The New Silhouette

posted in: Fashion, Story, Tips, Travel 2
Pinup illustration by Enoch Bolles.
Illustration by Enoch Bolles for FilmFun Magazine, April 1940.

Today, Yuri and I leave California. Our flight departs mid-morning and because we stop in Denver and because the rotation of the Earth, we will reach Chicago at 5:00 this evening. It will be dark and it will be cold.

Southern California hoards the sun. It’s just always sunny here; that is not a myth. Southern California is also the land of fake boobs. Not a myth, either. My first night here, Yuri and I went for a late dinner to a schmancy restaurant that had real citrus trees growing inside of it. They served a lobster bisque that tasted just like a fisherman’s hat (any respectable lobster bisque does.) The tea-lights were glowing in the atrium were we sat; the outdoor fireplaces popped sparks; the wine goblets were fishbowl-size. It was all achingly Californian and I did a little people-watching before my branzino arrived. I looked at the women, specifically.

Every era has its prevailing female silhouette. This doesn’t change in a single generation but over the course of several. I’m not talking about fashion: hemlines rise and fall on an almost diurnal cycle. I’m speaking of body shape, the figure cut by a woman in the time in which she lives — or, more accurately, the figure any woman wants to cut to be seen as beautiful in her culture. Let’s list a few iconic examples:

The Peter Paul Rubens woman: voluptuous to the point of meaty; the term “Rubenesque” remains very much in English language rotation
The Gibson Girl: a full bust and hips with a painfully tiny, corseted waist; hair piled on the head in a breadbox-sized up-do
The 1940s gal: plastics manufacturing and WWII exerted influence on the brassieres of the time, giving us the “Torpedo” or “Bullet” style boob so pointy it could poke an eye out (and a few surely did, ow)
The Waif: the 1920s begat Twiggy, Twiggy begat Kate Moss, and the heroin-chic look that launched countless anorexic girls arrived in the 1990s.

It may not be news to others, as Kim Kardashian’s anatomy-defying shape (a Venus of Willendorf but with bronzer) has been appreciated for a number of years and her body is the best example of the new silhouette. Looking at the women of SoCal the other night, I saw that this new shape has truly taken root in the minds of men and women as being the beauty ideal of the day.

Here’s what you’ll need:

A full — and I mean full — bottom, but don’t you be droopy. The bottom must be lifted and perfectly shaped with the assistance of Spanx or some sort of “shaper panty” (formerly referred to as a girdle, let’s not forget.) And even if your bottom is really nice already, there’s a certain buoyancy and firmness that you want, so the shaper panty is needed, regardless. Seems a little unfair to strap a perky 20-year-old into one of those horrid things, but I don’t make the rules.

From there, you’ll need to do crunches to maintain a flat belly. The waist size is actually not so important, but a sloppy belly will never do. You can be thick but not flabby. In fact, thick is good, but there must be no jiggle when you cross the room, only a rub: your thighs should rub together, your buttcheeks should rub together (yep, under the Spanx) and your boobs should shift and rub together, too, and all of this should take place tightly bound with tight-fitting clothing. The hair is long and salon-fresh. The nails are manicured. The jewelry is precious stones. There is eyeshadow and false eyelashes.

Though skin tone has nothing to do with silhouette, it’s worth noting that if you have any sort of Mediterranean blood coursing through your veins, you are ahead. Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Albania, Spain — any country that produces tawny or olive-skinned people, these are the most attractive people these days when mixed with white people. Again, this is what I perceive and what I perceived in Newport Beach, CA the other night. I’m not advocating or not-advocating, just reporting.

Of this criteria, I have… Well, it’s not for me to say. I can say I’m about as pasty a white girl as there ever was. And I do not wear Spanx as a matter of principle and mental well-being.

I do have very nice nails, however.

Fons In Love

Love means absolutely saying you're sorry. A lot. Who writes this stuff?
Love means absolutely saying you’re sorry. A lot. Who writes this stuff?

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’m in love.

Given as I am to hyperbole and dramatics, one could read the above sentence and figure I’m in love with a dress, or an author, or a particular kind of squash. But no, I’m in love with a man. It’s happened, and it’s time to say something.

Admitting that you’ve fallen in love is a bit (I hear) like sharing that you’re pregnant: you don’t want to say anything until you’re absolutely sure and everything looks rosy because, you know, things happen. And people are so excited when someone falls in love or gets pregnant because except in a very few sad cases this is a happy occasion. (Sad cases for falling in love include it occuring when you are married to someone else; sad cases for getting pregnant include when you have a gaggle of children already and someone just lost a job. These sorts of things.)

It’s going on five months, now, spending time with this fellow. I reckon that’s about how long it takes to go gaga and see a relationship of consequence grow and inspire. Think about it: one month is just enough time to understand the other person’s job. Two months is great fun but come on. Three months and you’re like, “Hm, now wait a second,” four months is like, “Holy crap, I like you so much and we’re sort of dating,” and entering the fifth month is the bare minimum in terms of acceptability for announcing the world that you’ve gone round the bend and there has been embarrassing levels of eyeball-gazing between the two of you.

Is this all too sterile an analysis? It might even sound defensive. Okay, then forget all that. Let me just tell you about this person.

He’s devastatingly good-looking. (I will spare you details of his perfect smile, his sparkly eyes, his abdominal muscles.) He’s gainfully employed. He’s an excellent writer — perhaps the only “dealbreaker” I have, much as I hate that concept — he’s witty, he’s responsible, he’s way too much fun, he’s trilingual, and ladies? Brace yourself: he’s an accomplished piano player. HE PLAYS THE DAMNED PIANO. Very well, I might add. Oh for heaven’s sake! The moment I witnessed that, I was toast. Toast!

I out with it now because at this point, I’m skipping huge swaths of juicy PaperGirl content for the sake of modesty. But the adventures I’m having with this person are too good not to write about. So here we are.

He’s marvelous. I’m over the moon.

And in a mad change of plans, I’ll be leaving the icy slick of Iowa tomorrow morning on a plane to sun-drenched California. He’s visiting his family there and we’ve been apart almost three weeks. We can’t stand it another minute, so I booked a ticket. When I arrive in Santa Ana at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be the smooch heard ’round the world.

Darling, I’m on my way.

PaperGirl Celebrity Sighting: Simon Doonan!

His tie matches his shirt. His tie matches his shirt!

I wish my interaction with Simon Doonan had taken place today. If it had, I might still be able to pick up a whiff of whatever orchid-root-stem-cell-shea-butter lotion he had on his hands the day I did meet him. But this story is not from my trip to Arizona this week, sadly. When I met Simon Doonan in Scottsdale it was this past June. My story is day-old — but it’s half-price!

Simon Doonan is creative director of Barneys New York. Barneys is a luxury department store with flagship locations in the usual places: Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Omaha, etc. (Okay, not Omaha.) Barneys was founded in 1923 and naturally the high-end retailer has been through all the ups, downs, and way-downs any store would experience over the course of nearly 100 years in business. Through it all, Barneys has remained fabulous.

You know how everyone freaks out about the Macy’s Christmas window displays? Child’s play! Amateurs! As part of his job, Simon Doonan directs the window displays year-round at Barneys (take that, Santa) and they are resplendent n’ transcendent. They shimmer, they shock, they make you look. The scale is enormous or the scale is tiny. The displays poke fun and provoke and they are frequently quite funny. Beyond the windows — literally — Mr. Doonan is in charge of making Barneys Barneys, with its chrome and leather, its glass cases and $3,000 hat racks. When you see a Jimmy Choo delicately perched on a buttery-soft, buff-colored shoe tuffet, think Simon Doonan. He is responsible for the tuffet.

Mr. Doonan an excellent writer on top of all that; look up his work and you won’t be disappointed. He’s also married to designer Jonathan Adler, so if he needs advice when sketching something out, he can just holler from the den.

Okay, okay. So I’m in Arizona last June. I’m in Fashion Square Mall, walking toward Barneys. I’m killing time in the mall, schlepping around, marveling at how a fancy-pants shopping center like Fashion Square in Scottsdale for crying out loud could have such a dismal food court when there, straight ahead, was a man walking toward me who I recognized to be Simon Doonan.

He is a very handsome fellow. Diminutive. Impeccably dressed, naturally, in a velvet jacket — purple, I seem to remember. His hair was coiffed and jaunty. I made a little squeak — I don’t think he heard me — and I smiled a friendly smile. I was genuinely happy to see him. Simon Doonan of all things! He saw me smile and smiled back at me like, “Hm. I know you. Do I know you?”

“Hello,” I said, surprising myself that I was approaching a celebrity. But I had put the ball into play and so I instantly committed to making the interaction not lame. “Gosh, you’re Simon Doonan.”

“Yes, hi,” Simon Doonan said. “Do I know you?”

He really asked me, like he honestly thought he had met me before. Can you imagine how many people this person must meet in a week? Good heavens. I also felt exceptionally happy that I like fashion and tend to dress up “for no reason.” I think there’s always a good reason for fashion. Case in point: you might meet Simon Doonan in the mall. This is one of the many reasons sweatpants will never do. I looked chic and I was glad.

“No, you don’t know me,” I said, “But I know who you are. And I just want to say thank you. Thank you for all that you do to make the world a more beautiful place.”

We both raised our eyebrows. He was surprised to hear that. I was surprised to hear it, too — it was like I had rehearsed my whole life for my 20 seconds with Simon Doonan. It just came out like that, perfectly — and perfectly sincere.

“Well… Well thank you,” he stammered. “That’s… Well, lovely. Are you..?”

He asked what I was doing there, if I was with Barneys, etc., etc., and we chatted briefly. I told him that I was a quilter, a magazine editor, and that I host a show on PBS. He approved of all of this. And I even got a business card into his hand, though I have no doubt he tossed it into a dish of other business cards along with his South African dominoes, solid gold bricks, etc. The junk drawers and catch-all dishes of the fabulously wealthy and stylish contain items we do not posses. I’m resting at the bottom of one of those dishes, I’m afraid: Simon Doonan has not yet asked me to lunch. Still, I consider my moment with him to be a total win. I was not a nerd. I was not weird. I was chill. He invited me to a trunk show or some sort of reception at the store, but I was leaving the next morning.

Mr. Doonan, there’s still time. I’ll be in New York City for six weeks starting at the end of the month. I can tell you all about quilts, we can discuss the food court at Fashion Square Mall, or we could sort business cards and stack your gold bricks while we watch what’s happening on the Paris runways. I’m dying to see, aren’t you?

I’m also very good at drinking Champagne. I also would like to gauge your interest in me doing a capsule collection of quilts for Barneys. That is all.

5 Ways To See The West

"Desert Girl 3," by Gastounette.
“Desert Girl 3,” by Gastounette.

I may be done with Arizona, but Arizona might not be done with me.

This morning, they cancelled my flight. When I checked in for the replacement, the Phoenix Airport ticket lady gave me a warning. “There’s weather in Chicago,” she said. “We can’t guarantee your flight will take off. The airline assumes responsibility to get you into Chicago, um, eventually, but assumes no outside costs for necessary accommodations or meals.” One might put it another way: “You’re on your own, kid. The days of ‘Here’s a burrito punch card and a straw mat at the Holiday Inn Express’ are extremely over. Take care. Next customer please step up?”

To pass the time, I’ve been working. I’ve also been looking out the panes of huge floor-to-ceiling glass here in Terminal 3 because the desert’s out there and there’s no better place to look than that.

It’s odd, but there’s something in me that doesn’t want to love the desert. Whither this ridiculous feeling? I intensely dislike “Southwestern-style” artwork, with the howling dog silhouettes and the tutti-frutti sunsets and all those terra cotta jars, but can that really be my problem? It doesn’t seem fair to dismiss an entire landmass because of a few cheesy art galleries. Is my resistance to falling head over heels for the desert born out of my love of oak trees and the lushness of land near the Mississippi? There is no oak, no mighty river out here. As I look out across the sand, I feel perhaps that it’s not the desert itself that I love: it’s the West. From Cali to just before Kansas, baby. I am in love with it.

And could you blame me.

Grand Canyon
In 2004, my friend Sarah and I hiked Grand Canyon for six days. We hiked down, down, down into the rocks, we camped in a tent, we cooked beans in a tin. We talked. Nietzsche said that “The best thoughts are conceived while walking” and hiking through a field of daisies with Sarah, yes. We skinny-dipped in an ice-cold stream at the bottom of the canyon. That day, the light was silver and we were gold.

Tuscon, Arizona
A rodeo. I watched the riders with the wide-eyed fascination and glee of a six-year-old at Disney. This was when I was married. My former husband and I had a ball. We ate a whole bucket of buttery popcorn, he had a couple beers. The smell of horse manure mixed with the smell of Tuscon cowboys and those horses! Bucking and throwing and running, running in the ring. The only thing more exhilarating was the endless, dusky sky above us. We saw the stars come out.

Las Vegas, Nevada
Last year, I understood how to love Las Vegas: you gotta open your hands and turn your wrists up, so that Vegas can bind you with its rope. If you let it do that, Vegas will lead you around and you won’t trip, but you must submit. Don’t fight the lights. Bring your bathing suit. The moment you moralize, you are at odds. Be one with the hammer. You’ll dig the hit.

Somewhere Outside Sacramento
College, 1998. I went with my new college BFFs to Sacramento to visit my aunt and uncle for spring break. We drank fresh orange juice on the terrace and smoked cigars at night. Madonna’s Ray of Light album had been released. We listened to that single on blast, over and over and over in our rented pick-up truck, flying down Interstate 5. I still remember Nellie’s blonde hair whipping and I remember Scott just laughing.

Denver and Boulder, CO
I flew in to visit my high school girlfriend. I remember coming up out of the bowl of Denver and how the whole place seemed dove gray, steely. Then on into Boulder and the rolling green of it all. The air was better than anyplace I had ever been.

See ya later, cactus-gator.

:: plane takes off ::

This Be The Flight.

It all looks so civilized.


I’ve said it, I’ll keep saying it: I love airports and I love flying in airplanes.

Flying around is one of my favorite things and that’s lucky because I’m set to jet all over the place approximately twice a month starting now and going through June, give or take a take off. Why, just the other day, I remarked to myself, “Self, it sure is great, flying around in the sky. Airplanes are the best!”

It was as though an evil airplane jinn heard me, rubbed his naughty hands together, and cackled, “Ooh-hoo! Well, let’s have a little fun, shall we?” My flight to Arizona yesterday was comically bad. I’m still laughing. And crying. And laughing. Mostly crying.

I fly Southwest almost exclusively. At this point, I’m putting several Southwest kids through college and thus have been granted “A-List” status. This means I get to choose my seat early in the queue, which has never been that big of a perk for me, as I am one of the only people I know who kinda likes a middle seat up at the front; A-List or not, I rarely don’t get a seat I’m okay with. But yesterday, I decided to use my Fancy Pants Status and take a coveted place by the window to see how the other half lives.

The moment I took my seat, I saw that I had made a terrible mistake. I had trapped myself in a cage of pain.

The pain began with the squalling — but it wasn’t a baby. Rather, it wasn’t just a baby.

It was a family, in the row in front of me and to my right. A family of screeching humans who, the entire time we were joined together in that unholy, winged union, yelled, insulted, and ignored each other into a frenzy. There were so many of them. Grandpop and Grammy. Mom. Brother. Uncle. Baby. And then there was Gracie. We’ll get to Gracie.

Watching this family interact could short-out wires in a normal person’s head. The social contract meant nothing to them.

Now, it’s a delicate thing, sharing the defining physical characteristic of my fellow journeymen, but it’s a fact: they were enormous. All of them, except the baby and Gracie — we’ll get to Gracie — demanded seatbelt extenders, which speaks to their size. Pointing out their obesity is not a condescension: it’s a problem. It was for me, anyway, because I was claustrophobically wedged in the onboard land they had claimed. The two square-feet of space I had for the next four hours had been drastically compromised. No one in the family was able to reach a decision about seating. Everyone changed their seat twice in twenty minutes, including Gracie — and we’ll get to Gracie. This seat-changing meant that the Doe Family girth was continually heaved up, over, down and back up again and I was tossed, tossed like a smelt upon the sea.

But I’m cool. It’s gotta be tough to travel with a big (!) family. But then Grandpop was extremely rude to the airline attendant and this I could not forgive. The pleasant-but-weary Southwest employee made a comment about moving to the side to let other travelers board and Grandpop, in a mean voice honed over years of practice barked, “Oh, relax, honey.” My blood boiled. My shackles shot up. My hyena-sense was in the fully upright and locked position. Oh no you don’t, you [REDACTED.] I bit my tongue and withheld the desire to punch the back of his seat. It was at that point the flight attendant spoke to the family. What she said proves this story is not a dramatization. The woman calmly stepped over to the family and said:

“Folks? There’s an easy way to do this and a hard way. You all have done it about as hard as I’ve ever seen. Take your seats. Now.”

I have a theory as to why it was so bad, pretty flight attendant lady. Her name is Gracie.

That toe-headed girl of six was a genius. She was running the entire show. From the pink barrettes in her pigtails to the purple laces on her shoes, that Damienette was 100% committed to fulfilling her needs 100% of the time and she was doing a fine, fine job of it. She was a puppet master, I tell you. One scream, one caterwaul, one throw of her stupid video game at her mother’s head and it was, “Gracie, honey, what do you need, sweetheart?” and the steady stream of “Gracie! Stop it! Gracie! Sit down! Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! Gracie! Gracie!” only served her purpose. Her bad behavior whipped her family further into a hot, smelly lather, making it easier for her to work her dark magic. (I think her goal was candy, but it was still dark magic.)*

We took off. And it didn’t get better. It got worse. Because that’s when the farting began.

I gasped when the first one hit. ‘Twas an evil stench; Macbethian in its foulness. I covered my nose and held my breath and tried to keep reading my book. But then, a few minutes later, another assault. I sat up, ramrod straight with a wild look in my eyes. “No!” I cried. “No, no, no!” The gal across the aisle looked over at me and then her eyes widened and she slapped her hands over her face. She smelled it. She was in this with me. (“This” = fart fog.)

Spluttering, choking, I folded myself in half to get to my wrap, which was under the seat in front of me — Grandpop’s seat, which was the source of the issue, if you know what I mean. I held my breath and dove down, grabbed the blue-and-white polka-dotted material and wrapped it around my head, making sure I had two layers at my nose. I spent the entire flight in a burka because Grandpop spent the entire flight as he spends it in his easy chair back home. Farting. Under a rock.

A bad flight can’t make me not love flying, but that was a rough one, comrades. When I told a friend about the experience, he gave me a tool to use the next time it’s that bad. He reminded me of the advice Queen Victoria gave her daughters on each of their wedding nights:

Lie back, grit your teeth, and think of England.


*Gracie is why I get scared to have kids. My kid won’t be like Gracie but my kid might meet Gracie and I love my hypothetical kid and would like to see him/her not be pushed to his/her death by a sociopath named Gracie.

New Year’s Alarums + Excursions

Find this lovely computer wallpaper -- free of charge -- on this equally lovely website:
So elegant! Go to for a free download of this wallpaper. This is not an ad, I just like this wallpaper.

I made noise some time ago about whooping it up in Miami for New Year’s Eve. If “whooping it up” means “nursing the same glass of wine for several hours” and “”Miami” is “my condo,” that’s just what I did.

No, there was no bacchanal in a Cuban mafia-run nightclub this year; my party pal had a project at work that interfered. I can’t say I was horribly bummed not to go, however. The trouble with going to a nightclub, Miamian or otherwise, is that you have to actually enter the thing (see: bouncers, loud girls who are twenty-two, cover charge) and eventually you have to exit it (see: bouncers, puking girls who are twenty-two, empty wallets.) My friend and I stayed in Chicago and just plain stayed in. He had a slight fever and I had a quilt top to finish. Party. Animals.

But being in a quiet place meant that I heard the sounds of Chicago when the clock struck midnight and was reminded of a cultural meme that has died: the sporadic midnight cheer across the city.

Now that most of America has smartphones, we’re all on the same clock. When my phone clicks from 11:59pm to 12:00am, so does yours, regardless of the operating system or the service provider. Midnight is midnight is midnight. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, my phone clicked to 12:00, Jan. 1, 2014 and the moment it did, the city outside my window erupted in fireworks, hollering, whooping, cheering, noisemaking — all from various condo balconies and down in the streets, at exactly the same moment. The city felt the moment together because we were all together in time.

But it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, it’s only recently changed.

It used to be that you’d get a bunch of “Yeah! Hap-ee Nuuu-yeeer!” cheers from over here; a few seconds later, another crop from across the street. Then, falling over each other, in a kind of round, the alarums would fall over each other and you would reach a kind of critical mass of celebration. There might even be a few stragglers, sending cheers up a minute or two late, which only prolonged the moment for everyone, which was fine. More kissing.

That’s over, now. I’m not the sort of person who thinks “the good old days” were that terribly good; I’m a fan of science and progress. But we do lose things in the march. While it’s nice to hear everyone hosanna-ing on cue, it was also nice to hear a collection of hosannas, all a little different, all a little off.


A Colonial American Cure All.

posted in: Food, New York City, Tips 0
These cures, they are suspect.
I blame voodoo!

I was felled on the last day of the Christmas trip.

A 24-hour flu bug is a nasty thing, indeed. I suppose anyone over the age of 3 months has had it in some strain or another. The version I had yesterday bestowed a virtual tango of hot-cold, hot-cold on my plagued, aching body. I spent the entire day — and I do mean the entire day — on my sister’s couch, audibly moaning in anguish. Though my frequent trips to the bathroom were rather…undignified, I did manage to keep down sips of water.

“What did you say?” my sister asked from the kitchen. I was flat on my back, staring at the ceiling.

“Oh god,” I croaked. And then softly to myself, “I’m dying.”

“You’re not dying,” my sister said, coming in with a mug. “This’ll put you right, she said. “It’s an old colonial America cure all.”

I opened one eye. “What is it?”


“But what is it?” If it’s possible to glower with just one eye, I was. The mug was steaming and smelt of the dark arts.

“Dude, I’m serious.”

I put the cup to my lips and a took a hot sip. “Gah!” I cried and recoiled into a cocktail shrimp.

We’ve come a long way since colonial America and I for one am quite happy about that. While DayQuil is awful and NyQuil is worse, they don’t taste like thick, lemony-cinnamon death — which is what Switchel tastes like. Nan told me the stuff is made with apple cider vinegar which explains the stinging, burning sensation I felt in my nose whenever I brought the mug to my face. I made a valiant effort and took most of the mysterious elixir. I couldn’t make it to the bottom of the cup because I would’ve needed a fork and they were all in the dishwasher.

My sister consumes strange things. While she was preparing the Switchel, I heard a loud pop! and looked over to see a can of white goo literally explode in her hands. She had purchased coconut probiotic yogurt called “CocoYo.” She takes droplets of rock juice each day. Rock juice is something that oozes from a rock in the Himalayas, I believe. There’s coffee flax (?) in her cupboard, a selection of unusual rice, and many other unidentifiable jars of things that would frighten small children.

The plague has abated and perhaps it’s due to the Switchel, perhaps it’s just time. I’m composing this on a morning plane back to Chicago and when I get home, I plan to jump into my day as fully as I can. Nothing helps me feel better after a plague than good old-fashioned bootstrap-pulling.

Bootstrap pulling –> bootblack calling –> blackstrap molasses –> backscatter scanning –> the end.

Two Turtledoves.

posted in: Family, New York City 1
These are two happy people.
These are two happy people.

Tonight, my sister Rebecca, and Jack, her boyfriend of several years, got engaged. He got on one knee at Grand Central Station here in New York City and opened the ring box. When Rebecca was a kid, she and Mom visited NYC and when they went into Grand Central, my sister burst into tears at the beauty of it. Jack knew that story; now my sister’s got two great “I cried in Grand Central” stories to tell. When Jack asked her, she said, famously:

“Are you doing this right now? Are you doing this? Are you doing this right now?”

Congratulations, turtledoves. This is just the beginning.

Greetings From New York.

Why try?
Why try?

I wrote a poem for my friend Billy years ago. It goes like this:

In New York,
I think of you;
When I am,
I always do.

To tell the tale of this poem, however, we must leave New York for a moment and return to Chicago. When I moved to the city in 2001, I found a decent studio apartment for an unheard-of $420/mo. A year into my life there, Billy called to say he was moving to Chicago too. I felt like I had won the lottery. I was really lonely. Bill and I had met in college and instantly liked each other a lot. He was a tousled musician, I was… Well, it’s up to him to describe a junior co-ed me. But we bonded on enough occasions to become bonafide friends.

When he was on his way here, I nabbed him a unit in my building, so we were sort of like roommates except I didn’t have to wash his dishes, which was for the best. And so it was in the early 2000s, Billy and I were the best of friends during some tough times. We were both struggling to carve out lives in Chicago and we clung to each other. We never dated. We were just…Mary and Bill. He wrote songs. I wrote poems. We both worked nights: he worked the desk at a mental health facility on the west side; I worked coat check at a couple nightclubs downtown. We were simply there for each other, and even though he’d disappear for awhile or I would, we always came back together just in time.


Today, Billy is in a rock band that is doing very, very well. It was always so clear that that was exactly what he would do with his life. We always knew. And I always knew that it wouldn’t be long before I was making a living doing what I loved — and we were right about that, too. By 2005, I was a full-time freelancer, writing and performing; no waitressing or coat-checking needed.

So why is the poem about New York?

Because some of the best memories I have of New York City involve Billy. It hasn’t happened in a long time, but for years of our lives, even before that important time in Chicago, we would frequently end up in New York at the same time. And we’d connect and have an adventure, some bacchanalian night that ended up with him driving me in his red car to wherever I was staying. Sometimes we’d make out. Sometimes we wouldn’t. But there was always love, always creativity, inspiration, and learning.

One night, in Times Square, we were walking around. It started to rain. Billy was a few paces ahead of me. Suddenly, he turned around and grabbed me by the face and kissed me full on the mouth. He pulled back from me and smiled this huge smile and said,

“This the first night of the rest of our lives, baby.”

And we walked into the blur of Times Square, into the city, into the night. I’m pretty sure we were holding hands.

In New York,
I think of you;
When I am,
I always do.


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"Rick, this is Mary. Mary, Rick. Oh, and there's Dave! Dave, this is Mary, and this is Rick. You see Gina or Rob? I think they're here. Mary, Gina and Rob are..."
“Rick, this is Mary. Mary, Rick. Oh, and there’s Dave! Dave, this is Mary, and this is Rick. You see Gina or Rob? I think they’re here. Mary, Gina and Rob are friends of Rick’s. They’re here from Cincinnati — Rob is hilarious! Who wants shots?!”

I live within spittin’ distance of Chicago’s legendary downtown Hilton hotel. The Beaux-Arts-style building takes up a whole city block; there are over 1,500 rooms! It has some neat history, too: every U.S. president since 1927 has stayed there, and someone recently told me that when the riots broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, so much tear gas was used by police on the protestors in Grant Park that the gas made its way inside the Hilton, where Hubert Humphrey was taking a shower. Sorry, dude.

The sky-high lobbies inside are gorgeous, especially this time of year; the whole place is festooned with pine bunting and poinsettias and twinkly lights aglow. There’s a towering Christmas tree inside the main entrance, too. Yesterday, I saw a kid nearly fall over backward while he looked up at it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working over there during the day. I’ve found an even better spot: downstairs, in front of the lounge fireplace. I go over each day and the first thing I do, the very first thing, is go to the hotel event screen. This is the big screen near the bank of elevators that tells what conventions are being held that day at the Hilton. (Though there are two hotels in the city with more rooms, nobody has more meeting or event space than my Hilton.) Nothing but nothing entertains me more than looking at a list of what people congregate to talk about. Here’s who’s meeting at the Hilton this week:

E & J Gallo Winery
Customer Supply Chain Connection, University of Chicago
The Mid-American Competing Band Directors Association (MACBDA)
Thompson Holiday Event

I love it! I love to think about a band director literally bumping into a wine salesperson in the long line at the interior Starbucks. She spills her latte on him, he’s nice about it, they laugh about holiday craziness and bam! They fall in love. Years later, at a party, they recount the tale to their friend Julie. And now, a short play.

The Hilton Made Me Love You
A play by Mary Fons (c) 2013

(A party.)

SUE: Darling, why don’t you tell it?
CHARLES: Tell what?
SUE: How we met. Julie wants to know.
JULIE: Tell, tell!
CHARLES: (beaming at SUE.) Well… We were in Chicago.
JULIE: I love Chicago!
CHARLES: We do too, don’t we darling?
SUE: Oh, Charles!
CHARLES: I was there for Gallo. Sue was there for MACBDA, if you can believe it.
SUE: Back when I was still a band director! Isn’t it incredible?
JULIE: I’m so glad you moved into aeronautics.
SUE: Me too. Go on, sweetheart.
CHARLES: We were in line at the Starbucks and Sue bumped into me. She spilled her entire latte all over my shoes. It was an absolute disaster.
SUE: (swatting him.) It wasn’t the whole latte!
CHARLES: It was an entire latte.
SUE: Oh, you!
CHARLES: We got to talking. Sue actually got on her knees to wipe the milk off my shoes and we started laughing… Honey, that was the first day of the rest of my life.
SUE: (with a wink.) Room 1423?
JULIE: (gasps.) You didn’t!
CHARLES: Thirty years later, you’re still the girl of my dreams.
SUE: Charles, you’re my hero.

(CHARLES and SUE embrace, kiss. End of play.) 



Notice happy chap, downstage left.
The Swing,”  by John-Honore Fragonard, 1767. Notice happy fellow downstage left. He’s there for the view, I’m guessing.

Yesterday I swung on a swing. I swang. I love to swang almost as much as I love to ice skate. “Swang” is not a word according to my spellcheck, which is going nuts. But I think it should be a word, so take that, spellcheck.

In the afternoon, I went with my friend Sonja and her little boy to see Redmoon Theater’s Winter Pageant, an annual show heavy on glowy tableaus, light on coherence. No matter; the kids love it. As is customary for Redmoon, when the show is over, the audience is invited to hang out, touch the actors (!) and explore the set. It’s cool. They had rigged up several swings on loooong chains in the huge warehouse that serves as their performance space. My 5-year-old comrade took to them at once. The middle swing was a two-seater so at his request, Aunt May-May hopped on with him. He calls me “Aunt May-May.” I call him lots of loving things, e.g., “Squirt,” “Captain Bunker,” etc.

Sonja gave us a push. We kicked our legs. We sailed over the theater seats, whooshing back, then plunging headlong into space. I looked over at his tow-head and said, “Hold on tight, Babycakes.”

The last time I was on a swing I was home in Iowa. My mother and I had had words and this happens so rarely, I was quite upset. When our conversation had reached a fevered pitch, I tersely excused myself, put on my sneakers, and literally took off running. I ran to the city park, trying to calm down and expend (destroy) my unpleasant energy. Halfway through the park loop I spied the swings up on the hill. I turned on my heel and jogged up to them. Man, did I ever swing. I went so high on the swingset that the chains went slack at the top; this harshed my mellow a bit — I like my skull and would like to keep it from splashing onto park district gravel. I pulled back and settled into a blissful rhythm. I probably swang for a half hour, letting the wind rush past my ears on the back push, feeling my heart in my chest when I cut through the air to go forward.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion. A kid on a swing tends to want to stay there all night. A fight with a parent is usually over something important. Dusk in Iowa in June is heartbreakingly beautiful. Theater is relevant, but only to some people.

These are things we know.



posted in: Chicago, Fashion, Travel, Work 10
"The Chess Players" Lucas van Leyden, 1508
“The Chess Players” Lucas van Leyden, 1508. (The chick is winning.)

I cannot stay in my home when the second phase of the renovation begins and so I am leaving on a jet plane. I will go to Miami, then Las Vegas, then Iowa, then New York City, in that order, and you’re coming with me.

First, I should say that the bathroom looks incredible and it’s not even finished. The Greek key tile inlay is exquisite and now that it’s done, the rest of the bathroom will go quickly, but this means that the kitchen is about to be dismantled with sledgehammers and picks and slathered with dry wall and plaster and wet tile goo and mortar and sweat. The dust produced by the bathroom work over these weeks has threatened to choke me dead or drive me insane for the simple reason that my house has become impossible to clean. A visible layer of powdered wall daily sifts itself down upon my books, my tables, my quilts (!) and no amount of dusting, wiping, swabbing, etc., ameliorates the situation for more than a matter of hours. The kitchen is twice the size of the bathroom and the thought of doubling my already sisyphean dusting attempts creates in my brain uncomfortable, hula hoop-like gyrations. I work from home, for heaven’s sake. There is no escape here. So I will leave.

Signs point to Miami for New Year’s, which I’m excited for; I’ve never been and wanna see the art. I’ll be in Las Vegas for just a few days in mid-January, randomly; I actually have a a mild affinity for Vegas — all those feathers! Then I think I should head over to Iowa and work in the magazine office for a spell; good for the job, good for the team, good for the parental units who live in town, as well. And then, if a few things fall into place, I’ll be off to New York City, where I’ll stay with my older sister and eat lots of chickpea crust pizza in the East Village and visit my favorite resale shops that sell used Balenciaga at 80% off 60% off. Only in New York can you get an exquisite Dries Van Noten, bias-cut, asymmetrical cape-coat-pantaloon, used, for $85 bucks. Combien j’aime la mode…

So. You wanna go?

You’ll see Miami through my virgin eyes. You’ll see Vegas through a filter of someone who’s a) been there before and b) never gambles. You’ll see Iowa; glorious, quotidian Iowa where there are only feathers on the birds, thereby giving us more opportunity for reflection and rest (a good thing after Miami and Vegas to be sure.) And then New York City, the huge, glittering onyx in Earth’s fancy cocktail ring.* Oh, it will all be a gas and I do so love to see new things and write it all down. We’ll have fun, you and me, and when I come home, the bathroom and kitchen will be done.

I have some packing to do.

*In fact, I am headed to New York on the 20th of this month, as well. The Fons Family is having Christmas in NYC this year, so if you read this blog regularly, you’ll get plenty of New York stories over the holiday; this may come in handy if you’re stuck in Boise and need something sensational to read. 

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