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. 

Me, Dad, and Cheesecake for Breakfast.

posted in: Family, Food, Word Nerd 10
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in.
Wayne Thiebaud. Pies, Pies, Pies. 1961. Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in. Incidentally, this piece lives in Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum and I saw it with my own two eyes, which, incidentally, are usually bigger than my stomach but never as large as my mouth.

My trip to California over the weekend wasn’t for business. I went and spent time with Leesa, my favorite aunt. She was my favorite aunt before the weekend; now I feel like we should fill out some kind of embossed certificate to announce it. Thanks, auntie.

It had been a number years since Leesa and I had spent time together. The last time I saw her was when her father died in 2009. That was a sub-optimal visit, as you can imagine. Everyone was sad about grandpa being dead and busy with funeral and burial stuff. “Sad and busy” is a dreadful state, and it inevitably comes upon you when someone you love dies. Me and my aunt wanted to reconnect without trying to work around a wedding or a funeral, so I flew out to California to see her, her adorable dog, Otto Lieberman, and the beautiful rosemary bushes that line the patio of her well-appointed California home.

We talked a lot. We drank a lot of coffee. We went to the Crocker Museum to have lunch and see art. We attended a black-tie dinner party. We talked more. We made another pot of coffee. It rained all weekend, so the main component of the visit was conversation. Lucky for me and my aunt, we’re good at conversation and share many (all?) of the same values and interests. And since 75% of my family members are also her family members, there was plenty to discuss in that area. The Fons side of the family was broken up into chunks early on in my life and it’s been a Humpty Dumpty ride ever since. This is true for me; I suspect it feels the same for other Fonses I know aside from my aunt, but I won’t speak for them.

Over the course of our visit, I got some information about my father. I haven’t seen him since Grandpa’s funeral either, but Leesa (his youngest sister) stays in contact. I am wary when I’m about to get information about him and hardly eager to ask for it; the presence of my father in any sort of reportage rarely bodes well. His issues are many. Despite my numerous attempts to make even a surfacey relationship work over the years, we have long been estranged.

I looked up “estranged” in the dictionary. I thought it meant “not in contact.” It’s a bit sadder than that:

estranged |iˈstrānjd|
adjective
(of a person) no longer close or affectionate to someone; alienated: John felt more estranged from his daughter than ever | her estranged father.

My aunt told me something by accident that made me at once very sad and very happy, which is an emotional combination more common than being sad and busy, but not any more comfortable. We were talking about pies, Leesa and I, our favorites and methods for making them. We were at the kitchen table.

“You know, we Fonses have a real sweet tooth,” she said, coffee mug in hand. It rained so hard that day, leaves and mud fell out of the gutters onto the sidewalks.

“Really? Like, all of us?” I asked, instantly brightening.

My love of sugar causes me much anxiety. I’m usually worried I eat way, way too much of it, but when I try to eliminate it from my diet (or even cut down on it) I see no point in being alive. That I was somehow not responsible for it, that my sweet tooth was a genetic sentence, that my love of pecan pie and pistachio ice cream actually served to count me among my tribe, well, this made me feel fantastic and warm inside. I instantly thought about eating another one of Leesa’s gourmet marshmallows from the pantry.

“We’re definitely sweets people,” Leesa said. “Your dad, he’ll eat dessert for breakfast. Always would, always loved to. Pie, cheesecake. That’s not for me, but that’s what he would eat for breakfast every day if he had the option. Isn’t that funny?”

I swallowed too much hot coffee. It burned the back of my throat but couldn’t melt the insty-lump that had formed there when Leesa said the words, “Your dad” and “dessert for breakfast.”

I love eating dessert for breakfast. It’s my favorite thing in the world. If there’s cheesecake in the house, I will eat a slice for breakfast and genuinely take no interest in it the rest of the day. In my world, apple pie and coffee are perfect 7:00am foods. Just today, a hazelnut Ritter Sport chocolate bar and a pot of Earl Grey tea constituted my breakfast and you betcher bippy I was at my olympic best all day.

I didn’t know I shared this trait with my father. I didn’t pick up my love for coconut creme pie with my morning coffee by seeing him eat coconut creme pie with his morning coffee. I couldn’t have; I’ve been seated at a breakfast table with the man no more than a handful of times since the divorce. To be thirty-something and discover things about your father, (e.g., he likes cheesecake for breakfast just like you) this information would be bittersweet if he were dead. But as my father is alive, these sorts of discoveries are bittersweet as well as bizarre. We could technically have cheesecake for breakfast together in the near future, my dad and I.

Technically, we could. But emotionally, we can’t. Philosophically, we can’t. Historically, we simply can’t.

I made a pie tonight for Yuri. Buttermilk-brown sugar. Seeing as how it’s delicious and wrapped in foil on the little table where we eat, breakfast is served.

 

Record, Repeat, Dance, Advil.

Nicholas Kirkwood gold-studded chrome heel pump, pre-fall 2013.
How does this gorgeous pump translate to my fear of death? Read on! (Nicholas Kirkwood gold-studded chrome heel pump, pre-fall 2013.)

Every morning, I rise before the sun, make a pot of Earl Grey tea (milk and honey, please) and I write in my journal. I fill page after page with narrative just like this, except in the journal I gleefully put down every last nefarious, disgusting, turgid, and/or bodice-ripping detail. When I die, these books may be worth something, not because I’ll be Very Important but because there will always an interest in the market for steamy non-fiction, especially if that steamy non-fiction comes from a gal who enjoys making quilts.

These journals — there are thousands of pages by now — keep my brain in order and help me quash a deep fear: when I die, I will be dead and my life will be lost to the sands of time. I’m a realist, come on. Unless you’re a giant, a Mark Twain or a Queen Elisabeth, the average human gets maybe a couple generations of people who actually care that much that you’re not around. After they’re gone, you’re just someone in a photograph who “died a long time ago,” no different than all the zillions of people who existed before you showed up and then also died. Bleak? Oh, heavens yes.

I suggest keeping a journal.

Last night, I went out. Big and bold, dahhling. I wore very high heels with a very short dress and I had very big hair and a very small handbag. (These contradictions, they are fascinating — and smokin’ hot!) There was lip gloss, there was a sexy black jacket. There were multiple taxi trips due to epic venue changes throughout the evening. At the house party in Wicker Park, I did a shot. At Studio Paris, I was invited to join a party that had purchased bottle service and when I told one of the fellows inside the velvet ropes that I felt like dancing on the bar, he was enthusiastic about my plan and helped me up right away. At the dance club/bar in Lincoln Park, I just flirted and smooched on my man and that was maybe the best part. Well, that and the second Grey Goose and tonic. Hit the spot!

I tell you all this because this description, this chronicling of a night is proof that it happened. It happened to me. I did that. I may have a little baby someday and when I do, I will not be dancing on bars — not till the kid is eight or nine, anyway. Chronicling is important for nights in, too, and plane trips, and mornings in Chicago. A record of it all is proof of life and I am a person who demands proof, needs proof. Life is slippery; it’s easy to forget not just details but whole swaths of time, whole people, whole versions of oneself.

Though I frequently read through the journal in which I’m currently writing, the time isn’t right to pull out the entire catalog and start reading from, say, Oct 12-Dec 23rd, 2009. No, that will be saved for my old and wizened days, when my knees are shot from wearing high heels every day and my rheumy eyes drip tears onto the pages before I can even really cry about it all. I look forward to that, actually. (Not the rheumy eyes; the journal reading.) Really, I’m just following the advice given by Gwendolyn in Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest:

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” 

Cheers, comrades.

Good Morning, Darling.

posted in: Day In The Life 0
Morning, Marilyn! Can I get you a warm-up?
Marilyn didn’t do anything you and I don’t do (e.g., morning coffee) but she made it look like this.

 

Good morning!

Did you sleep well? You look amazing. Your hair is like, perfectly messed up. Very stylishly mussed. Do you know the word sprezzatura? It’s Italian, obviously. It means “studied carelessness”. A woman spending hours on her hair to make it look like she just rolled out of bed is working sprezzatura. That’s you right now, sprezzatura. Say “spretz-uh-TOO-ra.” Exactly.

Yes! Coffee! Here, I just made some. It’s French press; I don’t have a coffeemaker. No, because I hate appliances. All those cords and plastic; I can’t take it.

You did?? Oh no! Tell me. Oh, gosh. Oh, dear. Come here, darling. Oh, my, my, my. That’s simply awful. That’s an awful one. A wild boar chasing you is bad enough but not knowing the lines in the play on top of all that — yes, I’ve had that dream too, and it is just the worst. It was only a dream, though, and it’s over.

May I have a kiss, please? Thank you, darling. I do need plenty of kisses in the morning. Here’s the cream and sugar. Enjoy your coffee and I’ll get you a pastry. Take your time and we can think about what to do with the day. We have all the time in the world.

Welcome home, darling. I’m so glad you’re back.