When Nostalgia Hits: Greetings From Washington.

posted in: D.C., Washington | 10
The Cleveland Park stop on the D.C. Metro's Red Line. That was my stop. Photo: Wikipedia.
The Cleveland Park stop on the D.C. Metro’s Red Line. That was my stop. I stood right there. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

Keeping a blog for as long as I have kept the ol’ PG means learning something about content balance. I know not to get too goofy or flip in post after post (you won’t take me seriously); nor do I allow myself to be too dark or dour for long stretches (hello, Eeyore.) Varying the subject matter is intentional, but it’s not insincere: I simply try to write the kind of blog I would like to read, namely, one that makes me laugh and then cry and then laugh again. That’s why you get PG posts about sweetened condensed milk, then something about love, then death, and so on.

Tonight, I felt very sad. When I knew that I wanted to blog about this sadness because writing helps me understand things, I thought, “Well, you can’t write about that. You were sad in Berlin and that was only a few weeks ago. And you were sad when you wrote The Big Post. You had just better find something else to write about.”

But that’s wrong. Texture and balance is good, but you and I both deserve honesty, whatever that looks like. Besides, a “real” post about being sad is going to be ten times better than a hollow one with a nice little bow on it. That’s always going to be true.

I got sad because I’m in Washington, D.C. tonight. I’m glad to be here, but it’s just so heavy. As many of you know, I lived in this city for about a year-and-a-half between 2013-2015. (If you’re new around here, start here. If you’re not new around here, remember when I moved into the Kennedy Warren?)

I’ve come for a conference held by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). The graduate writers at SAIC are encouraged to come to this annual event to learn more about the business of writing; there are about ten of us here. When I heard about AWP a few months back and saw that it was to be in D.C. this year, I knew it would be strange to be back in the city for the weekend, but I ponied up for the ticket, anyway. I arrived this afternoon, went to my hotel, and promptly took a two-hour nap. I was tired, sure, but I think I was also zapping myself out, giving myself a psychic break. I self-zapped.

After a reading event this evening, I had a lovely dinner with a fellow grad and then bid adieu to the group. I hailed a taxi and as we sped through the streets of Washington, D.C., I watched the world zip by. I saw monuments and U Street and 14th Street and Dupont Circle. I saw a whole world I used to inhabit, a world I almost committed to completely, a world that imprinted itself upon me and I upon it. There in the taxi, Mozart playing on the radio, my scarf wrapped around my neck, my hands shoved deep in my wool coat pockets, my chest constricted and my throat tightened; I felt my heart flutter and my eyes began to burn and there it was: I began to cry.

I cried because I loved it here and I forgot just how much. I cried because it was all so confusing, that whole time.

I cried because some information passes through the mind and never, ever sticks — the name of that one neighbor, locker combinations, dates of various revolutions, etc. — and some information you never, ever think you’ll ever need to access again but then there you are, speeding into Georgetown, and you’re flooded with a hundred thousand impressions indelibly made when the world was different and you were different within it. This poem of mine gets at some of the emotions I’m talking about.

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll see a duck or a funny hat (or a duck in a funny hat) and I’ll be moved to write about that; tonight, it’s all the bygone cherry orchards and the cobblestones I adored.

Heaviest Research Project Ever: The AIDS Quilt

posted in: Art, Quilting, Washington | 1
Rally flyer for AIDS activists in California, c. 1985. Image: Wikipedia
Rally flyer for AIDS activists in California, c. 1989. Image: Wikipedia

It’s surprising how infrequently the AIDS Memorial Quilt comes up among quilters. That’s not an admonishment, it’s just my experience. I realized recently the only time I talk about the AIDS Memorial Quilt is when a person outside the quilt world (someone on an airplane, maybe) says something like, “You make quilts? That’s cool. Hey, what about that AIDS quilt? What happened with that? Are people still doing it?” For a long time, I’ve cocked my head and gone, “Yeah, the AIDS Quilt. I need to check up on that, actually.”

No kidding, Ms. Ima Quilter.

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (usually referred to as “The AIDS Quilt”) was launched by The NAMES Project in 1987. If you follow the timeline of the Great American Quilt Revival, the AIDS Quilt was a significant moment in the third phase of it. Quilts were back in the cultural landscape and the quilt industry was booming.

And people were dying of HIV/AIDS. Dying within months of a diagnosis. Dying without any medical care to speak of. Many were dying alone, rejected by society — even by their own families. Entire communities, friend groups, clubs, were wiped out by a disease that no one understood or could control. Look:

1981 –> 159 deaths
1982 –> 618 deaths
1983 –> 2,118 deaths
1984 –> 5,596 deaths
1985 –> 12,529 deaths

The first time President Reagan said the word “AIDS” in public was 1986. Friends, lovers, partners, teachers, doctors, neighbors, artists, businesspeople, servicemen and servicewomen — these were the people dying every day, but nothing but silence came from people in power. This was “the gay cancer.” The sorrow, silence, rage, fear, and helplessness, this drove those whose lives had been touched by the ghostly hand of AIDS to take action. Money was raised, initiatives were launched to increase awareness about the disease and promote safer sex; there were marches in the streets, pleas in Washington from parents who were burying their children.

What else? What else can ever be done to make sense of senseless horror? What would you do if six of your closest friends died in a single month? If you got diagnosed today with a fast-moving disease with a 100% mortality rate? What would you do to show people in charge that you and your people are literally dying for help?

The AIDS Quilt, a handmade tribute to those who had so far died of HIV/AIDS, was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington DC in 1987. On that day, there were thousands of panels in the quilt, which was as large as two city blocks. More than 2,000 names were written, painted, stitched, pressed, glued, poured into the fabric. Many names on the quilt were only first names, as the shame of being gay was too much for the families who still needed to memorialize their beloved son* with a panel in the softest biggest memorial in American history.

It’s hard to research this. It’s more than that: it’s devastating. The pictures from the hospitals. The testimonials. The statistics. I’m lucky, though: I’m not researching the AIDS epidemic, I’m researching the AIDS Quilt. The quilt is doing for me what it was created to do: it takes sadness and reshapes it into hope in the human race in the fight against pestilence and suffering. Over 48,000 panels have been made today; pieces of the largest quilt in the world travel around the globe to raise awareness that HIV/AIDS has no cure and help people understand how not to get the disease. The quilt continues to grow, even as HIV/AIDS treatments are light years ahead of where they were when the first panels were made.

The lecture will be finished this summer. I hope the sorrow that led to the AIDS Quilt doesn’t keep people from to requesting it. The AIDS Quilt is not a gravestone; it’s a celebration of life.

*AIDS did not claim — and does not claim, present tense — only homosexual male lives. Children, as well as women both gay and straight were/are casualties, too. The majority of the victims at the time of the first unfurling of the quilt, however, were gay men.

 

 

Miss District of Columbia.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Me, July 2015.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo: Me, July 2015.

Six days — six days — from right now, I’ll be back in Chicago. It has been such a long, long, long, long and incredible trip. God, I’ve loved living in Washington, DC. It carried me so far and I loved where we went. My darling, a short list of what I’ll miss the most.

– The scent of my tenth-floor apartment: fresh paint, trees, French perfume, clean air.

– The drive to Ronald Reagan National Airport from my building. The taxi takes me the length of Rock Creek Parkway and it’s like driving through the countryside, right there in the city.

– The macaroons of consequence at Firehook Bakery. Baseball-sized, dipped in dark chocolate. With a cup of black coffee, my favorite breakfast.

– How when you turn a corner or approach a park, another bronze or marble memorial greets you and you appreciate the artists who carved the art, the humans who carved the country, and time that carves the rest.

– Mr. Lumbibi, my favorite of the Kennedy Warren front desk staff. He always asks me where I’m off to when he sees me lugging suitcases. John’s usually on the night shift.

– The view of the Klingle Valley outside my window. Cue tears. That’s one’s gonna hurt.

– The opportunity to get closer to Elle, to Carissa, to Carla, the gorgeous girls I met at the DC Modern Quilt Guild and never spent enough time with while I was here.

– The National Gallery.

– Le Diplomat, the perfect French Bistro: I went on three different dates there and the Lyonnaise salad is the best I’ve ever had, especially with a glass (fine: two) of Charles Hiedsieck Brut Reserve NV.

– The Mid-Atlantic weather. I am going back to Chicago at the worst time possible, weather-wise. Great, Fons. Very nice.

– Dropping my mail through the mail chute. It goes all the way to the lobby! I love that!

– Telling people, “I live in Washington, D.C.” It always sounded amazing. And it was.

The Game Plan, and Adorable Things He Says.

This post is not about Quilt Market, but I gotta post this picture! Brian Wacaster and Terri Thom from Springs Creative with our Best Merchandising Award.
This post is not about Quilt Market, but look: Brian Wacaster and Terri Thom from Springs Creative with our Best Merchandising Award!

There are a number of booth awards handed out at the show each year; this afternoon, the Mary Fons Small Wonders booth won the Best Merchandising Award, which to me is one of the best awards to get, of course. It means your concept was clear, your goods were presented exactly they way they should have been for ultimate easy-viewing and shopping enjoyment, your design was pitch-perfect and, frankly, that you got good taste. Thank you to the Academy — I mean the judges — and thank you to the whole Springs team. We did it!

But enough of all that for a moment. It’s impossible to believe while it’s happening, but there is a world beyond Quilt Market. Indeed, it’s good to remember that. The show is over tomorrow afternoon. Dust will settle. Everyone just calm down. This means me.

In less than a month, I’ll be opening my Chicago door. Claus is going to help me with the move, which is even better than winning the award today — that’s saying a lot. I cannot lift any more boxes by myself. I won’t make it. The last time I moved (the fourth time) I was carrying a too-heavy box and the bottom fell out in the hallway. Everything spilled out. I cursed the best one-word curse you can curse, then I sank to my knees to put things back together.

“I can’t do this alone anymore,” I said out loud. “I need help. I need a partner.” After I said that, well, it was Miss Mary’s Pity Party and I invited all my friends and no one came, boo-hoo, boo-hoo.

I don’t have a partner but I do have Claus*. He’s going to fly to Washington and help me drive a small truck from Point A to B. He grew up on a farm in Germany. He is very tall. He is very efficient (see: Germany). He says adorable things, so if he drops a box on my foot, I can’t be mad at him. Examples of adorable things:

1. When we have an argument: “Are you mad on me?”

2. When figuring out logistics: “If we must be at the airport at 7am, we must stand up at 5am. Oh, god…”
To say stand up is brilliant; wake up doesn’t mean much. Until you stand up, you’re not going anywhere. Isn’t that great??

3. When I whisper something sexy to him when we’re out getting sandwiches: “Mary, please do not say forbidden things.” 

I know. It’s so hot.

Anyway, the move is happening in the middle of the month next month and you may have noticed that it is almost next month. I have a number of jobs before this happens and I’m even hesitant to say so; it appears I can only do things the hard way. But I didn’t plan on moving home next month, so I’ll be going to Williamsburg, Denver, and Charleston before Claus and I get in that truck. It’s a good thing I’m so deliriously happy about going home or I’d have to lie on the couch for a few days just staring at the ceiling, eating packets of instant miso soup mix by licking my finger and sticking it in the pouch.

*It’s complicated.

“IT WAS LIKE A DRAGON” – A Short Play By Mary Fons

17th Century engraving of a Griffin, image courtesy Wikipedia.
17th Century engraving of a Griffin, image courtesy Wikipedia.

Below is a conversation I heard tonight as I waited for the east elevator here at the beautiful Kennedy Warren. In case you are just joining us, my towering, Art Deco, super-historic building borders the Smithsonian National Zoo. My neighbors are animals. From time to time, one can hear the call of the wild when heading out to the store or opening the window for some fresh air. And now:

IT WAS LIKE A DRAGON:
A short play by Mary Fons

Woman 1: It was like a dragon. 

Woman 2: A what?

Woman 1: A dragon

Woman 2: Maybe it was a wild boar. They’ve got the wild boars out right now.

Woman 1: I don’t know…

Woman 2: Maybe it was just the zebras. You know how they’re always going on. 

Woman 1: Oh, god. The zebras are like — 

Woman 2: It was probably a boar.

Woman 1: Fine, but it sounded like a dragon.

THE END

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.

 

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.

posted in: Day In The Life, Paean, Washington | 0
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!

posted in: Art, D.C., Day In The Life, Tips, Washington | 0
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. 

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!

Facebook, You Dog!

posted in: Travel, Washington | 0
Thankfully, I do not have even half this amount to pack. Photo: Steve Ryan, 2006.
I do not have even half this amount to pack. I also don’t have my couch, yet. Photo: Steve Ryan, 2006.

My Facebook page seems to be down. I have sent an email to Facebook, but ironically, Facebook does not have an actual face. My filled-out online form may be swimming in the Facebook Sea. Until someone  who is not a robot gets back to me, forgive me for the non-updates.

For now, enjoy the above photo of a house being packed up. Do you know what I did today? I packed up my house. My move is in two phases: move my things to my new place (Phase 1) and fetch my belongings from Chicago (Phase 2).

I’m very good at packing these days. Tomorrow night, I sleep in my treehouse. I sleep to wake to a view of the Klingle Valley. I wake to boxes to unpack, yes, but I wake to sunshine. I know, because I checked the forecast.

Goodnight, box. Oh, and the Facebook page. I’ll get to is as soon as I can, and that’s a gay-run-tee!

I Am Not Moving To Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Court House. Photo: Wikipedia
Philadelphia Court House. Photo: Wikipedia

I’m in Philadelphia. Just one night to see a good friend.

Sometimes, when I have to make a big decision, I am comforted by going through options that are not on the table. In short order, I must make the decision, once and for all, whether I’m going back to Chicago or staying in Washington. Before I list a few options I can cross out, let’s review why I am in Washington at all. (It’s so interesting: when I tell people I live in D.C., they almost always go, “D.C.?? How in the world did you end up there?” I like to tell them that I’m planning to run for president, but then I say that I’m kidding and I go through the story.)

1. I lived in beautiful Chicago, in my home in the South Loop.
2. I met Yuri, a Russian bitcoin speculator with a heart of gold who can play classical piano. We began to love each other very much.
3. Yuri got a job at an exciting startup in New York City.
4. Working, as I do, for myself, I have the ability to work from anywhere. Having, as I did, fond feelings for New York, Yuri and I said, “Let’s go together! Just for a year, see how we like it.”
5. I rented out my condo for a year, put things in storage, and moved to the East Village with 1/3 of my worldly possessions.
6. I detested living in New York City. It felt like I was at a crowded outdoor music festival all the time. I really, really hate outdoor music festivals. I became depressed.
7. Yuri and I, though we loved each other very much, broke up for reasons that people always break up: irreconcilable differences. We became depressed.
8. Having no love for New York and no workable love in New York, and essentially being in exile from Chicago until my tenants vacated in June, I was in a sticky position.
9. A dear friend said to me, “Why don’t you have an adventure? You can live wherever you want for the next eight months. Where have you always wanted to live?” I answered without hesitation, “Washington, D.C.” I performed with the Neo-Futurists for a whole month at the Woolly Mammoth theater several years ago and loved the city on contact. I wanted to return someday.
10. I packed the 1/3 of my worldly possessions into a U-Haul van and drove to D.C., not knowing anyone but excited. And I have a terrible, beautiful love for the city and don’t want to leave, yet, but Chicago is my best friend.

If you missed the cliffhanger decision-making process when I decided to leave New York, start here.

When I verbally go through the steps, I make it quick, but I can’t skip a single one of them. If I don’t say my condo was rented out, a person understandably says, “Well, why not just go back to Chicago?” If I say I moved to Washington without explaining that I had lived there, however briefly, once before, they don’t understand.

But my lease is up in D.C. on June 15th. My tenants are leaving. The clock ticks. The clock stares at me. The time is now. And a new cliffhanger begins. (Insert wink here.) And now, if you’re still with me, a few options that I can rule out, at least, as I work out what the Sam Hill I’m going to do now that it’s flipping May:

1. I am not moving to Philadelphia, nice as it is.
2. I am not moving to Kathmandu.
3. I am not taking a job with streets and sanitation.
4. I am not planning to eat an entire German chocolate cake in a single sitting.
5. I am not planning to throw myself into the Nile.

See? This is easy.

Quiet Windows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I did.”

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

 

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

The Snow Twilight Zone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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