That’s What Friends (and Friends’ Babies) Are For.

posted in: Family, Sicky | 12
Me n' Kin-Kin on the set of Quilty. Kin-Kin, this was 2015, right? Photo: Matt Gonzales
Me n’ Kin-Kin teamed up on the set of Quilty. Kin-Kin, this would have been 2015, right? Photo: Matt Gonzales.


A few weeks ago, I confessed that I had been putting off seeing my GI doctor out of fear of what she would tell me. Many of you sped to my digital side to give me a digital hug and say, basically, “Go see your doctor, kid. We like you. We want you to live.” It was the encouragement I needed to make the appointment and keep it. Thank you.

Well, I went to see Dr. Yun yesterday. But I wasn’t alone.

Regular readers of the ol’ PG know my friend Heather. I have mentioned her many times, perhaps most notably in a series of posts last summer when she had her first child, Julia, and I was present for the birth. (There were also frequent Heather sightings while I lived in NYC and D.C., as I stayed with her and her delightful husband when I was in town for business or holidays; there was also this post about the Dairy Queen blizzard.) Those who loved classic Quilty know Heather that way, too; she was assistant producer on the show four out of the five years we made it and appeared as a guest on the show many times, too.

There are many qualities that I admire in Heather. She is generous, as evidenced by the number of times she has given me keys to her home. She is dependable, the proof there being the years we worked together with nary a hiccup. Heather is funny. She’s a great designer. She’s clearly a wonderful mother (more on that lil’ rascal Julia in a minute) but there’s something I admire most in Heather and I’m blinking back a tear or two as I type this: Heather is steadfast.

Forgive me for making it about me for just a moment, but to properly describe Heather’s steadfastness, I need to first describe what it’s like to be my friend. It’s not very…even. I’m out of town a lot, for one thing. When I finally get home from being among a ton of people, I’m in desperate need of recharging. As an introvert, this means that I need to be alone for awhile, otherwise I’m no good to anyone, including myself. Sometimes, I fall in love with a boy and move to New York City, but then we break up and I move to Washington, D.C. and when I get home, I start graduate school. Crafting chains of events of these kinds is a specialty of mine, but I end up with few opportunities to go to matinees or maintain a weekly sew day, for example. And then there’s the writer thing. Writers are weird. Most of us have some measure of social anxiety — yes, anxiety with people we know and love very much. I’m raising my hand, here.

But Heather is true. She loves me because I’m Mar, I think. She sees my wild life and it’s okay with her. Even if we don’t see each other for awhile, when we get together, it’s great. We’re peas n’ carrots. I’ve told Heather things I haven’t told other people. I’ve relied on her. The fact that I know I can absolutely rely on her says much about how she loves me, the very nature of Heather. Her steadfastness makes the world a better place. Now, she knows I love her fiercely — I’m not completely hopeless at friendship, I just show it in different ways, cough, cough — but she does such a better job at staying connected and I am grateful.

Yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed, dragged myself to the train, dragged myself up to the 16th floor of the Lavin Pavillion at Northwestern Memorial. But though I was anxious and gloomy, I made it. I made it because Heather texted me that she and Julia would be there soon. Sure enough, moments after the nurse left me alone in the exam room and just before I started biting my cuticles, I heard a soft “knock, knock” on the door. I jumped off the exam table as my beautiful friend pushed open the door with Princess Julia in her stroller. They had come to be with me in a place that feels to me like a dark forest.

Forests are no match for true friendship and the sweetness of an eight-month-old baby. That child is incomparably adorable. Julia has discovered her tongue (wonder of wonders!) and sticks it out with glee as often as possible. Heather looks great. Between chatting with her and watching Julia rocket around the room on all fours, I had no time to be afraid. When Dr. Yun came in, I answered her questions without crying even once. And suddenly, the appointment was over. Honestly, it could’ve gone on longer and I wouldn’t have minded at all.

Heather and Julia came with me for my blood draw, too. Dr. Yun wants several tests done; I’ll go under for those. Really, that’s the scary stuff. The tests and the news afterward. Heather and I have already talked about another rendezvous.

Love you, Kin-Kin. Thanks.

The Good News, The Big Shorts.

posted in: Day In The Life | 17
The shorts. Note boots to the left of the chair for scale. Photo: Me.


I had my knee appointment yesterday. The good news is that I don’t have to have my knees replaced this summer, which is what I had convinced myself I was going to have to do. They’ve been hurting so terribly and really, I think I was looking forward to major surgery in some sick way: It would mean I’d have to stop moving. Think of all the reading I could do!

So no surgery, but I do have some kind of patella syndrome. Can you believe that? Patella syndrome! Just when I thought I was gimpy enough, I gotta have some kind of patella syndrome. The nerve(s).

That my patellas have syndromized* is what my knee doctor told me, anyway. He was capable and I liked his Maltese accent, but I do think I’ll get a second opinion; there were a few concerns he didn’t address even after I mentioned them a couple times and feel like I owe my (cute, beguiling) patellas another looksee. I have a script for some physical therapy, but the meds he recommended I can’t take because of UC-related stuff. I shrug, I wince, I get the second opinion and wonder if I’m really weird enough to want someone to tell me that I have to have double-knee surgery so I can rest for Lord’s sake.

What I really wanted to tell you is that at the hospital yesterday I got to wear a pair of absolutely ginormous paper shorts.

My X-ray tech was named Angel.

“Hi,” I said, putting out my hand. “I’m Mary.”

“Miss Mary,” Angel said, “it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please put on these shorts. I will wait outside; you let me know when you’re ready, okay? Just knock on the door.” I thanked him and he went into the hall.

Apparently, all they had were XL paper shorts. The shorts I was holding were pure comedy. I’m not saying that extra-large shorts are funny: I’m saying clothes that are way, way too big or way, way too small for a person are funny. It’s like a basic rule of comedy. And when the clothes are made of paper and have elastic… This is commedia dell’arte stuff.

I chatted with Angel while he did my X-rays. He was such a cool guy. He moved here from El Salvador twenty years ago and worked his way through radiology school while working as a janitor at Northwestern. He told me about his daughter  and how she’s already talking about being a doctor.

“You have to tell her how cool the clothes are,” I laughed. “Scrubs, paper shorts…”

We laughed. We talked about the election. I asked him if I could keep the shorts when we were done. He looked at me like no one had ever asked him that before.

“No one has ever asked me that before,” he said. “But…be my guest.”

Last night, because I am so cool, I posted a series of pictures on my Instagram account of me posing and duck-facing with my shorts. I used them as a cowl, a hood, a hat, a scarf. I’m glad my knees aren’t as bad as I thought they were. I just wish they didn’t ache like they do.

Interesting note: While I was goofing off with paper X-ray shorts on my head, they didn’t hurt at all.

*my term

Receiving Room Guy: Update #2

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv | 0
Closeup, denim jacket. Photo: Wikipedia.
Closeup, denim jacket. Photo: Wikipedia.

Let’s get something straight: I am a decent flirt.

I’m not the prettiest girl in the room. I don’t have the sexiest bod. But there came a point in my life when I realized that though I know very, very little, most people don’t know that much more, and if I ask questions, listen to folks, read stuff, avoid eating breadsticks dipped in frosting for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and refrain from taking myself too seriously, I’m a catch! (The same is true for anyone, by the way.) This understanding has given me confidence in conversatin’ with the opposite sex. I fear no dude. Usually.

If you’re just joining us, you’ll need part one of this story and then part two, from yesterday.

Something very interesting happened when Receiving Room Guy put his guitar down. He didn’t go directly for my delivery. There was this discernable moment of, “So… How’s it goin?” But of course I couldn’t possibly let a moment pass without filling it with words, and that is when my flirt game died. My actual sentence was:

“Well… You know, I was just sewing. Upstairs. That’s…my thing. Like, you have a guitar. That’s your…thing. And I sew. I make quilts. I’m on television. I teach people how to make quilts on television. On PBS. Patchwork quilts. You know? Quilts?”

Receiving Room Guy’s eyebrows went up. “Really? That’s so cool. Awesome.”

I nodded, smiling. “Yeah. It’s a…thing.” And then he said:

“I’ve been doing some sewing myself.”

[Go ahead. Squeak with delight. I’ll wait.]

“Oh?” I said. “Well, that’s…awesome.”

“Yeah, you know, working down here, there’s a lot of sewing supplies.” I laughed loudly and said something like, “That’s hilarious!”

He continued. “Well, it’s not sewing, exactly. But I have a denim jacket and I’ve been sewing some patches on it.”

I need to pause here and say that the youth, the long hair, bass guitar, denim jacket, and Michelangelo-level beauty may be portraying Receiving Room Guy a wee dim. Not so, and I don’t think I’m projecting. He’s sharp, and our exchanges in the receiving room are always enjoyable and sort of funny, like the time I got a box of wine – I mean a case of wine, people – and as I struggled to carry it out, I was like, “No, I got this” and he was like, “Are you sure?” and I was like, “It’s a box of wine” and he was like, “Well, if you get crushed underneath it, it’s a good way to go.” See? His eyes are bright, his pelt is shiny. He’s no bimbo.

After he told me that he has been sewing for Lord’s sake, I thought of one, single amusing thing to say as I stabbed at the iPad on the counter where you sign for your package. “Well,” I said, stabbing, “If you ever run out of sewing supplies, you should, you know, ask your boss. But if he runs out of sewing supplies, you know, let me know. I have a lot of, like, thread and stuff.” He laughed and I felt very much like I needed to leave that place while I was ahead.

Receiving Room Guy handed me my package and I wished him luck at band practice on my way out. (He told me at one point he had a private lesson and then band practice; this was after I blurted out at some point, “Areyouinaband?”) When I got to the elevator I literally smacked myself in the forehead. When did I lose the ability to talk to a person who is cute? With a dawning horror I wondered if it was because I’m older than him – by a lot, probably. Is that why getting older is hard? Because you revert to junior high school around cute boys?

There’s one more piece to the story. Tomorrow, the last piece (so far.) I’m telling you right now: you have a part to play tomorrow. I’m going to need you guys, so get your thinking caps and your advice gloves on. Advice gloves? Advice pants. I’m going to need your advice.

Just one more thing:

He has a name, you know. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. Wanna guess? Ooh! Guess! That’ll be fun. It’s good, too; if you just list male characters from Danielle Steele novels, someone will hit it eventually.


Summer Lovin, Had Me Some Coffee.

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv | 0
Little do they know they're about to be eaten by a Bengal tiger! Just kidding. Photo: David R. Tribble via Wikipedia.
Little do they know they’re about to be eaten by a Bengal tiger! Just kidding. Photo: David R. Tribble via Wikipedia.

The title of this post may pique the interest of those excited about my summer crush, working in the receiving room as we speak, but I’m afraid I have not yet gotten any surreptitious pictures, nor have I been asked out for a second round of pancakes. In fact, alerted me that my new bathroom rug has been delivered but I cannot go down there looking like this. There’s too much work on my desk to stop and get cute right now; I’ll have to get my package tomorrow. Love stinks!

Love doesn’t stink for everyone, though. All around me, I see summer love blooming. Oh, I see bedraggled people emerging from the subway in 100-degree heat and I see women depressed that anything they did to their hair before they left the house vanished on contact with the outside world, but I see love, too.

Yesterday I watched a coffee date that went very, very well, for example.

I was working in a coffee shop in my neighborhood. The girl and the guy looked to be on summer break from college. The girl had done something to her hair that I knew she was trying for the first time, a kind of bouffant avec ponytial that got a little too excited but saved it at the last minute. The guy was a standard-issue, cargo short guy; sandy hair, Cubs t-shirt. They sat down at a table near me just after I had gotten myself settled and I heard enough of the conversation to understand they were meeting for the first time. Either it was an online thing or they had mutual friends who put them in touch. In my heart of hearts I wish they were pen pals. This is unlikely.

From where I was sitting, I had a clear view of the girl. It was hard not to look at her because everything about her was saying, I really really really really really like you and it was an interesting study in body language. She was leaning ever-so-slightly forward. Her eyes were big and shiny. She was either actively smiling when her tablemate was talking or she was on the verge. At one point, Dude must’ve said something that was sad or bad, because she made a “Noooooo!” face and cocked her head to one side. Then she stuck out her lip and she sighed, shaking her head. A minute later she was laughing again.

I wondered if the guy knew how well he was doing. At one point, he got up to use the bathroom and the girl waited a moment or two, looked behind her to see if he was gone, then pulled out her phone. Her thumbs flew over the keyboard as she surely texted her best girlfriends that he’s hot, he’s nice, he’s funny, etc.

Is it a terrible, terrible thing that I felt depressed? It’s not that I envy the situation – I do not. I am allergic to love right now. I need a break from the Ferris Wheel of The Heart after these love affairs. No, I was depressed because – I’m such a drag – the puppy-dog looks don’t last. Even if these two people fall in love, get married, and live together till their dying days, the eyes-as-big-as-saucers thing has a shelf-life. First-blush love is fabulous. It’s addictive. It’s an atom bomb of happiness. And then the spaceships of infatuation take off again and you have to make things work for real.

My birthday is on August 6th. I like the age I am. It’s a little weird to be in the second half of my thirties, but I wouldn’t go back for anything. Still, insights like these come with a ruefulness and I find myself crossing my legs in my cafe chair and wondering if that on-again off-again pain in my knee might be a real issue someday.


The Library, The Summer Reading.

posted in: Art, Paean | 2
That table full of books at a public library in Missouri is irresistible! Photo: Wikipedia.
That table full of books at a public library in Missouri is irresistible! Photo: Wikipedia.


If you want to find me this summer, check the public library. I’m in the stacks!

My friend Sophie has a new rule for books. Let’s call it the Sophie Book Rule. “If there’s a book I’m dying to read,” she says, “I make myself get it at the library first. Once I read it, if I feel that I must own that book, then I go buy it.”

This is a good rule I am now trying to follow. I’m “trying” because I am faced with the desire to buy a book 1.2692 times a day and this is and likely forever will be a thing. But it’s already getting better! Why, just this very afternoon I discovered an intriguing author and what did I do? I clicked over to the Chicago Public Library website and put it on hold instead of clicking over to purchase it at any number of quality online booksellers who also have brick-and-mortar shops. (Checking for local booksellers is Mary’s Book Rule.)

Look, I’ll never stop buying books. Not possible. But this return to the library is deeply satisfying. Being there regularly —and I’ve been every couple days for about a month, now, returning something or checking something out — connects me with a part of myself I forgot about.

I haven’t had this close a relationship with the library in a lot of years. I guess I’ve just sort of drifted from the public library. Was it the internet? Adult distractions? I’ve been reading this whole time, but it’s been text on screens and books purchased at the bookstore or online.

My sisters and I went to the public library in Winterset practically every day growing up. We would wait there for Mom to collect us after school or we were instructed to hang out there until our friends’ parents got home, stuff like that. The Winterset public library moved across town a few years ago; the old library building is the city building, now, but I bet you anything it smells the same and I still know all the rooms.

The summer was the best time to be a kid in love with the library because of Summer Reading. Summer Reading (this may not be a proper noun but I’m going with it) was a program to encourage reading in summer. The details of the program varied from year to year. Some years there were lists, games, stickers, buttons, prizes for numbers of books read; sometimes you just read stuff you found. The incentives I have forgotten completely. All I remember is the joy of a new stack of books with the check-out cards in the front envelopes. I remember the way the new books’ plastic covers were taut and the older books’ covers were loose and curled at the edges. I remember lazing on the couch in July, reading and reading and reading and reading and reading and then going to the pool and then coming home and reading and reading. This was a good way to spend a summer. It still is.

Sophie told me she used to feel possessive about books. I knew what she meant; sometimes you feel like a book was written for you and you alone and it can be hard to realize other people were also written to.

“But the library fixes that,” Sophie said. “Because when you check out a book from the library, you feel in the pages as you turn them all the people who read the book just like you’re reading it now, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. You’re together with them, you’re all in the book together at the same time. I love that.”

From The PaperGirl Archive: “My Life As Alabaster.”

posted in: Fashion | 0
Mary, Queen of Scots by François Clouet, 1557. Image: Wikipedia.
Mary, Queen of Scots by François Clouet, 1557. Image: Wikipedia.

It’s summertime. And with summertime comes clothes that show more skin. Pasty as ever — even more pasty than usual, what with this pesky anemia thing — I am facing my short sleeves and dresses with a furrowed brow. And freckles.

For your reading pleasure, a post written two summers ago when I was living in New York City, which seems like it was a galaxy ago. A very close, very familiar galaxy ago.


The United States of John Wayne.

posted in: Day In The Life, Event, Family, Paean | 0
Outdoor screening of "The Searchers", Winterset, IA. Photo: Me
People showing up early for the screening of “The Searchers”, Winterset, IA. Photo: Me

Hollywood film legend John Wayne was born in Madison County, in my hometown of Winterset, IA in 1907. Wintersetians take this seriously. If we had to choose between being known for the covered bridges or being known as the spot on the globe where The Duke took his first breath, we’d suck on our collective teeth and shake our collective heads and have to take the latter. Then we’d ask you for your delicious cookie bar recipe and hold the nation’s first presidential caucus.

This weekend was John Wayne birthday celebration weekend and I was here for a particularly exciting part of it: an outdoor screening of John Ford’s classic The Searchers, starring John Wayne in one of the most important roles of his career. The screening took place on the town square, right on the lawn of the courthouse. This was the first time a movie had ever screened there, birthday weekend or no. Who do you suppose orchestrated the event? My sister and my mother.

My mother, as many of you know, purchased the movie theater in Winterset when it went up for sale some months ago. The restoration project is well underway; seven trips to the dump emptied it of garbage, rusted stuff, rotten boards, etc., and every day that passes more wonder is discovered in that old movie house. One of the treasures is the screen itself. It’s in great shape. And it was the Iowa Theater’s very own screen that was put up by our beloved contractor, Steve, for the movie last night.

Families came. A few teenagers came. Old folks came. There’s a film crew making a movie of the restoration project and they were there. My might-as-well-be-my-cousin cousin Will played his guitar and sang folk songs to the audience as we waited for it to get dark enough to start the movie. The air was sweet. With the music and the sun slowly sinking down the sky — the rain that was predicted never even threatened to fall — an eventide spell was cast. The Chamber of Commerce sold candy, soda, and popcorn from a popcorn cart. I can’t confirm or deny that I had a bottle of Stella Artois in my hoodie pocket, nor can I confirm or deny that anyone else had a go-cup of anything similar, but doesn’t that sound nice? We’ll never know.

My sister Rebecca is the head of the entire Iowa Theater restoration project; she’s writing the grants, touching every logistic from projector to neon marquee rebuild, doing strategic planning — everything. She was the engine behind the outdoor screening, too, and my brother-in-law ran the projector. Before the show began, Mom and Rebecca gave a speech about the future of the theater, how 95% of the work being done is being done by locals, how the goal is to make a space the town loves and uses and grows for a long, long time.

About thirty minutes into watching The Duke search for Debbie, I gave into the desire for popcorn. I went over to the Chamber kiosk.

“Hi! I think I’ll get some popcorn,” I said.

The person who scooped some up for me was a bubbly, attractive woman named Heather. She handed me a modest sack of popcorn and I was surprised at how happy I was it was not a tub as big as my head. Heather shook her head. “This is just amazing. Just amazing. You’re Rebecca’s sister, right?”

I said I was and we talked for a minute, geeking out with happiness at the scene before us: people outside, together, enjoying their town, their town’s history, tasty snacks, and a movie, all on a long Memorial Day weekend. We agreed this needs to happen every year, if not more often.

“It just makes me happy,” Heather said, looking out at the one hundred or so people in lawn chairs. “I guess it’s America, right? It’s good. It’s good that kids can come here and it’s safe. You know?”

That popcorn was a buck.


The AMC “Dine-In” Movie Theater: Goodbye, Cruel World.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Tips | 1
The "scene" of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Hahahhhahaha! I kill me! Photo: Me
The “scene” of the crime! Get it? Scene? Like a scene in a movie? Hahahhhahaha! I kill me! Photo: Me.


I’m going to tell a story about Claus but I’m not being nostalgic.

Last weekend, I wanted to check out the fancy new theater up on State Street. The theater is new within the year, I think, though sometimes I’m the last to know about these things. It looks new: everything is shiny and the carpet is fresh-smelling. But that’s not all that’s going on at the AMC on State Street, oh, no.

This AMC features “Cinema-Suites.” What’s a Cinema-Suite, you ask? A Cinema-Suites is a place where you go to die happy. The official description is different; AMC decided to not include “die” in their messaging for some reason. Officially, “Cinema-Suites [offer] a grown-up atmosphere featuring in-theater dining, a full bar, and extra-comfy recliners. Enjoy handcrafted burgers, bowls, desserts, and more while you enjoy the show.” Oh, but, AMC! You’re being modest!

Here’s how it works: You get your ticket. You go into your theater. You are shown to your specific seat by an usher. You sink into the comfiest recliner into which you ever sank your tush. A table tray swings in from your right hand side. There’s a cup holder. There’s no bib, but you feel like there could be and that would be fine. There’s a button on the left side of the chair and when you push it, the chair begins molesting you in a friendly way, raising your feet up on the foot rest as it’s reclining you back. It’s not a massage, exactly, but it’s not not a massage. Then, just when you’re laughing with a tall German that this is so much fun and way, way too easy to love, a waiter — a real waiter! — comes and gives you menus.

There are delicious foods on this menu. Your waiter comes and takes your order and he will bring you what you ordered while you watch the movie. Hot food. Like a burger. Or a hot fudge sundae! Or — wait for this, you can’t believe this — popcorn! You can’t get popcorn at a concession stand because they bring you your popcorn on a tray. Is anyone else freaking out about this? Because I am not being sarcastic: this is amazing. I didn’t even want popcorn. I’m not supposed to eat popcorn. But I ordered some anyway because it was Claus and my last date and because they were going to bring it on a tray. A big bucket of popcorn on a tray, brought to me while I’m essentially lying in a bed, watching a Hollywood movie that cost more to make than the GDP of most of the world’s developing countries.

I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m saying it’s a heckuva town.


The Shoe Spook.

posted in: Day In The Life | 0
An aerial view of my coffee table...and my spooky shoes. Photo: Me, on a ladder.
An aerial view of my coffee table…and my spooky shoes. Photo: Me, on a ladder.

There’s something in this world that deeply wigs me out. It is strange that it does that because the thing that freaks me out so much should definitely be no big deal. But that’s what an irrational fear is all about: irrationality.

Here goes: I am disturbed when a pair of shoes are placed together on the floor with the right foot shoe on the lefthand side and the left foot shoe on the righthand side. See above, then see me turn my head away and shiver.

Wherefore, weirdo? Let me try — for the first time in my life — to explic the inexplicable.

It’s unusual to see feet going the wrong way, for one thing. But what’s unusual is often funny and I am amused by all manner of unusual things on a regular basis. This is not one of those things. Is it upsetting to me to see shoes in this way it because it looks painful? If there were feet in the shoes, it would be awfully painful. Now, feet will go that way when a person crosses her legs or performs some ballet moves, but just feet, on their own, backward like that? No. And that’s the other thing: when I see shoes placed in this manner, I automatically think about disembodied feet.

My sister Hannah hated the Dr. Suess book The Walking Pants. She would howl in fear when I would say “walking pants,” which of course I would do from time to time just to make sure she was listening to me. It’s a strange, almost grim tale of these empty pants that walk around the town. They’re green and a lot of the story takes place at night, if I’m remembering correctly. Perhaps my uncomfortability with this shoe thing has its roots in those dumb pants; the story frightened me, too.

This irrational fear is not a superstition, because a superstition means that you see something, in this case, that causes you to think there will be a consequence, usually a negative one. I don’t see shoes the wrong way and think, “Well, that’s that! I’ll be dead in a year!” or “Great, just great. I saw spooky shoes today and now I have to tie a goat to a tree and name my firstborn Jebediah. Just when I was on top of my email.” It’s not a superstition, it’s just an old-fashioned case of the willies.

When I used the words “disembodied feet,” it occurred to me I could have created a new, irrational fear in any number of people reading this blog. I hope that didn’t happen, because I’m telling you: this backward shoe configuration happens a lot. You can’t escape. The good news is that the more people afraid of something (e.g., mountain lions, witches, Tyra, etc.) the less irrational it is to be afraid of that thing.

Am I wrong? Is it not strangely disturbing or am I just strangely disturbed and no you do not have to answer that. (Also, the shoe thing is a fear; this is my actual phobia.)

The Animal Prince.

posted in: Art, Paean, Uncategorized | 0
Ticket to Prince's first concert. Image: Wikipedia, via Minnesota Historical Society.
Ticket to Prince’s first concert. Image: Wikipedia, via Minnesota Historical Society.

I’m sitting here at the hospital getting another iron infusion and trying not to kink the line while I type. The girls tried several times to get the IV in and that always makes me upset because I’ve been a human pincushion many times in my life. One night in this very hospital a couple floors up, nurses tried on and off for six hours to get an IV into me; they even tried my legs and ankles. The search was fruitless and the doctor eventually ordered a PICC line. (I’ll let you look that up.)

I hadn’t cried about Prince’s death till they stuck me the third time. I’ve been dazed about it since Claus called over to my desk this morning, “Mary? Prince has died.” This time, his German accent didn’t make anything better. My brow has been furrowed all day, but I hadn’t actually cried till about 30 minutes ago. The man had at least twenty more years of music-making ahead of him. This shouldn’t have happened.

When grieving, it’s good to be with folks; in this regard, I am grateful for my appointment. As I walked up to the reception desk, the lady was talking to a woman in the waiting area.

“Honey, I can’t believe it. I just can’t.” She shook her head then looked up at me. “What’s your name, sweetie?”

“Mary Fons. I’m not a candlelight vigil sort of person, but right now, I swear…” The receptionist gave me my number and said she felt exactly the same way. The conversation already in progress picked up again, now with me in it. Though its circumstances are by definition lousy, grief-induced familiarity amongst strangers is a beautiful thing.

The woman waiting with her mother (asleep) turned to me and said, “I’m as sad about this as I was about Michael.”

“Me, too,” I said. “Was it really a flu?”

“Oh,” the woman said and put up her hand like, ‘wait till you hear this.’ She said, “You gotta ask her about that,” and nodded to the receptionist.

I went back over to the desk and asked Rhonda what she had heard. She told me Prince was a Scientologist and that he was HIV positive. Scientologists, she said, don’t believe in medicine. She heard me he stopped taking his medication because the church told him not to.

My brain broke. My heart further broke. I covered my mouth with my hand and then almost bit through it. If this was true, if a “religious” organization told a sick man not to take his medicine, there’s a guru in Hollywood tonight who will breathe his last charlatan breath. (To be nice, when I take my hands off his neck, I’ll tell the rest of the group I’m sure he’ll be back soon.) The good news is that I don’t think I have to fly to L.A. tonight; there’s basically nothing online about Prince being connected to the Church of Scientology and certainly no information about them being blamed for his death. You know those people believe there are aliens living inside of us, right? (I’ll let you look it up.)

I remember seeing video of Prince playing an outdoor concert; maybe Wembley Stadium, sometime in the 1990s. He was playing “Purple Rain” and I realized I was watching a person do precisely what he was supposed to be doing with his life. It’s rare to see someone fulfilling their purpose so exactly, so absolutely dead-on their destiny, I felt like I was watching a wild animal. He was so natural there with his guitar, in the breeze, alone under lights, I recalled a fox in a wood or a mountain lion on a rock. He was that free, that easy, if you will. I’ve thought of it many times since then as I’ve thought about my own purpose, and what my own natural habitat is on Earth.

Prince, you were great. Thanks for the hologram on Diamonds & Pearls and all those notes.


Day Tripping + The Good Life Project

NYC, 1932. View from the Empire State Building Observatory. Photo: Wikipedia
NYC, 1932. View from the Empire State Building Observatory. Photo: Wikipedia

A few months ago, an alarmingly attractive and discerning young lady named Lindsay contacted me and asked me if I would like to fly to New York City and be a guest on something called The Good Life Podcast. I immediately said yes and then asked her what that was.

The Good Life Project is comprised of a number of ambitious (and successful) initiatives created by Jonathan Fields, a writer and entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to living a good one. It appears that Jonathan has discovered that living a good life means helping other people live a good one, too. So, Fields has spent his life traveling around the world, launching big projects aimed at inspiring, connecting, pushing, enlightening, and generally helping people figure out how to feel and do better in a world that seems to punish us in all sorts of new and exciting ways on a regular basis.

Lindsay — who I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet but who is clearly a winsome and nimble and possessing of good genes — is a PaperGirl reader and that’s how all this came about. Actually, she also used to watch me in the Neo ensemble here in Chicago; she said her dad saw my one-woman show and still talks about it. If Lindsay had asked me just to come over and hang out with her and her dad, I would’ve done that, too. Going to NYC tomorrow is pretty fancy, though, so that’s nice.

Some businesspeople in this world do in-and-out trips all the time: they fly into Atlanta from Cleveland for a lunch meeting then fly back in time for dinner. I’ve done a same-day trip maybe once before in my life; tomorrow will make it two. It worked out this way because there is an appointment on Thursday here at home that I can’t move, but the truth is that I am not interested in staying longer in New York City.

It’s too much, still. Because Yuri, who was a big part of my life and always will be. Because it saw most of my 34th year of life. And the air when I left, the rain that day — I’ll never forget it and that’s too bad.

There are 350k subscribers to The Good Life Project podcast, so I admit I’m a little nervous about doing the show. That’s 700k ears. Jonathan wants to ask me about quilting and writing and writing about quilting and if I get to have some tea in the studio with me, it should all be just fine. I’ll be sure to let you know when my episode is posted. I’ll also let you know how it felt to feel the pavement in shoes that haven’t walked on it, yet.

See you in the morning, Manhattan.

My Cigarette Boat Experience.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Luv, Story | 0
Except for the scuba gear and the fishing rack thing, it was like this. Photo: Wikipedia
Except for the scuba gear and the fishing rack thing, it was like this, if indeed that is a cigarette boat. Photo: Wikipedia

Claus announced he was going jogging and asked if I would go with him. I used to like jogging but now I hate it. I told him I’d bike alongside him.

We were down by the lake and I saw the first boats of the season out on the water. There were a couple sailboats. There were yachts that had been moved into the marinas from wherever they live the rest of the year. I didn’t see any motorboats but I thought of one.

A few years ago, I dated a stock trader who had a great laugh, a strong jawline, and an almost suspicious adherence to social etiquette at all times. He also had a whole bunch of Richie Rich toys, including a Maserati, a Porsche, and a BMW, which was his plain ol’ everyday car, unless you counted the Dodge Ram truck he needed to haul around cases of fine wine he bought at auction, marble slabs for his renovation project(s), and his cigarette boat.

A cigarette boat is sleek and slender and long and often white, but those aren’t the qualities that give the cigarette boat its name. They were used for smuggling stuff like cigarettes in the 1960s, so the Internet says. They do have a reputation for being used for nefarious purposes. Similar boats were called “rum-runners” in the ’20s, and we all know people were smuggling adorable kittens during prohibition. Cigarette boats can go extremely fast (100mph), they’re sexy, and they’re expensive. All of this appealed to my boyfriend, so he bought one.

One perfectly formed summer day, we took a ride. Everything was shiny. The sun shone off the water; the sun shone off the hull. The sun shone off my sunscreened shoulders; the sun shone off the two bottles of Champagne we put in the cooler. The sun shone off both of our sunglasses as we motored out past the lock.

When my friend hit the gas, I remembered that I am not a daredevil. Risks I take are the feet-on-the-ground kind, e.g., reading a long book, changing my dinner reservation. After I got over the initial shock of going that fast over a large body of water, I relaxed. I was reminded that none of us have any control over our life/death at any time; I was just being sharply confronted with this fact. The water was so choppy the further out we got and we were going so fast, we were catching air. We were jumping 100% out of the water and then would slam back into the lake. Bang! Spray! Bang! Spray! It was exhilarating and amazing; it was not something I needed to do often.

We slowed. I’d say “we dropped anchor” but that is not correct; we just stopped and bobbed around for awhile. We drank cold Champagne. We talked about how fast we were going just now. There may have been some monkey business, but I can’t possibly admit that sort of thing hereyou understand. I’ve played on Lake Michigan’s beaches since I was a small child; I continue to find new ways to love that thing and in turn, it loves me back in surprising ways.

My friend and I dated on and off again for a little under two years, but we only took the boat out that one time. The first season we might have, but it was in the shop. The next time we could, we did, as detailed above. And then things ran their course with the two of us; that isn’t just another blog entry — it’s another blog.

Chicago boat season is upon us, then. I know there’s a single girl out there tonight who will take her first cigarette boat trip this summer. Hey, honey: wear the vintage 1970s mint green bathing suit with the slats cut out on the sides. Take the Ray-Bans, not the other ones. Hold tight.

A Wedding Today: Part Three

posted in: Family, Luv | 0
The daisy is the flower for the five-year anniversary. Here's to the first five years -- and many more. Photo: Wikipedia
The daisy is the flower for the five-year anniversary. Here’s to the first five years — and many more. Photo: Wikipedia

You’ve been very patient. I’m proud of you. You can get a cookie and come back. Are you back? Okay.

I always figured courtroom weddings took place with a judge behind the bench, looking over his spectacles, saying something like, “By the power vested in me by the State of Iowa, I pronounce you husband and wife. Congratulations, I hope you have a pleasant day.” Maybe there would even be a gavel swing, maybe even a “Next.” But that wasn’t what it was like at all. Mr. Hanson, the magistrate, came to the center of the room and said, “Okay, you ready to get started?” Everyone straightened up and the bride and groom went to stand near Mr. Hanson.

“Would you like to say anything to each other before we get started?” he asked them. He had papers in his hands. The bride and groom looked at each other, smiling, nervous. They shrugged and the girl half-asked, half-said, “Well… Let’s do this.” Mr. Hanson went into the script and at the beginning, I zeroed in on the couple. I felt all the, “This is the beginning of their lives together!” and “Love is amazing!” feelings one feels at a wedding. But I wasn’t full on wedding-crying, yet.

That happened when I looked around at the family. They showed up. It was a Wednesday afternoon. People took off from work. They put on their Sunday best. The younger girls were taking pictures; Mom seemed to be filming the whole thing on her phone. It was a family. It was a family doing what families are supposed to do, even if they don’t like it all the time: they show up. They may think you’ve lost your mind, they may not understand you a lot of the time, but they love you, and even if you’re the black sheep this year, they’re gonna take off work and get to the courthouse. I think it’s because we all know — or certainly should consider — that we’ll be the black sheep in the family sooner or later. We’d better be nice; we’re gonna need it.

When that family sentiment hit, that’s when I got the warm wedding tears and stabbed at my eyes with the sleeve of my Iowa Hawkeyes sweatshirt. I made every effort to be silent with my emotions, but one of the rough guys (uncle? brother?) caught me. I saw him turn to his wife or girlfriend and jab his thumb back at me and whisper, “She’s frickin’ cryin!”

The ceremony was done when Mr. Hanson said, “You can kiss the bride.” It was like any other wedding in that regard. I didn’t stay a moment past the end. I clapped, quietly, and smiled at the group. I caught the bride’s eye and whispered, “Congratulations!!” And then I left. This was most definitely not about me, even though if I had stayed two minutes longer I’ll bet you I would’ve gotten an invite to the bar.

Best wedding I ever crashed. Only wedding I’ve ever crashed, actually, and I did it on accident. It took a special blend of circumstances for that to happen. I like that kind of thing.

A Wedding Today: Part Two

posted in: Day In The Life, Luv | 0
"A Bride" by Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1895. Image: Wikipedia
“A Bride” by Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1895. Image: Wikipedia

Read yesterday’s post first if you haven’t already!

This family had no money for a wedding. Appearances aren’t always what they seem. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a wedding at 2pm on a Wednesday at a courthouse. This wasn’t ironic for them, getting hitched at the county building; it wasn’t something they were doing on a lark, either. This was their wedding. Not everyone can afford lightning bugs in Mason jars strung from weeping willow trees in Seattle, Pinterest. This was it.

When I popped my head in, everyone looked at me. They were the only people in the courtroom. There was Grandpa with a long white beard; a few gals in their twenties, presumably sisters or sisters-in-law; a boy of two running around with a bunny toy; an aunt and uncle; and a big, dinner bell-ringin’ mother unit who narrowed her eyes when she saw me. I gave an “I am not the enemy” wave to Mom and tried to look mild as I hung near the door. I was not there to gawk or judge: I was just excited to observe, but I know that “observing” can look a lot like “staring at people like they’re zoo animals,” which is not okay. There was no mistaking a measure of self-consciousness in the room when we — two outsiders — appeared. But I was full of smiles and was already tearing up, so it quickly became clear I was not a threat, I was not mocking anyone. I was just some weird woman who said to no one in particular, “I’m sorry! I just love weddings!”*

The bride looked amazing. Her skin was creamy ivory. Her hair hung down her back in loose curls; she definitely got a trip to the salon out of this. Her lipstick was a deep, rich red. She held a tiny bouquet. And, just as Mom had said, this girl was puh-reg-nant. That baby was practically a ring bearer. And yes, her white dress — lovely against her pale skin — was short. Too short, really, for a gal that far along, but what do I know? Maybe that was the nicest-looking dress she could buy or borrow. Her groom wore a ballcap. He did not take it off.

I flapped at the bride and said, “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! Yay! You look amazing! It’s so great!” She laughed and beamed and said thank you. Everyone was milling around; I figured it was because the wedding was done and they were waiting for papers from the office. I was about to go when one of the sisters came near. I asked how the ceremony went, if it was nice.

“It hasn’t happened, yet,” she said. The bride heard her say it and then the bride said to me:

“We’re doing it right now! You can stay if you want.”

At that moment, Mr. Hanson (I went to high school with him, too) came in to begin the process; there was no time to freak out. I just clasped my hands to my breast and mouthed, “Really??” and the bride mouthed back, “Yes!” so I sat in the farthest away pew and tried to be the most normal, weird wedding guest on the planet.

And… Guess what? I have to break this story up into three parts. I know! I wasn’t planning on it, but the end of the story can’t be told properly if it’s squeezed into a paragraph and if I write much more than that, this post will be too long. This is really a consideration, you know, the length of PaperGirl posts. Too short, there’s no point; too long, people get fatigued. It’s a fine line and it’s up to me to watch it, so this is me watching it.

Tomorrow, the conclusion of the story. The moral will be inside of it, like puddin’ in a longjohn. And if you can’t stand it and need to read other stuff I wrote about weddings, you can click this and you might enjoy a click on this, both of which will take you to pieces of the story of my younger sister Rebecca’s magic wedding last May.

*Tiffany was a good wing man; she made me look legit. (Remember: I was in sweatpants and had gym hair.)




posted in: Family | 3
Combing Hair by Hashiguchi Goyo, Japan, 1920, Woodblock print, Honolulu Museum of Art. Image: Wikipedia
Combing Hair by Hashiguchi Goyo, Japan, 1920, Woodblock print, Honolulu Museum of Art. Image: Wikipedia

To celebrate Easter, Claus and I took a bike ride to the lakefront.

We rode for some time, then needed a snack. Since Claus had not seen Navy Pier yet, we steered our bikes that way. I was happy to see that Navy Pier has gotten at least a partial facelift since I was last there. There are many more food options and there was a mini-Tiffany glass exhibit courtesy of Chicago’s Driehaus family, a family that has an entire museum in the Gold Coast dedicated solely to exhibiting their Tiffany glass pieces. The Driehaus family probably owns Navy Pier, so maybe the exhibit today is there because they needed extra storage. Either way, it was great.

On the way home, we got caught in the cold wind and rain that hit around 5pm. That was hard, riding home in that. We arrived in soaked jeans. My hair was plastered to my head and my glasses were pointless. Now hungry for actual dinner, Claus and I decided to take time only to get dry and then go back out for a hamburger; we also decided to take umbrellas.

Claus put his jeans over a chair and dried them with my hairdryer. I came over and sat by him while he did it. It was funny: to get the legs dry he put the nose of the hairdryer into the cuff and the air blew up the leg like there was a real leg in there.

The German looked over at me and said, “Mary, your hair is still very wet.” And he turned the blowdryer on my hair. He used his fingers to ruffle it the way you do when you dry someone’s hair, tousling it this way and that. The warm air blew all over my head and it was bliss to feel it on my neck, blowing just under my collar.

Then something strange happened. Suddenly, my eyes teared up. And my chest hurt.

I realized it that what he was doing was what my mother — even my father, if we go back further — did when I was a little kid. The sense memory hit me like a truck. The warm air on my neck, the large hand on my head, and the feeling of being helped in getting warm after being cold from playing outside. Though people touch our heads and blow-dry our hair in a salon, there is none of this connection there. Night and day.

I turned to Claus and I swear my lip trembled as I said, “That feels really good. Can you keep doing it?” He was a little surprised and said of course he could and was I okay?

Mostly okay.



The View From Above: My Chicago SkyDeck Adventure

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Story | 0
Love at 1,351 feet. Photo: Me
A teenage couple looks out on Chicago from the SkyDeck. Photo: Me

While in the admission line for the Adler Planetarium on New Year’s Day, Claus and I looked at a pamphlet advertising something called the Chicago CityPass. For $96 bucks, you can buy a book of tickets to five of Chicago’s best art/culture destinations for half the cost if you were to buy tickets for all of them separately. The catch is that you have to use your book of tickets within nine days, which means you have nine days to see: The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, SkyDeck Chicago, The Museum of Science & Industry or 360 Chicago, The Adler Planetarium or The Art Institute.

It’s lousy they make you pick between The Art Institute and the Planetarium, both of them being potentially life-changing experiences if you’re on a family vacation and you’re six. “Look, Denny: it’s either stars or art. Make up your mind or we’re getting in the car and going back to your Aunt Rita’s. I need a bathroom.”

Claus and I went to the SkyDeck on Tuesday. The SkyDeck is the observatory on the top floor of the Willis née Sears Tower. It’s strange that I like flying so much; airplanes hang out at 30,000 feet or so. The Willis Tower is 1,450 in the sky and I hated being up there. I got nauseated. I got dizzy. And then I had to “face my fears” and step out onto “The Ledge.”

The Ledge is a clear glass box that extends 4.3 feet out from the tower. You’re supposed to walk out into the box and stand there. Stand in a 4-sided glass box 1,450 feet in the air. There’s nothing under your feet but a clear glass shelf. I do not ride amusement park rides. I do not sky dive. And The Ledge? I did not want to do it.

“You have to do it Mary,” Claus said. When he says “Mary” it sounds so nice, like, “Mah-rie” and this is dangerous.

“Absolutely not,” I said. I was feeling queasy again and wanted to go back to the gift shop to discern why they were selling those monkey toys with the velcro hands that hang around your neck. How was that a relevant Willis Tower gift shop item? Plus, the gift shop is at the center of the observatory, so I was safer there.

“Oh, come on, Mah-rie. Face your feers.”

I hate it when Claus or anyone else says that because then I have to. What, I’m going to live this life without facing at least half of my fears? Damnit! People laughed at me because I had to stick one toe at a time into the cube. Inch by inch, I made it out there, took one look left, one right, one out, and one down past my feet (oh sweet mercy) then immediately nose-dived back to what now seemed like safety. Relativity is a cruel mistress.

We checked the SkyDeck off the CityPass. Tomorrow: The Shedd Aquarium.

The Art of The Monkey.

posted in: Art | 0
Pretty film stars of the black and white era love this stuff.
Pretty film stars of the black and white era love this stuff.

Clearly, I have recently learned how to make art with Pendennis’s head.


Mark & Netta.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family, Paean, Work | 1
Netta, me, and Mark, Christmas 2015. Photo: Netta, me, and Mark.
Netta, me, and Mark, Christmas 2015. Photo: Netta, me, and Mark.

Nine lives ago, I got an email from a nice guy named Mark. Mark read my blog. (This was around 2006.*) We didn’t know each other; he just stumbled upon PaperGirl and liked it, so he told me. I said, “Thanks!” and so began a many years-long friendship with Mark and, by extension, his awesome wife Netta. Mark and Netta live in Florida and have three adult kids.

Over nine years, I’d say I’ve gotten fifteen? twenty? emails from Mark and I’ve sent about as many. We’re not prolific pen pals. But we’re pals. Real pals. It’s just the way it is. Mark and Netta send me a cookie-fudge-nut tray every Christmas. Mark hired me to write a poem for his daughter years back and one for Netta this summer. I’m sending them a bundle of Small Wonders fabric as soon as I get home and stay home for five seconds. They sent a $100 gift card when I moved to D.C; I told Mark I bought a flower vase, a can opener, and dishtowels, all things I needed. I’ve sent a number of gushing thank-you cards to these people. The relationship I have with them is like a neat star that appears in the sky every few months. Never met ’em.

I met ’em last night.

Mark and Netta live in Florida, remember? Well, I announced I’d be in Maitland and who do you think sent me an email saying they weren’t too far from me and could we meet for dinner? My pen pal!

Saturday night, I met my friends at a cute Italian restaurant in Maitland. Mark got a bowl of fettuccine alfredo big enough to have a zip code; Netta and I realized we were both the middle daughter of three. I ordered the snapper special; Mark spoke about the qualities of a successful marriage. Our waiter was over-attendant; I cried about different stuff. I told them about my dad; they asked the right questions. I listened to their stories about love and family, how they’ve done it and how they might do it differently, or the same, if they had the chance to do it again. It wasn’t “like we were old friends.” We are old friends.

Mark, Netta, thank you. Again. For everything! Are you kidding me?? You send me fudge-nut trays and you let me blow my nose on a napkin within thirty minutes of meeting each other face-to-face! The counsel, the kindness… It’s good to know good people.

Here’s to the next nine years, you two. Merry Christmas.


*That’s right: the ol’ PG is almost nine years old, if you count a couple years in there when I had to go dark. There’s a bit about that here

Enlightenment: Easy

posted in: Chicago, Paean | 1
Note bouquet of flowers and candle on large box. It's the little things when your house is full of cardboard.
My living room. I’ve actually made a lot of progress, if “a lot of progress” means making my bed. Photo: Me.


In the course of getting my undergrad degree, I took a class in Indian Buddhism. A lot of undergrads at Iowa did because it sounded cool and fulfilled the Eastern Studies requirement. I’ve forgotten the impassioned notes I scribbled next to passages in the textbook that summer, but I remember a little about Buddha’s enlightenment. Enlightenment is the Western translation of bodhi, which means “awakening.”  Wikipedia says what the we understand enlightenment to be is “sudden insight into transcendental truth.”

I always imagined Buddha becoming enlightened in this searing, brilliant, sunshine-y moment, when he suddenly saw the world for what it is: temporal, finite, and indescribably beautiful. He saw that every single one of us is born and every single one of us must die, and every single one of us is important, and we hurt ourselves over and over and over but we don’t have to. I imagined him seeing the brilliance of roses and commuter trains and coffee cups and bad haircuts. Basically, it was all really intense and beautiful and made him the Buddha.

Being back in Chicago after all this time, after thousands and thousands of miles, I swear I know at least 1% of the enlightenment experience.

Because I walked out into the alley behind my building this morning and the oil on the cement, the rumbling el overhead and the pigeons flapping away as it came, the smell of fresh dough coming from Lou Malnati’s, the crisp pre-snow air, the Columbia kids walking to class, the beep of the parking garage security bar going up across the street, the skyscrapers to the north, painted there just for me, all that metal and glass and the whole city was there, right there, and I was no longer in exile. I saw Chicago, my real home, as it really is: alive, temporal, suffering, perfect. I never knew pigeons could vibrate.

Words can’t express my joy. God, I missed you so much. I tried to do that thing where if you tell a lie long enough it becomes true. But my heart was buried in that alley the whole time I was gone and I had just enough honesty left to come back and scrape it out. Telling the truth should be so easy — but we cover it up, roll trucks over it, let snow fall on it, bury it. For what? Appearances? Fear? Impatience, I think, in my case.

Surely, there’s something better than what I’m doing now, I said to myself last year. Surely, I thought, there’s something else to see than this. Surely, if I don’t put down roots, I won’t grow moss. If I don’t admit I love this place so much it feels like part of my body, if I lose it, or if it rejects me, it won’t hurt as much. That’s what I said when I thrashed and burned and left Chicago. But I’m home, now.

The definition of suffering in Buddhism is “being in one place and wishing you were someplace else.” For one second — and for the first time in a long time — I couldn’t possibly tell you what suffering feels like because there is nowhere, nowhere on Earth I’d rather be than here.


True Tales From Brunch: SCRAM FLAT, Part II.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life, Food | 0
Way bigger than the restaurant's actual kitchen, but a decent facsimile. Photo: Wikipedia
Way bigger than the restaurant’s actual kitchen, but a decent facsimile. Photo: Wikipedia

Please read Part I of this story (one post prior) or you’ll miss the important setup.

I approach the family, who was spilling out of the booth. There were Cheerios everywhere, but we did not serve cereal at the restaurant, so these were brought in from home. Two booster seats were cramming the narrow aisle but it was cool; these folks deserved (?) brunch like everyone else in Chicago. A yoga mat was stuffed into the corner because Mom had just come from class. Even though there was jelly soaked into my apron and egg on my shoe, I was chipper.

“Good morning, you guys,” I say, “You’ve been here a few times — I bet you know what you want!” I’m doing the assumed close, you see. Three new tables had been sat behind me and had already gotten coffee. Let’s do this.

“Yeah,” the mother said, and she put her fingers to her chin to ask what I prepared myself to be a focused question. “Belle is going to have the corned beef hash — do you think that’s something she’ll like? Corned beef?” Belle was six, so probably not. I told Mom, “Probably not. There are lots of peppers and corned beef is kind of an advanced thing… It’s a big plate.”

“Okay… I think… Belle, do you want corned beef?” Belle colored her placemat and said “Whatever,” without looking up.

“Let’s do that,” Mom said. “And Slade wants scrambled eggs, but can you have the kitchen make the eggs flat like a pancake?”

“Eggs on a pancake, sure,” I said, scribbling on my pad, making sure to press my pen hard so the carbon copy would come out clear for the kitchen.

“No, not on a pancake,” she said. “I’m wondering if you can scramble the eggs, like, flat.” She cocked her head and she looked like a cockatiel.

I looked up. “Scramble them flat.”

“You know, like put them on the grill and smooth them out, so they’re scrambled but, like, flat. And then flip it? So it’s flat? It would be like a pancake?”

I couldn’t stop blinking at her. Teddy, my righthand man, the best busboy who has ever lived, squeezed past me to grab the twenty-fourth pot of coffee of that morning.*

“Well,” I said. “I’ll ask the kitchen,” I said. On my pad, I wrote the shorthand word for scrambled eggs, which is “SCRAM.” Then, cocking my head like a cockatiel, I wrote, “FLAT.” So on my pad I had “SCRAM FLAT.”

“Thanks,” the woman said, “Is that weird?” I told her it was really, really weird. And I left them with a thank-you and a smile and banged through the double doors to the kitchen like we all banged through the double doors because that’s what double doors in a restaurant do: they bang.

“Glen,” I said, approaching the line. I could see the Great Men through the metal line where they were putting plates up. It was like a ballet back there. “Glen, this ticket says SCRAM FLAT. They want…” I could hardly tell him. This was a grown man. This was a man with dignity. I just came out with it: “Glen, they want the scrambled eggs flat. Like, scramble the eggs… Flat.”


There was no time for pausing but Glen stopped what he was doing and asked me what the [redacted] that meant. I explained the best I could. And he said “Alright,” because that’s what a Great Man does when faced with a challenge and indeed, about fifteen minutes later, I had a plate with SCRAM FLAT, sprinkled with parsley, with a twisted orange slice on the side. And love in there, because every plate had love in there.

Belle sent back the corned beef; Slade ate every bite.

*Teddy once caught me in the coat closet, bent me back like we were on the cover of a romance novel and kissed me on the lips. “Mi amor,” he said, “I’m in love with you.” That’s a story for another day.


posted in: Chicago, D.C., Day In The Life | 0
Showcard, 1918. Image: Wikipedia
Showcard, 1918. Image: Wikipedia

This is not good. This is very bad. I think I have a flu.

I am achy, sniffy, feverish, though that’s not confirmed because I’ve just realized I don’t have a thermometer. I barfed twice. (Sorry.) I had terrible nightmares when I took a nap this afternoon; the nap felt like it was nine hours long but was really only about 1.5 hours long. When I stand up, I swoon. I’m hot. Then I’m cold. Then I’m hot. Then I’m crying while I’m flat on my back watching MasterChef on Hulu.

Damn, damn, damn! This year, I was going to get a flu shot! I’ve never gotten one but I reflected upon the past few years and realized I have been felled by flu more than once. I should’ve gotten a flu shot. It’s so easy! You can get them everywhere: Walgreen’s, CVS, sporting events, Burger King. Why! Why didn’t I do it?


And the panic doesn’t help. There’s too much to do. I can’t be sick. I have to teach in Williamsburg this weekend. I have to go to North Carolina and Denver next week. Oh, I’ll make the gigs. Unless I’m in the hospital, I’ll be there and I’ll deliver. But when you feel like this, the road seems so long. There’s also the little matter of packing up my apartment and going home to Chicago.

As insurmountable as all this feels at the moment, I must focus on that last thing. When I think of being in my home — my real home — in a few weeks, I feel like I can make it. I realized today that I have been living in the air for a year and a half. I’ve been floating this whole time. My feet need the cement in Chicago, the sidewalk outside the door to my building. Maybe that’s what it is: maybe I’m airsick.

Compassion Station: All Aboard

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips | 2
It's windy in DC, too. Illustration: Geoffery Biggs via Wikipedia.
It’s windy in DC, too. Book illustration: Geoffery Biggs. Wikipedia.

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.

Mom! TV! Love!

posted in: Family, Work | 0
Taken at the Moda Bakeshop photo booth.
Taken at the Moda Bakeshop photo booth.

I will write about the movie theater. Until then — because I need to do some more fact-checking and get the perfect picture of the theater in the 1960s or 1970s — a photo of my mother and me. This was at QuiltCon in 2013.

Mom and I just wrapped taping the public television show we co-host, “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting.”

I love you, Mam. You are really good at making quilts.

Making Out With a Doctor: Part II

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life, Story | 0
Are the pills full of something good or just made of sugar? Doctor-themed cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes of Montreal.
They rejected the idea of a beating heart — barely. Doctor-themed cupcakes by Clever Cupcakes of Montreal.

A couple moons ago, I told a story about going on a date with a doctor.  He diagnosed me with a fatty deposit when we were making out. As you can imagine, this cooled things off for me pretty quick. But there’s more to the story and when you learn the rest, you’ll see why I was cooled off before The Smooch Heard Round My Hip.

We’re at dinner. Low light, pretty dress, etc. And the doctor is talking. He’s talking a lot. He eventually asked me: “So tell me more about what you do. Knitting, right?”

I answered in an abbreviated manner because as I explained how I earn my living, he looked away at least four times. I was not yammering on. I was not entertaining myself. I was answering his question and attempting to engage in the “Let’s get to know each other” thing. Crazy to do on a date, I realize. But the doctor was eating bread and glancing around as I spoke and I hate that. I don’t like talking to people who don’t care one cc what I’m saying but also, lucky for him, I like listening to people talk about themselves way more than talking about myself. I figured out pretty quick that the best thing to do was to clam up and ask him questions about himself and get through dinner.

So I asked questions. I let his tape run. Yes, he did have interesting stories to tell and he was intelligent. Successful. A father. A widower, as I’ve just recalled. But when you spend the first forty-five minutes of a date smiling and nodding and going, “Mm, I see,” it’s tiring. It’s a drag. One can also be in danger of drinking too much wine because there’s nothing else to do with one’s mouth.

My date excuses himself to use the men’s room. The head waiter comes over and removes our first course plates.

“Did you enjoy your beet salad, Miss?”

“Oh, it was wonderful, thank you so much. Really good.”

I engaged him in a conversation about how beets are gross unless you get them on a fancy plate. He agreed; we had this instant rapport. Then he gave me a strange look. An earnest look. A conspiratorial look. He looked toward the men’s room and back to me.

“And how is your evening going?” he asked, cocking his head and squeezing his eyes at me. I, too, glanced at the men’s room. I, too, cocked my head and squeezed my eyes.

“Can I be honest?”

“Please do.”

“It’s not good. He is just talking and talking and talking. He hasn’t asked me a single thing about myself! I don’t want to go on and on, but we’re supposed to be on a date. I’m pretty bummed.”

“We give you forty minutes, tops.”


“We’ve been watching you two since you came in because your table is right in the line of the service area. He hasn’t let you get a word in since you got here. We all feel really sorry for you. Can I bring you another Champagne? On the house, Miss.”

I looked over my left shoulder and saw two bartenders, a busboy, and another waiter at various positions near the wood paneled, chrome bar. One of the bartenders saw me looking and gave me a little wave and a cringe. My date appeared from around the corner to the restrooms and came back to the table.

“I would like a glass of Champagne,” I said to the waiter, my new BFF. “Thank you so much.” My new BFF and I shared the most awesome, subtle look. We were in cahoots now; we were allied. He asked my date if he wanted anything from the bar or if he was ready for wine with the entrees on their way. He was ready for wine, and I was ready for dessert. Yes, I know, I sold out for some smooching at the end of the date. What can I say? It had been a long week.

The last thing to say about it is that I didn’t have to fight the doctor off with a stick; neither of us pursued a second date. Maybe he thought I was a dull conversationalist, that I had nothing good to say, nothing interesting to talk about.




Memorriiieeees: Rebecca + Jack

posted in: Family | 1
That's Rebecca on the left, Jack on the right. Photo: Azuree Wiitala
That’s Rebecca on the left, Jack on the right. Photo: Azuree Wiitala

Tonight, a picture of my younger sister and her husband on their wedding day. There were several reports on the wedding, but I didn’t do very well with sharing pictures.

I wrote about one kind of anniversary and year-marking event the other day. Though it’s not exactly the three-month anniversary of my sister’s and brother-in-law’s marriage, it’s close enough and reminds me that Monday marks one thing and Tuesday marks another and Wednesday, etc., etc., year after year. It’s good.

Happy Three Month Anniversary, lovebirds. You guys are almost too gorgeous here. Some people will decide they do not like you for this reason.

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