Detroit, Two.

posted in: Paean, Rant, Story, Travel, Uncategorized 0
Abandoned house, Detroit. Photo: Me
Abandoned house, Detroit. Photo: Me

Last night, I posted a quick bit about my trip to Detroit this weekend.

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.”

Quilt Stolen at Iowa State Fair: Goat Also Stolen

posted in: Day In The Life, Story, Travel 0
Wikipedia is great for a lot of images, but sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. Illustration: Me

At the Iowa State Fair a few days ago, a quilt was stolen. The quilt was a blue ribbon winner, made by a local gal who had worked so hard on it for a long time, obviously. Well, someone just up and took it off the wall where it was being displayed and now the Fair will surely have to add some long insurance rider that protects future quilters from being afraid to win first place, though they won’t be that afraid for that long.

But the story doesn’t end there. Oh, no. There was also a goat stolen.

A young goat was stolen from the petting zoo — one of triplets, apparently. I’d like to think she was a middle child like me and arranged the whole thing to get attention.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I initially wrote the above sentence this way: “I’d like to think she was a middle child like me, goading the bad guys into kidnapping her for the attention.”  Do you see how I cannot possibly use either of these terms in this context without honking a clown horn?]

The story in the article that accompanied the ten o’clock news interviewed the man whose goat it was that was…kidnapped. He said — and this is a direct quote — “How could someone stoop that low to take a baby goat anyway? They knew it was a baby.”

That’s it. I’m done. I can never write anything as sweet, funny, charming, tragic, entertaining, or thought-provoking as those two sentences. Never, as long as I live, can I top that. It’s been nice knowing you. To the quilter who was burgled, it’s awful and I’m so sorry. Here’s hoping you get the quilt back someday. To the goat owner (who did get his goat back, by the way) you are my new hero. A girl can only have so many, so I’m taking Dos Passos off the list and sticking you on there in his place.

Let’s go eat a hotdog wrapped in bacon.

Patriot Gift Shop.

posted in: Uncategorized, Washington 1
Detail, Pueblo Indian garment. Photo: Me
Detail, Pueblo Indian garment, National Museum of the American Indian. Photo: Me

To the number of friends I need to return calls and texts from: forgive me. Feeling poorly then mustering the will to still get out and do things with my friend before he leaves has me stretched a thin. I will repay you in cups of coffee shared in an air-conditioned cafe. It is so blinkin’ hot and humid here everyone is constantly wet and warm to the touch. It’s sexy, really.

Yesterday, I spent time at the National Museum of the American Indian. Between that visit and the visit a few days ago to the Museum of American History, my patriotism looks like it’s been taken into a back alley and been given a lesson with a baseball bat.

Here’s a definition for you:

patriot (n.) A person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors

I’m on board with the “prepared to defend it against enemies” part. If Country X tried to invade my hometown of Winterset, IA., I’m on the next plane to Des Moines and I’ll be taking that baseball bat with me, thank you very much. I could not understand how someone would choose not to defend their home against someone who wanted to take it. There’s pacifism and there’s pacifism.

But Dictionary, you usually solve all my problems and this time you have not. This is not helpful, Dictionary: “a person who vigorously supports their country.” Dictionary, either you’re being vague or the word “patriot” (and “patriotism”) is problematic. I think it’s the latter, Dictionary, but don’t go anywhere, yet.

I support democracy as a concept. I support the idea of state’s rights and federal rights. I vigorously support freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, definitely a free press, etc. But to “support [my] country” is impossible. Straight up, no chaser, support my country? No way. That would imply blind faith. It would imply the end of inquiry. It would imply I’m not reading the news. It would imply that everything I saw yesterday at the American Indian Museum about white settlers’ merciless cruelty toward and ungodly ruin of the people living peacefully in what is now Winterset, IA (for example) was justified and played out just the way it should’ve played out. I don’t support that. I reject that and need to excuse myself to go vomit. Am I still a patriot?

Perhaps being a patriot means questioning all of this, being an active participant in the discussion of one’s national culture or national identify. But that’s not what you said it means, Dictionary, and in a few days I’ll be at Monitcello and there are slave’s quarters there, so.


This Place Is a Zoo.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Paean 0
A non-ironic sign at the National Zoo in 1942. Photo: Wikipedia.
A non-ironic sign at the National Zoo in 1942. Photo: Wikipedia.

A major selling point for my apartment here in the Kennedy Warren building was its proximity to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, otherwise known as “the zoo.” The sweet leasing agent who showed me around the place said, “So the zoo’s your next door neighbor, which is coo. If the wind is right, you can hear the zebras.” She barely got the word “zebras” out before I said those three thrilling/terrifying words:

“I’ll take it.”

And the zoo really is immediately next door. There is no high-rise, no cluster of homes to the east because the zoo is there. I have been through the zoo many times and still haven’t seen all the animals; pandas are apparently agoraphobic, the reptile house is always closed, and sea lions are lazy, I guess. When I do catch an animal out at meal time (zebras eat a lot of hay) it’s thrilling; like any other sensitive person, however, it bothers me to see a wild animal behind glass. I’m still not sure how I feel about it all, especially because of what happened the other day. What happened the other day is that I heard a lion roar. And roar. And roar.

Have you ever heard a lion roar? A real-life lion less than 200 feet away? I’m sure National Geographic specials viewed in HD with movie theater-grade sound does a decent job of it, but it ain’t the same. The duration and the start of a real lion’s roar might follow the MGM lion’s script, but what a digital lion can never create is the deep, vibrate-your-chest, subwoofer bass at the bottom of the roar and it’s not coming from speakers. It’s coming from that animal, right over there. Think breath. Think chest cavity. Think communication across miles.

If someone asked you to tell them what you know about lions, without question you’d say that the lion is “the king of the jungle.” When you hear a big, big lion roar, those words will actually become true for you. The lion is the king of the jungle without question. Nothing can do what that thing does. Nothing sounds like that. There’s nothing as strong, nothing as beautiful, and nothing as terrifying, either — that sound is designed to make you run.

And now I gotta.

The National Archives: Not Bad

posted in: D.C., Paean, Washington 0
German shepherd, get it? Photo: Wikipedia
All the pictures of the U.S. founding documents seemed pathetic after yesterday’s visit, so in honor of Claus, here is a photograph of a German shepherd. Photo: Wikipedia, 2006.

The National Archives here in Washington was first on my list of Next Museums To Visit, but having Claus here, a German with an interest in American politics, made it happen sooner than it probably would have. After all, I have emails to answer and everyone knows emails are more important than the Bill of Rights. So yesterday we took the train down to Penn Quarter and walked about 20 paces to the Archives building.

In case you’re not aware, there is no entry fee for most of the museums in D.C., thanks to federal funding. The museums are ours, you might say, and you can get away with saying that with more than a touch of pride because it is a remarkable thing to be able to open the doors to a building, walk up a short set of stairs, and go into a rotunda where the documents upon which your country was designed are waiting for you. Inside the Archives, in a single room, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence — all originals, mind you — are on display. Inside bulletproof cases filled with inert argon gas, these papers cease to be .jpg files online or images in your son’s American History textbook. They become living things.

I’m a crier anyway, but I cried when I walked into the rotunda. These weren’t sobs; I wasn’t freaking out or hyperventilating. But I had to blink a lot to keep warm tears in. The U.S. is a different country from the one the founding fathers had in mind — by a lot, no matter what political camp you’re in — but regardless, these are words that men wrote to assert their independence from oppression and their vision for something way better than that. We’re here because of these sheets of paper and everything (oh, everything, everything) that has come after.

When you have a visitor to your town or city, you see the place through new eyes. When you have a visitor to your country — especially when you’re with them in the capitol city — you see the place with new eyes and, at the risk of sounding super gross, a new heart.

Don’t Tell Chicago.

Washington National Cathedral at twilight. Photo: Wikipedia, 2012.
Washington National Cathedral at twilight. Photo: Wikipedia, 2012.

Slowly, steadily, I am becoming aware that I can love a city other than Chicago and that my love can go deep. If you’d asked me a year and a few months ago if this were possible, I would have been almost angry that you would ask that. When you love something a lot it feels like you have ownership of it and as ridiculous as it is, for over thirteen years Chicago was mine. To suggest I could love another city even half as much was to take something away from me. Like a toddler with a plushy Mies van der Rohe skyscraper, I did not want to give. But I’m now welcoming this new understanding.

The understanding has opened doors in my head but the understanding has also been the crowbar that opened those doors in my head, so that’s weird. Look, let me stay out of the metaphysical for now and just say that Washington is every bit as fabulous as Chicago — and in some regards (don’t shoot) it is, in fact, more fabulous. Let me give you a few concrete examples.

1. There are murals everywhere here. Everywhere. Beautiful murals on the sides of buildings, some big, some huge. They’re all thoughtfully designed whether they’re sweet, thought-provoking, representational, abstract, art-for-art-sake-y. As a person who likes urban art of the brick wall kind, I am pleased. Chicago is mural impoverished by comparison.

2. There’s more music on the streets. Jazz combos, guitarists, saxophone players. Back in Chicago you have the drum boys on Michigan Avenue, the dudes who play in the tunnels at O’Hare, and there’s always something going on on the Jackson train platform. But today I saw a man at the Metro Center train stop playin’ a damn tuba! He was part of a killer trio: him, a guy on sax, and a kid on a drum kit playing so good and so into the jam, people were pulling out their phones to film him. I’ve never seen a tuba player in Chicago. And if you don’t like tubas, in Washington you can probably just get off one train stop up and you can enjoy a different concert.

3. Vegetation. It’s the Potomac. It’s the Anacostia. It’s the mid-Atlantic climate. The water and the air and the soil combine to make so much green here. Valleys, parks, thickets of trees, sun-dappled groves — it’s all here. Whenever I get to take a taxi drive instead of the train, I gape as we go through the outer neighborhoods. Of course there are trees in Chicago but Washington… If Chicago were a man’s head, it would have a crew cut. Washington would be a Beatle. In terms of green. The difference. The hair analogy.

4. The National Cathedral, the George Washington Monument, the Naval Observatory and everything else beautiful and monumental.

As I’ve said before, Washington has gotten into my heart. There are reasons and there are reasons.

I Painted Stripes!

I painted them!
I painted them!

Just look at ’em! Look at those beauties! See ’em? Those straight, tall, proud, baby blue stripes? I painted ’em! That’s right, me! (MARY stabs thumb into chest, flashes huge smile, begins to eat popsicle.)

For weeks now, I’ve been staring at one of the walls in my living room-dining room-great hall and seeing pale blue awning stripes. Just the one. An “accent” wall, I think is what they call it. I just knew pale blue awning stripes would look awesome, but I’d have to hire a painter and I don’t like hiring painters. But I couldn’t possibly paint the stripes myself. They’d have to be perfectly, perfectly straight and not blubby around the edges, especially if they only kinda worked in the room. The only thing worse than being a total decorating misfire would be a decorating misfire executed badly. I don’t have a great track record with wall-painting as evidenced by every single baseboard in every single apartment I have ever, ever had. For this stripe job, a professional painter would have to be called.

But then my Viking ancestors grabbed my shoulders with their ghostly, Norwegian hands and shook me. “Are you crazy?! Hiring a painter for two-hundred bucks an hour — plus supplies and parking — to paint a single wall in your apartment?! Shame! Fa raeva til jernvarehandel!* You’ll never be a Norse god at this rate.” And they kicked me out the door. The nerve!

You know what I learned today? I learned how to use a level. I learned how to tape up a wall properly  when you want to paint it. (Hint: take your time, don’t rush; it’s like three-quarters of the entire job.) I took great care to actually put down a drop cloth that actually covered everything that could possibly get paint on it. In short, I did the job right. It would be impossible for me to love my stripes more. They’re on the Proudest Accomplishment List right now. I’m now eyeing every wall in my home, daring it to tell me it also wants to be an accent wall of some kind.

I’d love to put up the process photos, but The PaperGirl Pledge means I only put one photo per post. So go to my Facebook page for more pictures. It was really fun and I did it in like four hours!

*Google translate it. Norwegian to English. 

Sioux City, Distilled.

posted in: Quilting, Tips, Travel 1
"Bing" is for bing cherry, by the way. Photo: Internet
“Bing” is for bing cherry, by the way. Photo: Internet

Greetings from fabulous Sioux City!

When’s the last time you were in Sioux City? Yeah, me neither, but I’m glad I’m here. Sioux City is pretty cool. The downtown makes a good first impression as you roll in with its copper-colored bricks, clocktower, and a few tall buildings. I consulted the oracle* to learn a bit about this town that is almost in South Dakota and almost in Nebraska.

Here are 5 notable things I’ve learned about Sioux City:

1. In 2010, Money magazine named Sioux City one of the best places to live in the world. I can’t find the article but that’s a very nice thing to say, Money, and I’m sure you had your reasons.

2. There is a creek here called Bacon Creek. Not Beacon. Not Macon. Bacon.

3. Try as I might, I cannot stop laughing over the fact that the airport code for Sioux City is SUX. It’s just not fair. Someone, please do something about this. It’s time.

4. The Twin Bing candy your ancestors ate? Made in Sioux City. It even says so on the wrapper. I feel like the Twin Bing is primed for a comeback via the post-hipster set. I can see a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Chicago working a Twin Bing foam into the pork chop dish; I can see an all-natural cosmetics company making a Twin Bing exfoliant.

5. Guess who was born here? Pauline Esther Friedman and her twin sister Esther Pauline Friedman, better known as Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) and Ann Landers, respectively. Yes! The advice columnists known for the sassy, brassy advice they gave the American people for over two centuries. Did you know those two women were sisters? Twins, even?! And did you know they hated each other and though people said they reconciled their bitter competition at some point, they totally did not? You can’t write this stuff!

And I am falling asleep in this chair, proof that you can write this stuff, but not anymore tonight.

*the Internet

Coffee, Simplified. Warning: Luxury Problems.

posted in: D.C., Travel 0
It's so simple. Photo: Wikipedia
It’s so simple. Photo: Wikipedia

I’m headed to teach and lecture at a new event in Iowa, Joi’s Sewing Holiday. I’m impressed at all that Ms. Joi — an accomplished garment sewist, author, and designer — has arranged and coordinated. I imagine creating a new retreat with sponsors, classes, events, vendors, and big attendance is like planning a birthday party for over a thousand children born on the same day. That’s a lot of cake (with fire in it) to bring out at the right moment.

I’m at my gate at Reagan National Airport right now. After dropping my bags and getting through security, I went to my usual coffee spot in the terminal, but it was gone. In its place was a huge bar in the round in the center of the circular terminal. There were iPads at every high-top chair, six television screens nestled into the structure a la Frank Lloyd Wright, and a big sculpture-ish jobby rising out of the center; the whole thing looks like a spaceship.Wow, I said to myself, that is one fancy bar. But I wanted coffee, not scotch. I turned 360 degrees, looking for my coffee gals, who kind of know me at this point. No dice.

Gingerly, I approached the bench. “Hi, I said to the black-clad…team. “Do you all serve coffee?” Practically in chorus, they answered in the affirmative. I was to sit down in a chair and use the iPad to order.

“Do I have to?” I said. “Can I just get a large coffee to go?” No, I learned; it was iPad or die. All right. I sat down and began to tap. The first screen I got was a prompt to enter my flight information so the robot could “keep me updated.” I did not want to be updated. I’m an adult, for one thing, and plus, I could see my gate from my chair. I flagged a nice lady making the rounds of the spaceship who let me know that I didn’t have to do all that; I could just punch the miniscule button that said, “Skip This Screen.”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Getting a coffee to go with cream and sugar took about five minutes. There was only one size to select but, as the nice lady told me, there are free refills. I suspect when I am done drinking the ambrosia that is the first cup of coffee of the day, I will be forced to tap again. Just speaking over the counter to the people working there, I will have to use an iPad.

I hate this so much. So, so, so much. Does this make me old? How can it, though? It’s not efficient! It is the opposite of efficient? Ordering and receiving a cup of coffee should not take over 2.5 minutes, top to bottom. They’re collecting data, surely, tracking how much coffee people pour down their throats between 7:50 and 7:55 at Reagan National.

My cup is almost empty. I dread the next step.


Singing In the Shower.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 1
The pool.
The pool.

Moving to NYC last year was rough. I went in for all the right reasons (love, adventure, curiosity) and there were good times, but I fell flat on my face. Nothing went the way I thought it would. As the relationship thrashed in the East Village apartment, the temperature outside dropped. By November, everything was upside down and backward, out in the icy rain with no house keys.

The move to D.C., surprising as it might have seemed to some (hi, Mom), really did make perfect sense. I couldn’t go back to Chicago, I couldn’t stay in New York. This series of posts detail the entire decision-making process and after going through the logic, even my mother understood what had to be done.

The boxes. The rats. The more boxes. The leases. The rent. The trips to Chicago to get stuff I needed from storage. The cost. The flights. The rats. The broken plates. It’s all been pretty real.

Tonight, I swam in the pool in my building. It was around 9pm and I had the whole place to myself. You know how great your voice sounds when you sing in the shower? Every female is Mary J. Blige, or Celine, or Whitney; every dude is James Brown or Hall or Oates. If a shower is good, let me tell you how good an entire indoor pool is. I paddled around like a fish and sang my heart out. I was winning Grammys in there.

And there it was. Singing in the pool, tonight, it all makes sense and it’s all okay.

A Poopy Crime In Utah!

posted in: Day In The Life, Sicky, Tips, Travel 3
The sketch I made of the whole incident. It's even on my letterhead!
The sketch I made of the whole incident. Hey, that’s my letterhead!

I haven’t told anyone this story from the road trip yet because there is shame involved. It’s a tad longer, but stay with me because it’s got a great payoff.

One night in Utah, I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This was not unusual, so before lights out, I had done my preparations. That night was a sleep-in-the-car night, which meant that once the seats in the SUV were released and the make-shift bed was made, I put my flip-flops, Handi-Wipes, and fluffy roll of TP into the cubby in the passenger-side door. On the hook above the window, I hung my hoodie and the car keys.

When you are inside a locked car and then try to leave it, unless you first unlock it, the car alarm will sound when you open the door. You must then stab your fob’s “Alarm Off” function, sixty times to get it to stop. When we camped in the car, of course my friend and I locked up once we were inside. This meant that in the middle of the night, when I would get up and go to the bathroom (read: bush), I would have to locate the keys in the dark, make sure I unlocked the car, then exit. Exiting, by the way, was a Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus clown car routine: I squeezed out the door and essentially did a sommersault onto the grass.

We were in a public park that night, so the spot I found was near the public bathroom facilities. I say “near” because the facilities were locked up at sundown, something I found out when I tried to open the door. Okay, no problem. The lights inside the brick structure appeared to be motion-sensored, so I jumped up and down and got the lights to go on, which threw light onto the grass behind the building. It wasn’t a lot of light, but it was enough to “go” by, heh, heh. So I went. Because it was 3am and there was only a dim light by which to see, I covered up my…visit with leaves and sticks and earth matter with every intention — this is important — with every intention to clean everything up in the morning. I respect my National Parks! Bleary eyed, sleepy, with grass in my hair but much relieved, I tumbled back into the car and went to sleep.

In the morning, I looked for the keys to unlock the door before Claus and I got out and made tea. No keys. Not under the sleeping bags. Not on the floor by the seats. Not in the front. Not in the back. We were trapped in the car. If we opened the door, the alarm would scream and, not having keys, there would be no way to turn it off. It was getting really hot inside that car. We finally determined that we could open the car doors because the dashboard screen said, “No fob detected,” which, considering the situation, is the best example of a “mixed blessing” ever.

We took a deep breath and opened the doors. No alarm sounded. The keys were nowhere. They were really, really nowhere. I combed the park, convinced I had sleepwalked the perimeter in my pajamas and dropped the keys. Claus looked under the car twelve times. We looked for an hour and then I began to cry. Those keys, impossibly, were Gone. Do you know how much it costs to get a replacement key for a rental car? Both cell phones were dying. This was a bad, bad situation. Oh, and one other thing: I looked many times around the makeshift bathroom area I had created at 3am. Not only were the keys not there, but my bathroom, such as it was, was not there. I didn’t have to clean anything because there was nothing there. No paper, no leaf cover. Someone had cleaned.

I called the Park District. Had someone been by? Had they found keys at XYZ Public Park near Zion?? I was going to clean up! Please! Don’t judge me! And okay, judge me, but did someone find keys for heaven’s sake?? Nothing here, they said, but you could talk to the police. I was patched to the station and I blubbed the story to the officer there, that I have a condition that makes me have to poop all the time [sorry] and I have to go in the night, and was it at all possible that a Park District person came through, saw that there was an…incident, and cleaned up and maybe found car keys nearby?? Somehow??

There was a silence. Then:

“Well, I’ve got your keys,” the officer said.

I almost fell off the memorial stone slab I was sitting on. “You do??? You DO???” I flapped my hands at Claus. “You have them?? But…but how? Oh, god… Someone found my… Oh, no, oh no…” And I began blubbing again that I’m not a bad person, that I’m a law-abiding citizen (mostly) and, “I’m so, so sorry that –”

“First of all, you can’t be campin’ in the park,” he said. “And yeah, the guy who does the bathrooms over there found the mess. He waddn’t too happy ’bout it, either. Stepped right into it. He found the keys in the grass there and brought ’em over to us. I can get ’em over to you in about an hour when I’ve taken care of this other thing.”

I wept. I told the officer that I would pay any fine he’d slap me with and would enjoy paying it. He said that wasn’t necessary. When he brought the keys I again begged him to let me give him money. He declined and said it was all no big deal and to get along, now. I think he took pity on a girl who had slept in a car and had to poop in the middle of the night.

Later, Claus said that in the early morning, he had heard what he thought were two men arguing. We figure it was the cleaning guy, shouting and hollering when he discovered the situation. I’ll have you know from then on, I did not wait until the morning to clean up any bathroom area I created. Turns out there are these things called flashlights.

Mr. Jefferson Goes To (and Basically Forms) Washington.

posted in: D.C. 0
Jefferson on the $2-bill, circa 1869. Photo: Wikipedia
Jefferson on the $2-bill, circa 1869. Photo: Wikipedia

There’s a special pleasure in reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson while living in the city he lived in for many years in a country he basically designed. The biography is a slim one, I must confess; I love reading about the early years of our nation, but there are only so many Shay’s Rebellions and trips back and forth on the Atlantic I can put in my head before I need a snack.

Here are three things you might not know about Jefferson. Two of them come from reading this biography; one of them does not. If you can guess which fact was not included in the book I’m reading, I’ll make you a bowl of macaroni and cheese.

1. Maybe I’m outing myself as a boob for not knowing it, but I didn’t know that for about five years (1784-1789) Jefferson lived in Paris. It wasn’t a vacation: he was serving in a kind of ambassador position alongside Ben Franklin and John Adams as America got itself together. As you probably do know, France was pretty important in the whole “America” thing and there was plenty of stuff for the three bigwigs (ha!) to do in Paris. Not surprisingly, Jefferson loved living there, and I just love thinking about one of our founding fathers eating pan au chocolate on his way to the office.

2. On lists of “Fascinating Facts About Thomas Jefferson”, you’ll often find that Jefferson owned thousands of books. You might even learn that he sold them to replenish the Library of Congress when it was sacked in the War of 1812. This is all true. Jefferson sold nearly 6,500 of his books to the Library for $24k. What isn’t mentioned is how he organized his library; he put all those thousands of books under one of three categories: Memory, Understanding, or Imagination. How cool is that? It was a concept based on a Francis Bacon book, apparently. I like that everything he read — and everything we read — can be put into those three categories.

3. Thomas Jefferson invented macaroni and cheese. Well, he didn’t invent it. But he really liked macaroni noodles with cheese baked in the oven; he probably had something similar in France (see No. 1) and it appears everyone who came to dinner at Monticello was served macaroni pie. The Jefferson-mac n’ cheese connection is a thing; there’s a lot about it on the Internet. I’ll leave it to you to explore further. We can all be very, very glad there has not yet been an ad campaign for mac-n-cheese featuring Jefferson’s face.

This weekend I have to get everything ready for a big event in Iowa, but I have promised myself to take a break and go to the Jefferson Memorial. It’s a 20-minute ride on the subway to get there, one more reason why I adore my new hometown. I will lay a pan au chocolate on the steps, Mr. President.

Mary Fons, Dust Destroyer.

posted in: Day In The Life, Washington 0
Rosie The Riveter, put up your dukes. Oh, wait. You've got one up already. Okay, put up the other duke! Photo: My neighbor Mark
Rosie The Riveter, put up your dukes. Oh, wait. You’ve got one up already. Okay, put up the other duke! Photo: My neighbor Mark

I want to tell every last story from the trip — but where to start? Should I talk about the delicious meals we made in our wee cooker? How we added parmesan cheese, diced apples, and salt and pepper to Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Pepper boxed soup and made it taste like something you’d get in a 4-star restaurant? I should probably tell that story because right now, no one can believe me. But it’s true, we did that.

Maybe I ought to bang out the post I promised someone I’d write asap, how a Crohn’s/Colitis person can go camping. How they can give one of their biggest fears the what-for. There’s not much info out there for gimpy GI people on how to camp successfully; I know because I looked. For those without problematic intestinal conditions, prepare for TMI. But the post will have value for people who do suffer from all that and sharing what I learned is of utmost importance.

But tonight, I’m overwhelmed. Can’t pick. Therefore, I offer this picture of me in my hallway at the Kennedy Warren. I bought a huge, fabulous area rug at Mom & Pop’s Antiques yesterday and man, did that rug need to be vacuumed. But I don’t have a vacuum because I stupidly left it in New York. Undaunted, I went down to the front desk and asked if I could borrow one. Just as I was inquiring — that very moment — a maintenance guy came from around the corner with his awesome Ghostbuster vacuum. I asked if I could borrow that vacuum. The guys were like, “Uh…yes. This has never happened before.”

Man did that vacuum suck. My rug is like new! It was so fun to wear. Wow. Just like a backpack! As I was taking it back down to the office, my friendly neighbor Mark passed by with his daughter. Every time I’ve run into Mark he’s wearing expensive-looking red-framed glasses and a ball cap; I like Mark a lot. I told him how much the vacuum sucked and how everyone should get one. We laughed and Mark said he’d love to take my picture.

And he did!

I Visited Facebook Headquarters: Also, I Can’t Login to Facebook.

posted in: Story, Travel 1


"10.000 auf Facebook," 2014. Photo: Wikipedia, of course.
“10.000 auf Facebook,” 2014. Photo: Wikipedia, of course.

I have no idea who these people are. When I searched Wiki Commons for “Facebook,” I got pictures of gorgeous landscapes in Bejing and pictures like this, none of which made any sense whatsoever. Is this a Facebook conspiracy? to delete photos of itself on a public domain image repository? Is that a ridiculous thing to say? Not if you saw Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley two weeks ago, like I did. I’m here to tell you: Facebook is creep city.

(Also, I can’t login to my public page, so all of these posts are going unseen unless you’re a PaperGirl subscriber. Could you drop a line to a fellow reader that I’m back and better than ever when it comes to typing? I’m trying to get the problem fixed, but as Facebook appears to have no actual customer service, this has been difficult.)

One of the stops on the road trip was Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley, as you may know, is not really a valley, just a region in the Bay Area where for every 9,000 startups there is one that makes it and the one that makes it makes billions of dollars, like Uber.

Facebook, too. Facebook’s headquarters are in Silicon Valley, and my friend and I thought it would be fun to check it out. Facebook affects our lives in significant ways; why not see where they make the profiles of all those donuts? We actually went to the Googleplex, first and rode around campus on Google bikes until someone caught on that we weren’t employees and we thought we’d better jam. Google was cool because we could actually bike around the campus a little, but unless you have a friend or family member to get you a visitor pass, you should probably skip a trip there. You can’t go anywhere you would really want go, like Sergei Brin’s helipad.

Then it was onto Facebook headquarters and I’m here to tell you: never go there. Never go there not just because you can’t get in but because it’s terrifying. The building, first of all, is chillingly nondescript, all smooth walls and smallish windows. Is it a privately funded medical laboratory that tests things (read: brains)? perhaps a Quantico’s satellite building? Maybe it’s where they make the big red buttons folks push when they detonate atomic bomb. Someone has to make those things.

People were milling about outside, snapping pictures and generally clogging the walkway to the door and when they got to the door, they turned around immediately and clogged their way back. Because no one gets into Facebook. No one can enter the vestibule, so no one can enter the lobby — not even for the bathroom, which I know because I asked. I could’ve whipped out the “I Can’t Wait” card I carry from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation that allows me to use a bathroom pretty much anywhere (i.e., the Gap) if I really need to. It’s great fun to watch a snide salesgirl go from, “Sorry, there are no public bathrooms,” to a panicked, “Oh, sure, yeah, come with me” change of heart.

Anyway, Claus and I saw this “visit” was going nowhere, so we made our way past the security guys to the parking lot. I swear, there was a small fleet of camouflaged golf carts at the side of the building where our car was. Camo. Because Silicon Valley (and the Facebook campus) has a lot of tree lines. Look, I realize Facebook and Google aren’t there to entertain tourists; these are places of business. But the citadel thing left a nasty taste in our mouths.

Surely, there will one day be a Facebook theme park with a Zuckerberg Zipper rollercoaster and an I Like This Castle; when that happens, the tourists can get their Facebook photos at Facebook, something that would be so popular I’m surprised Facebook hasn’t done it, yet. Until then, I’m Mary Fons, reporting: Facebook is watching you, but you can’t look.

How To Gain 5-6 Pounds In Three Weeks (And How To Lose It!)

posted in: Food, Tips, Travel 0
Wait a second -- is that a hamburger down right? Still life by Clara Peeters (fl. 1601 - 1621.)
Wait a second — is that a hamburger down right? Still life by Clara Peeters (fl. 1601 – 1621.)

Ever wanted to gain something like 5-6 pounds in a hurry? Sure, we all do! Follow my simple steps below and you’ll be on your way. Be sure to read all the way to the flabby bottom to learn how to lose it, too!!!

Step 1: Sit in a car for 3-7 hours a day for three weeks.

Step 2: Tell yourself that hiking and camping are basically exercise.

Step 3: Eat lots of cashews, dates, small chunks of parmesan cheese (your favorite) and banana leather, telling yourself that none of these foods are processed and are therefore basically calorie-free. Travel with a European so that you get plenty of full-fat yogurt with muesli, even though you never eat, nor spell correctly, muesli. Eat chocolate and tell yourself that because it’s the expensive kind and you’re sharing it with someone, you’re not really eating that much.

Step 4: Consume Pringles because your travel companion has a “thing” for them and though you have not eaten a single Pringle since freshman year in college, this is a crucial step. Do you want to gain 5-6 pounds in three weeks or don’t you?? Motivation, determination. Note while eating Pringles that the slogan on the can, “Once you pop, you can’t stop” is accurate.

Step 5: Feel exceedingly happy. Feeling happy will cloud your awareness that you are on your way to gaining 5-6 pounds in three weeks.

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-6.

Now that you’ve gained 5-6 pounds in three weeks, aren’t you wondering how to lose it?? Sure, we all do! I’m here to tell you the secret to losing 5-6 pounds not in three weeks, not in two weeks, but in one week with almost zero effort! Probably! Maybe not! But this secret step will unlock your potential to lose 5-6 pounds before you know it! Here it is:

Step 1: Stop doing all those things.

Step 2: Resume your normal life, which includes walking to the store and stuff.

Now get going, and remember: your weight is in your hands! And on your hips.

The Role of the Passenger.

posted in: Travel 0
A drawing of mine, headed into Death Valley.
A drawing of mine, headed into Death Valley.

My friend and travel companion is an accomplished philosophy professor. He’s German and has written a lot of books. We traveled 5,000 miles together, all in. We made Kant jokes and I finally learned exactly what the term “hermeneutics” meant (don’t ask me right now.) He learned quilt history, the scoop on my upcoming project — he won’t tell and neither will I, but prepare! — and all about my family, just as I learned all about his. Five-thousand miles is a lot of miles. Dollar Rent-a-Car hates us.

My friend is a good driver and drove every mile himself, as the car was rented in his name. I was the full-time passenger, then, and let me tell you: it’s an art. Here’s what you Kant do:

– talk incessantly
– sing loudly (or at all, unless your companion likes to listen to someone singing in close proximity, which is highly unlikely)
– bite your nails
– clear your throat a lot
– toot (a lot)
– eat ice all the time from your drink

My passenger self did none of those things, except for the last one; I love eating ice and I think my friend was slightly annoyed in Week Three, but it’s a minor offense compared to tooting. But aside from all that, there’s something a passenger on a long road trip has to do: you must entertain yourself. The landscapes out the window will do most of this for you, but if you like to draw, sit quietly and think while you look out the window, or read — if you don’t get carsick — you and your companion(s) will be much happier.

Above is one of the many drawings I made on the road; each is a scene from the journey. I only had a pen and a pencil and I liked the limitation, actually. I haven’t drawn so much since high school. It was one of the gifts of the trip.

On Washing Clothes In A Creek.

posted in: Travel 0
Women washing clothes somewhere in Eastern Europe, 1962. Photo: Wikipedia
Women washing clothes. Somewhere in Eastern Europe, 1962. Photo: Wikipedia

Here’s the thing about washing your clothes in a creek or river: when you’re done, they’re not clean.

Oh, they’ll be cleaner than they were, especially if you’ve been wearing those clothes three days in a row. But they will not be clean in the way most of us are used to. Our laundry, if we’re lucky, is gently, soapily agitated to purity and freshness then puffed into fluff by the warm air of the dryer. The river-wash (and subsequent tree- or rock-dry) is a world away. Indeed, one must be a world away to wash one’s clothes in a river; in a faraway country different from ours or, you know, in the country.

The road trip was three weeks long. I planned to go for two weeks with a possible one-week extension, but when I set out I didn’t figure I’d take the option. I don’t camp. I don’t rough it. I need things.

But then I found myself sitting on a rock on the bank of a real-life babbling brook outside Zion, hand-washing my dress. The sun was shining on the water, my skin, the water. Rub, dunk, swoosh, rub, dunk, swoosh. This was Week Two and it was right then that I decided that I wasn’t going home, that you’d have to drag me by my sleeping bag the whole way. No way, not yet, not leaving this.

Because Zion National Park is paradise. The early Mormons, when they were heading west, stopped the entire journey when they hit Zion because they looked at each other and said, “Yeah, so…it doesn’t get better than this.” They were not wrong. Lush vegetation, the modest-but-mighty Virgin River, the red mountains, the rich soil — it’s almost too much, especially if you’ve just come out of Death Valley, which we very much had.*

Butterflies were flitting around my head, goofing off as butterflies do, and I hung my clothes on the tree branches in the sun, basically creating a scene from an Ang Lee movie. The place and time, the reason, and the task were all in harmony. Harmony, as it turns out, is great.

Standard-issue life began yesterday. Sitting here, now, finally, I am glad to be back. Because washing clothes at the riverbank is good, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t miss you.

*One-hundred eighteen degrees our second day there.
Death Valley stories to come. Prepare to be entertained.

I’m Going On a 10-Day Road Trip…Today.

posted in: Art, Day In The Life, Travel 3
Go west, young woman. All right: youngish woman. Photo: Wikipedia
Go west, young woman. All right: youngish woman. Photo: Wikipedia

I’m going on a road trip. Today. I’m at the airport right now. 

Many months ago, my friend Claus planned a 4-week trip through the American west. He would hit Rushmore, he would hit Yellowstone, Tahoe, San Francisco, and many points in between and beyond, ending at the edge of California. He would then turn around and head straight back to Chicago. We talked about me joining him, but I do not desire — nor do I have the ability, schedule-wise — to go west for four weeks. I’m a clean linen, coffee-in-the-lobby gal. I like showers. 

But what if I joined the trip for ten days or so? Maybe I could do that. Maybe it would be fun. What if I hooked up with Claus in Salt Lake City and did the San Fran, Death Valley, Tetons, etc. part? Maybe I’d stay on through Berkeley. For the first time in a long, long time, I have two weeks without travel for work. I believe people do summer vacations, don’t they? Interesting concept.

And so, after much deliberation and anxiety (I have different bathroom needs than most people and there is some camping involved over the course of the trip, which puts a great fear in my heart) I decided that yes, I would add a woman’s touch to the “Go west, young man” thing. 

I’ll be checking email and blogging, though there may be a few off-the-grid days. Claus thinks I should leave my laptop behind but a strange rash appears all over my body when I think doing about that. I can’t make sense of beauty (example: Ano Nuevo California State Reserve) or pain (example: middle-of-the-night trip to a campground bathroom with a flashlight)* without writing it down. So the journal comes with and the laptop comes with. 

Also coming with: Wet Ones wipes, a bandana, a hoodie, books, sunglasses, sunscreen, sneakers (you actually cannot wear heels in Death Valley, I hear), deodorant, and my favorite snacks that will surely be gone by Day 2. I’m really, really excited now. I see a lot of this country with the work I do, but I’ve never been to Yellowstone, I’ve never seen the Grand Tetons, I’ve never camped in California.

Let’s do this. Let’s have an adventure. I board the plane in ten minutes.

*I may possibly have lost my mind. 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I stayed on the trip for three weeks. Posts to follow explain and detail.]

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.

Bein’ Weird: Two Notable Encounters

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
This picture has nothing to do with this post. I just love it so much I had to select it. Iberian Airlines stewardesses/stewards. Sexy, classy, and bygone. Photo: Wikipedia.
This picture has nothing to do with this post. I just love it so much I had to select it. Iberian Airlines stewardess and pilots Sexy, classy, and bygone. Photo: Wikipedia.


My older sister once said to me, “Mar, you’re getting a little…eccentric.”

I took offense, naturally. But then I looked up the word (always a good idea) and yeah, I totally am eccentric. I like it. “Eccentric” means “away from center” and that’s me. I’m not a joiner. I’m super weird: too familiar with strangers, too bold when I ought to chill, etc. But my eccentricity leads to memorable encounters because I’m weird enough to engage them, even pursue them.

To wit:

In a taxi the other day, I needed to go east and my driver turned west. “No, no,” I said, “You’re going the wrong way; I need to go east.” The driver was like, “No, this is the way.” And I was like, “No, dude. East. You’re going west.” He insisted he was right and I insisted that I was right. We actually started shouting at each other. Shouting! I was like, “Look, man, I lived over there! I’m telling you! H Street! East!” and he hollered back at me until he realized he was absolutely going in the wrong direction.

“Ha!” I shouted. “See? You see? Ooh, I am so mad at you right now! I told you, east, man!”

Then he backpedaled like crazy, saying, “Oh, I thought you meant,” yada-yada. Then we hollered at each other about that, too. Then, in the middle of shouting at each other I started laughing. It was so funny, yelling at each other like that. “We’re like family right now,” I said. “Like brother and sister at holiday time.”

The driver looked at me like, “Okay, this is a change.”

Then he laughed with me and was like, “You are right. We are family right now, brother and sister arguing.” It was a great cab ride. When I got to my destination, I smiled and patted him on the shoulder and said, “Bye, bye, my brother. I’m telling Mom I was right.”

He hooted. “God be with you, Miss,” and we were both in a great mood.

Then, the other day there were movers working from a big truck outside my building. As I turned the corner to head toward the grocery store, I heard one of the guys sing the first line of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.” 

And I was right there, right then, so I sang back — on pitch, I might add — “It’s not warm when she’s away…” *

I might as well have flashed them. They were like, “Whaaaat?!”

I smiled big, gave them a little wave and kept walking. And … Well, I might’ve given ’em a little wiggle.

The singing guy called after me, “Girl, you know the rest of the lyrics?”

“Of course!” I called back, but I kept walking. That was all really weird, right? I think so, but I can’t tell anymore.

*This encounter spurred a Bill Withers binge for the next two days. Glorious.

Home Score No. 2: Phil the Dresser

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Luv 1
So good.
So good.

There should be a new Broadway musical called Thrift Score: The Musical!

Here’s the pitch: a wanderin’ wastrel tries to furnish her apartment (in the nation’s capital! what an interesting and unexpected setting!!) without depleting her bank account. She’s racing the clock because… Well, because she needs things! It’s a universal story! And if this musical existed, this would be the beginning of the climactic song:

“I’m just a kid / dreamin’ big / lookin’ for love / lookin’ for things —
A sofa / a table / a little dog too;
Nothin’ is better than nothin’, it’s true;
But with the right dresser / I’d leap over the moooooooon!”

And then there would be this moment of discovery when I find the red dresser you see above. The music would get bananas and there would be a lot of lighting effects and strings.

So this thing was tucked into a corner in a resale shop in upper Dupont Circle. Here are the facts:

1. Crimson red is my favorite color.
2. Philip is among my favorite names, as Philip Larkin is my favorite poet and one becomes attached/sentimental.
3. I desperately need a dresser.
4. I dig weird.

The name on the dresser was “Philip” originally, but the other letters have dropped off. My love of this piece of furniture knows no bounds. Which is perfect. Because do you know what the Greek root phil- means?

It means love.

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. 

A House, A Home.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Tips 1
Note 1970s cross-stitch in frame sitting on windowsill, which reads: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” This piece has traveled with me many years.
Note 1970s cross-stitch in frame sitting on windowsill, which reads: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” This piece has traveled with me many years.

A major decision was made last week. 

By the way, I’m good on big decisions. I don’t mean that I’m good at them. I mean I’ve had enough of them for awhile, as in, “No, please, Nonna — I’m good on kugel,” or “Wow, okay, I think I’m good on socks.” Small decisions I can handle, e.g., grapefruit or pears, to shower or not to shower, etc. Unfortunately, the universe keeps pitching big ones to me and what can I do but catch?

The major decision was to not go to Chicago to retrieve my furniture. I will rent my apartment furnished. 

Whenever I thought about moving these items halfway across the country, my stomach hurt. I envisioned the getting of the large moving truck. I pictured the getting of the objects. I saw the freight elevator. I saw the drive from Chicago to D.C. And I saw the other freight elevator waiting for me on the other side and I saw the cost and I saw the problem of fitting things that live in a 1500 sq. ft. condo into an 800 sq. ft. apartment. It’s more precise to say that my stomach would hurt first and then my guts would churn and then my head would throb and then my left eye would begin to twitch. 

But I clung to the “need” to do this. Why? Because of my attachment to these things of mine. I ain’t no Buddhist, but I seem to recall that, according to them, suffering is due to attachment. Attachment to expectations, attachment to people, attachment to one’s coffee table even if it is really, really fabulous — nesting glass and just… I can’t talk about it. 

The moment I allowed myself to let go of my furniture, my objects (for another year, anyway) my spirits soared. No semi-trailer. No freight elevators. No worries about how it all would fit here — it all will not, no way, no how. I would surely end up selling my beautiful table, which is not what I want at all. 

This was all excellent, except that the bed, the table, and the sofa I was planning on having in a couple weeks were suddenly not on their way. I’ve been living like a monk, you realize. I have a decent mattress/quilt/blanket pile that is remarkably comfortable for sleeping, but I have been sitting on a little mat with a throw pillow to have my breakfast. I have no chair, no couch. No bed frame. And so, once the decision to leave material things behind, I had to set about getting new ones. What do the Buddhists say about that, hm?

Yesterday, I got the most incredible, amazing deal on a bed from Overstock. And today, I went thrifting. Look at what I found! Wow, was there ever a lot of junk at that place. But I found, for around $200 total: a cool iron floor lamp (needs shade), a green easy chair in fantastic shape, a lucite stool (!), an actual vintage trash can for the bathroom, four darling, mismatched china plates (pink! gold! floral!) and a fruit bowl. I’m on my way.

When I went to put a can of tomatoes in my beans, however, I was stymied, as I realized I do not yet have a can opener. 

Deer In the City.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you're close.
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you’re close.

If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.

Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.

Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.

I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street — casual as anything — steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers. This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the encounter many times and believe that’s correct.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.

There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.

I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.

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