all this wood in and stood back from the wall of heat that rose up. It was bizarre to be at a roaring fire in the morning in the desert. It added to the strangeness of the entire experience but I didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least, didn’t feel like I was in the wrong place.

We were instructed to head into the lodge. We ducked down and took our seats around the circle. Our host had a helper who arrived at some point and they went about transferring the searing hot rocks to the middle of the circle. Every time they brought in a rock the lodge got about 30-degrees hotter. Sweat was already rolling down my back, dripping into my eyes. Then the two men came in and I saw both carried a large cistern of water. The flap on the lodge closed and we were all plunged into darkness.

My friend intoned Native American music and words and his assistant beat a drum. A loud “Ssssssss!” cracked through the music when water was poured onto the hot stones and steam would blow us all back; this happened again and again until it was hard to tell where my body ended and the steam and heat began. I remembered to breathe. Once I let myself relax into such a bizarre, exciting, we-ain’t-in-Kansas-anymore experience, I felt some kind of peace or joy, I suppose; maybe it was even a little transcendent. I’m not a woo-woo gal in the least, but I suppose if you go to an authentic sweat given by an actual Native American at his desert home and don’t feel something, you are too cynical.

Did I have visions? No. Did I find my spirit animal? No. Did my skin look amazing when I left? You bet your kokopelli. I have kept in touch with no one from that group, but I remember some of their faces. I can’t remember names of people I meet — like, I forget them the moment I learn them — but I never forget a face.

*My apologies to my friend if I’m wrong.

On Tripping & Falling.

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Tips 1
German warning sign. That's what my box looked like! Photo: Wikipedia
German warning sign. That’s what my box looked like! Photo: Wikipedia

Yesterday I tripped and fell flat on my back. Since I’m okay, it’s hilarious.

It’s strange to trip and fall down as an adult. Toddlers fall all the time because they’re figuring out how to walk. Children fall because they’re running and playing. And of course the elderly fall sometimes and that is dangerous and can even lead to death if they can’t get to a phone for help or if the fall is particularly bad, what with all those brittle bones. But to fall all the way down to the ground in one’s thirties is a rare occurrence and disorienting.

Here’s what happened: I had to ship a huge box of wardrobe and quilts to Chicago. I printed out my UPS label and went to take it down to the front desk of my building for pickup. On the way to the elevator, I decided to just push the box with my foot; I had my purse and my computer bag in my hands.

When I got to the elevator and the doors opened, I kept trying to kick the box in but it was getting caught in the space between the hall and the floor of the elevator. I leaned into the box and when I really tried to give it a shove with my whole leg, that’s when I fell, tumbling over the box, right into the elevator. I was “a– over elbows,” as they say; finding myself looking at the ceiling of the elevator. My purse went flying and my computer bag fell with me with a troubling thud.

After I recovered, I burst out laughing. Then I got up to collect my things and myself off. The elevator doors kept trying to shut on that darned box until I finally pulled the thing in. I thanked my lucky stars no one had seen this.

The last time I fell as an adult, I was walking on an icy sidewalk. And in middle school, I was running way too fast and tripped on concrete, flat on my face. I broke my nose or at least cracked it; I never saw a doctor, so I have this strange little bump on the side of my nose that has never gone away. You can’t really see it, but I know it’s there.

Watch your step.

The Motorcycle Ride: San Francisco, 2004.

posted in: Poetry, Story 0
I can see my twenties from here! View of San Francisco overloooking Noe Valley. Photo: Jack French, 2007.
I can see my twenties from here! View of San Francisco overloooking Noe Valley. Photo: Jack French, 2007.

A song on the radio mentioned a motorcycle and it reminded me of something in a galaxy far away.

In 2004, I went on a slam poetry tour of the west coast. My friend Ezekiel went, too; he went to protect me (Ezekiel Brown is an imposing fellow with a heart of gold) and he filmed the whole thing, too, all the way from Portland down to L.A. That there is footage of this adventure makes me wistful, curious, and horrified all at the same time, which is an interesting emotional experience. I’ve been out of the slam scene for so long, I’m not sure if folks are still doing tours like these, but in the early aughts, it was a hot thing to do. They weren’t lucrative; you ended up spending money, not making it, because travel cost a lot and you’d only make a couple hundred bucks at the gigs, if that. But what fun, what fun.

Ezekiel and I were in San Francisco. I had done my set at a slam and it must’ve gone well because we were in a celebratory mood. We went to a bar on the Haight. I was a tender twenty-four. Can you believe it? I’m sure I was wearing ripped jeans and an army jacket, talking about originality, spirituality, and all the other alities twenty-somethings talk about with zero authority and fiery conviction.

Then he walked in.

You could put a book of Alan Ginsburg poems to my neck and I wouldn’t be able to tell you his name but I remember exactly what he was wearing: leather motorcycle gear, top to bottom. Not Harley Davidson motorcycle, but like, drag racing motorcycle stuff. Motocross, is it? I don’t know, but he was the sexiest thing I had ever seen in my entire life. Tousled sandy hair. Two-day beard scruff. He looked like freakin’ ad for Gucci cologne, all sleepy grin and swagger. Sex, okay? He looked like sex.

“Ezekiel!” I hissed. “Good jumping Jehoshaphat…! That man is beautiful.” (Pretty sure “jumpin’ Jehoshaphat” were not the words I used at that moment.) Ezekiel looked at me. I was not a strumpet; there was something different happened, something crazed in my eye. “I dare you to go talk to him,” Ezekiel said. “Double dog dare.” I watched the man sit at the bar and melted into a pool of butter. After the rest of my pilsner and Ezekiel’s goading, I did go talk to him.

I marched right up to that fellow and lord knows what I said, but I did something right, because before too long, we were having a pleasant conversation. I would steal glances back at Ezekiel with huge eyeballs and point to the guy and be like, “Can you?? Are you??? Holy Haight Ashbury!!!” Motocross Guy was nice. He wasn’t terribly smart, but at twenty-four, neither was I; really, we were perfectly matched.

The night passed into the hour where decisions are made. Motocross Guy asked me did I want to come to his place for a drink. Yep. Let’s do it. I checked in with Ezekiel, who was summarily impressed that I had just successfully picked up someone at a bar. (I’ll have you know this was the one and only time in my life I have done this, not only because I can say I’m battin’ 1000, but also because I doubt I top this experience, ever.)

We walked outside. “Here,” he said, handing me his motorcycle helmet. “Put this on.” It had not occurred to me that a man in full motorcycle gear was dressed that way because he had arrived on a motorcycle. But there his bike was, beautiful, parked right there in front. The machine was pure testosterone. Slick, fast, hot — kinda like him. He got on the bike and told me to get on and hold onto him. Before I could take a breath, we peeled out of the parking spot and sped into the San Francisco night.

Not all cities are beautiful, but San Francisco is a jewel. If you’ve ever been to there, you know it is a city of hills. Those hills mean village lights shine from shelves below and above you; the Bay is endless and the Golden Gate watches over all the good citizens. We flew. We climbed up and up, then fast down, zipping around corners and zagging the switchbacks. It was a good thing I was behind the fellow and wearing a helmet because my mouth was hanging open the whole time.

“More! More!!” I shouted. “Can we ride a little longer? Show me more!”

I had never been on a motorcycle in my life, not because I hadn’t had the opportunity. One of my and my family’s dearest friends, Jeremiah, had died in a motorcycle accident at twenty-four. I was twenty at the time, in college, when that had happened. Taking this ride wasn’t just fun and risky, it was a terrifying leap into the life I missed so terribly. It didn’t make sense. It was a stupid, dangerous idea — and one I couldn’t have resisted for anything and still cannot explain.

We got to his place. The evening ran its course. In the morning, I rubbed my eyes and I saw the ketchup packets and the stale Chinese takeout on his kitchen table. These sorts of interactions are not what they’re cracked up to be, you realize, due to the eternal fact that morning follows evening. He offered to take me down to where Ezekiel and I were staying, which was gentlemanly of him. I was so happy I could ride on the back of the bike again, I don’t think I drank the orange juice he gave me.

On the way back, he was showing off and got stopped by a cop for speeding. It was one of the most awkward moments in my life and it might still make his list, too: I hopped off the bike as the policeman came up. Getting a ticket takes time. It was getting late in the day. I didn’t even know this person’s last name; he didn’t know mine. We had no connection to each other, really. I said, “Um, well… Hm. I think… I think the train is over there?” Motocross Guy was like, “Oh… Yeah. Yeah, you don’t have to stick around for this… Um… Well, that was great. I’ll… I’ll see you around.”

He got his license out for the cop and I bought a train ticket and there you go.

I Give You “Grompy.” (You’re Welcome.)

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Word Nerd 0
This child is so cute and posed so strangely under this planter, she looks like a wax figurine in a glass case. Still cute as a button. Photo: Angela Sevin, 2005.
This child is so cute and posed so oddly under this planter, she looks like a wax figurine in a glass case. Still cute as a button. Photo: Angela Sevin, 2005.

I had the pleasure of visiting my southern belle girlfriends recently, including the lovely Lady of The Livermush. Ol’ Livermush did something remarkable again and I have to talk about it. (Understand that I can call this girl “Ol’ Livermush” because she looks she stepped out of a Vermeer painting or the pages of Valentino’s latest ad campaign. She’s gorgeous.)

We were finishing up dinner and the table’s attention landed on my friend as she was explaining a writing exercise she had done when she was five years old.

“Ah was just fahve,” she said with the accent I’d kill for. “And ah wrote this on mah paper, ah swear:

I like to eat ice cream.
I like to eat cheese.
I like to be tan.
I like to lay on the beach.

“Then,” she said, “On the next page, do you know what ah wrote? Ah wrote:

Sometimes I’m grompy.

“And ah spelled it just like that, too: grompy.” She shook her head. “Do you know nothin’s changed? Ah still like ice cream. Ah still like cheese. Ah like to be tan and laah on the beach. And I do get grompy, sometimes. Don’t we all?”

When I learned she spelled “grumpy” “grompy,” I laughed so hard I made a honking sound into my napkin. Not since the appearance of “hangry” — what you get when you’re so hungry you become angry — has there been a new word so perfectly onomonopoeic. Now, Ol’ Livermush simply spelled “grumpy” the way it sounded to her. But to me, “grompy” can — and should — now define a very specific sort of bad mood: the bad mood that happens to you when you’re disgruntled (probably about something work-related) and you’re having gastrointestinal issues. Right? Have I got it? Let’s take it for a spin:

Person A: What’s wrong with you?
Person B: Look, I’m just a little… I’m a little grompy today, sorry. 


Person A: Stay away from Chuck today… Good lord is he grompy.

or perhaps:

Mother: Pick up your crayons!
Child: No!
Mother: I’m giving you to the count of five, Mr. Grompypants. ONE…TWO…

We’ve been given a gift, comrades, and you have Livermush to thank for it. Livermush, the great educational reformer Horace Mann once said, “Until you have won some victory for humanity, you should be ashamed to die.”

Livermush, please do not die. But if you should, know that your job here was done.

Let’s All Hit Each Other In the Face More (PaperGirl Archive)

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant, Story 4
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little girl.

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.


Well, That Was Interesting: Making Out With a Doctor

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 4
Ah, dinner. Photo: Chris Phutully, 2013.
Ah, dinner. Photo: Chris Phutully, 2013.

The best way to tend a bruised heart is to go on a date with someone new. That’s what they say.

The breaking up of love, the move, the rats, the second move, the hemogoblins, etc. — all this has meant that for many moons my cocktail dresses have stayed put on their hangers, my evening bags and high heels in dust bags on the shelf. Not too long ago I began to look longingly at it all and I realized I might like to go out for dinner with a good-looking man. I’m absolutely allergic to love right now, but dinner would be nice. Maybe even some smooching would be nice. I’m a grown woman.

Well, I did go on a date and I even smooched but what’s really noteworthy about the whole thing is that mid-smooch I was diagnosed with an ailment I can now add to my list of ailments. I’m 100% serious.

My dinner companion, who I met online, is a doctor. He wore a beautiful suit and his Range Rover, as I would come to find out, had excellent butt warmers. (That is not a euphemism.) I wore a luscious, canary yellow dress with my favorite Dolce & Gabbana heels: black satin with bows on the toes. Dinner was great. I picked the restaurant: a mahogany-paneled, real power-dinner place where I know heads of state have done dirty deeds dirt cheap in the corner booths. There was a live piano player and a standup bass. The conversation flowed, the steaks were rare, the champagne was right on time. All of this factored into my mind as I looked at this very handsome fellow across the table from me and tried to decide if I’d let him smooch me when he dropped me off at home. Yes, I decided. Yes, I would.

We pull up to the door of my building about an hour later and we start smooching and it’s going great; he smelled incredible, all soap and cologne. He said all the right things, e.g., “You’re gorgeous,” and “You’re such a great kisser,” and a few other things that are not appropriate to mention here (hi, Mom.) So then Dr. Smooch gives me a little squeeze, kinda on my hip. I liked that a lot, so he squeezed me again. Then he like, poked me there on my hip a little. Poke, poke.

“You have a lipoma here,” he said.

I shot back like a shrimp and crammed myself against the window of the passenger seat. “What?! What are you saying? What do I have??” I felt just where his hand had been on my dress, there on the left side, right at my pelvic bone. Sure enough, there was a small bump that wiggled around when I massaged it.

He chuckled. “It could just be a muscle,” he said, poking it again. “It’s nothing serious. Just a little fat deposit.” I looked up at him. I had just been diagnosed with a fat deformity mid-makeout session, proving to me once again that if you just get out of bed in the morning, if you just get out of bed and walk out the door, things will happen to you. Things you could never have imagined. Things like this.

Thanks, Doc. I’ll get it looked at. Now, where were we?

Grist For the Mill: Madonna, Me, and TV

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story 0
Madonna, Rotterdam, August 26, 1987. Photo: Wikipedia
Madonna, Rotterdam, August 26, 1987. Photo: Wikipedia

I had three entirely new experiences today:

  1. I chose to wear my Nike Dunks, favorite black pants, a crisp white shirt and a fedora this morning when I left the house. A real nice man on the street called to me: “Girl, you lookin’ good to-DAY! That’s a nice outfit!” In kind reply, I said “Why, thank you!” and literally tipped my hat to him. I tipped my hat! It surprised me how naturally it came. When you’re wearing a fedora, apparently you live in the 1956.
  2. On a busy street in Penn Quarter, a homeless man took out his penis and peed on the sidewalk. I saw it all before deciding to walk much, much faster.
  3. I went to the FOX News building and went on camera and now I’m all over the news in Europe!

The first experience explains itself; the second experience isn’t something I want to expound upon, so let’s talk about this third thing because man, was it cool.

Several years ago, a chap named Oli contacted me for an interview. Oli was writing a big paper on slam poetry and he tracked me down. We Skyped a few times because Oli is a Brit and lives in London. Oli must’ve done well in school because he’s got a seemingly impressive job with SkyNews, a kind of AP wire in the UK. We’ve stayed in touch here and there, and Oli reads my blog enough to know that I live in Washington, now. He also knows I’m a huge Madonna fan because I’m sure I said as much in our first interview.

Oli texted me from London this morning to see if I could dash down to the SkyNews bureau — housed within FOX News — and speak on camera about Madonna. She fell last night at the Brit Awards. It was a scary fall; her cape malfunctioned and she went backwards down three stairs. Beyonce, Gaga, and Naomi Campbell have all taken famous tumbles: it happens. When you’re dancing onstage in high-heels three-hundred days out of the year, what do you expect? Because I wrote an essay in a book called Madonna & Me (Soft Skull Press, 2012)* I am an expert on Madonna and clearly have something devastatingly insightful to say on such a breaking news story.

I got to the big FOX News building and security cleared me. I went up to the fifth floor and took lots of selfies in front of lots of monitors. The girl who met me said, “Thank you for coming. Would you like your hair and makeup done?”

All nonchalant, I was like, “Oh, yes, well, maybe I should, you know, with the snow and all.” Getting my hair and makeup done at FOX News was not something I was going to pass up. She asked me if I wanted something to drink, too, and I said I would like some water please and thank you very much.

I went into the makeup room and was met by two of the most stylish, laconic, “we’ve-seen-it-all” makeup artists on the planet. They were just hanging out in this room with special chairs all the bright makeup lights, waiting for the next person to come in. Who were the people who came in? The talking heads you see on TV! Three of them came into the makeup room while the gals were working on me! I saw dudes in the chair next to me getting powdered and then I saw them on live TV like ten minutes later! It was so weird and fun. The lady with bright red hair did my makeup and the other lady did my hair. The hair lady had geometric glasses and really, really long nails that she used to squiggle through my hair to make it go this way and that.

Once I was all done — and I looked good but not at all like myself, which is why getting hair and makeup done isn’t really that great, so don’t feel like you’re missing anything if you’ve never had the experience — I went into the green room. I couldn’t sit down because I was going to be on live TV in like ten minutes! I just paced and made myself not drink the free Keurig coffee they had set up. I didn’t want to get up there and talk too fast.

The gal came in for me. I went into one room and taped a segment for the radio with one British dude. Then I went into another room where all the cameras were, got my earpiece and was given my lapel mic. I stared into the void of the big camera and eventually a lady started asking me questions. The live segment got pushed further and further out because there was a lot of bad news in the UK today — and this bad news does not include Madonna falling at an awards show. In the end, the live segment never took place, which was a bummer, but my taped segment was a smash, and Oli has informed me that the interview is being played on the hour in 118 countries. I don’t totally understand this, but Oli has no reason to lie to me. They were so pleased with me, in fact, I might get to go back and do more segments about other things. I would like that because it was really fun.

Consider how many news segments are taped in the world every single day: thousands upon thousands. I was simply grist for the mill this morning, but it was neat. If I can, I’ll post a clip of the piece on Facebook.

All in a day’s work.


*Available at fine bookstores everywhere.

The Snow Twilight Zone!

"Maslanitsa," by Boris Kustodiev, 1918. Stick Rod Serling's face in there somewhere and you've got it.
“Maslanitsa,” by Boris Kustodiev, 1918. Stick Rod Serling’s face in there somewhere and you’ve got it.

I remember exactly one Twilight Zone episode out of the dozen or so I saw accidentally as a kid. The one I remember, not surprisingly, is the one that scarred me for life. I was about eight when I saw it and I think about it whenever life presents an obvious twist of fate.

In the episode, a pretty lady is driving a car one night and she gets into a bad wreck. The cosmos, God, fate, etc., had determined that she would die as a result. Like, it was written in some big ledger in the sky that her time was up and she was supposed to die that night. But then she doesn’t. There is a wrinkle in the time-space continuum or something and she survives without a scratch. She’s happy about this until zombies.

These way-too-scary-for-an-eight-year-old people-creatures who, looking back, were totally zombies though I didn’t know what zombies were at the time, began appearing in this woman’s world. They weren’t everywhere at first but as she went through her life in the next few weeks, these people-creatures would pop up and like, grab at her.** Their goal was to take her to the other side, the side she was supposed to be on. She was in the living world, but that was wrong. She was an escapee from the natural order of things, a rogue moment that had to be corrected because… Well, because it made for a great Twilight Zone episode, I guess.

NOTE: To all the brilliant, gracious, attractive ladies in my lecture and class outside Richmond, VA, thank you for a wonderful day today and please do not in any way think that I am connecting you with zombies from the Twilight Zone. 

That said, tonight I’m totally the lady from the other side. Because I should still be in Richmond. It is written that I should be giving my second lecture right now to a large group of quilters at the fabulous Sew Refreshing shop. But I’m not there. There’s been a wrinkle in the time-space continuum and I am home. In my pajamas. AAAAAGHHHHH!

It’s because a snowpocalypse snow storm is bearing down on the east coast. Richmond, a city that owns maybe 1.2 snow plows, both made in 1946, is expected to get a foot of snow tonight. Terri, my host and owner of the shop picked me up this morning and said, so sweetly, “Mary, ah… Well, I’m just wondering about the lecture we added this evening… Well, we’re going to get about twelve inches starting this afternoon and I just don’t know that the ladies should be driving in the weather…” I knew what she was suggesting and was 100% onboard, sad as it is to cancel an event. Truth was, I wasn’t so sure about doing the evening lecture after I heard the weather report.

“Terri, absolutely. We should cancel the evening program. I’ll look at the train schedule.”

And so it was that after my morning lecture and the 1,000 Pyramid class — such a good class! — I went to the train station and got the 4:00-ish #80 Amtrak back into Washington. I almost got off at Fredericksburg because I’m a Civil War nerd and I’m dying to check it out, but I figured with the blizzard and all and not knowing a single thing about Fredericksburg other than it being an historic battle site, I should wait.

I should be in a smart outfit with a laser pointer, but instead I’m drinking juice. I’m on my couch. There are no zombies in the closet, though. I know because I checked.

** Please remember that I’m describing a Twilight Zone episode I saw once when I was like, eight. If some of you know the episode well, forgive me for butchering (!) it. I’m only recounting what scarred me for life, not the mise en scene or the actress in the title role. I only remember death.

Who’s To Say?

posted in: Day In The Life, Story 0
Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas (1948)
Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas (1948).

I heard a parable once that stuck to me like bubblegum on my high heels. It’s one you may have heard yourself — you’ll recognize it at once if you have — and if you haven’t, do enjoy the stickiness. This is my retelling, which I’m sure is clear.

There once was a farmer who had a single horse with which to work his land. One day, the horse ran away. “That is terrible news!” said his concerned neighbor. The farmer shrugged and said, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?” The neighbor probably looked at him like he was weird. He was kind of weird, but that has nothing to do with the story.

The horse came back the very next day and brought another horse with him! Very good news, no? Maybe, maybe not. Because the farmer gave the second horse to his strapping son and the next day, the horse threw the young man off and he broke his leg in like nine places. The (nosy) concerned neighbor said, “Ooh! Now that is bad news!” but the farmer put up his hands and said, “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?” Now the neighbor was like, “See ya,” and he didn’t take over a hot dish to the son, who was convalescing.

In a week or so, the king’s men — because we are in Arthurian England, suddenly — came to take every able-bodied man to war. They didn’t take the farmer’s son, clearly, because he was useless to them with the broken leg.

Good news, no?

I think about this story so much. Because again and again and again in my life, I see this playing out. When I moved away to college, I was sad and afraid. But then, you know, college was awesome. I got a job in a nightclub when I was twenty-two and thought, “Boo-yah!” but it was terrible after awhile. I was so excited to move to New York City last year and then it turned so sour. And I was incredibly sad and disappointed when I had to relinquish my lovely D.C. townhouse to the rat, rat, rats, but do you know that… Well, I’m so happy here. I love this building now. It’s cozy. It’s safer. The sun comes up over Washington D.C. in peachy pink and golden orange and I just feel so happy.

I’m not sure how anemia can be good, but who knows? The boy in the story who shattered his leg certainly didn’t think it was very good, but then he didn’t have to fight in a war. Maybe I’ll be spared a war.

Maybe you will.



Holiday Happenings.

posted in: Family, Story 1
The Field Museum, currently.
The Field Museum, currently.

Fons & Co. has congregated in Chicago for Christmas this year and I am presently nestled in my hotel room in slippers and a fluffy bathrobe. I am swaddled, you might say. Swaddled as the Christ child on Christmas morn! Alarums, excursions, etc., etc.

Speaking of excursions:

My family decided to meet at the mighty Field Museum today for the exhibit on Haitian Vodou. The museum did a great job with the exhibit and of course it was chilling, but not because “voodoo” is creepy in the way you think it is creepy; that’s all goofy Hollywood stuff. The art and pieces from the collection were frightening because the history of the Haitian people is steeped in slavery, torture, and bloody revolution. Compared to the reality of Haiti’s situation throughout most of history — including now — vodou is downright breezy. Anyway, if you’re in Chicago, go see it. Lots of cool skulls and hey, it’s the holidays.

I took the #146 bus on Michigan Avenue down to the museum. I began the trip reading on my Kindle, but then remembered my beloved city was outside the window, so I set my Kindle down and just gazed out the window at all the gorgeousness of Chicago on a winter’s day. The bus arrived at the Field and I hopped off. I took ten steps toward the Field and my heart sank: I had left my Kindle on the bus. I whirled around; the #146 was already turning the corner far away, headed to Soldier Field. I actually cried. I love my Kindle. I read so much. I loved that little Kindle. Oh, little Kindle in the blue case. Be good, little Kindle. Maybe someone had a Christmas wish for a Kindle to drop from the sky and I made it come true.

I dragged my feet all the way to the Field, up the big staircase, and plopped on a bench. My family members were all late. I sat on that bench for 45 minutes before anyone showed up, so I had time to go through all the emotions about my Kindle. I was extremely sad. Then I checked my purse again, for the ninth time, because surely I hadn’t left it on the bus. I called the CTA to let them know. I raged at myself. And then, with a few deep breaths, I reminded myself that it was only a thing. Just a thing like so many things, though if you have a Kindle you know it’s kind of a personal thing. Still, it is only a thing and things can be replaced.

And I felt better also because it could have been worse: I watched a young man introduce his new girlfriend to his dad and his grandmother. The dad and grandmother were on a bench about as long as I was. When the people they were waiting for finally showed up, it was clearly the man’s son and someone who had come with him.

“And you must be Krista,” the dad said, and gave her a hug. “This is my mom, Joyce.” The girl did the “Hey, let’s hug” thing with the dad and grandma. Losing my Kindle was bad, but I was deeply grateful that I was not introducing my new girlfriend to my dad and grandma. I was deeply glad I was not the new girlfriend meeting my boyfriend’s dad and grandma. I was glad I was not the grandma, in my mid-eighties, meeting the new girlfriend of my grandson, especially because they were forty-five minutes late. I was glad I was not Dad, too. Dad looked tired.

The new girlfriend was wearing spandex leggings, the super-shiny kind from American Apparel. Her shirt did not cover her derrier, so she had some serious butt going on. Skin-tight, painted on pants, man. I watched the group gather their things and set off for the ticket line and sure as I was sitting there moping about my lost library, that grandma looked at Krista’s tights and made a face like she had forgotten to put sugar in the lemonade.

Are we there, yet?

The Invisible Time: On Aging

Publicity still from "Advanced Style," a documentary by Ari Seth Cohen, 2014.
Publicity still from “Advanced Style,” a documentary by Ari Seth Cohen, 2014.

Yesterday in New York City, before I had to go to the airport for my flight home to D.C., I had lunch with my friend Anita at Fred’s, the restaurant inside Barneys on the Upper West Side. I’ve been to the Fred’s in Chicago several times and hard as it is to admit, New York Fred’s is better. And by “better” I mean the people-watching is better. The black-clad waiters weaved through the place like a pack of minks, slipping in and around everything that was moving, which was everything inside the restaurant: people, trays, wine bottles, large amounts of money, etc. There were sets of friends having wine and gourmet snacks, small and large families eating lunch. There can be no doubt: Fred’s is a restaurant for the well-heeled (or spies like me) and there’s a lot to observe. The accessories alone!

It was a good place to have lunch, what with my extremely good news yesterday. I wore my fur coat. Anita looked smart, as usual. She’s been a New Yorker for many decades and she is of that city in all sorts of ways: artistic, shrewd, streetwise, and honestly slightly weary (in a charming way, of course.) We were seated and I ordered a glass of pinot noir and a hamburger; it’s a zeroed-out choice, as the cholesterol in the meat is zapped by the red wine’s flavonoids or whatever they are for lord’s sake.

Somehow the conversation turned to age. At thirty-five, I look at age quite differently than when I was twenty-five, obviously. Anita, being sixty or so, looks at it in her way, and what she had to say about her age was fascinating and depressing, though it ends well. Sort of.

“I’ve come through the period of time when I was invisible,” Anita said, cutting a piece of her omelette. “It’s strange, because as a woman, you’re invisible for a long time and then suddenly you’re an old lady.”

“Woah,” I said, and the rest of my life flashed before my eyes. There may have been a purple hat involved.

“See, when you’re in your fifties, more or less, you become invisible in society. It was amazing how no men would hold the door for me for a long time. Women would push past me. I was a persona non grata, really. Doors would literally close in my face. But then I turned sixty and now everything is much better. Because people see me as an old lady and the courtesy is back. Doors are held for me every time. People smile. It’s great.”

A forkful of salad was frozen halfway to my open mouth. In my peripheral vision, I saw a girl of seven or so in a black velvet holiday dress with a big red bow in her hair. She had the most beautiful, milk-and rose-colored skin of any child I had ever seen. The best soap, the best lotion, the best bath in the world is money.

“Oh, Anita. That’s…fascinating,” I said. “I’m glad the invisible period is over. How long did it last?”

“About nine years.”

When I turned thirty-three, I played around with saying I was thirty-two. I just liked thirty-two better. But I cut it out pretty quickly. It’s lying, for one thing, which is not okay. And for another thing, I earned thirty-three. The year before that was hard and great and hard and great and why on earth would I erase it.

It ought not to be invisible.

Electric Memory: Electric Youth Perfume

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv, Story 0
The fragrance. The woman. The legacy.
The fragrance. The woman. The legacy.

Trudging through Kmart yesterday, my sister and I both had the same disorienting experience at the exact same time: we both caught a whiff of Electric Youth perfume. Here’s what that moment looked like:

MARY: “Dude. I just smelled Electric Youth.”

NAN: “Dude. Me too.”

Electric Youth was a perfume (never a “parfum”) unleashed on the marketplace in 1989. The target demographic was the tween, though that term had not yet been coined. Back then, it was the mighty “teeny-bopper” dollar that the fragrance was trying to capture, and capture it it did. Those out to profit were the record executives who ran the career of pop sensation Debbie Gibson. Electric Youth was the first in a long, long line of celebrity-inspired fragrances and I, for one, had to have it. I loved Debbie Gibson and had a cassette of her album. I believe that album was called “Electric Youth.”

There were two dueling pop stars when I was in fourth grade: Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, whose last name was withheld in hopes Barbara and Judy would more quickly recognize her as one of their own. I was on the fence as to who I liked more and my neutrality came at great peril: it was expected by one’s elementary school peers in those days to choose sides. Debbie Gibson was the good girl. She was blonde, blue-eyed; kind of a white-tube-socks-with-white-Ked’s girl. She wore scrunchies and boxy vests printed with geometric shapes. Tiffany, on the other hand, was understood to have weaker moral fiber. Tiffany was a redhead, for one thing. Nothing but trouble there. And her first (only?) hit was a cover of the Shondell’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which contained the lyrics:

“We’re runnin’ just as fast as we can/holdin’ on to one another’s hands/tryin’ to get away/into the night/and then you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say: “I think we’re alone now…”

Tiffany had a little curl to her lip when she sang her song and she put a little stank on the “into the niiiiight” part, which clearly meant she was having sex. She also wore acid washed denim jackets, so… Mothers did not like Tiffany.

They dug Debbie, though. Debbie’s first single was the docile, sweet “Only In My Dreams,” which pleased these mothers. With Debbie, their daughters’ sexual fantasies were happening exactly where and when they should be happening: while they were fast asleep, alone, locked in the house.

If Tiffany had had a perfume, it would’ve smelled musky, with notes of Aqua Net and a car dashboard. But Tiffany never had a fragrance; only Debbie signed that deal. Electric Youth perfume was a deeply synthetic, fruity floral with no “notes” of anything, no “low end” of wood or caille lily or moss. This was candy in a spritzer. The fluid itself was colored pink — an easy decision for the executives, I suspect. And inside the clear bottle was a pink plastic spring, clearly showing the exuberance — nay, the electricity — of youth. And we loved it. We sprayed it on with wild abandon and our parents’ headaches meant nothing. Nothing!

Electric Youth is not made anymore. You can find it on eBay and Amazon, but these are bottles of old perfume; as you can see by the picture above, the pink has faded and reviews are mixed as to whether the scent is still any good (or there at all, for that matter.) But in its prime, Electric Youth left its pink, sticky fingerprints all over the limbic systems of young American girls across the nation and when Nan and I smelled whatever we smelled in Kmart yesterday, it transported us back to a simpler, cheaper time.

Statistical Interlude, With Tea.

posted in: Story 0
I have learned this evening that the Jean Luc Picard character from Star Trek drank Earl Grey Tea a lot, too.
I have learned this evening that the Jean Luc Picard character from Star Trek enjoyed Earl Grey Tea, also.

Today, my sister Nan and I moved boxes of my belongings to her place about four blocks away. It was cold and it was not what either of us would call fun, but we love each other and we got to feel that special closeness two people feel when the dolly full of boxes you’re pushing dumps over on Avenue A. Twice.

We took our last load over this evening, stopping the Trail of Tears long enough for me to stop into my go-to coffee shop for an Earl Grey tea. Nan waited outside with the dolly and my suitcase and I went in with my carpetbag.** I briefly waited in line. The gal in front of me paid and stepped to the side for her drink.

“Earl Grey tea, please,” I said to the bearded coffee guy working the counter. “Large.”

“Sure,” he said, then he half-turned to the other guy working with him (also bearded) and said, “That’s always kinda weird, when two people, like, totally independent of each other, order the same, somewhat less-usual thing.”

“Oh,” I said, turning to the girl who had gone before me. “Did you get a large Earl Grey tea, too?” She said that she had. “Yeah, that’s cool,” I said to the bearded men.

“Yeah, but what’s really weird is that this exact thing happened earlier today, too,” said Bearded Guy No. 1. “We had two girls order large Earl Grey teas, both in line by each other, but not together.” His eyes got big and so did mine.

“That’s like, statistically crazy,” I said. Everyone nodded. “I mean, it’s not magic. It’s not woo-woo. It’s just statistically nuts! If it happens again tonight, you guys should get a Lotto ticket.”

“If it happens again,” Bearded Guy No. 2 says, “I’ll just shut down the shop. That would be too weird.”

A Tale of Three Fur Coats.

posted in: Story 1
Mink Coat, Ritter. Vintage photograph, origin unknown.
Mink Coat, Ritter. Vintage photograph, origin unknown.

One day I woke up in the morning and I had zero fur coats. When I went to bed that night, I had three. True story.

Last year, my very good friend Jonathan gave me a beautiful gift of a mink coat. I know. He really did give me a mink coat. I loved him very much.

He also gave me a shearling coat. Both of these coats, he did not have a use for. He also loved me very much.

Later that day, after the fur coats (we were up to two, now) were put into the back of his car, nicely wrapped in garment bags, we went to a flea market. And what did I find but a very inexpensive (and totally unique) fur coat! This one was gently used, white, short, and about a hundred bucks. Since I was now the proud owner of two fur coats that were gifts, I felt owed it to the Fur Coat Gods to pay a tithe. Then I would have three fur coats, which seemed ridiculous and fun. So I bought the coat and then I went home and tried them all on. I recommend this as an afternoon activity to anyone.

Months later, I gave the mink back. It wasn’t mine to keep by then. And besides, though it was absolutely gorgeous, a mink coat on me is conspicuous. If I were a season ticket-holder at the Met, if I went to charity functions at Kennedy Center with frequency, if I had a driver, etc., these would all be good reasons to wear a coat as thick and rich and fine as that mink. But I do none of those things (yet) and so the coat was doomed to languish in my closet. It seemed a shame.

The shearling, I kept. It’svvery warm, which is good if you’re in Chicago or New York or, say, Washington D.C. And the other little one? Well, I had it cleaned because it smelled like cigarettes and I put it in my storage locker here in Chicago until earlier today, when I had to fetch items for the Quilty shoot. I spied it and it was terribly cold outside, so I grabbed it and now have it with me. The coat I brought with me is insufficient, so I might just wear that fur while I’m here.

Zero fur coats, three fur coats, two fur coats. I’m lucky I have a story like that to tell and a coat at all in this world.

Girls Who Chase Boys.

posted in: School, Story 0
Terrifying, isn't it?
Terrifying, isn’t it?

Today in the kitchen, out of the clear blue, I thought about chasing Bobby Benshoff. Which sounds like a made-for-TV movie.

“A friendship changes suddenly… Love finds a way to last forever… Chasing Bobby Benshoff, tonight at nine on Lifetime Television for Women.”

When I was in elementary school, all the girls in my fourth grade class decided that we “liked” Bobby Benshoff. To “like” a boy meant that you were in love with him. To be in love with Bobby Benshoff meant that you would join a horde of girls who also were in love with Bobby. And if you liked Bobby, you were gonna have to work for it. You were gonna have to chase him at recess.

Someone started a game where the girls who liked Bobby would chase him around the Winterset Elementary School playground. You could practically measure that playground in square miles, so this was no kitten chase. We had an enormous hill. We had the “Tornado Slide” with its attendant jungle gym, monkey bars, and sand pit. We had a basketball court, hopscotch zone, swings, a track — even, weirdly, pull up bars (because second-graders are so into chin ups) and a crazy-dangerous slalom bar thing that no one knew how to properly use. This was our battlefield. For the long weeks that Bobby Fever gripped us, we’d all head out to recess, a girl would yell, “Go!” and poor Bobby would take off running for his life.

Bobby was the fastest runner in our grade behind Joel Loomis, so the challenge of keeping up with him was part of the game. But the giddiness of “liking” him with the possibility of catching him was the main event because Bobby was also the cutest boy in the school. We all thought he looked like a movie star. Dark brown eyes, great smile.** If you looked out onto the playground during Bobby Fever, you’d see a terrified, lone boy just paces ahead of a long line of running girls, squealing and shouting.

The game ended one day, not for lack of interest. Someone had grabbed for Bobby, made contact, and ripped a button off his shirt. It was a red shirt with a black pattern on it, as I remember. Bobby was shocked.

“My mom’s gonna kill me,” he said, dazed. He made part of his shirt into a little wick and tried to poke it through the buttonhole to keep his shirt closed. Not only had he lost a button, his chest was slightly exposed to the hounds of love, all of us trying to get a closer look while inching away to escape implication in Buttongate.

I wasn’t the one who ripped the button off. As I remember it, I didn’t think I was cute enough for Bobby to “like” back. I was popular for two seconds in fourth grade, but it was only because my parents were getting divorced and I was the first one in class that happened to. I was like an exotic zoo animal for awhile until everyone’s parents started getting divorced and wasn’t fascinating anymore, just depressing.

Bobby Benshoff, I hope you’re out there, contented and thriving. If you know anything about Google Alerts, you’ll probably get a notice that I’ve blogged about you — hope you don’t mind. Did your mom get mad about the button? It wasn’t your fault, exactly, though I have to wonder: Didn’t you kind of want to be caught?

**He kinda looked like Yuri, come to think about it.

“For Improving.”

posted in: Story 0
Well, it's something.
Well, it’s something.

I will be in New York City for the year, I think, but no more. I have yet to fall for this place. I’m waiting by the phone for New York to take me out, wine and dine me, leave me breathless, but apparently, New York is okay with me staying home to wash my hair. Fine, New York. But you don’t know what you’re missing. Besides, you smell.

So I will return to Chicago in time and reunite with all my stuff, not that I have a lot of it. I heard once that “every object in your home is a thought in your head.” There’s no room up there as it is, so I am ruthless in getting rid of things. Sometimes I cut a bit deep, e.g., the time I was up at the family cottage and sailed letters from my estranged father into the fire, one after the other. They were all from a particularly morose and self-drenched period in his life and there were just so many of them. Later, I thought, “One day he’ll be gone and you’ll regret that one, Fons.” But there’s nothing to be done about it now. Ashes to ashes and all.

For some bizarre reason, I have kept a chemistry award I got in high school. Oh, I was no chemistry whiz. As you can see by the scan of the award, my distinction was for “improving.” Not even “Most Improved,” just “improving.” I seem to recall that I improved from a D+ to a C-, by the way. I couldn’t have cared less about chemistry but I did care about a bad grade. My strategy in high school was to be so damned good at the things I was good at that no one would really care if I sucked at the rest of it. A+ after A+ in English, Speech, Reading. Those were all slam dunks. Algebra II? I’d rather not think about it.

What’s strangest about this award, though, is not that I’ve kept it, but that I brought it to New York. It wasn’t stuck in a book that I just found. No, I remember distinctly putting it into a box to bring here. The only reason I can imagine for doing this is that I planned to blog about it. That must be it.

That must be why.


posted in: Story 0
Image: Straight up stolen from Daily It's good enough to risk a cease and desist letter.
Image: Straight up stolen from Daily It’s good enough to risk a cease and desist letter.

Would you like to hear a spoooooooky story? One juuuuuuust perfect for a night like toniiiiiiight, so clooooooose to Halloweeeeeeen?

:: wiggles fingers ::

You dooooooooo? Okay, here’s what happened and every part of this story is 100% true:

My favorite fabric shears need to be sharpened and also my kitchen knife needs to be sharpened. (No, I can’t sharpen these things myself: I have a tiny sharpening stone and can kinda use it with the knife but damn near ruined my scissors on it. I need help.) Yuri found a place in Chinatown that will sharpen anything you can brandish, so we made our way down there today. He wasn’t excited about the errand; we just wanted to take a walk together.

And sooooo it waaaaaaaas that a essentially mild-mannered, normal-enough, mid-thirties white woman went walking through a fair stretch of Manhattan…


Then! The niiiiice couple went to an open-air bar in the Seaport Historic District, down by the Brooooooooooklyn Bridge because a mid-afternoon glaaaaaaaaass of wiiiiiiiiine soooooounded refreshing. The young man went to order the drinks. The white lady sat in the window. She hung her totebag on the purse hook underneath the bar. She pulled out her magazine and…


The white lady scrambled to pick up the knife! She laughed a weak laugh! She gave a shrug of her shoulders as if to say, “Long story” and she stuffed the knife back in her totebag, ignoring the looks of DEATH AND FEAR FROM EVERYONE IN THE BAR!!!!


Happy Halloween!

To Annie, Who I Need To Call.

posted in: Story 1
Mine was like this. I still get hives thinking about it.
Mine was like this. I still get hives thinking about it.

In a dress shop in Anacortes, WA last week, I overheard the salesgirl say, “Oh! It’s about to start!” It was Homecoming Week and the parade was due to begin near the shop and make its way through town.

We all spilled out onto the sidewalk to watch the classic, small(ish) town America homecoming parade, all banners and bass drums, streamers and tossed candy. I felt terrible for the pretty girls in the homecoming court, freezing to death in their formal gowns. Much better to be a band geek in the Northwest in September, if only for the opportunity to wear pants this time of year.

Seeing the hometown parade reminded me of a story. You will laugh. But it will be at my expense. That’s okay. I can take it.

I was a junior in high school. I had my first car: a VW Bug from the late 60s, I believe. Somewhere in my life, I had seen one of these cars and had decided it was the only car for me. This was before Volkswagen came out with the new Beetles, mind you. This was 1996 and there was only one kind of Beetle available at the time: an old one.

We found a red Bug advertised in a nearby town. We negotiated to a good price, and with some help from Mom, I got my dream car. It’s still a point of pride that I learned how to drive a stick shift in a vintage VW bug with transmission issues. After that, I can drive anything. The car was procured just before school started, so I was busy that summer cleaning it, getting things fixed, etc. I even got a homecoming date out of the deal. The family that sold us the car, there was a cute son about my age. I forget his name, but he was blonde and seemed cool and he was from another town, which was like, super-duper cool. I asked him if he’d be my date to homecoming and he said yes! I felt on top of the world.

In small town Iowa, the windows of the shops in the town square get painted with murals of rival death and home team victory and you can get prize money for painting the best window. It’s a really a big deal. We also paint our cars for the homecoming parade. Basically, there’s a lot of painting stuff; also, toilet paper is on everything. That year, it was obvious to my friends and me that we had to paint my awesome VW Bug and win first place. My bestie, Leia, is an incredible artist and she painted this slobbering, ferocious-looking husky (go Huskies!!) on the front hood that put all the other painted Ford Escorts and Geo Metros to shame.

Indeed, we won 1st place. Which meant we got $50 bucks — and more importantly, we were to be featured in the big parade.

Parade Day came. The sun was hot. The crowds were thick. Leia, our other bestie Annie, and my crush — not my homecoming date but the guy I really, really liked from jazz choir — and I were in the car. We lined up for the parade. The parade began. And my car began to break.

It kept stalling. It wasn’t me. I was driving that car as well as I knew how and okay, maybe there was a trick to it, or a “sweet spot” I hadn’t yet found, but the car refused to cooperate. The engine would engage, we’d go a half a block, and then “cha-CHUNG-CHUNG-CHACK.” Dead. Stop. Stall. Over and over. Smoke began to come from somewhere underneath the car. Everyone was sweating, but I was truly losing my nerves, silently, horribly. It was funny at first. Then it was hell. We were a clown car. We were a rolling, stalling, smoking clown car with a dog painted on the hood. I’m amazed my friends did not open the doors and run away before anyone recognized them. Their loyalty is touching.

It goes without saying that any chance I had that day of landing a smooch with my crush was as likely as my Bug suddenly growing a V6 engine and a GPS. It was so over. I looked like such a loser. I somehow maneuvered my car off the parade route and into a parking spot. I do think my friends (and certainly my crush) took off at that point. The car had died in a major way that day and the repairs it proved to need far exceeded my budget. We sold it not long after and I got a Honda CR-X that actually moved people from Point A to Point B without making me want to crawl into a large hole in the ground and never, ever come out.

The homecoming date with the guy who sold me the lemon was — wait for it — a little sour, too, but it could’ve been so sweet! He turned out to be very shy and I didn’t want to be too bold, so I didn’t tell him he could’ve kissed me. He sorta tried when he dropped me off at the end of the night, but then he sorta balked and I balked, and it just didn’t happen. He didn’t even know about the parade!

Sometimes, when people ask me for my autograph or stop me at a big quilt show and want a picture, I am amazed. I have, and always will be, a huge nerd with smoke coming out of my car. Always.

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