When I bought the apartment where Eric and I currently live, I knew it needed work. Everyone knew it needed work — that’s why I was able to buy it. The location, the building, the mise en scene; if I hadn’t gotten a discount, we wouldn’t have an address on our historic, tree-lined street.
But I did get a discount because the paint in the unit is an inch thick and the parquet floors are in terrible shape. The kitchen came with a Magic Chef stove ca. 1955 and a dishwasher from the pleistocene era. And the other day, one of the shelves in the inset bookcases literally collapsed. (There’s a joke in here about slouching toward Bethlehem, or Atlas shrugging, or the fall of the House of Usher, but that would require me to admit that I’ve still got a copy of AtlasShrugged. It’s a first edition and it was a gift and it’s hard for me to let go of books, alright?)
Now that we’re staying put in Chicago for the foreseeable future, we’ve got to serious about home improvement. Eric and I have been discussing needs and wants. We need to replace all the molding; we want to connect the kitchen and the the dining room by opening up the east wall. We need to install ceiling lights; we want a gold toilet.* It’s going to cost a bunch of money because this is a big city and that’s just how it is. Plus, Eric would be cool with standard-issue everything, but I’m fancy. I told him this before we got married. He knows.
To get it done, we’ll have to take out a home loan. This is terrifying to me. Borrowing money with our home as collateral — I think that’s how it works — is just a very grown-up thing to do. I feel like a child most of the time and children don’t take out home loans. Can we manage another monthly bill? It’s freaky to think about. Student loan payments have been suspended for two years now, but that party will be over soon. And the apartment may have been on sale, but property taxes don’t get markdowns. If we want to do the work, we’ll have to get the loan, but I want it to be lean, lean, lean. This means I/we need to save money or make some more of it.
Here are things I can do to save money:
no new clothes (I hate this)
no fripperies (I love fripperies)
no major travel (let a book take you on an adventure, loser)
Here are things I can do to make some extra money:
sell my old clothes (but keep a few or I won’t have ANY clothes because I can’t buy new ones, apparently)
grow my Twitch and YouTube channels (harder than it sounds but I’m working on it)
rob a bank (complicated)
If you have other ideas, feel free to comment below! If you know how to rob a bank in your old, dumb clothes while broadcasting it all live on the internet, definitely comment below.
This is the 10th installment in a series of 51 posts inspired by a list of writing prompts from the website Journal Buddies. If you’d like to know more, here’s where I explain what this is and why I’m doing it.
Let’s get granular here: My first memory of all this, the moment when the coronavirus got real before the world became unrecognizable, was the day Eric and I booked two tickets to Mexico.
We had been reading about the outbreak in China. Week after week, more and more people were on a mandated lockdown and of course that seemed crazy. We saw the videos of quarantined people in Wuhan waving and singing to each other from their balconies, and though these types of videos have since been faked, those first videos were real. The videos, images, the trickle of news stories, and the firsthand reports were all evidence that yeah, it was crazy: There was a disease on the other side of the world that was so contagious and threatening to the way of life in China, the government wouldn’t let people go outside.
But that was still the beginning of it all, and it did seem far away. (And we figured the Chinese government was probably seizing the opportunity to surveil its citizens for other reasons, right?) Besides, our lives hadn’t been particularly affected by the H1N1, SARS, or Mad Cow outbreaks, so there was no need to get too worked up. Our ambivalence was a luxury; a lot of people died in those outbreaks. But who could blame us for more or less shrugging off the occasional, ultimately contained outbreak? There’s a baseline belief that America will always shield us from widespread contagion so we can go about our lives. Everyone has real worry — the mortgage is late, the kid is sick, the job is lost — but contracting deathly diseases from birds or pigs or rats or bats? Not here, and thank God.
The virus kept spreading, though, and quickly. A writer we like a lot who posts well-researched, thoughtful longreads on timely topics posted a piece about an encroaching problem due to the scale of this new virus. He was concerned about a disruption in the supply chain; specifically, the pharmaceutical one. As many of you have read (or knew already), much of the medicine we have in the U.S. is manufactured in China. Eric has chronic asthma and uses an inhaler regularly; I take several medications every morning to help out my guts and my brain. Everyone needs antibiotics at some point, and though its impossible to say the word “painkiller” without immediately being pegged as an opioid abuser, it is incontrovertibly true that there are times in our lives — hopefully very few — when we have blinding pain that Tylenol can’t touch. In other words, if these and other medicines we don’t (yet) need were not available, it would be bad.
Jokingly, Eric said, “Maybe we should go to Mexico and stock up on some of this stuff.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right.”
But he brought it up again the next day and this time he seemed serious.
I looked at him like he had come into the room dressed as a flamingo. To begin with, it sounded just slightly illegal. It was surprising to me that Eric would suggest breaking the law; the only crime my husband has ever committed was stealing my heart — hey-o! I told him I did not particularly to go to federal prison for international drug trafficking, dear, and furthermore, taking medicine sourced from who-knows-where seemed unwise at best. Yes, if the article we read was right and the coronavirus would soon take down the manufacture and importation of critical pharmaceuticals from China, it would be wise to have a well-stocked medicine cabinet, and if it were legal and safe to go to Mexico and load up on reinforcements for ourselves and others who might need medicine in an emergency, I’d buy the tickets myself.
Several days later, we had Southwest confirmation numbers. In about two weeks, we would be on a flight from Las Vegas* to San Jose del Cabo.
What Eric already knew I learned through hours of research online. It is in fact legal for a person to purchase a three months’ supply of most (not all) prescription medications in Mexico. As long as it’s for “personal use” as legally defined, you are allowed to buy medicine and bring it home. Apparently, a whole lot of non-shady people do this on a regular basis. Certain drugs in the States that are astonishingly expensive can be purchased in other countries at a fraction of the cost and many of them are easier to get, anyway. Well, okay, I thought, but it still sounded like something out of Breaking Bad. How could a person be sure the medicine was safe?
On this topic, there were several things to consider. For one thing, my assumption that prescription drugs in Mexico weren’t safe was full-on prejudiced. Yeah, there are places in Mexico that are essentially lawless and should be avoided at all costs: Juarez, with its murderous gangs and pitch black market, is considered one of the most dangerous places in the entire world and a good deal of other border towns aren’t much nicer. But Mexico just happens to have other things going on, Mary Fons, as the good people of Oaxaca, Mexico City, and Cartagena, for example, will (icily) inform you. There are grocery stores, schools, theaters — and pharmacies — in Mexico, just there are here in good ol’ ‘Merica. Any boob that crosses into Tijuana at the end of a long night of partying and hits up the first farmacia they find to score Xanax (or whatever) is absolutely at risk of being fleeced for meds that are probably nothing more than sugar pills. But the vast majority of Mexicans are like the vast majority of Americans: People who need medicine when they’re sick. Frankly, I was ashamed that I had painted an entire country with such a broad brush; if nothing else came of all this, uncovering that gross bias was important.
So tickets were purchased. We’d be staying in San Jose del Cabo, a mid-sized city where people live and work. We wouldn’t be stepping a toe in Cabo San Lucas, aka Spring Break Cabo, where college kids guzzle buckets of rum from plastic cups and swim in STIs when they’re not swimming in the ocean. We’d be in the city three days and three nights, and I set about looking for a hotel. As I clicked through our options, my anxiety began to give way to excitement. There were really pretty hotels down there and it suddenly dwned on me that for the first time in my entire life, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with wildly exotic words like “lounge” and “poolside” and “deck chair” — in the middle of a Chicago winter. Beyond that, by the time the trip rolled around, I would be done with a three-month work marathon that included writing, editing, and going to press for Quiltfolk’s South Carolina issue (which ships to subscribers this week and is freakin’ gorgeous); debuting two new lectures at QuiltCon; planning Quiltfolk Nevada (!) and traveling for 11 days straight to get the content. No one is entitled to a vacation but … okay, I felt entitled to a damn vacation, even if it involved a mission that still made me feel like I might be called to the principal’s office.
But Eric and I never got to Cabo. A matter of hours before we were to leave, we aborted the trip. In the next installment, I’ll share the rather dramatic story of how that went down; we are all painfully aware of the reasons why it did.
For well over a decade, writer, editor, quilter, and erstwhile poet and performer Mary Fons has faithfully maintained her blog, PaperGirl. Though the number of posts each week fluctuates slightly from daily to thrice a week or so, Fons’s thousands of subscribers rely on Fons’s unwavering commitment to post “fresh observations.” Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes outright strange, Fons’s blog is, at the very least, a respite for weary internet travelers, revolted by the endless news cycle and social media inferno.
But lately, possibly due to her demanding job as editor in chief of Quiltfolk magazine, or the ramping up of a major, as-yet-unannounced media project, PaperGirl posts have been sporadic. Her fans are wondering: Where is our PaperGirl? When imaginary journalist Ann Kotske called on her, Fons was at the (very real) family lake house in Wisconsin, sipping tea and wearing blue gingham check pajamas at 10 a.m. What follows is the first part of Fons’s first (imaginary) interview for Rolling Stone.
RS: It’s beautiful here. How often are you able to come up to the cottage?
PG: Not often enough. The last time I was here was in November. I came up with friends from the school newspaper.
How has your life changed since you got your master’s?
It sounds terrible to say, but I didn’t think the master’s degree would matter as much as it has. Certainly, plenty of people think an MFA in Writing doesn’t matter, that a higher education in the fine arts is too nebulous to have substance. There might have even been a part of me that thought that. But having done the work, knowing how hard it was, knowing how I was then compared to how I am now, it’s just night and day.
In what way?
I’m smarter! (Laughs.) Seriously, I can actually feel my brain working differently than it used to. I read a text or I sit down to write something and it’s like, “Oh, right. I actually know what I’m doing.” I’m also just two years older; I’ve been through more experiences and all that. But there is a kind of critical thinking I do now that I was absolutely not doing before. It feels … powerful.
I talked to a few of your blog readers —
Wait. Really? You did?
Well, no. But many of them have been surprised there have been fewer PaperGirl entries lately. Now that you’re done with school, you should ostensibly have more time to blog. Is it something else? (Sighs.) Well, I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s been slow lately. It’s strange to me, too. With Quiltfolk and this other big project I’m working on, there’s definitely time constraints, but I didn’t have time in school, either, and I did pretty well. There are times when … (Long pause.) There are times when I think I ought to be working on essays, on longer pieces, and that my hours spent blogging should be spent working on those.
What are the essays about? My illness. Fashion. The DIY country craft home decor women I watch on YouTube. Chicago.
Have you thought about closing the blog? Even for awhile? Absolutely not. The number of posts may ebb now and then, but there is no threat of PaperGirl closing or drifting away.
Why? Because it’s not a brick wall. I’ve said it for years: Even though this blog is about my life, I do not write PaperGirl for myself. It’s always been for readers. It doesn’t matter if there’s a handful of them or an army of them. Look, I write my diary for myself. Those volumes are solipsistic and scandalous and inappropriate and navel-gazey and maudlin and there’s no spellcheck. PaperGirl is not my diary. It’s a conversation. That’s why it works. It’s a two-way thing. There is a living relationship between the writer (me) and the reader (you.) And it’s a long-term relationship — the longest relationship I’ve ever had, by the way. I close the blog, I close that relationship. It means too much to me, so no way.
You’re committed. Right. No break-up. No divorce. We’re staying married. (Laughs.)
You mentioned in your diary — Sweet living — you read my diary??
Just a few pages. It’s very good. You should think about publishing it. This is unbelievable. Where is my publicist? (Calling.) Publicist!
Sorry, sorry! I didn’t really read your diary! I’m an imaginary journalist! Can we continue? Only because you’re imaginary.
You seem to foster a kind of “woman of mystery” persona in the blog by being vague about various “big projects.” On Instagram, you redact locations. Even talking about your “scandalous” diary communicates that there’s the you we get here and the you we don’t get, a Mary that exists in other places and is doing different things. What’s that about? It’s so funny: In this world of public pages and social media, anytime you say you’re intentionally not mentioning something, you become a “woman of mystery.” But I know what you mean. On Instagram, I’ll redact the location if I’m on a Quiltfolk shoot, since we’re not yet announcing what state is next in the lineup. That will change, by the way.
Oh, Quiltfolk is going to start sharing where you’re going next?? Yup. We’re going to start “announcing the season”, if you will. I’ll talk about that more this week.
So you’ll be posting more this week. Every day I’m up here in Wisconsin. There’s a lot to talk about.
We can start anywhere you like. Good. Let’s start with the second half of this interview.
I wrote recently in my column about public speaking and how I’m used to it. In the middle of writing that piece, I got sidetracked for hours by two eternal questions. Well, they’re eternal to me; I’m not sure the rest of the world is bothering with them, but maybe the world should. And if the world meditates on my questions and comes up with something, I would appreciate if the world provided those answers. I have other questions, too, but the world can start here:
1. If a performer presents to an audience, this is making theater. If the performer presents to no one, is theater still made?
2. Does my identity as a performer run so deep that if I were shipwrecked on an island, would I write and perform plays for the squirrels?
My answer to the first question remains, after many years: “I don’t know; go ask Peter Brook.” The answer to the second question is “Yes.”
Were I shipwrecked on a remote desert island, I would without question look for a way to build a little stage in the shade. I would memorize my lines — lines I couldn’t even write down because there is no paper on remote desert islands from what I understand — and I would rehearse hours each day. I would gather split coconuts, which could be used for costume purposes. Were I to choose to produce a puppet show, these coconuts could make excellent boats. I could perhaps train a squirrel to come in on cue for a little comic relief during one of my real downers. “Just eat a nut or something!” I’d yell, and he would never, ever, ever do it. Which would be funny.
Yes, the love for getting up and being on the performance side of that ancient line in the sand runs deep. I wouldn’t change it if I could.
I don’t actively make theater these days. I miss the Neo-Futurists all the time. And how about that: the first sentence of this paragraph has led to a third question: If a person who makes theater isn’t presently making theater, is she still a maker of theater?
Yesterday’s story about quitting a restaurant job in the name of making no money in the name of art reminded me of other tales, all from my early twenties. I did not sleep well. Thinking back on my early days in Chicago, I am filled with a 2:1 ratio of compassion and chagrin: I love the girl who moved to a major city alone, knowing no one, having only a vague idea of what she was going to do once she arrived; I wince when I think of what bar she thought was cool and which lampshade she chose to wear on her head while she hung out there. Youth is wasted on the young — and youth was wasted last night, too.
I moved to Chicago before smartphones. In black and white, here, right now, I am officially “dating myself,” which is something that until this moment, other people older than me did. Well, here we go: I’m dating myself, but I remember what it was like to move to a new city and not have a magical electronic map in my pocket that talked to me. I had a foldout thing I got for graduation, a wing, and a prayer. Just one wing? When has one wing ever worked?
I did not know my way around the city. At all. And I didn’t know anyone, either. I got off the Brown Line train at Wellington a couple days after I had gotten my apartment. The Wellington Brown Line station is on Wellington Street of course. But my apartment was twenty-six blocks west of that station. All I knew was that I lived on Wellington St., so I was like, “Oh. Okay. Well, I don’t know where I am but I live on Wellington, so I’ll just call this one good.” I got off the train. And I walked twenty-six blocks. I realized I was really far away from where I needed to be, but I was on Wellington and the numbers were going up, so I just kept going. I couldn’t spend money on a cab. I didn’t know the bus lines. If I had had a smartphone, that never would’ve happened. Because GPS is watching.
I’d like to say, “And I’m glad I didn’t have a smartphone! That was good for me, that horrible, hot, summer day in Chicago, walking miles and miles.” But it wasn’t good for me. It was bad. I was sad, lost, and alone. There’s no other way to say it. It took so long.
The image above conveys perfectly my disorientation that day. The word “Wellington” always reminds me of “Paddington,” as in Paddington Bear. After seeing WikiCommons’ offerings for the Wellington El stop, I searched for images of Paddington Bear. Nothing good there either, so I went for “Wellington boots.” This image of a Japanese theme park came up on that page. That is actual Japanese in the caption. I have no idea what it says.
My point is that thirty-six is is better than twenty-two; thirty-six with a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is better still. I will try not to be twenty-two in tomorrow’s post.
When I was new in Chicago — this is fifteen years ago, now — a friend of mine helped me get a job as a hostess at a downtown restaurant. The restaurant was a citywide chain so popular, Saturday night at the host stand felt straight-up dangerous. Elbows were thrown. Twenty-dollar bills were passed to the maitre-d’ for special treatment (woe betide the tipper if the guy from out of town waiting three hours already spied the exchange.) Wine was sloshed. It was loud. And it was an hour commute on the train from my tiny apartment in the middle of nowhere.
I had learned to eat well in college. I worked as a waitress at a cafe there in Iowa City and got my culinary education — and dating the head chef for most of that time meant I got, you know, tutoring help and stuff. By the time I got to Chicago, I actually knew a little about wine. I could make a pan sauce all by myself. This small-town girl not only knew what sweetbreads were, she would order them if she found them on a menu. Aside from the occupational hazards, being a hostess just felt wrong. I was in a restaurant but not doing what I could do. I knew a restaurant job was what I would have for awhile, but the role and the restaurant had to change.
There was an ad in the Chicago Reader for a waiter at a two-star (Michelin stars, that is) restaurant on Taylor Street. Let’s call it The Fancy Napkin. This place was gorgeous: an upscale French bistro owned by a Moroccan man who looked like a swarthy James Bond. The cafe sat sixty, tops, outfitted in impeccable white linen; the waiters wore impeccable white bistro aprons. Each wine glass was spotless and the lights from the chandeliers glinted off them all. Steaming bowls of boulliabaisse. Crusty baguettes. And if you wanted to spend north of a grand on a bottle of wine, the restaurant would be happy to help you do that.
I applied. There were no female waiters, just three dudes, one of whom had been there over ten years. I had to take a wine test. I had to answer serious menu questions. I forget what the owner asked me, but it would’ve been things like, “What is canard? What is mille-feuille? Pair wine with the caviar plate for me.” I got an hour with the menu and then had a quiz. I did very well on everything and the owner offered me the job. But I had a problem.
The theater company I was a part of was producing our first show. I had a small part in the second act. There was zero money. And I had rehearsals at night. As a hostess at the chain restaurant, I could be in the play: I’d just work the lunch shifts. But not at The Fancy Napkin — there was only dinner six nights a week. I told James Bond I would be thrilled to take the job and then gently broached the little matter of needing Wednesdays and Thursdays off for awhile, then swapping those out for the Friday and Saturday nights I’d need for the play. But not for long! Just four weeks or so? Sir?
This did not go well. After expressing his extreme displeasure over taking so much time to vet me, he told me something I will never forget: “Marie, you can be a poor artist. Or you can make a lot of money at this restaurant. But you can’t do both. Decide now. Do you want to be poor and in a little play? Or do you want to live?” I was speechless. I needed money. But the play. Theater was the reason I came to Chicago. But money. But art. But rent. But love. Oh, no, no, no. I was twenty-two years old.
So you know what I did? I took a walk around the block. Someone had told me once that if you have to make a big decision, take a walk around the block and say to yourself firmly, “By the time I get back to where I started, I will have my decision.” It works. You speed up the decision-making process. You get closer to the end of your loop and you’re still in a quandary and then bam! The solution presents itself. The whole way around the block, walking slowly, I didn’t know what to do. But when I got to the door, I did.
It’s important to begin this morning that if you ever have dinner (or breakfast or lunch) at my house, you will get the freshest, most delicious ingredients in the dishes I lovingly prepare. And you should have a meal at my house because I’m a fine cook, if I can do a little horn toot.
That said, I would like to say without shame that I leave food out. Within reason. Eggs, milk, chicken, and anything containing these ingredients and a few others must be tossed if they are left out of the fridge for more than an hour or so. But cheese? The kind of potato salad that doesn’t have dairy in it but just vinegar and herbs and olive oil? Half a filet mignon in a restaurant doggie bag? Eh, whatever. If perfectly good food sat out overnight because sleep was more important than KP duty, I don’t feel too good about tossing it out the next morning.
Of course, I always give it a sniff. It’s amazing to me how the nose can instantly tell if a food is off. Our tiny olfactory senses and/or our tastebuds say, “Stop. No. Don’t. Do not. That is not okay for you/us.” If warning bells don’t ring, I shrug and put it in the fridge if it’s leftovers or cheddar cheese. Half-cut apples, onions, peppers? I leave them out as soon as I cut them! They’re all in a bowl on my counter. I do not want my fridge to smell like onions. When I need the onion again, I just cut off the wizened part and go about my dicing. I always use them within a day or so. Same with apples. Dried apples are sold for four bucks a bag at Whole Foods. They are free at my house if you want some.
Mold is not okay. Sprouting things are not okay. And again, if the food object doesn’t pass the sniff test, into the garbage with it. But in this deodorized, hand-sanitized world — while there are starving children in the city of Chicago — throwing good food out is an ethical issue. We’re lucky enough to have it. We’re lucky enough to share it. Though it’s true, “we’re lucky enough to be able to throw it away” sounds lame to me.
NOTICE FOR QUILTERS! Tomorrow begins a giveaway for Small Wonders fabric! Make sure to check PaperGirl for your chance to win! Thirteen zippy quilters will get a (great) prize. 🙂
There’s much more I want to say about what I found when I entered my condo on Thursday for the first time in a year-and-a-half. For now, a list of things left behind by the tenants who lived in my condo while I was out of town:
1. One pair dusty flip-flops (women’s)
2. A nice collection of dishwashing detergents
3. Blowdryer (unisex)
4. IKEA comforter, sheets, pillowcases
5. A bunch of medical textbooks, including “The Human Brain Coloring Book” (it sounds a lot cooler than it turned out to be)
6. Guides of things to do in Chicago
7. Dust bunnies the size of flip-flops (men’s)
8. English toffee from Trader Joe’s (probably intentional, tasted fresh)
9. Small screwdriver (in bathroom)
I flew across the entire continental United States yesterday. Portland to Washington, D.C. is no joke: six whole hours in the air, plus layover. I could get from D.C. to Paris in about the same amount of time. I’m not complaining: Portland was great. But, you know. Paris.
Halfway through the first flight, I went to visit the commode in the back of the plane. I had to wait for it to be available and found myself inserted into a conversation between an airline attendant and a man in his late thirties. I picked up that the man was a retired police officer. He had brown hair, a sweet disposition, and was remarkably heavy. I didn’t think much of any of this until the man shared with the attendant that he had been shot four times during a drug bust.
“One of the bullets went straight through my chest, yeah,” the man said. He said it like it was no big deal, like plenty of us get shot in the chest.
“Oh no!” The flight attendant’s hand covered her mouth. I wasn’t exactly part of the conversation, but I gasped, too.
“Yeah. Crazy. I’ve gained eighty pounds since then. That was maybe two years ago, and they’ve got me on all these steroids. It’s really bizarre, you know. I used to be really fit.” He said it matter-of-fact, but there was some shame, I think, in his voice, like he was apologizing.
There are so many things we think we know and we know basically zero things. Maybe I would’ve seen that man and thought, “Wow, he’s really heavy. Maybe he should take the stairs and not the escalator,” or some other judgey, useless thing. I wouldn’t know that he was shot in the chest at work and to keep his heart working or whatever so he can be alive for his son or whatever, he’s on steroids. Steroids cause weight gain in most people who have to take it.
Whenever possible, I try to find a Family or Assisted Care bathroom in public places. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a private bathroom when you are a person missing several organs in the lower half of her body. Trust me. But if you were to see me go in, would you purse your lips? Would you think I’m going in to like, do my hair or just have more space? Would you give me a dirty look if I caught your eye as I went in because here I am a young woman in high heels, clipping along just fine down the airport terminal? I don’t look disabled. I don’t have a baby. But you don’t know my life. You don’t know so many things.
The guy who cuts you off in traffic shouldn’t. But maybe he’s got one last dinner with his kid before the kid goes to live with his mom in Mexico for the rest of the summer. (I know someone in such a situation.) We don’t know what people are up against. The only thing we do know is that life never, ever looks like we thought it would. Even when it’s good, it still doesn’t look like the pictures we paint in our heads.
I am wishing so hard that I could offer all the alternate names I’ve come up with for the gameshow pictured above. Sadly, that sort of content is best saved for PaperGirl: After Dark. So far, that blog does not exist, though it absolutely should. I’ll let you know.
As I mentioned recently, I’ve had a galaxy of question marks spinning ’round my head. With a ginormous project about to launch (just a few more weeks and I can spill the beans) and a Very Big Decision I’ve made (you’re gonna flip when I tell you), I’ve been asking myself many questions. Here are twenty of them.
1. What time is it?
2. Was that my phone or yours?
3. Did I seriously forget to buy yogurt?
4. What day in November should I move back to Chicago?
5. I’m so comfy in bed but I kind of need to pee before I turn out the light. Should I just try to sleep it off or get up and go now so I don’t have to get up at two in the morning?
6. Are PaperGirl readers passing it along to other people because that would be so wonderful?
7. Am I correct in thinking that a forty-year-old woman in good shape is hotter than a twenty-year-old girl in good shape?
8. Did you hear that?
9. Did my tenants in Chicago take good care of my home?
10. Did I come to Washington and stay a year longer than planned because I was running away from something and if so, what was it?
11. If I’m such a hardcore existentialist, how come I hated Crime and Punishment so much?
12. Are you kidding me?
13. Do I still enjoy eggs or do they gross me out?
14. Will the person I went on the road trip with this summer be in my life in a significant way in the future or was that whole thing just a brilliant, brightly shining, but ultimately isolated moment in time? (There were less-shining and isolated moments, like this one.)
15. Do my friends in Chicago miss me?
16. Is it wise to have a box of chocolates in the fridge right now?
17. Is Yuri reading this?
18. Will I ever have enough money to have someone do my hair every day?
19. When’s the next time I’ll be in a hospital bed?
Oh, this is fun. I could more. I could do really, really good ones on PaperGirl: After Dark. You’ll be the first to know.
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.
Longtime readers will know that I enjoy writing poems about fruit. I can’t know how they truly feel about these poems about fruit, but I do think that if “longtime reader” does in fact describe them, they can’t think they’re too awful. I love, love writing them. Each poem has a different poetic structure (the cherry is getting a sonnet, but guess what: sonnets are hard) and each fruit has a different profile.
If you’re dying to read more, you can find my banana poem here, the lime poem here, and the cantaloupe poem here. If you click the “Poetry” tab in the blog, I’m sure you’ll find the rest of the ones I’ve posted so far.
And now, the latest. I wrote this on the plane ride from Des Moines to DC on Sunday. It just happened! I love it when it just happens. There’s some punctuation I need to iron out and there are always a few tweaks that come after a couple weeks, but for the most part, it’s ready. Fly, little poem!
The Lemon’s Lament
by Mary Fons
The lemon’s a tragic figure, And we’ve all got juice on our hands;
We make no effort to understand it —
Just lemony demands.
We grab dignity-sucking slices and wedges,
Ne’er value it as a whole;
Unless there’s a food to squeeze it on,
The lemon rots within the bowl.
“Water with lemon” we might request,
“Lemon with my fish”;
Lemon’s must divide or stoop to conquer,
And roundly reject their wish
To feel nimble fingers peel away
Bright, pock-marked, pithy skin,
Exposing tender fruitmeat,
Poised to drip down someone’s chin.
Nay, this has never happened,
(A lemon hardly peels!)
Instead it’s sliced into a dozen slices,
With no regard to how that feels.
Tabbouleh, pound cake, salad dressing
All need a touch of tart;
For the chef to achieve these flavor profiles,
Why, it’s tang they must impart —
‘Course they won’t then toss the lemon in
To whatever dish they serve;
The lemon’s tossed into the bin,
(The callousness, the nerve)
But Lemon knows they cannot do so —
Lemon accepts this as a fact;
It has no life beyond a garnish,
The squirt its closing act.
For when we all select a fruit to eat
The lemon has no place;
It offers only pain to man —
It’s written on his face.
Lemon plays the outfield, always
Never pitcher, never hitter,
Forever weeping acid tears;
And you wonder why it’s bitter.
When’s the last time you were in Sioux City? Yeah, me neither, but I’m glad I’m here. Sioux City is pretty cool. The downtown makes a good first impression as you roll in with its copper-colored bricks, clocktower, and a few tall buildings. I consulted the oracle* to learn a bit about this town that is almost in South Dakota and almost in Nebraska.
Here are 5 notable things I’ve learned about Sioux City:
1. In 2010, Money magazine named Sioux City one of the best places to live in the world. I can’t find the article but that’s a very nice thing to say, Money, and I’m sure you had your reasons.
2. There is a creek here called Bacon Creek. Not Beacon. Not Macon. Bacon.
3. Try as I might, I cannot stop laughing over the fact that the airport code for Sioux City is SUX. It’s just not fair. Someone, please do something about this. It’s time.
4. The Twin Bing candy your ancestors ate? Made in Sioux City. It even says so on the wrapper. I feel like the Twin Bing is primed for a comeback via the post-hipster set. I can see a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Chicago working a Twin Bing foam into the pork chop dish; I can see an all-natural cosmetics company making a Twin Bing exfoliant.
5. Guess who was born here? Pauline Esther Friedman and her twin sister Esther Pauline Friedman, better known as Abigail Van Buren (“Dear Abby”) and Ann Landers, respectively. Yes! The advice columnists known for the sassy, brassy advice they gave the American people for over two centuries. Did you know those two women were sisters? Twins, even?! And did you know they hated each other and though people said they reconciled their bitter competition at some point, they totally did not? You can’t write this stuff!
And I am falling asleep in this chair, proof that you can write this stuff, but not anymore tonight.
There’s a special pleasure in reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson while living in the city he lived in for many years in a country he basically designed. The biography is a slim one, I must confess; I love reading about the early years of our nation, but there are only so many Shay’s Rebellions and trips back and forth on the Atlantic I can put in my head before I need a snack.
Here are three things you might not know about Jefferson. Two of them come from reading this biography; one of them does not. If you can guess which fact was not included in the book I’m reading, I’ll make you a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
1. Maybe I’m outing myself as a boob for not knowing it, but I didn’t know that for about five years (1784-1789) Jefferson lived in Paris. It wasn’t a vacation: he was serving in a kind of ambassador position alongside Ben Franklin and John Adams as America got itself together. As you probably do know, France was pretty important in the whole “America” thing and there was plenty of stuff for the three bigwigs (ha!) to do in Paris. Not surprisingly, Jefferson loved living there, and I just love thinking about one of our founding fathers eating pan au chocolate on his way to the office.
2. On lists of “Fascinating Facts About Thomas Jefferson”, you’ll often find that Jefferson owned thousands of books. You might even learn that he sold them to replenish the Library of Congress when it was sacked in the War of 1812. This is all true. Jefferson sold nearly 6,500 of his books to the Library for $24k. What isn’t mentioned is how he organized his library; he put all those thousands of books under one of three categories: Memory, Understanding, or Imagination. How cool is that? It was a concept based on a Francis Bacon book, apparently. I like that everything he read — and everything we read — can be put into those three categories.
3. Thomas Jefferson invented macaroni and cheese. Well, he didn’t invent it. But he really liked macaroni noodles with cheese baked in the oven; he probably had something similar in France (see No. 1) and it appears everyone who came to dinner at Monticello was served macaroni pie. The Jefferson-mac n’ cheese connection is a thing; there’s a lot about it on the Internet. I’ll leave it to you to explore further. We can all be very, very glad there has not yet been an ad campaign for mac-n-cheese featuring Jefferson’s face.
This weekend I have to get everything ready for a big event in Iowa, but I have promised myself to take a break and go to the Jefferson Memorial. It’s a 20-minute ride on the subway to get there, one more reason why I adore my new hometown. I will lay a pan au chocolate on the steps, Mr. President.
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.
If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.
Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.
Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.
I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street — casual as anything — steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers. This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the encounter many times and believe that’s correct.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.
There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.
I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.
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 hung out with my new friend Carla last night at a cafe where everyone was way, way cooler than I will ever be. Carla and I were jamming on quilt world trends and interests. Carla is a proficient quilter and, in my view, has her finger squished squarely on the pulse of the Internet as it relates to quilts, quilters, and quiltmaking in America in 2015. I am not good at keeping up on all this because I am not good at keeping up on voicemail, let alone what hot UK designer is doing with partial seams. I’m not proud of it, but at least I know who to ask.
The conversation turned at one point to my own position in the quilt blogosphere. (I didn’t bring it up, please note!) It was uncomfortable to hear that in Carla’s estimation, I could do a lot better with sharing my quiltmaking process, the projects I have going, the day-to-day life I have as a person who regularly works with fabric and thread.
“It does seem that your projects sort of emerge when they’re done,” Carla said, munching a pear from her salad. “People like to see process. They want to know you better as a designer, I think, as a fellow quilter.”
Thus, a picture of my sewing table. My sewing table is also my table-table. I have no other table in this furnished apartment and it’s a good thing, too: to have a second table just for breakfast, say, I’d have to stack it on top of this one and then where would I put my washer and dryer? What you’re looking at up there is a fresh crop of fabric purchased in Kansas City; materials from the class I taught at the DC Modern Guild a couple weekends ago; my sewing machine; a candle that should not be there; flowers from my friend Jason that are very nearly dead but so beautiful I can’t toss, yet; and under all that, my mat, seam ripper, rotary cutter, a pattern I’m drafting, and previews of art for my upcoming fabric line.*
My design wall is directly behind the table and there are several things happening there, too. If PaperGirl were a vlog and not a blog, I would show you a full tour of my sewing area, but PaperGirl is not a vlog, will never be a vlog, and while we’re on the subject, I will never say “vlog” out loud, nor will I ever write it, ever again. Humans are capable of making good choices, as it turns out, and not allowing “v*og” into the vernacular is proof of this.
In the months to come, I plane to do a bit more curtain-drawing in this manner. There are big projects afoot and I’m champing at the bit to share about them. But don’t be surprised if one of these days “PaperGirl Too” pops up and Pendennis and I take you through how to make the quilt perpetually on my mind.
When I’m facing a challenge that seems impossible, or when I’m standing at a path in the woods that is diverging before my eyes, there’s a tool in my toolbelt I find handy. It doesn’t solve the problem for me, but it helps…with the drywall? Hm. Okay, the tool metaphor does not extend terribly well. I’ll just tell you what I mean. It’s not a complex concept — maybe it’s something people do it all the time — but if it’s new to you, perhaps it will help you with a challenge, also:
I pretend it’s the future and I’m telling someone what happened in the situation I’m currently facing. For example:
“Well, what can I say? It was a tough time in my life. I was heartsick. I left New York. I was in Washington in a kind of limbo, trying to decide if I’d stay or leave. But I trusted myself, I made what I believed was the braver choice and now look at me! I’ve never been happier.”
See what I mean? It sort of calms me down. Because it illustrates what we know will happen: we’ll talk later — casually, even off-handedly — about something that seems impossible to us now. Let’s try another one, perhaps more relevant to you than the above example:
“I never thought I’d buy an entire island. Who does that? But then I thought, ‘I am a billionaire. Why not enjoy it?’ So I shopped around and it was so extremely difficult to choose between the two I fell in love with and the legal stuff was an absolute nightmare — the French Polynesians are a real pain in the neck, trust me — but you know what? It was worth it. All the pain. All the flying back and forth. I almost gave up a dozen times. But I stuck with it. And now look at me! I’ve never been happier.”
You see what I mean.
In the next few days, I will announce the decision I’ve made regarding staying in DC or going back to Chicago. Curious? Me, too. It’s time to start telling the story.
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.
I will not write about how cold it is in Chicago. I will not write about how cold it is in Chicago. I will not write about —
It’s so cold in Chicago, “minus twenty-five” actually refers to the number of people we’ve lost to frostbite in the last hour.
It’s so cold in Chicago, when your older brother tells you to chill, you burst into tears.
It’s so cold in Chicago, you’d think you be at a bar where all the chicks is models.
It’s so cold in Chicago, the ice machines in all the restaurants are out back smoking cigarettes because dude.
It’s so cold in Chicago, I put on a shirt, a sweater, and another sweater this morning. I carefully wrapped my scarf around and around my neck and face, put on my hat and gloves, and pulled on my flea-market fur coat. Double socks, then out the door to the Latin School to talk about poems and teach storytelling to some of the most incredible students on the planet. (They’re also some of the most hardcore; Latin stayed open while most public schools in Chicago closed for the “extreme weather.” It really was -25 today.) I walked to the school from my hotel thinking, “Well, I’m bundled up. I’ll get a little walk in this morning.” The cold took my breath away; it took a half-hour being inside before my toes stopped aching.
I’m headed to Austin now for QuiltCon. When I get to Texas tonight, I’ll hang my fur coat up in the closet and I will not look at it till I leave. Remind me to get an entourage, by the way. I love my life but the schlep is killing me.
The English language is a monstrous mutt. It’s a hydra. It’s a slouch. It’s messy, confusing, and — if I may be so bold as to say it — it whores around. The French have put a cap on the words in their language, but English? She takes all comers.
And thank goodness. Because as gorgeous and vast as the English language is (there were something like 1,025,110 words as of January last year) sometimes only a word or phrase from another language will get you where you need to go. Here now are three of my favorite foreign words and terms, favorites because in a matter of syllables they precisely describe universal concepts that English can’t do in a long paragraph. First I’ll give you the word, then the dictionary definition, then a working interpretation. Also, those are my own phonetics because writing phonetics is my kind of fun on a Saturday night and I am not joking even a little.
sprezzatura: (Italian; say “spret-za-TOO-ra”) rehearsed spontaneity, studied carelessness.
When you spend 1.5 hours getting ready for a date just so you can look like you don’t care, you’re practicing sprezzatura.
l’esprit d’escalier: (French; say, “les-PREE de-skal-YEY”) Literally, “the spirit of the staircase”; the predicament of thinking of the perfect retort too late. Some jerk says something awful to you. You fume, you steam. Five minutes after you and the jerk part company, it hits you: Ooooh! You should’ve said [insert awesome comeback here.] Yes, Virginia, there’s a term for that exact feeling. “L’esprit d’escalier” is what happens when you think of the perfect, deliciously awesome thing to say to a jerk when he/she is gone and you’re halfway down the stairs, headed to your car. We’ve all been there.
Weltschmerz:(German; say, “VEL-schmertz”) a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness. I love how the Germans jam words together. Welt = world; schmertz = pain. When the bastards have gotten you down; when you don’t miss New York but you do miss the love you had there; when you spill tea in the kitchen and you clean it up but there’s still invisible-to-the-naked-eye honey on the floor in spots that sticks to your bare feet; when tax time approacheth and you’re a self-employed woman with a zillion 1099 forms that will surely all be lost in the mail this year because four addresses in 2014 (!!!!); when you go to a guild meeting — a wonderful, amazing, warm and inspiring guild meeting — and see no fewer than four pregnant women, and you feel pretty sure you will not be a mother in this life; when you forget to get shaving cream — this is Weltschmerz.
See what I mean about needing a paragraph? One word will do it if you pick the proper one. Or, as the stewardesses say (in English):
“Please locate the two exits nearest you, keeping in mind that the closest exit may be behind you.”
I’m in South Carolina and this morning, I had breakfast with a group of women who dazzle me with their professionalism, their brains, and their hair. These are Women Of The Carolinas and I, for one, am impressed. “Good” stereotypes are really no better than the bad ones, so one has to be careful about saying, “All women in the South are this or that way.” But dammit, all these women are fabulous and they are fabulous in a way I’m afraid us Yanks only dream about. It’s the hair and the mascara, yes, but it also has something to do with their reactions to things. Down here, it’s like you get a .2 second grace period that isn’t available anywhere else in the country. You get just a moment more tiiiime with everythin’ and Lord knows we all need just a little more tiiiime, sweethaart. I have to think about it some more, what the difference is, but I’m full of dinner because they keep feeding me, which isn’t a Southern thing, just a fellow human being thing.
At breakfast, one of the Carolinians ordered a food I had never heard of. When she told the waitress what she wanted, the other women at the table wrinkled their noses and rolled their eyes. “You’re gettin’ that again, oh Lord.”
“What?” the young woman said, sheepish. “Ah love livermush.”
I set my coffee down. “I’m sorry; did you say ‘livermush’?”
She blushed just a bit. “Mm-hm,” she said. This girl is very good at her job and does it while looking like a cross between Botticelli’s portrait of Simonetta Vespucci and that character Elsa from Frozen. (Have you seen that movie? Do you know what I’m talking about? No? Frozen? Well, anyway.)
I asked this girl to explain what she had just told the kitchen to give her for breakfast. Turns out livermush is foodstuff made primarily in North Carolina that consists mainly of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. This…product is formed into a loaf and then sliced up and fried. When it is fried, it is then put between two pieces of bread and served as a sandwich, or it’s served with grits and eggs, or sometimes it’s served on its own, or it’s fried and then not eaten by anyone above the Mason Dixon line or any children anywhere, ever.
There’s another name for this food: scrapple. I know this because I just spent a half-hour researching livermush. When you read this blog, you know, you learn stuff.
I’ve had scrapple. I had it at a restaurant in Chicago not long ago. There was a moment in time when any self-respecting restaurant in any self-respecting city wouldn’t be caught dead without offal** on the menu. If you didn’t have a beating cow heart, a plate of entrails, or a cocktail served in a deer hoof on your specials list, well, kid, pack it up. I was never too into all that, but I did order scrapple once. I figured it sounded so disgusting that it had to be delicious. It just had to be, at a place like that, at that price. Indeed, it was delicious. There was a small portion. It was very protein-y, and the bottle of wine I was enjoying with my companion was extremely expensive, so really, everything tasted incredible.
“Ah I know it sounds gross,” my breakfast pal said, “But livermush is great. Ah’ve loved it since I was a kid. Ah know it freaks everybody out, I’m sorry.”
Go for it, Elsa. There’s all the tiiime in the world to have regular ol’ bacon. I’ll have what you’re having; let me live your life for awhile. Mine needs a Southern-style break.
**Offal: (n.) the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food; refuse or waste material. I’ll have you know the secondary definition of offal is “decomposing animal flesh” which reminds me of this article I read about “high meat.” If you’d like to not eat anything else for the rest of the week, go google “high meat” and you let me know how that goes.
“The moving gods giveth, the moving gods taketh away.”
–– A cold, wet me @ 6:08am
Several weeks ago, when I moved out of the apartment Yuri and I shared, my sister and I loaded and re-loaded a hand-truck with boxes and hoisted duffel bags over our shoulders. We schlepped my stuff six blocks or so, from the sad and quickly emptying unit at 2nd Ave. and St. Mark’s to Nan’s place at Ave. A and E. 11th. Back and forth, back and forth we went till the job was done, sister pack mules. Every time I move (and I seem to have a knack for doing it all the time lately) I am reminded why some people find a place to settle and commence growing moss. Moving is like… Well, imagine if you had to put all the things in your house into boxes — absolutely everything. Then imagine you had to carry all those (heavy) boxes out of your house, and load them into a vehicle. And then imagine you have to take those (heavy) boxes out of the vehicle, carry them into a new house, and then unpack everything! Ha! It’s like, “No way! That would never happen!” and “That doesn’t even make sense! All your belongings?? In boxes?? Please. How would you know where anything was?”
Moving is kinda like that.
When we moved my things to Nan’s, we had good weather and were grateful for it. But the moving gods are fickle. Around 5:00 this morning, a cold, hard rain began to pelt Manhattan. This was unfortunate, as our plan was to load everything into the kidnapper van at 6:00 sharp. Nan had jury duty today and had a limited window to help me. Moving quickly, pre-dawn, we got the van loaded in about 40 minutes. Just as we were finishing up and I was wondering what to do with the van until it was time to leave several hours later, a parking spot opened up and I successfully parallel parked the beast for the second time in two days.
It rained all the way till the New Jersey Turnpike; a driving, hard rain, washing the roads in water that was clearly trying to be ice. In New York, even the rain is a hustler.
When I got to Washington, D.C., I swear, the sun broke through the clouds for the first time all day. The rain stopped. I found my street. I got the keys from the lockbox. I stepped inside…and positively squealed with delight. There’s an upstairs and a downstairs! There’s a fireplace! There’s a big, long table in the dining room that has already been converted to my sewing table! Sure, the upstairs is just the bedroom, the fireplace isn’t functional, and my dining room is small now that I have appropriated it as my sewing studio, but I couldn’t possibly be happier.
I unloaded the entire kidnapper van all by myself in about an hour. Pure adrenaline.
There is nothing easy about ruthlessly, relentlessly dedicating yourself to the pursuit of happiness. You will cut your dry fingers on cardboard boxes, you will get mud on your boots and your jeans, you will say goodbye to people at airports and, over time, you will misplace or break everything that is possible to break or misplace.
When you sit down, though — when it’s finally time to sit down and you make a cup of tea with honey — that’s when, just for a minute, it stops being so damned hard.
This morning, I walked from Avenue A to 11th Ave (that means I walked the width of the Isle of Manhattan) got my U-Haul “kidnapper” cargo van, and then drove back to Avenue A. I had never driven a car in Manhattan before today. It was cool. I was all right. I even parallel parked. Cranking the wheel back and forth to get it right was so intense my biceps hurt by the time I got in the spot. I need a massage.
I move to Washington, D.C. tomorrow morning. I’m counting minutes.
Or I would be counting minutes if I wasn’t currently coasting on a ladylike amount of pinot grigio. Never blog when you’ve split a bottle of pinot grigio with your older sister — or when you’ve split a bottle of pinot with your sister and then gone ’round to the pub across the street from the apartment to have one more glass each while a jazz quartet plays in the back of the house. Never, never blog when this has happened. Who knows what silly, unladylike things could happen.