Mama, Little Boy, and Squinchy Eye.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 6
Another mother and her wee bairn. Image: Wikipedia.
Mother and bairn. Image: Wikipedia.

 

An author I admire a lot once said, “The best thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Ain’t that just the way? It’s certainly an encouragement to go for a stroll. Because even if you don’t think up anything good while walking — I spend a lot of time thinking about jokes and snacks, for example — you’re bound to at least see some stuff.

Which counts for a lot.

On Friday, I was walking up Wabash, headed to the newspaper office** and I saw the sweetest thing. It wasn’t anything remarkable, but it was worth the walk.

A woman was with her son. She was in her late thirties, maybe; her little boy was eight or so. They had stopped on the sidewalk because there was a problem with the boy. He was so cute, but he was not happy: There was something in his eye.

Obviously, this was not an emergency; if it had been, this would be a very different post. No, the blinky eye in question was plagued with an eyelash or a no-see-um gnat or something minor. But shorty was so grumpy, whatever it was, it clearly hurt. A gnat is big when your eyeball is small.

As I approached, I saw how sweet the boy’s mother was, helping her child steady himself while he frowned and scrubbed at his face. She tried to get at his lil’ peeper with a thumb; I heard him say, “I can do it! Ow!”

There were but a few seconds to take in the scene, but I saw it all: pure tenderness and kindness coming from the mother, pure trust from the boy, who knew he was safe, even if it hurt. Suddenly, I recalled Aesop’s fable when the mouse taking the thorn from the paw of the lion.

Now that I think about it, it’s precisely that mother-son moment and consequently thinking of Aesop that is proof positive the best thoughts are conceived while walking.

After I passed the scene, I remembered how the health foods store a block away used to stock these maple peanut butter bar thingys that I love. Mm. If I turned right a block early, I could swing by the health food store and then grab a coffee to go with it before going into the office.

See? The best snacks are conceived while walking.

 

**Did I tell you I got promoted? I got promoted to head-editor-in-charge of the school paper! I’m sharing the position with the brilliant and beautiful Irena, because we both were in the running for the job this coming year and decided that life, school, and working at the paper would be far more enjoyable/productive if we shared the duties of managing editor. Divide and conquer, that’s what we said, and we clinked glasses and went into the Publication Board meeting for our joint interview, which we nailed. We’re a terrific team and I’m in heaven, being a top-dog editor again. I really love being an editor. I might have to be one again, for a long time. I’ll keep you posted. 

Nellie Bly + PaperGirl: Impossible Conversations (Part I)

posted in: Word Nerd 0
Bly.
Yo, Nellie Bly. ‘Sup girl.

Beginning around 2006 or 2007, when PaperGirl was hosted by another server, when the layout was way different, when life was baffling and great but in totally different ways, I presented from time to time dialogues between myself and Nellie Bly. Long-long-time readers may recall these; I may dig one up one day for our fun. They’re all in the archives.

Nellie Bly is known to grammar school students across America as “the first woman reporter” and I doubt that that is true, history textbooks being what they are (watered-down and probably SEO-driven at this point.) Bly was certainly among the first women journalists to be recognized for their work in the profession, and that makes Nellie Bly cool. She’s cool enough to be the subject of innumerable 5th grade book reports, cool enough to have an amusement park in Brooklyn named after her**, and cool enough to be the only person I’ve ever wanted to be a foil to my brain in this blog.

When I was at my sickest in 2008-2009, Nellie Bly and I would have what I called “Health Chats,” where she would ask me questions about the state of my scary body and I would answer. I always told her the truth. On the days when I couldn’t possibly figure out how to otherwise narrate what was happening to me — either because I was too high on Dilaudid or because the news was too bad and too overwhelming to comprehend — writing a two-person conversation felt like my only option. But it was an option I loved. I just talked to Nellie; I just answered her questions. We talked about other topics from time to time, but for the most part, and definitely during my illness, it was “Health Chat” with Bly every week or two because it helped me get better. I believe it.

I only realized a few hours ago that it’s International Women’s Day. Re-introducing Nellie, vis a vis PaperGirl, is perfect for the occasion.

Stay tuned for the conversation.

**Recently renamed “Adventurer’s Family Entertainment Center” because no one cares about anything and everything is terrible.

Me, Dad, and Cheesecake for Breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mary Fons, Chips

Google Analytics reveals much. But lo, like the Oracle at Delphi, the Great Google Analyst In The Sky conjures more questions than answers. Oh, Great Google Analyst In The Sky, what secrets do you hide? (Cue synthesizer music, fog machine.)

According to Google Analytics, the top-rated searches that lead to this site are:

Wow, okay.
Let’s discuss.

What can we learn?

Well, people like to get the dirt. Am I divorced? how long ago? pregnant? how recently? diseased? in general or in a specific place? But we know already that people are like that. Heck, I’m like that. Scuttlebuttery is to the Internet as puddin’ is to a long-john donut: inevitable. And bad for you — and delicious.

That “mary fons divorce” comes up before the actual URL to my website is a little weird, but all right. And I look at the words “divorce” and “cancer” attached to the googling of my name and feel a little defensive. But who knows? Maybe those searches are born of concern. I have been very sick in the past and I am divorced. There you go: your search has ended.

The “is mary fons pregnant” search throws me into a mini-funk, though. It really is true that television makes a person look wider than they are in real life. I went through a phase when I enjoyed wearing geometric tunic tops with black tights and kitten heels. A good look walking down big city streets, for sure; on television, not so much. I look like I’m wearing a different mu-mu on every show that series. Why would I be wearing such strange, diaphanous clothing on TV?

Well, many people thought I was pregnant. A woman actually came up to me in Sacramento and whispered, “Mary, I hope you don’t mind if I ask, but… Were you pregnant?” I opened and closed my mouth like a fish for a few seconds and then the woman realized she did that thing that you’re never, ever, ever supposed to do. I said, reflexively, “You’re not supposed to ask people that.” She blushed nine ways from Sunday and that was the end of the conversation. But seriously: what if I had been pregnant? I don’t have a baby. If I was pregnant in the recent past but don’t presently have a baby, we could conclude one of a number of sorrowful outcomes had occurred in my life. Best not to ask a person that. Just google it when you get home.

Enough of that. We need to consider that other google result. You know, the other one up there. Third from the bottom we see:

Chips.

Chips!?

Just “chips.” Not even “Mary Fons, chips.” But it has to be. People have to be typing in something that connects my name with chips. I’m picturing potato chips, but is it paint chips?? Chocolate chips? Chip-off-the-old-block chips? Cow chips? How can we know? Separated by a comma like that in a search engine field, it sounds like a command to eat potato chips: “Chips, Mary Fons.” Typed the other way, it’s like I’m being introduced by a friend to chips:

“Mary Fons, chips.”

“How d’you do, chips?”

:: crunch, crunch, crunch ::

“The pleasure is all mine. That’s a lovely blouse.”

I can’t explain these search results. I do not understand “chips.” But I am happy with the wisdom and insight you have brought to me, Google Analytics. Please let me know if you would like me to make a burnt offering, or perhaps tithe to you a small goat served with chips and a pop.