I’m in Knoxville with Merikay Waldvogel. There, I said it.
Yes, here to visit the legend herself for a research project I’ve got going. This blog post, in fact, is brought to you by the Wald, as I like to call her: I left my laptop at her house and she brought it to me at my hotel. While we can all appreciate the Wald for her tireless research and quilt scholarship, we can love her eternally because she is a woman willing to hop in her car at 8:30 p.m. and bring this girl her laptop. She is a pathetic creature without it. Thank you, Merikay.
While I was waiting for La Wald to deliver the package, I leafed through an issue of NeedleCraft Magazine. Merikay lent me a few issues to look at tonight before we meet back up tomorrow.
“Hm,” you say, “NeedleCraft. No, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of NeedleCraft. Sounds intriguing. Is it new?”
In fact, the magazine is quite old. The publication was founded almost 100 years ago and closed around the start of WWII. If Merikay was with me right now, she could tell us specifically, but I can tell you that NeedleCraft was (is) beautiful. It’s bigger than your standard tabloid (11” x 17”), for one thing; I don’t have a tape measure, but I think this sucker might be as big as 13” x 20”, which is pretty freakin’ big. The font style on the coated newsprint is delicate, exact. The printing is fine; all the illustrations clear and crisp. The cover is the best part: full-color, lavishly illustrated, on glossy paper. And of course the content is what you’d think it would be: items, articles, patterns, news, etc., all related to various needle arts, e.g., embroidery, crochet, crewel, beading, and quilts, naturally.
There are also ads, and one of them is just too, too great not to share verbatim. I can only share the copy, of course; you’ll have to get the September 1928 issue of NeedleCraft and turn to p. 18 to see the visuals for yourself. Just look for the Art Nouveau illustration of a woman putting face powder on herself in a mirror … that a man is holding, I think? It is very sexy and weird. For now, ladies, I ask you: Do you have … Magnétisme???
Now … she is gay, fascinating!
WOMEN marveled — men were intrigued. Overnight the pale calla-lily had turned flaming peony! Now she was gay, enchanting, magnétique!
She had discovered the allure of a fragrance. Now her talc, her toilet water, her sachet, her face powder, all breathed the parfum of love … of romance … of melting moods — Djer-Kiss the unforgettable fragrance — the parfum that adds to mere prettiness the charm and mystery of magnétisme??
At your favorite beauty counter
Talking to Nick today over bagel sandwiches, I recalled something frightening that happened to me when I was in high school.
Two things before I tell the story: The first is that while the ending of this story is eerie, our heroine (me) ultimately emerges unharmed. The other thing is that this is a story about a grown man preying on a young girl. So it’s not light reading and it might not be anything you want to read at all for a host of reasons that make sense, so please feel free to skip this one if you need to.
So I’m about 15 years old. Sophomore at Winterset High School. And because I’m a weird, creative, more-than-slightly-awkward teen, I was excited to get out of town whenever I could. This mostly meant going to Java Joe’s coffeehouse in Des Moines with a friend who could drive. My friends and I went to Java Joe’s because there were poetry slams and open mics and, because they didn’t serve booze (see: coffeehouse), me and my friends could hang out there.
I loved Java Joes. I loved going up to the mic. I loved writing poems in study hall knowing I’d be delivering them the following Wednesday — and yeah, I still remember that the open mic at Java Joes was on Wednesdays because it was church. The place was cool, so we felt cool, and my friends and I needed to feel that way. The lights were low, there were neon signs on the walls. The place smelled amazing, like fresh roasted beans and clove cigarettes … not that I would know about that part.
The frightening thing that happened didn’t happen at Java Joe’s, though. You’d think so, right? “Funky” coffeehouse. Adults. Open-mic poetry nights. No, Java Joe’s was great. What happened happened at a brightly lit, parents-everywhere Barnes & Noble bookstore — which also held an open-mic poetry night. (You just never know, is my point.)
My friends and I heard about the new monthly event and of course we added it to our social calendar. More space to practice poems, more chances to get out of town, etc. One night, I got up and read a poem and it turned out the Des Moines Register was there, and they put my picture in the paper in the Metro section. I was really on my way.
The second or third time I was at the event, a man came up to me during the break. He was in his 50’s, I’d say. Tall. Barrel-chested, I recall, or maybe he was overweight. I recall that he was not handsome, but then, I was 15, so I’m not sure what … There’s a lot I don’t remember. What I do remember is that the man said to me:
“Well, my goodness. You are incredibly talented. Mary, I have a publishing company. I’d like to talk to you about your poetry.”
I was speechless. I was over the moon. I don’t know what I said, but I’m sure his words had the intended effect: I was a 15-year-old girl who wanted to be a famous poet more than anything in the world. Why, my needs and goals and hopes and wishes must have been obvious to everyone — or at least to him.
I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly how it transpired, but I know that we set up a meeting to talk about making me a famous writer, essentially. I knew enough to not go with him anywhere; I knew enough not to meet him somewhere random, so we agreed to meet at that same Barnes & Noble. But that this meeting would take place at all without my mother involved …?
We met at the bookstore. Was it a week later? Was it after the open-mic the following month? I forget that, but I will never forget what he said to me when we were sitting at that cafe table.
“Mary,” he said, a strange twinkle in his eye, “what would you say if I told you I have a boat. And I’d like to take you sailing around the world. What would you say to that? We could leave tomorrow.”
I heard once that when we die, we go to a movie theater and we watch the movie of our life from start to finish. If that happens, I’ll be very curious to see how I reacted to that man when he said that to me. I’m pretty sure I was flustered in the extreme and said something like, “I’d have to ask … my mom.” But what could I do? This publisher? A boat? Sailing around the world? High school was lame most of the time … But … No, no. I knew there was something wrong with the twinkle in his eye and I didn’t feel right. I told him I had to go, but he got my phone number — and then he called a couple times. One day there was message on the answering machine.
“Mary?” my mother asked. “Who was that? A person from the bookstore?”
I was terrified. My sisters and I could tell Mom anything. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Why was I terrified?
“I don’t know him,” I said. “You can erase it.”
The story ends in an eerie way — so eerie that even now, knowing what happened, having lived through it, I can only shiver and shake my head.
The fall play was about to open. (And close; school plays only ran one weekend.) I had mentioned to the man that I was in the play; I probably told the newspaper, too. The point is: He knew about me being in The Miracle Worker that weekend.
On Saturday night, the last night of the play, I was rehearsing my lines in the band rehearsal room located off the brand-new auditorium — the new auditorium, which featured new seats, new curtains, brand new light and sound boards. There was a monstrous rainstorm predicted that night; the thunderheads were closing in on Winterset by the hour; there was a green cast to the sky, the kind of heavy, still green that comes when Iowa thunderstorms are about to get real.
I looked out the window at the sky and then my eyes moved to the parking lot.
The man. He was there. He was getting out of his car and coming toward the high school. He had driven to Winterset from Des Moines, he had come to the play. He was going to be in the audience, watching me, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. My heart rose in my throat. No, I thought, no this isn’t —
And then, with a clap of thunder so loud I jumped a foot, the rain came. I ducked down under the window and listened to the thunder. The lightening flashed, the wind blew.
And the power went out.
There was a blackout. The storm took out the new, defective light and sound boards in the brand-new auditorium, and the play was cancelled. The fall play was never cancelled. That night, it was. My castmates, eager to do the big final show, were inconsolable, but they found strength in me, who was gushing with consolations. It’s going to be fine, I chirped; how could we have had a better show than last night?? Better to go out on a high note, guys! They cried and thanked me for being so optimistic; the rain lashed at the windows and I stole glances when I could, praying I’d see the man running with his umbrella back to his car. I never did.
I don’t remember if he called again. But I didn’t go back to the open-mic at Barnes & Noble. And I never saw or spoke to him again. I told my mom this story at one point, years later. No, he didn’t put his hands on me. But he put his brain on mine, and it stayed there.
Where in the world is Mary Fons?
Louisiana, and all the time.
Well, I’m back in Chicago tonight, but I’ve returned from Louisiana once again. You see, Quiltfolk’s Issue 07 features quilt culture in the exquisitely gorgeous Pelican State — now on newsstands and subscriber mailboxes everywhere! — and because we have successfully launched Quiltfolk Patterns concurrently with that issue I have visited Louisiana not once, not twice, not three, nor four times in the past few months, but five times. Five times! I’m practically looking at apartments.
Louisiana is a fine state full of fabulous people; I’m about to give you an example. But first I need to sit here a minute and dab (daub?) my forehead, which in a parallel universe is still dripping with sweat. In this (gross) parallel universe, I am literally wringing out my shirt. In a parallel universe, I am guzzling water, lemonade, iced coffee, and air conditioning condensation to rehydrate myself because the heat and humidity in Louisiana have taken my very soul and baked it and cooked it and braised it till there is nothing left. Nothing left!
What I’m trying to say is that it’s hot down in Loo’siana in the summertime. I talked to a local on Trip No. 219,920 about it.
“I don’t know, man,” I said. “I really like New Orleans, but this heat is killin’ me. I guess you guys must get used to it.”
The man just looked at me and swiped his forehead with a bandana. “No ma’am, you never get used to it. It’s just no damn good. Everyone pretty much tries to leave in the summer. What brings you to town?”
So on Tuesday, I was down there for a location shoot. I can tell you more about that later; suffice to say now, it was a very challenging day. It rained on and off. We were shooting at two different locations. The humidity was at 100 percent. I was with lovely people, but all of them were first-timers for Quiltfolk, so I was the usual mother hen, directing things and managing things, but I also was the only one on the shoot who had done this particular thing before. So it was a lot. Oh, and because flying into Shreveport costs about as much as flying to Paris, we all flew into Dallas and drove to Louisiana, which was a 4.5 hour drive that started at 6:00 a.m.
When we finally wrapped for the day, I left the girls at the car to begin check-in the 3-star hotel — which will go unnamed for reasons that will be evident — where we were staying that night before rolling out for Dallas in the wee hours (again.) When I came in the automatic doors, the girl behind the front desk did a double-take. I didn’t look disheveled: I looked like I had been swimming with alligators. All day. I tried to be chipper and perky but there was no chip, no perk. I handed over the credit card. I mumbled something about being out in the heat all day.
“Ooh!” she said. “That’s bad!”
“Well, it’s always nice to be in Louisiana,” I said, a last flicker of my humanity coming through. “Me and the crew are gonna go get some dinner and drink a couple beers. That should put us right.”
The girl stopped. “You need a beer.” Then, she called to the guy over in the breakfast nook. “Roger! You got some of those Budweisers in the fridge?”
Roger came over. “Yeah, I do. You want a couple? I got Bud and I got Bud Lite.”
I just looked at them. This was a hotel that rhymed with, you know, Smolliday Inn or Shmampton Schmin or Schmarriot Schmotel. You know? This was highly irregular — and righteously rad. I don’t even like Budweiser!
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do want that beer. You people are angel people.”
And they sent me on my way with not one but two Buds. Which I gave to the girls. And they drank them.
On Tuesday night, I was down Louisiana way, drivin’ and talkin’ with three incredible women in a rented Nissan.
Just for fun, we thought we’d scan through the stations and check out the local radio scene. We didn’t get far, because the third station we hit on was broadcasting a call-in talk show about … bugs. All bugs. Just bugs. It was an hourlong call-in talk show for people who have pressing questions about bugs.
One of the incredible women in the car said, “Ha! This is great! They should call the show, What’s Buggin’ You?”
Almost as the words came out of her mouth, the host — who was great — said, “Well, time for our next caller. I’ve got Steve, here. Welcome to What’s Buggin’ You? What’s buggin’ you today, Steve in Lake Charles?”
All the incredible women and I clapped with glee and gladness. It was so cool that there was this show about bugs and people were so into it. Questions came in about ticks, beetles, ants … It turns out, people have all kinds of questions about bugs! The guest entomologist who answered these burning questions on the air was a woman with a very nice voice. Wow, did she ever know about bugs.
Because the questions were so varied — even though they were all about bugs — I thought about this woman’s schooling. I do this a lot: I think about the kinds of classes a professional person must have taken to get their degree. In this case, the lady would surely have classes like:
Grub Seminar II (Prerequisite: Sophomore Larvae Survey)
Advanced Thorax Analysis
Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Katydid: A New View
Right? Don’t you think about these things? What about a dentist?? I always wonder about their classes. I know they have to have classes just about the tongue, how to understand it and work around it and all that. And I think about people in beauty school who have units devoted to the chemical formula of bleach and how this or that molecule of color sticks to a hair folicile (or not.)
If anyone from What’s Buggin’ You? should come across this on a google alert or a search, I would like to thank you for your delightful program. If I hadn’t been driving while we were listening, I absolutely would have called in. I am terribly afraid of bugs — bugs and ferns — and I would have liked to call in and ask how to deal with that fear. Of course, that is really more a question for a shrink, I suppose. Good thing psychiatrists have classes like:
21st Century Exposure Therapies Workshop
What’s Buggin’ You
I’m at the airport because I cannot stay put. Also, people are expecting me. Also, I love it.
Also, there is something wonderful happening here.
There is a child in this airport. This child is wearing squeaky shoes.
The child wearing squeaky shoes appears to be around 18 months old and his shoes are very, very squeaky. They’re not just squeaky because they’re made of rubber and he’s running up and down the terminal, wearing himself out, squeaking by association. Rather, both of this child’s shoes were specifically manufactured to contain a squeaking apparatus, one buried deep inside each shoe, a miniature plastic bladder designed — nay, engineered — to produce a remarkably loud, extremely adorable “squink” sound with every single footfall.
And you should know: This child is a born runner. Stand back XXX. Hang it up, XXX. This child with squeaky shoes is smoking you all right now, running for his life, up and down, up and down, up and down Chicago Midway Airport, his beleagured mother, having surrendered long ago, deaf to the squinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinkysquinky sounds produced by the fruit of her loins. You cannot believe how loud the squinking is and you cannot believe how much this kid loves the squinking. He is so happy.
As a result, everyone in this airport is happy on account of this child. Here at gate B23, we can hear the child coming all the way from B19, the squinking getting louder and louder as he approaches. We’re all grinning, waiting for him to show. And then we keep smiling and laughing into our hands and when he keeps on trucking past us, headed for B26, the squinking fading away as he goes.
It’s been a rough night, flight-wise. I tried to fly out earlier, couldn’t. My flight now is delayed 30 minutes. But the squink, man. The squink will save us all.