I live downtown on the sixteenth floor of a mid-rise building. I have a south-facing wall and that wall has five windows: two of them are in my bedroom, the other three line up in the main room. I’m not surrounded by skyscrapers, thankfully, so from my perch, I can see Chicago for miles. Sometimes, I’ll bet you I can see clear to Indiana, all the way to those fruited plains. I don’t see the actual sun rise (being that I’m looking south and all) but of course I get the slowly strengthening light. I wake up quite early to catch this; it’s my favorite time of day. I make my tea, read one of the three things I have going, and write in my journal. I take from 90 minutes to two hours to do this every day, come rain, shine, or — wait for it — snow.
It’s been sifting down for hours. Every so often the white stops to catch its breath and then starts up again, and it was the same pattern a few days ago. It’s winter in the midwest.
The town I love is quiet. I look down on the street and no one is out. I look across the tops of the buildings and see white billows of steam from the heating systems working in overdrive because it’s not just snowing here: it’s cold. We’ll have temperatures back in the minuses the next few days and when it’s this bad, I think about the homeless people who will die this winter. Macabre, sure. Also true. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do in the world.
To the couch. To the books. It’s Sunday and it’s a blizzard. I may have to venture down to the 7-Eleven for milk and chocolate later, but that’s later. For now, it’s time to hunker down and enjoy one of the many quilts I have made. I have quite a selection and I do believe they were made for this.
I’ll pick my favorite of all. It’s called “Whisper,” and it’s white.
I made noise some time ago about whooping it up in Miami for New Year’s Eve. If “whooping it up” means “nursing the same glass of wine for several hours” and “”Miami” is “my condo,” that’s just what I did.
No, there was no bacchanal in a Cuban mafia-run nightclub this year; my party pal had a project at work that interfered. I can’t say I was horribly bummed not to go, however. The trouble with going to a nightclub, Miamian or otherwise, is that you have to actually enter the thing (see: bouncers, loud girls who are twenty-two, cover charge) and eventually you have to exit it (see: bouncers, puking girls who are twenty-two, empty wallets.) My friend and I stayed in Chicago and just plain stayed in. He had a slight fever and I had a quilt top to finish. Party. Animals.
But being in a quiet place meant that I heard the sounds of Chicago when the clock struck midnight and was reminded of a cultural meme that has died: the sporadic midnight cheer across the city.
Now that most of America has smartphones, we’re all on the same clock. When my phone clicks from 11:59pm to 12:00am, so does yours, regardless of the operating system or the service provider. Midnight is midnight is midnight. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, my phone clicked to 12:00, Jan. 1, 2014 and the moment it did, the city outside my window erupted in fireworks, hollering, whooping, cheering, noisemaking — all from various condo balconies and down in the streets, at exactly the same moment. The city felt the moment together because we were all together in time.
But it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, it’s only recently changed.
It used to be that you’d get a bunch of “Yeah! Hap-ee Nuuu-yeeer!” cheers from over here; a few seconds later, another crop from across the street. Then, falling over each other, in a kind of round, the alarums would fall over each other and you would reach a kind of critical mass of celebration. There might even be a few stragglers, sending cheers up a minute or two late, which only prolonged the moment for everyone, which was fine. More kissing.
That’s over, now. I’m not the sort of person who thinks “the good old days” were that terribly good; I’m a fan of science and progress. But we do lose things in the march. While it’s nice to hear everyone hosanna-ing on cue, it was also nice to hear a collection of hosannas, all a little different, all a little off.
A couple weeks ago, I felt like doing a year-end questionnaire. It seemed like a practical way to assess the close of 2013 and I have a thing for questionnaires; I get to tick little boxes or fill in blanks regarding my preferences and this is endlessly fascinating to me.
I knew my online search for a quality questionnaire would yield plenty of corporate team-building versions and “life-coach” exercises, and I was right. But I figured there had to be at least one questionnaire out there comprising twenty-odd intelligent, non-saccharine questions to asses one’s year. I was incorrect.
And so I went for the classics. Marcel Proust’s questionnaire is something you may have come across if you’ve ever read Vanity Fair magazine. The back page of the magazine offers readers the answers to Proust’s edited questionnaire given by (often annoying) famous people. But Vanity Fair annexed the questionnaire; it was the world’s long before it was Conde Nast’s. Here now is the questionnaire. It’s not a “year-end” anything, just a very good list of questions for a human being. I encourage you to fill it out for yourself. If you have no favorite heroine, if you can’t come up with your favorite poet, perhaps 2014 is the year to find these people for yourself. We all need heroines, we all need a favorite poet or two.
Happy New Year to all; may 2013 be a fond memory, even so.
1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? 2. What is your greatest fear? 3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? 4. What is the trait you most deplore in others? 5. Which living person do you most admire? 6. What is your greatest extravagance? 7. What is your current state of mind? 8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 9. On what occasion do you lie? 10. What do you most dislike about your appearance? 11. Which living person do you most despise? 12. What is the quality you most like in a man? 13. What is the quality you most like in a woman? 14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 15. What or who is the greatest love of your life? 16. When and where were you happiest? 17. Which talent would you most like to have? 18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 19. What do you consider your greatest achievement? 20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? 21. Where would you most like to live? 22. What is your most treasured possession? 23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 24. What is your favorite occupation? 25. What is your most marked characteristic? 26. What do you most value in your friends? 27. Who are your favorite writers? 28. Who is your hero of fiction? 29. Which historical figure do you most identify with? 30. Who are your heroes in real life? 31. What are your favorite names? 32. What is it that you most dislike? 33. What is your greatest regret? 34. How would you like to die? 35. What is your motto?
If you’re in Chicago in the early evening, any time of year, walking south on State Street just past Monroe, you will be offered a flyer by a tall black man. This is not an omen: it will absolutely happen, I can almost guarantee it.
This is because there is a dude that stands there at State and Monroe and hands out flyers. He’s always there. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night* keeps this guy from hanging out at his spot. I have passed him countless times in the past two years and said, “Nah, not today,” when he tried to give me his handbill. But in a city filled with hysterical street preachers, insane/vocal itinerants, and the jingling cups of a thousand beggars, here’s what’s interesting about this guy:
– he’s well-dressed
– he can’t be over 30
– he never says anything
– I’ve gotten tiny glimpses of the content on his flyers and have never detected hate speech, “Repent Now!!!” stuff, etc., which is typically the only content covered in such tracts.
Still, I never took what he offered — until tonight. My choice of evening was not great. I was walking with way too much stuff to carry by myself. It was eight degrees. I was hoping I could make it to the bus stop before the bus did, but it didn’t look good. I passed the dude and said “No thanks, man,” as usual, but I noticed he was offering a thick, perfect-bound book, not just the usual 8×10 photocopy. Hm. I walked a few paces, stopped, turned around, and went back.
“Hey, man. You know, I’ve been passing you for like two years, now, and never taken your stuff.” The plastic bag in my hand was about to rip open and was full of bedding that surely weighed twenty-five pounds if it weighed an ounce. The dude started to speak but I interrupted him. It had to be done. Remember, it was eight degrees.
“Wait, wait. The book. Is it full of religious stuff? Like, a lot of God stuff? I really wouldn’t be into that, so just tell me now.”
Up close, the guy did not in fact appear insane. He said, “Okay, well, there is God in there, I mean, but I write about all kinds of things.”
“Okay, cool. How much?”
Here was the pitch, which was to be expected. “The original price is $19.95,” he said, “But I’m selling it for ten right now.”
I hauled my bag over the other shoulder and dug into my purse. I opened my pocket book. I had exactly seven dollars. I showed him. “I got seven bucks, man. That cleans me out. Will you take seven?” He gave me dirty look but acquiesced. I gave him the dough, he gave me his book, that was it.
It’s pretty bad. For example, in the appendix (?) he talks about his process and says the following (all sic):
“The time inbetwee epipanies and lyrics will represent concentrated thought…absorbed by the reader and can be extracted or deduced or deconsentrated. For example, they would wonder what made you go from this idea to the next…This is how I write some of my literature.”
You see what I mean. But there’s heart, and in the dedication the guy thanks his elementary school teachers, saying that they, “did the best they could with whatever resources they had, to give us a quality education.” He also thanks his mother for her “constant home school lessons” and ends with a solemn and sincere, “This book wouldn’t exist without you all.”
Keep writing, man. I will if you will. And stay warm out there.
*Some may recognize this language; I’ve annexed the gorgeous U.S. Postal Service creed, which goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Stunning.
When I had the flu the other day, I had zero appetite. The mere mention of eating was enough to make me holler in anguish from my sickbed. Except that one thing actually did sound good: chicken-flavored Maruchan Top Ramen.
Look, I don’t make the rules. I have no idea why a block of sodium starch is a curative for me, but when I am at death’s door, convenience store ramen noodles save the day. I can say with conviction because when I was gravely ill with ulcerative colitis and the first of the surgical complications years ago, Top Ramen kept me alive. Fine, okay, the horse pill antibiotics and the doctors did their part, but if it weren’t for the inexplicable deliciousness of cheap ramen, I would have had a feeding tube earlier than I did.
I would sit on my mother’s couch, an increasingly wispy wisp of a thing, dazed with morphine and woozy from the blood thinner delivered in my hindquarters twice a day via injection. I would watch something on television (I think?) and I would try and get up to walk because that was supposed to be important, but mostly I just waited till Mom or my husband at the time would come to flush my wound drains. I’ve described a fraction of it. It was horrid.
“Honey, what do you think you can eat?” my mother would ask, coming into the living room. She had new lines on her face.
We tried ice cream. We tried cheese. We tried pudding. We tried crackers. Chips. Soups. Cookies. I would take one bite and push it away and I missed my appetite. So many times as a twenty-something woman I had dieted for periods of time, fervently wishing I could have no appetite — it sounded so simple! — so that I could slim down my hips for the summer or whatever crucial event I felt couldn’t be fun or successful unless I was skinny. But when my appetite actually vanished, and for such a long time, I mourned it. Nourishment is not just about calories; it’s about vitality. I was not vital. There was no bloom in my cheek.
Then one day, I said, “Mom, I think I want some ramen noodles.”
I ate them. The whole block. They were salty and easy to swallow. They were fun to eat, those looooong curly noodles and the bullion broth was free of bits, chunks, vegetal matter of any kind. It is a benign substance, Top Ramen. There is nothing to avoid; there is surrender to simplicity. It is the anti-foodie food. The nutritional value is dubious at best, but dammit if there aren’t 400-something calories per block and at that point, that was 400 more calories than I was getting.
Every day, I ate ramen for breakfast, my sole “meal” of the day. I even looked forward to the moment when Mama would come in with my tray. It makes me cry to think of her now in her red robe, coming in with a chipper smile and the wooden tray with the big bowl. She always had a cloth napkin for me and a dinner fork. She’d place the tray on the big trunk we used for a coffee table and say, “Bon appetite, sweetie,” and I would say “Thanks, Mama,” and start to eat, slowly, bringing a forkful of noodles all the way up, high above my head. I’d tip my head back and open my mouth and the day would begin that way, looking up at the ceiling, at nothing but the moment and the noodle at hand. At that dark time, the moment was the wisest place to gaze.
I live within spittin’ distance of Chicago’s legendary downtown Hilton hotel. The Beaux-Arts-style building takes up a whole city block; there are over 1,500 rooms! It has some neat history, too: every U.S. president since 1927 has stayed there, and someone recently told me that when the riots broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, so much tear gas was used by police on the protestors in Grant Park that the gas made its way inside the Hilton, where Hubert Humphrey was taking a shower. Sorry, dude.
The sky-high lobbies inside are gorgeous, especially this time of year; the whole place is festooned with pine bunting and poinsettias and twinkly lights aglow. There’s a towering Christmas tree inside the main entrance, too. Yesterday, I saw a kid nearly fall over backward while he looked up at it.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working over there during the day. I’ve found an even better spot: downstairs, in front of the lounge fireplace. I go over each day and the first thing I do, the very first thing, is go to the hotel event screen. This is the big screen near the bank of elevators that tells what conventions are being held that day at the Hilton. (Though there are two hotels in the city with more rooms, nobody has more meeting or event space than my Hilton.) Nothing but nothing entertains me more than looking at a list of what people congregate to talk about. Here’s who’s meeting at the Hilton this week:
E & J Gallo Winery
Customer Supply Chain Connection, University of Chicago
The Mid-American Competing Band Directors Association (MACBDA)
Thompson Holiday Event
I love it! I love to think about a band director literally bumping into a wine salesperson in the long line at the interior Starbucks. She spills her latte on him, he’s nice about it, they laugh about holiday craziness and bam! They fall in love. Years later, at a party, they recount the tale to their friend Julie. And now, a short play.
The Hilton Made Me Love You
A play by Mary Fons (c) 2013
SUE: Darling, why don’t you tell it?
CHARLES: Tell what?
SUE: How we met. Julie wants to know.
JULIE: Tell, tell!
CHARLES: (beaming at SUE.) Well… We were in Chicago.
JULIE: I love Chicago!
CHARLES: We do too, don’t we darling?
SUE: Oh, Charles! CHARLES: I was there for Gallo. Sue was there for MACBDA, if you can believe it.
SUE: Back when I was still a band director! Isn’t it incredible?
JULIE: I’m so glad you moved into aeronautics.
SUE: Me too. Go on, sweetheart.
CHARLES: We were in line at the Starbucks and Sue bumped into me. She spilled her entire latte all over my shoes. It was an absolute disaster.
SUE: (swatting him.) It wasn’t the whole latte!
CHARLES: It was an entire latte.
SUE: Oh, you!
CHARLES: We got to talking. Sue actually got on her knees to wipe the milk off my shoes and we started laughing… Honey, that was the first day of the rest of my life.
SUE: (with a wink.) Room 1423?
JULIE: (gasps.) You didn’t!
CHARLES: Thirty years later, you’re still the girl of my dreams.
SUE: Charles, you’re my hero.
I cannot stay in my home when the second phase of the renovation begins and so I am leaving on a jet plane. I will go to Miami, then Las Vegas, then Iowa, then New York City, in that order, and you’re coming with me.
First, I should say that the bathroom looks incredible and it’s not even finished. The Greek key tile inlay is exquisite and now that it’s done, the rest of the bathroom will go quickly, but this means that the kitchen is about to be dismantled with sledgehammers and picks and slathered with dry wall and plaster and wet tile goo and mortar and sweat. The dust produced by the bathroom work over these weeks has threatened to choke me dead or drive me insane for the simple reason that my house has become impossible to clean. A visible layer of powdered wall daily sifts itself down upon my books, my tables, my quilts (!) and no amount of dusting, wiping, swabbing, etc., ameliorates the situation for more than a matter of hours. The kitchen is twice the size of the bathroom and the thought of doubling my already sisyphean dusting attempts creates in my brain uncomfortable, hula hoop-like gyrations. I work from home, for heaven’s sake. There is no escape here. So I will leave.
Signs point to Miami for New Year’s, which I’m excited for; I’ve never been and wanna see the art. I’ll be in Las Vegas for just a few days in mid-January, randomly; I actually have a a mild affinity for Vegas — all those feathers! Then I think I should head over to Iowa and work in the magazine office for a spell; good for the job, good for the team, good for the parental units who live in town, as well. And then, if a few things fall into place, I’ll be off to New York City, where I’ll stay with my older sister and eat lots of chickpea crust pizza in the East Village and visit my favorite resale shops that sell used Balenciaga at 80% off 60% off. Only in New York can you get an exquisite Dries Van Noten, bias-cut, asymmetrical cape-coat-pantaloon, used, for $85 bucks. Combien j’aime la mode…
So. You wanna go?
You’ll see Miami through my virgin eyes. You’ll see Vegas through a filter of someone who’s a) been there before and b) never gambles. You’ll see Iowa; glorious, quotidian Iowa where there are only feathers on the birds, thereby giving us more opportunity for reflection and rest (a good thing after Miami and Vegas to be sure.) And then New York City, the huge, glittering onyx in Earth’s fancy cocktail ring.* Oh, it will all be a gas and I do so love to see new things and write it all down. We’ll have fun, you and me, and when I come home, the bathroom and kitchen will be done.
I have some packing to do.
*In fact, I am headed to New York on the 20th of this month, as well. The Fons Family is having Christmas in NYC this year, so if you read this blog regularly, you’ll get plenty of New York stories over the holiday; this may come in handy if you’re stuck in Boise and need something sensational to read.
money from a slot machine
favor with the king
These are all good things to win and I have won maybe two of them. When I was very young, I also won a prize from a pack of gum. Now, this wasn’t some lame Tootsie Roll Pop prize from a Tootsie Roll Pop star. Remember those? If you got an Indian* shooting a star on your Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper, you could take the wrapper to the dimestore and get a FREE Tootsie Roll Pop. This wasn’t that long ago, even though it sounds way too good to be true; this happened right there in my small town in Iowa in the early 1990s. (I promise you: the next time I’m back home, I’ll take a starred Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper to the counter and let you know here on the blog if it still works.)
It was a sunny afternoon. I was knee-high to a cornstalk. My sister Hannah and I were playing in the living room of our family’s country home. There was this huge picture window that looked out onto the orchard and I remember being afraid of the boxelder bug that was making its slow path up to the top. Somehow, gloriously, I had scored an entire pack of HubbaBubba bubble gum and I was working my way through the stack, making every piece count. I chewed one soft pink wad until it was dead and then went for the next. I unwrapped the hot pink wrapping on the gum carefully, probably because I wanted to make a dress for my finger out of it later.
Then it happened. Tearing away more paper, I saw that one of the individually-wrapped cubes of gum was wrapped in a different color of paper.
“MARY!” my sister Hannah screamed. She practically took flight, so fast she was in moving from her spot on the couch to where I was on the carpet. She tackled me, gaping, wide-eyed at the pack in my paw. “MARY, YOU WON!”
It said it right there: “YOU WON!!! YOU WON!!! YOU WON!!! YOU WON!!!” again and again, printed round and round in teeny-tiny little hot pink letters on a white gum wrapper. Dumbly, I examined it. I won? What did that mean? Luck was not a concept I grasped at that point in my life, to say nothing of fate or providence — I was just excited because my sister was. She patiently explained to me that I was going to get a toy just because I had the pack of gum with the special wrapper and I think that was exactly the moment I did understand the concept of luck. File under, “Paradise, lost.”
My prize was the coolest. I was given the chance choose between a He-Man action figure and a She-Ra action figure. I didn’t get to choose the specific doll, but I could call gender. I firmly selected the She-Ra doll and about a year later I received my Hubba Bubba spoils. I got a Catra doll. Catra was a member of — wait for it — “The Evil Horde,” the fearsome (or just “fierce” — heyy!) pack of villains in Mattel’s She-Ra: Princess of Power series. Would I have rather had She-Ra? Yes. Would I have settled for Castaspella, Spinnarella, or Sweet Bee? Don’t remind me! But Catra would do; she was the most powerful of all the Evil Horde and she was free, after all. That’s the second best part of winning something: first comes the surprise, then comes the free stuff.
When I think about childlike wonder this time of year, I think of winning a She-Ra doll in a pack of Hubba Bubba bubble gum. I guess it’s because I felt like there was magic in the world that would find me, or that there were forces beyond me that were waiting to grant favors to kids who were good. The best news ever is that we’re all good and the force is with us already. And yeah, I know I just mixed my sci-fi action figure catch phrases, but I don’t think Yoda minds. He didn’t sign with Hubba Bubba.
The objects in my home that get handled the most would probably be, in order: house keys, tea tray, journal, little red radio. That last is my Tivoli SongBook (why, even the name is melodious!) and I hook it up to my computer to amplify the podcasts, music, and YouTube videos of the IQ2 debates I watch while I sew patchwork. If I could carry my tea and open my door with my Tivoli radio I would. (Replacing the journal would be tough.)
The Tivoli Songbook really is book-sized, if that book is the Penguin Classics edition of Great Expectations — and a satisfying thickness it is. The radio comes in several colors; mine is tomato red. There’s a tiny screen that glows a luminous ice blue when the radio is on and I appreciate the generous length of the antenna even though it doesn’t still doesn’t help me get reception in my condo. The SongBook gets loud, too, which is good for those moments when you need to bust out and dance like a maniac to the latest Lady Gaga record while you brush your teeth.
All of these qualities would be enough to to make my little red radio lovable, but I have another potent reason: I have gravely mishandled my SongBook and it still loves me.
I have dropped that thing a hundred times if I’ve dropped it once. I have plugged it into bum outlets and wiggled the cord like I was loosening a tooth; when I move papers too hastily it hits the wood table slap! flat on its back; the tip of the antenna snapped off; and when the Gaga is turned up way loud, the speaker threatens to blow out but never does. The wee radio keeps going. Sometimes I have to make a fist and bang it on the top to get it to work, but even that makes me happy: I feel like a soldier in WWI, smacking my radio receiver in the trenches: “Tivoli, this is Fons, do you copy??”
The Tivoli company didn’t pay me to write this post, by the way. They certainly could, though I doubt most companies are in the business of finding free publicity and then retroactively paying for it. Still, I recommend the SongBook this year as an excellent Christmas gift for someone you love. It runs about $200 and that’s not exactly cheap, but I guarantee pleasure for years (of abuse) to come.
Why, why did I feel that wearing red, dinner plate-sized Sally Jessy Raphael glasses was the right choice? I was in fifth grade and my glasses were three years on and I remember the day in second grade when I had to get them; there was wonderment that my body needed help. I suppose I hadn’t felt that way since I was a baby who needed milk and I didn’t remember being a baby needing milk. I got my first pair of glasses (a little girl in glasses!) and they were clear frames until I moved to red. Big red.
Several years ago, I returned to the glasses style of my youth — the clear frame.
Gone were the stylish black Chanel frames I so tried to rock. They just look bitchy. I am a nerd. I am a word nerd, a spy from The Land of Dork. I’m fooling everyone unless I fool no one at all, which happens regularly. And so the black frames, the cat-eye look, this is folly. I am the proud owner of big, thick, clear plastic frames now and I feel happy when I wear them. It’s like I’m saying to myself as a kid, “You are killing me. You are so outre right now. But I adore you. Somewhere in that child brain is a deep need for fashion and I suppose those terrible glasses are your little fashion trumpet. I might as well tell you: I have a pair, too. Blow, child. Blow ye fashion trumpet.”
The clear glasses above are from a company called Miltzen. Andy Warhol wore that exact style for most of his life (until he moved to red in his later years.) The truth is, my clear plastic frames are bent and nearly busted at this point and it’s time to update. I’ll be going with these. They’re slightly less socially inexcusable.
Not that I care. Not that I’ve ever cared that much.
I broke my usual rule to opt out of Black Friday shopping. I broke my rule because it was a matter of survival. I bought $50.04 worth of hunter orange today to protect my kith and kin.
Up here on the Island, we are at the height of deer hunting season. This means dozens of people are in the woods with guns at any hour of the day, prowling around for animals to shoot. As everyone in this house is an animal and most of the Island is woods, the past few days have been ever-so-slightly tense — and it ain’t because we’ve been playing 6 hours of Yahtzee every day. Mom spoke to the sheriff at the general store last week and the conversation centered around one main idea: this week, if you leave your house without dressing in head-to-toe hunter orange, you’re probably going to get shot.
When Mom reported this, many pairs of eyebrows were raised. We’ve been on the Island at all times of the year for decades and we’ve never been on such high alert. Apparently, there are way more people hunting this year than ever and apparently, my family has been taking our lives in our hands for years, taking out the garbage, walking to the car, opening a window, etc., in normal-people clothes.
Last night, everyone at the house under 40 went out to Nelsen’s for carousing. Nelsen’s Hall is the ale house on Main Road where you can get a bucket of Maker’s Mark for three dollars. We shot pool, we played songs on the juke, we laughed till our sides hurt, and we made sure to check with some locals on the whole hunter orange thing. We simply didn’t believe the sheriff that it was that dangerous outside.
We asked the bartender first. She was beautiful; pleasantly plump, with the creamy skin one can only achieve by being fed cheese curds from infancy. She looked at us all blankly.
“Why do you want to be outside? It’s winter.”
We didn’t end up asking anyone else.
Today, I stopped by the mercantile and I bought fifty bucks worth of neon orange stuff: a vest, a sweatshirt, some duct tape, two hats, and a kerchief that was so stiff you could use it as a bone saw in a pinch. Better safe than shot, I say.
Ah, I forgot: I bought something else, too.
Kristina and I stopped by Fisk’s restaurant to inquire about the fish dinner tonight and we spied two freshly baked pies cooling on a shelf. Pumpkin! They were clearly not on offer for sale, but we asked if we could buy a whole one, anyway. Sure, they said, twelve bucks. We forked over the cash and promised to bring back the pie tin when the pie was gone. That means I actually spend $62.04 on Black Friday, but for survival and pie, I shall make exceptions.
*Blaze Orange is a photographic coffee table book full of timeless images of the Whitetail Deer gun hunting season in Wisconsin. Wisconsin deer hunting is all about family. Families raise their children safely into the sport of hunting which is filled with traditions. Wisconsin’s Whitetail Deer gun season is 9 days long and requires hunters to wear Blaze Orange for safety. The season in closely monitored by the Wisconsin DNR. The DNR expects more than 600,000 hunters, about 10% of the state’s population, to take to the Wisconsin woods and fields next weekend. Wisconsin deer hunting runs deep with heritage for many Wisconsinites as the deer season here has an almost cult-like following.
“Can I have a another cooky first? You tell long stories.”
“Here. Anything else?”
“Good. Okay, then, PaperGirl. Well, once upon a time, long ago, I wrote a poem.”
“What was it called?”
“I’m getting to it. It was called ‘The Paper Poem,’ and it was an extended metaphor about the nature of existence being fragile like paper, but beautiful, too, like paper is beautiful.”
“Before your time.”
“Oh. Your poem sounds cool, grandma.”
“I liked it. Other people liked it, too, and I performed it in many places all over the country.”
“Like in Bismark?”
“No, never actually in Bismark, I don’t think. Maybe. It was a long time ago. Anyway, there’s a verse where I say ‘I will be your paper girl,’ and that’s where ‘PaperGirl’ comes from.”
“What’s the verse?”
“You want to hear the whole verse?”
“Is it long?”
“No, it’s not long. It’s the second-to-last verse of the poem and it goes like this:
But if you are a paper doll, too, then I shall know you on sight,
And if you are with me, come with me tonight; I will match up our bodies
by the tears in our arms —
We will form paper barricades against matchstick harm;
I will make paper love to you for as long as I can in this shreddable world;
I will be your paper girl.
“That’s nice, grandma.”
“And you named your blog that because of that poem?”
“Yes. And PaperGirl is the name of my LLC, too. And that small island I bought. And the Beaux Arts building you like so much in Paris. And my foundation in Dubai and all the vineyards in Spain. Everything in my empire, it’s all under the PaperGirl umbrella.”
The riot of pink in the picture above is a dress, and that’s my leg, and that big black annoyance hanging from the bottom is the new anti-theft system recently deployed at Bloomingdale’s in Chicago and, I assume, everywhere else. Sorry the picture is reversed — I was trying to get a shot that didn’t get too friendly and was up close enough to allow you to examine the device. I partially succeeded. Sorry, Mom.
Department stores have long used electronic sensors on their garments as well they should. Thieving from a store is not cool and those honks and buzzers that sound at the door when someone tries to take a non-paid-for item of clothing past them have surely deterred countless people from trying to do so. But there’s a new game in town because there’s a different kind of theft the Bloomie’s folks are after: buying something, wearing it, then returning it.
In the ephemeral world of fashion, I can see how this would appeal: wear an item once, take it back, get another, etc., like you’ve got your own little revolving closet. I’ve never considered it because a) it didn’t occur to me, b) too much trouble anyway, and c) ew. But it apparently happens all the time, so the Bloomingdale’s corporation has invented an anti-returning system and though I am hardly a thief, I believe it is the death of shopping. At least at Bloomingdale’s. At least for me.
Here’s how it works: There’s a big black tag on the item you purchase (see photo.) It stays on the item after you pay for it. They don’t take it off at the store like the other sensors — yes, the other sensors are still on the garment, too. When you get home, if you intend to keep the item, you take off the big black tag. You break it off, actually, because you have to twist and pull the top of the bottle cap thingy and it shatters in your hand. Once the plastic is broken you cannot return the item. I’m not sure if you get store credit, but I’m pretty sure you..don’t? I don’t know because I decided to keep my pink dress, but then, I had decided to keep it before. In the store. When I bought it.
Oh, Bloomingdale’s. You so strangely killed my shopping joy. You know how when you lose your favorite bra (don’t ask me how this can happen and I won’t have to tell you) and you have to replace it? In no way is it fun. It was so fun when you found your favorite bra! You bought it! It was like your best friend and you were so happy because you chose it, or it chose you! Then it goes missing and you have to trudge back to the store and find it, or search online and find it, and when you hit “buy” or when you plunk down your money, it’s depressing. The thrill of buying something new is gone.
That’s how I felt with that damned tag. I got home. I was so excited about my dress. Then I saw that tag and instantly, I had second thoughts. Did I really want it? I bought it, but did I really want to buy it? This was for keeps. This was like getting pinned by a boyfriend. The gods were pressing me: Mary, you loved this enough to buy it but do you really really really love it enough to keep it? FOREVER??
No! I… I don’t know! It’s a dress! There are lots of dresses! Maybe I should return it! But I was going to wear it! But it’s forever! But! Bloomingdale’s, I hate you! I like this dress but now I hate it!
In my frenzy, I grabbed the tag and twisted and smash! the tag shattered and the dress was really really mine, as opposed to almost being mine before. Total and complete fail, Bloomingdale’s. I fear that all the shops will go this route soon and when you are faced with this, friends, you will understand.
I wore the dress that night but you know what? It drapes strangely on the hanger and it’s never the dress calling to me when I open the door to my closet. Most dresses say things like, “Mary… Pick me… I’m fun…” This one says something more like, “Mary… We’re married and we’re going to visit my mother for the weekend…”
I pass by the Joel Oppenheimer Gallery on Michigan Avenue at least a few times a week when I’m home. It’s on the ground floor of the Wrigley Building, and for several years I didn’t go in because it appeared painfully fancy from the outside. The Wrigley Building, referred to as “the jewel of the Mile,” is a two-winged castle, Chicago’s Big Ben, a tribute to human potential and intelligence, it is among our finest hours as a city. A gallery worthy of space on the first floor of a building like this can’t help but be intimidating, but then I reminded myself one afternoon that the whole Wrigley empire was built on chewing gum. That day, I went in.
The Joel Oppenheimer Gallery, which is staffed by a small number of terrifically friendly people (including the handsome Sarah and Mr. Oppenheimer himself, who on the day I met him was wearing a snappy bow-tie I’ll wager is part of his daily ensemble), specializes in John James Audubon prints. Did you have Audubon’s Birds of America in your house as a kid? We did. Kids are nuts about animals and drawings and drawings of animals and I remember poring over the illustrations in that huge book for hours, freaked out by what I considered ugly birds (vultures, and I was right) and delighting in the sweet ones (lo, the tufted titmouse!) All creatures great and small may be wise and wonderful but some are more wonderful than others:
I had my eye on a print in the window for so long and when greeted by the kindly Sarah on the day of a big sale at the gallery, I pulled the trigger. I love my art and I now love the gallery. On their website they say, “Inquiries are received with pleasure.” With pleasure! Note: Sarah’s desk is a bit foreboding when you walk in, all lacquered and finely turned, but her ever-present, generous wine glass of orange juice atop it quells nerves.
There’s one other piece I’m after. Something about life in the last few years has made me more open to a certain strain of ugliness. The jolie-laide is cool with me, surely because I’m more of a realist than I ever was and there is comfort in looking at things the way they are and the way they are is not always soft n’ glossy. While I don’t plan to inquire to Joel or Sarah’s pleasure about any vulture renderings, I have been obsessing slightly about that guy up top. The warthog.
He’s huge. Several feet across and so tall. Where would I put him? The bathroom? Would I get ready faster in the morning? He couldn’t go into my bedroom; I’d scare my guests. Perhaps the hall, but he needs room to breathe. If the price is even within the galaxy of possibility for my budget (doubtful) I’d get him and figure it out later. Maybe he could go in the kitchen. He looks pretty hungry.
I like him because he’s ugly. I like him because he’s so ugly, he magnificent. He didn’t choose not to be a titmouse. He’s just a lil’ peccary, squalling and stomping, feral and powerful enough to go into any building, faster than me.
One day not long ago, I got very sick on an airplane.
As it turns out, something inside my body had ruptured. Is there any more terrifying word that “rupture”? So close to “rapture” you wonder if someone was joking. What ruptured wasn’t an appendix (there’s just one, right?) and it wasn’t my spleen, but it felt like I was dying when it happened. Considering my history of being quite sick for long stretches with ulcerative colitis and complications from it, I not only felt like I was dying, I recognized the feeling of feeling like I was dying and this made it all worse.
You need to know that this story has a happy, funny ending. But I have to tell you how bad it was before we get there because it’s part of how we get there.
I was bent over so far in my seat, clutching my abdomen, that my head was almost under the seat in front of me. White as freshly fallen snow, I vomited once, twice, almost three times, that’s how bad the pain was. When you’re involuntarily barfing from agony, you know something is very wrong. The people next to me shot out of the their seats (honestly, it was more to help and less because of the vomit, but the latter probably contributed) and before I knew it, I was laid out on the three seats and I heard over the PA, “Is there a doctor on board?” Really, they said that!
A man came up to me, looked extremely concerned, asked me if I might be pregnant, I squeaked out a “No, I don’t think so” and then I passed out a little. I say “a little” because I don’t remember anything else before suddenly being in a wheelchair at my gate with paramedics looking at me and writing things down.
I got pain medicine in my body and felt markedly better and really, the whole thing kind of cleared up pretty quickly, though I was bone tired. If you really want to know, which you maybe don’t but I’ll tell you because I don’t want to confuse you: I had an ovarian cyst. A largish one. And it raptured.
So then came Verda.
Verda was fifty-something employee of the Atlanta airport (ATL). Verda was charged with getting my gimpy self to my connecting gate. The paramedics, deciding that I was actually okay, cleared Verda to whisk me off. Whisk me off, she did.
“Honey,” Verda said, “You thirsty? You need a snack? Let’s get you something, honey, you’ve been through a lot.” She was a true Atlantan, a black woman, a mother with a southern accent. She wheeled me into a Hudson News and I was eye-level to the chips and candy.
“Get you some chips, honey. The salt will be good for you. You like potato chips?” I said that I did, sure, and reached for PopChips. Verda nearly smacked my hand.
“Mm, no, no. You want those?? Honey, get the regular. They’re better.” She grabbed a large bag of Classic Lay’s and put it on the counter. I got a Gatorade, too, and Verda got me her employee discount. As we moved out of the shop and into the stream of airport traffic, Verda began to talk. Totally unprovoked, she told me about her current situation. I listened with rapt attention and cracked the bag of Lay’s. She was right. They were way, way better than any PopChip and my body nearly screamed, “Oh God! Thank you!” when the salt and fat hit my tongue.
“Honey, I got problems,” Verda said. “I tell you what. This young man’s after me! Right here at work! He’s sayin’ all kinds of things. Honey, I’ll tell you right away: I’m a married woman. This young man, hm! he doesn’t seem to mind that, and I’m tellin’ him, ‘What do you want with some married woman!’ And child, I am twice his age! But he keeps after me and I just don’t know.”
“Verda!” I exclaimed, instantly all in, “What are you gonna do?”
“Nothin’! Nothin’ at all!” We were passing through the C terminal when Verda paused and lowered her head down to mine. “I ain’t the kind, but lemme tell you…” Pause, then with a keen eye on mine: “You open-minded?”
I nearly choked on a chip.
“Yes,” I said, swallowing, thankful I was faced front with Verda behind me; she couldn’t see my ill-conceived glee. This was the most brilliant code for “Can I tell you something I shouldn’t? Something of a prurient nature?” I had ever, ever heard.
“This young man, he’s sayin’ he’d like to do things. To me!” Another pause, then again, “Now… You open-minded?” I nodded vigorously. I am, after all.
“He’s tellin’ me how he’s gonna make love to me and all this kinda thing. I have had it. I shouldn’t have listened to it for so long! And let me tell you somethin’ else: there’s another man trying to get after me, too! Now, he’s not as young as this young man, but I tell you what.”
“Verda!” I exclaimed, “You’re beatin’ them off with a stick!” I was halfway through the bag of chips. I never eat chips.
We got to my gate and Verda made sure I was gonna be okay. I sat slumped in my wheelchair till it was time to board. Wobbly, I got to my seat and the second leg of the trip was uneventful. I never told anyone about what had happened. I was okay and I would see my doctor, but no use in frightening the mother unit or the rest of the family needlessly.
I did tell several people about Verda, though, however obliquely. I just told about the “You open-minded?” part because it was so delicious. And now I’ve told you.
I am not new to blogging. From 2006 – 2011 and a little into 2012, I posted to my blog nearly every day. The long-term experiment was called “PaperGirl” and she was among my best of friends. Wanna see what roughly six years of blogging looks like on paper? It looks like that picture up there. As I begin this iteration of my blog, I have this probably unfounded and rather obsessive need to let everyone know that I’m not new to this, that this is like drinking water, that I’m not going to drop of the face of the planet, that you can trust me.
The reasons I stopped PaperGirl (unofficially but clearly, once it had been 6 months since my last post) was simple: life got complicated. My marriage failed. I got slightly famous in a small corner of the world and wasn’t so sure how to navigate the personal and private at first. I became the editor of a magazine, i.e., work heated up. There were reasons to stop blogging and they were all excellent. It was a matter of appropriateness and responsibility, of priorities and timing. I actually prioritize nothing over self-expression, so that didn’t go away: it just went offline. My volumes of journals will bear this out, but you won’t see those. Sorry — aside from being handwritten and hard to read, I think I have a moral turpitude clause in my contract.
It feels so good to be home. I mean, back. I mean home. I mean home.
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.