Fall has come.
When I got back to Chicago after my balmy — and surprisingly rainy — trip to Atlanta last weekend, the slightest little chill in the air wafted under to my nose and it was unmistakable. Even if it hasn’t come all the way in the house, fall has a toe in the door.
Just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant, it can’t be “a little bit autumn.” When that chilled, sharp-edged air slices through the sky, you know what time of year it is and that you can’t go back. Maybe — and I’m serious about this — it’s death. Perhaps our human senses are tuned to the decay of the trees; after all, as leaves change color, they’re dying, getting ready to fall and hibernate and regenerate later. Maybe our spidey-sense is still intact all these millennia later and when we know it’s autumn, we are scientifically right.
Like so many of my white, middle-class, Midwestern brethren, I love fall. Marketed as it is as to us a time of pumpkin-spice lattes, fireplace make-out sessions, holiday plans, etc., how could we not love this season?
But there’s a disturbing ring to fall for me, as well. It is impossible to describe. When the chill comes, at least twice and sometimes as many as thrice, I will experience a palpable sense of dread. My throat feels like it’s falling. My heart aches. All the bad days, the late nights, the homework, the housework, the breakups. It’s ineffable, inexplicable; it’s all the in- words rolled up into a second’s worth of time when I’m walking on State Street, say, or stepping into a taxi.
I think it’s called melancholy. Or ennui. Or just surprise. Surprise that every year, fall slips in with pointy teeth for two seconds before it beams with a genuinely beautiful smile.
In a big city like Chicago, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a great salon. When you finally do, you wrestle with wanting to tell every woman you know and wanting to keep your delicious little secret forever and ever. The rest of the time you’re just hoping they won’t go out of business.
I found a killer waxing spot two years ago. It’s the place. They do unbelievable work, you can always get an appointment, they’re open from 8am to 8pm, and the prices are fair. I’m clearly a devoted customer, but only now does the receptionist call me by name. You gotta earn it over there. They know what they’ve got.
When I went in yesterday for detailing I was told I’d be with Julianna and I did a little mental air-guitar. Julianna is the best of the whole crew. A 50-something Polish lady who I swear wears a girdle, Julianna could rip every last hair off your body in under 10 minutes. It wouldn’t hurt any less, but it would be over quickly, and that is the mercy of Julianna. But she doesn’t come without strings. Julianna likes to visit while you’re on her slab, and there’s only one thing she’ll talk about: Jesus Christ.
“You know, sveetie, I say to all ze girls: you must open yoor heart, give to Christ Jeezoos. He is way to happiness, He is way to evverlasting trooth. We are all seeners; I am seener, you are seener. Dis is truth.”
“We must believe in ze Bible as true word of God. So many people, so, so many people lost in ze world and they don’t care! They say, ‘Oh, I am fine, I am leader of my own life, dis and dat, whatever.’ But when they burn in evverlasting fire, they see the error of their wayz. Eet’s too late. That’s it.”
It’s possible to reach an ecstatic state over the course of a bikini wax. The whole thing is absurd, for one thing. You’re putting hot wax where? On purpose? And then ripping the — oh, sweet mother! You’re naked from the waist down — also absurd. And it hurts so much. There you are, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for the next strip of agony, and you go into a happy headspace where nothing can harm you. There are bunnies and stars there. Add to all this a large, 50-something Polish woman delivering a constant stream of Catholic admonishment and salvation, and I’m telling you, it’s downright trippy. Six minutes into my appointment yesterday, I connected to victims of the Spanish Inquisition on a kind of time warp mental plane:
INQUISITOR: Is there a God?
INQUISITOR: Hot wax!
(Rip, rip, rip. MARY hollers, thrashes.)
INQUISITOR: Will that be cash or check?
MARY: (pause.) What?
INQUISITOR: It’s $85 today. Cash or check?
MARY: Oh, sorry. Cash.
Julianna, we have ideological differences. But we’re good. We both agree on the importance of grooming. You like tips, I like to give tips. You call me “sveetie,” you usually tell me you like my hair, and you always make time to do my eyebrows, even if you’ve got an appointment right after me. In the city, these are true gifts.
I’m in grad school.
The Master’s of Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago is a degree tailed for professionals who need classes at night/on the weekends. It provides a curated buffet of (magnificent) everything rather than focusing on just one discipline, e.g., aeronautics or French philosophy. Candidates take biology classes, humanities courses, physical science courses, etc. I applied and was accepted earlier this year. When I had my interview, I realized just how different grad school at the University of Chicago would be compared to my previous college experience. That experience was great (B.A.,Theater Arts, University of Iowa, ’01) but this seemed instantly to be a world apart.
The program’s director, upon welcoming me into his office, offered me a chair and then looked out the window. Then back at me. Then back to the window.
“It’s a lovely day. Let’s take a walk.” My heart sank. Surely I hadn’t gotten in.
Mr. Ciaccia put on a hat and a trench coat and I collected my purse. We walked across the beautiful Hyde Park campus; he pointed out buildings and houses of note. The sun was shining after a rainstorm, and we skirted puddles as we talked about architecture, the gods, music. It was so grad school-y, I almost giggled about six times. I think he used the word “epoch” a couple times.
Turns out I did get in. By the time we rounded the corner to the building where we began, I had to ask. “So… Mr. Ciaccia, did I get in?” He looked at me with a warm smile.
“Yes, you did.”
I squealed and jumped up and down. (I’m a nitwit like that.)
Last semester I took a class called “The New Cosmology,” which was all about space, particle physics, dark matter, etc. It was so mind-blowing, so awe-inspiring, I got misty a couple times in class. This semester, I’ll be in a class called “The Problem of Evil.” Check it:
“This course will consider the theological problem of evil, starting with the Book of Job. We will next investigate the problem from the perspectives of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom evil was the major, stumbling block in the proof of God’s existence. At issue will be the question of whether the view of evil initiated by Augustine as the “privation of good” represents an adequate explanation of evil. This pursuit will lead into the problem of theodicy: can–or should–God’s ways be justified to human beings? We will look at theodicy in selections from the works of Hume, Bayle, Voltaire, Leibniz, and Kant. We will then study several fictional treatments of the problem of evil, including Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Melville’s Billy Budd, and the Coen Brothers’ movie No Country for Old Men, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.”
For a geek like me, the prospect of starting this class in a couple weeks is like sitting in a mink coat on a generous tuffet as someone brings me an entire pecan pie a la mode, a spoon, and a note from a doctor who has ordered me to put on a few pounds. I’m excited.
To encounter one or two people in your life who don’t like your face, just get out of bed in the morning. To have a sizable number of those people, you’ll need to be on television.
Sipping my coffee this morning, feeling fantastic about wrapping the latest 2-week taping of Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting, I accidentally found a gnarled thread on the Fons & Porter Facebook page. The venerable, incredible teacher and company founder, Liz Porter, visited the set to film two (excellent) episodes the other day and a picture was taken of us at work. I love working with Liz and felt quite chipper about it all until this morning.
“If they would just film with MaryAnn [sic] Fons instead of that nitwit daughter.. all would be good,” commented one Cora McDivitt Darrin, upon viewing the photo. Virginia Anne Lewis felt similarly, adding, “I wish mary [sic] would stop making faces and nodding and shaking her head.” Four people Liked that. And from the lady so irresistible she has not one but four last names, Pat Stubo Erickson Sullivan lamented, “I’m almost ready to stop watching….Mary drives me nuts. She talks WAY too much and her waving hands are so distracting. I’d rather have MaryAnn on alone with guests if we can’t have Liz back!” Various other folks digitally nodded their heads (not so vigorously they might’ve strained their necks, I hope) in agreement.
I took another sip of coffee. The cream was curdled.
Every well-intentioned mother in the world, including mine, would advise me to “just ignore it.” Just ignore it, the well-intentioned mothers say, shaking their collective heads, “some people are just negative.” This is the part that catches in my throat along with the hot tears in my eyes: Why do negative people get a pass for being wretched? I’m not negative. I’m all good. I’d never call a well-intentioned human a nitwit. Look:
a silly or foolish person (often as a general term of abuse).
I’ll claim silly. I wear silly with pride. And perhaps in affairs of the heart, I am at my core, a fool. But you don’t know that, Cora darling, and since I don’t speak of my love life on Public Television, and since I know my job pretty well, I’d say that makes the word “fool” off limits. Besides, once the word “abuse” pops into the mix, you have wronged your fellow man. Ask around; it’s unanimous.
But hey, if you don’t want know strangers’ opinions of you, Mary Fons, stay inside your house. Strangers will still have opinions about you (you’ll be the crazy person who never comes out of your house) but you’ll never know what they’re saying, which is good if you’re a sensitive gal. But I did leave the house. I’m on a show that broadcasts to 93% of the PBS markets in America. I chose to approach this circumstance and I’ll lay in it. If I spent time whining about how a stranger in Montana (or hundreds of strangers in Texas) don’t adore me, I’d actually be the nitwit Cora believes me to be.
I can’t complain about negative comments happening. They’ll keep happening. But I can call people out for being simple and mean to me. Your name is as public as mine when you write on walls in binary code.
So: Does it feel weird to be talked about so intimately by someone you don’t know? It’s crazy, right, ladies?! Feels kinda crappy. Makes you sorta mad. But who should you get mad at? It’s hard to know! I know!! Such an impotent, helpless feeling. Just do what I do: try not to let this webpage ruin your day; instantly fail. Clench your jaw a few times, click over to Amazon and try to forget about it. Click back. Read your name again. Feel like a failure. Burn. Get paralyzed for about an hour. Literally, physically shake “it” off and set about your day. Eventually forget whatever nasty thing Person XYZ said about you, but not completely; no not completely, because they did say it and a bunch of people saw it. You mustn’t cry, though, even if you feel like you got punched in the face. If you cry, you’ll really feel dumb because people will say that if you don’t like it, don’t work.
As for all the strangers who said lovely things, I’d like to thank you individually for your your charm, your intelligence, your flawless skin, your timeless elegance, and those swan-like necks! Ms. Susan Parrish admitted to missing my mom and Liz but managed a sincere tally-ho: “[Liz and Marianne] made such a good team,” Parrish said, “But I like Mary as well; she is doing a great job. Keep up the good work.” The incomparable Leslie Fitzgerald went to bat for me, wading into the fetid comment stream to say, “For those of you who have been bashing Mary, what happened to the old adage, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Sheesh!”
Ah, but Leslie. This is the Internet. Welcome to the Internet. Leave your face at the door.
The washing machine is broken here at my mom’s house. It just stopped working. Unfortunately, it stopped working when it had a full tub of water and it’s a front-loader. To get the serial number to order the part, Mom had to open the door. She jumped back and the water gushed out. I so wish a goldfish would’ve sailed out, too.
When I film the TV show I go through a lot of clothes. There’s a different outfit for every episode and I do a little side project show at the same time, in the same studio, so we’re talking about sixteen different ensembles, plus several Plan B choices in case certain items don’t work (e.g., too low-cut, too stripey, cigarette burns, etc.) Some laundry is required, therefore; having no washing machine is not ideal. Yesterday night I needed laundry done and I was going to have to do it myself.
Down to the basement I trudged, nearly falling and cracking my neck on the stairs, as usual. I pulled a string and the lights came on. There’s a big wash sink down there, so I set about hand washing my clothes. Here are the three greatest modern inventions of all time:
– washing machines
I couldn’t come up with two others that are better.
Though there was something vaguely meditative and prehistoric about sloshing my skivvies through the tub of warm water, I refused to get romantic about it. The last time I hand washed two loads of laundry was never, and the mere thought of doing so every day or even every other day was enough to begin to break my back. Oh, women! How we have toiled. And I had soap! For the majority of human history, we just had sticks and stones! Of course, we didn’t have cashmere, either, but I still don’t see how a stick can get mascara and cabernet out of a garment.