Wallpaper, Hang It All

posted in: Art, Paean, Tips 11
1024px-Carberry_Tower_-_Monarch_Double_Bedroom
Not my bedroom. BUT IT COULD BE. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I want to hang wallpaper.

Correction: I want a professional wallpaper person to hang wallpaper for me. I love the way wallpaper looks. It’s like fabric, right? Printed cloth for the walls. I’ve shopped and found some I like very much; it’s now a matter of getting it ordered and installed.

My love for wallpaper runs deep. Out on Meadowlark Farm, when I was a small, small person, I ran through room after room of tiny floral prints on all the various wallpapers of our farmhouse. (I do recall one wallpaper featured a big paisley, though; forgive my parents for decorating a house on a budget, in the mid-1970s.)

The kitchen got a buttercream yellow wallpaper; the upstairs bedroom got navy blue wallpaper with tiny pink rosebuds and leaves. There was another, paler blue in the living room, and I remember fiddling with the seams that ran down the wall. Thought I don’t specifically remember getting in trouble for picking the peeling paper, that obviously must’ve happened.

Wallpaper makes me think of my mom.

I believe she and my dad hung the wallpaper together out on the farm, but I wasn’t around yet to see either of them papering any walls. When it comes to Mom and wallpaper, my mental image involves her alone: not with Dad. I see Mom scraping wallpaper off the walls of our new, not-yet-inhabitable house in town after Dad left us for the last time and we left him for good. I’m just sure she scraped wallpaper by herself, standing up on a ladder; I’ll have to ask my mother if she hung new paper after she was done. Sometimes, you can’t remember these things.

I can tell you, however, that if she didn’t hang paper, she painted. And then she went off to make money to feed our family. We had support from our friends and Gramma, but when I think about my mom during the time of the divorce and our move into town from being out in the country, I picture my mother scraping wallpaper on a ladder in a bare room. Then I see the whole house, and how wonderful she made it by the end.

Hm.

When I started this post, I only wanted to write about how I want wallpaper in my condo, how I have wanted to put some up for a couple years, now. I wanted to ask if anyone in the Chicago area could recommend an honest/speedy paper-hanger.

My intention wasn’t to talk about my childhood, or the pain of my parents’ divorce, or the memory I have of a very lean and scary time when Mom had the weight of the world on her shoulders and my father disappeared in a cloud of confusion and angst. It wasn’t my intention to write about any of that; I just wanted to talk about the wonders of wallpaper.

(Maybe I did.)

Symbols, Marriage, Night.

posted in: Day In The Life 2
There was hydrangea at my wedding. Photo: Wikipedia
There was hydrangea at my wedding. Photo: Wikipedia

I do not think marriage is a bad thing. Not only do I not think that, what a stupid thing it would be to say, to say that marriage is unequivocally bad. Some marriages are bad, some are never bad, some are bad sometimes and get better, some are great and will become bad, and sometimes — most of the time, I hear — they fluctuate between good, sorta or acutely bad, mundane, and ultimately great even if it takes awhile.

Last night I had a dream I was to remarry my ex-husband, but I decided, in secret, as I looked for my dress in a U-Haul storage facility that I couldn’t do it. It was less about him and more about me, which is frequently the case in an identity crisis.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the top five google searches people do on me is “mary fons husband” followed closely by “mary fons divorce.” I get fan letters from prison, so I wonder if “mary fons husband” is searched by hopeful guys with just a few months left inside. It’s probably just run-of-the-mill curiosity though; in early episodes on TV I wore a ring and at one point, I did not. What happened?

Speaking about my brief marriage is unwise for a number of reasons, but it happened nonetheless; it’s my life and I can tell if I want to. But I don’t want to, usually, and there are/were two people involved, one of which has not decided to put his life into words in public.

I understand my ex-husband remarried and will soon have kids. It used to be that you heard news like that from the next village over, and at least a few days late. Well, the Internet you use is your village; the Internet I use is my village and now we hear or collect news from all the villages down the road whenever we please. I wasn’t looking for that news (honestly) but there it was, shared with me by Facebook, the town crier, the gossip, the one who travels far and wide and brings back all the stuff we probably don’t need to know and usually don’t want to know.

In my dream, I realized I didn’t have to marry again — not to him, but at all, ever, if I don’t want to — and that was the first time in the dream I didn’t feel scared.

 

“Let’s Just Read.”

posted in: Family 1
Me, not so much. Perhaps because of the story below. Photo: Wikipedia
Me, not so much. Perhaps because of the story below. Photo: Wikipedia

Starting when I was in fourth grade, my sisters, my mom and I were on our own. Divorce had axed our family and as my sisters and I picked splinters out of our hair, Mom went about basically gut-rehabbing — by herself — my Aunt Katherine and late Uncle Rodney’s house in town. The house wasn’t habitable for months and we couldn’t go back to the family farm, so we stayed with friends until we could move in. I still remember the smell of paint when we finally slept in the house on Jefferson Street. I will always love the smell of fresh paint.

Our home was constantly full of people. Rebecca was in elementary school and had her best friends over for sleepovers; I was in junior high and not a total social leper so I was able to entertain; Hannah was in high school and her crew was large and left-of-center, so there were usually interesting conversations going on in the kitchen and the backyard because the kitchen had a fridge and the backyard had a hammock.

The dinner table was big enough for us and at least three friends. But when Mom wasn’t on a business trip (I go on these same trips today, something I never anticipated and cannot imagine doing with three daughters at home)  so most of the time it was just the four of us. We talked and talked and shared all the stories from school and Mom’s trips. We laughed, we fought. Hannah did this thing where she’d steal Rebecca’s milk when Biccy wasn’t looking and it drove my little sister crazy. Again and again, Hannah would steal her milk and finally had to stop when Rebecca got big enough to successfully execute sororicide.* But there was another kind of dinner.

My family is a reading family, but we weren’t allowed to read at the table. But there would be times when Mom would call us all to dinner and all of us — Mom included — would put down whatever book we were engrossed in and loaf to the dinner table, reluctant to stop reading. Those nights, we weren’t interested in talking because we were still thinking about our books. The table would be pretty quiet. Then Mom would look at us, slurping pasta. We’d look at Mom, drinking her milk. She’d smile and whisper in a mischievous way:

“Let’s just read!”

We’d whoop and all run for our books and finish dinner together in silence, turning pages, until we were full.

*It’s true. There’s a word for murdering your sister. Share it with any fifteen-year-old in your life who has a ten-year-old sister. She’ll love it. 

Let’s All Hit Each Other In the Face More (PaperGirl Archive)

posted in: Day In The Life, Rant, Story 4
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little girl.

This post is from April, 2014. I had reason to think of it the other day and thought I’d repost. I’d tell you to enjoy but you can’t, really.

I’m in Iowa filming TV. Tonight, the editorial team and several of our guests went out to dinner.

Halfway through the day, I began to feel poorly due to my excavated intestines. I therefore didn’t eat much and had the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room at the restaurant several times over the course of our dinner. On one of those visits, something awful happened.

I was in the furthest stall from the entrance when I heard the door open. Laid out in a kind of “L” shape, I’m sure the bathroom appeared empty. Ambient noise from the restaurant slipped in and then faded as the door gently closed. The moment that it had, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone being slapped across the face.

Hard.

A brief pause. Then an intake of air, and a child’s wail came high, high off the mountain and down into a deep, anguished sob. Confusion and shock and pain came crashing down in a tidal wave in a bathroom in Des Moines, IA.

“What is wrong with you?!” a woman’s voice hissed. And there was a tussle, a shake.

My rage came up fast from my legs to the very bottom of my throat. It stopped at my throat because I was speechless with horror and disgust for the slapper and an almost frantic need to console the child and take her into my arms.

I burst out of the stall the moment the two were going into the first. Their door shut. As I passed them, slowly, I could see the child now sitting on the toilet with the mother standing over her. Her scuffed up sneakers were dangling off the side of the toilet. Even now, I can see their little velcro straps.

My jaw was clenched so tight I might’ve shattered all my teeth.

“Where did you learn to make faces like that at Mommy?” the woman asked, now with a sticky, simpering tone in her voice. She screwed up, see. She thought the bathroom was empty. Now that she knew someone was there and had heard her hit her kid in the face, she was a little nicer.

The child wept. Plaintive, pathetic weeping. She was trapped. I stood at the sink and looked through my reflection in the mirror. I had to do something. I had to.

Once again I find myself, a single woman with no children, opining about parenting. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about raisin’ up a chile; most ideals and proclamations about how I’ll do it someday are so much talking. But the argument that I know zero about childrearing because I presently have no children goes only so far. I am a human, and children are humans, so I’m qualified to take a position. You can’t be angry when you punish a kid, goddamnit. You calm yourself down, you get a hold of yourself, and then you figure out the negative consequences for that kid’s bad behavior. Never, ever punish out of anger. Is this not true? Is this not a stance I can take now, as a woman who has yet to hold her own baby?

So I’m standing at the sink in the bathroom, mentally eviscerating this kid-hitting woman four feet from me, and I remember a story my friend Lisa told about a similar situation she found herself in. She was on the subway in New York and this guy was roughing up his girlfriend. Really talking menacingly to her and smacking her around. Lisa was enraged. She was panicking. She needed to stop it, to say something to the guy. But she didn’t. Ultimately, she didn’t because, as she had to so horribly reason out, it might’ve made it worse for the woman later. The monster on the subway was maybe at 60%; at home, after an altercation on the train, would he hit 79%? 90% monster? What will monsters do at full capacity? Lisa burned and was quiet and told the story to me later, as upset at the time of telling me as she was that day on the train.

No, I wouldn’t speak. I wouldn’t make it worse for that little girl when she got to the comfort — the comfort — of her own home. But then I did do something. Something else that took me as much by surprise as I hope it took the monster.

Alone with them there in the bathroom, I smacked my right hand against my left. Loud. I made perfect contact with the one hand on the other: a loud crack sounded in the bathroom, bouncing off the tile and the linoleum. The talking in the first stall stopped. The sniffling ceased. I could almost see the confusion on the woman’s face and the “Wha?” on the kid’s.

I waited for total silence and then I did it again: crack! A crisp, violent sound.

In that moment, I might as well have been a professional sound effects person, paid thousands to come into a recording studio to capture the exact sound of someone being smacked across the face. Luck was on my side; if I tried to make that sound just so, right now, I might not be able to do it. But tonight, it was exactly what I needed it to be.

The slap hung in the air like a gun had been shot. I could tell no one in that first stall was breathing. The mother was surely, totally weirded out. The daughter, I don’t know, but at least for that moment her nasty mother wasn’t in charge. Of anything. I sent a silent, psychic message of love and hope to the little girl and then left the bathroom.

I had to run this story past my mom. Until I did, I wasn’t sure if my slap sounds were completely insane or if they were effective in breaking the evil spell that had entered the ladies’ room. Mom, who cried with me when I told her about hearing that little girl get hit, said she thought it was a great move. So there you go. We have an actual parent weighing in on how to do these things.

Don’t hit your kid in the face. That’s just a suggestion. But here’s another one: if you choose to hit your kid in the face in a public place, you are in my world. And my world might be kinda weird, but your kid is safer with me than she is with you.

 

A PaperGirl Compendium: Diving In.

posted in: Art, PaperGirl Archive 0
There can be no other. Leuchtturm 1917 Large Ruled Notebooks.
There can be no other. Leuchtturm 1917 Large Ruled Notebooks.

I’m not sure that it takes a village to raise a child; a few capable women can get the job done before the rest of the village wakes up. My single mom did a solid job with my sisters and me, but she had help from friends. Katy, her best friend for a long time, is the woman I refer to as “my second mom.” Katy has soothed, instructed, corrected, encouraged, congratulated, and supported me my whole life; she’s grieved with me and sorted things out with me, too. She’s not my mom; she’s my second mom — and that’s a beautiful thing.

Katy recently retired. We agree this is the beginning of an exciting time in her life. I sent her a present to mark the occasion, something I hoped could be of use: a Leuchtturm 1917 Large Ruled Notebook, a.k.a.,The Best Journal In The World. She might be compelled to write; in my view, major life transitions (really, all experiences) are best handled on paper. She might write songs in the notebook, or draw in it, or use it for grocery lists. She might not use it at all, and that’s okay, too. I just want her to have the best if she’s going to keep a journal of any kind. She deserves the best.

I’ve mentioned my journaling before, probably too much, but sending Katy a fresh Leuchtturm journal (and no, I can’t pronounce it, either) stirred me to truly make a start on a major project. I have a dream. The dream is a compendium. Here’s what that is:

compendium |kəmˈpendēəm|
noun (pl. compendiums or compendia |-dēə| ): a collection of concise but detailed information about a particular subject, esp. in a book or other publication.
• a collection of things, esp. one systematically gathered: the program is a compendium of outtakes from our archives

A collection — a book — of detailed information about a particular subject, systematically gathered. I want to make one. On what subject, you ask? Dolphins. I have to write about dolphins.

(Beat.)

No, the compendium would be about me. My life. As reported here, in PaperGirl, and in my offline journals (most of which are Leuchtturm 1917 Large Ruled Notebooks, you see? Ah!) Pictures, drawings, poems. Handwritten, typed, copy of all kinds, metaphorically written in blood. Metaphors. Similes. All kinds of things, but mostly words on the only subject on which I am an expert: myself. If I do it right, it could be a real slice o’ life page turner. I mean, come on. I’ve got near-death experiences, torrid love affairs, physical agony, an affinity for large cities, and countless journeys around America by plane. I’ve got an ongoing existential crisis, a thirst to make and bear witness to art, and I write silly poems for fun. It’s all here in the blog and what isn’t here is in the journals.

Hot Tip: For those of you who own a copy of my book, look at the dedication. It says, “For A.” Can you guess who “A” is?  “A” is my journal. I dedicated my book…to my book. That’s how serious I am about these things.

And so into my suitcase to go to Seattle tomorrow, I have packed all my medicine, my special snacks, my clothes, laptop cords, and two journals, one from 2009, one from 2011. I need to start digging into my material. It won’t be easy. I will cringe. I might cry. I will roll my eyes and furrow my brow.

That’s life. And it’s all there. Waiting.

Indefi-fatidi-ga-flipping-impossible.

posted in: Word Nerd 4
It won't surprise you that the images that come up in a search for "indefatigable" are pretty weak sauce. Instead, enjoy Spanish motorcross guy Maikel Melero doing this, instead. Photo: Carlos Delgado
It won’t surprise you that the images that come up in a search for “indefatigable” are pretty weak sauce. Instead, enjoy Spanish motorcross guy Maikel Melero doing this. Photo: Carlos Delgado

Indefatigable.

Indefatigable. Indefatigable.

Indef — OH, FOR LORD’S SAKE!

I just hate that word because I cannot pronounce it. Years! Years I try, years I end up with something that sounds like a dog trying to speak English or a mush-mouthed come-on word from a very drunk man, as in, “Baby, you’re jusht.. Wow, indegfahekgaaaaaahh — buy me a drink.” To make matters worser, I usually try not one but several of the homemade variations below, as I’ll say “indefatigable” once, get mad that I know how to use the word in a sentence but can never successfully pronounce it, then try again with another version, fail again, and then just say, “You know, like, uh, unwavering.” My attempts have included:

indefatigatible
indefatable-gull
indafigatable

I’m about to indefuggetaboutit. Anyone else have issues with this one? Tricks to remember how to say it?

I ask because one can change these things. For the longest time, I could never quite remember what the word cipher meant. I would kinda recall that it meant…mysterious? Murky? I knew that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t lock it into my brain, which is a shame because it’s such a great word. Then one day I realized that I know and use the word decipher all the time! To decipher means to figure out something unclear, especially something you read or study, like writing. But of course! A cipher is a secret way of writing. To decipher it would be to figure it out. Voila! The vocabulary needle gets moved.

But the other one. The one up there. Still no good.

Cinnamon Rolls, No Fingie.

posted in: Day In The Life, Food 6

T

The cinnamon rolls, from the Minimalist Baker. (Recipe in comments!)
The cinnamon rolls, from the Minimalist Baker. (Recipe in comments!)

There’s a real trick to living, a knack one has to get. I totally get the knack on lock for a minute but then I lose it again. It would be nice for the ground to stop moving under my feet; maybe then, maybe then.

Thank goodness this post is about homemade cinnamon rolls.

If I love you, I cook for you. I’m not a lusty Italian woman with an ample bosom and flour on her apron, caught in a perpetual loop of plucking ripe tomatoes off the vine (for love.) But I recently came across these words from that man about food, Michael Pollan, and he’s got it right:

“For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”

We all know Yuri likes cookys, and I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my skills with cheesecake send him over the moon. But I got it into my head last week that I needed to bake something else special for this special man, something truly “Woah.” Cinnamon rolls seemed to be the “woah” ticket. Gooey, ooey, warm cinnamon rolls that might look right at home on a farmhouse table with a pot of hot coffee nearby. Lordy! Bring me my purse! We got groceries to git!

My rolls were interesting to make and they turned out beautifully. But as I was drowning the hot, cinnamony bombs of yum in thick cream cheese frosting, I knew there was something else going on, something other than the “Let me feed you” thing. There is nothing in a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls that is “legal” for me to eat except the cinnamon — and even that isn’t recommended for a few weeks. The cinnamon rolls, which I have never made in my life until now, were clearly me living vicariously through Yuri.

Which is okay. I mean, there are cinnamon rolls as a result, so it can’t be that awful. It is dangerous, though: I very nearly popped a frosting-coated finger into my mouth as I put the empty bowl into the sink. This is not an option for me today. Why make such a gorgeous city and lock yourself out of the gates?

Knack, knack. Who’s there?

Timeline, Part 2.

posted in: Sicky 28
Sweet n' lowdown.
Sweet n’ lowdown.

As the well-wishes and words of kindness came in last night/today regarding yesterday’s post, I felt subdued and grateful. I also became concerned that the sharing of my UC story thus far was potentially taking up too much air time in people’s heads, thoughts, prayers, etc. I shared the first half of the timeline with a desire to inform, possibly assist, and maybe even entertain (seriously, you can’t write this stuff.) But when the compassion came at me from all sides I suddenly felt guilty that I had directed all of this energy at myself when really, we’ve all got botched j-pouch surgeries. We’ve all got a health crisis.

We are all temporarily abled. That’s not just a politically correct catchphrase: it is one of the truest things I know. Our bodies are systems; systems fail. We are organic matter; organic matter gets infected, infested, and eventually rots away. There’s nothing to be done about it and to preface it all by saying, “Sorry to be morbid, but the funny thing about bodies is…” is to keep the yardstick in place that distances us from the reality of our rather absurd situation. It is my fondest wish that every person reading this is full of vim and vigor from their first day to their last, but it’s more likely that most of us will deal with significant health issues somewhere along the trek. Sooner, later, or now.

So hang my tale: we all need compassion. By virtue of being human, we all need loving kindness. It’s hard down here. And that’s when we’re healthy and well! Beyond that, many of us have diseases and afflictions that do not call for surgery and never will. There are those among us who are quite sick indeed but look perfectly fine. Those people need emails of encouragement, too. They need blog comments. And so it was that I felt I had gotten too much of the universe’s healing energy yesterday and today. I will send some along to the next fellow with your regards; maybe it will come back to you, as you also need it. Sooner, later, now.

With that, let’s dive down into the second half of what happened so far in my life, vis a vis being sick. When I returned to Chicago in ’09, things took a turn from awful to downright horrid.

Summer ’09 – My then-husband leaves for a year to train for the Army Reserves. A decision we made together proves disastrous. He was away, my entire world/existence was changing daily. A gulf formed that would never again be brooked.

August ’09 – I am declared well enough for the “takedown” surgery at Northwestern. The ileostomy (stoma) I had is poked back inside my belly and reconnected to the internal j-pouch. In theory, I should be able to continue my life now, albeit with a “new normal.”

September ’09 – My health rapidly deteriorates following the takedown. Turns out the leak has not healed. Waste is leaking into my abdomen from the pouch. I am hospitalized — can’t remember how many times —  over the next few months. (Silver lining: I begin to make quilts for sanity preservation.)

October ’09 – “Bio-glue” is squirted into my j-pouch in attempts to “plug up” the leak. Bio-glue is what they use to glue heart muscles back together after surgery, apparently? While the glue does its thing, I am told “No food allowed.” A PICC line (my third; a mega-IV that is inserted via ultrasound into your arm and travels through a major artery to dump medicine/food directly into your vena cava) is placed and I am put on total parenteral nutrition (a.k.a., TPN, a.k.a., “feeding tube”.) Twice a day, I hook up a gallon bag of white fluid into a port in my arm and sit still while it is pumped in. I have several IR drains, as well. I am a ghost among men.

November ’09 – TPN and bio glue deemed a failure. Pouch needs more time to heal after all. I will be re-diverted. (Translation: I will get another stoma.) Surgery at Northwestern. This time, I get an epidural. A psychiatrist visits me in the hospital post-surgery and recommends I go on an antidepressant. I take her up on that.

December ’09-’11 – Life continues apace. My marriage falls apart. I continue to work as a freelancer, building Quilty and doing work in the theater in Chicago to take my mind off my health issues and my broken relationship. Bag leaks in bed, painful rashes, etc., are par for the course with the second stoma as with the first but it’s a known quantity, at least. I begin to practice yoga with obsessive drive: I make deals with the universe that if I get healthy enough before the second takedown a year from now, I will make it.

June ’11 – Second takedown. Northwestern. Epidural. Things go well.

Fall ’12 – After a shaky but decent year, things begin to crack. I have a fissure. I also have a fistula. (I leave those things to you to look up. Do not image search.) Various methods are deployed to deal with these issues. I work harder than I should, afraid at any moment of hospitalization. There are several, usually related to the fistula or flora issues in my ruined guts. I make a series of self-destructive choices. I am wildly productive.

Fall ’13 – The fissure has come home to roost. I am crippled with pain. An ambulance comes to my condo to get me on the worst of the nights; they break my front door. I get into a pattern where I know when the fissure is about to do its worst; I frequently take the bus up Michigan Ave. to the ER. Hospitalizations. Pain medicine. Lying to everyone about how bad it is. Describing the pain to someone, I say it’s “like having a gunshot wound that you sh-t battery acid out of approximately twenty times a day.” (I stand by this description.)

Then, up to now – Good days, bad days. I got a pain doctor who recommended an internal pain pump. This is a morphine drip, essentially, placed into my abdomen, which I then pump when I feel the agony coming on. I decline, not yet ready for another apparatus. Probiotics. Lost days. Days packed so full, no one will notice the ones when I’m useless.

Remember, this is the timeline of the health crisis. One only needs to look back at PaperGirl, or the issues of Quilty magazine or the shows, or the other shows, to see that life has been much more than just this list of woe and setbacks. Joy and wonder, and gifts abound in my life. Success and learning and all kinds of wonderful life has been lived since 2008. And there have been all sorts of failures and good, old-fashioned crappy (hey!) days that had nothing to do with any of the body stuff, too — that’s the real kicker. Good, bad, or otherwise, though, this timeline is a specter. My experience and condition don’t define me, except that both kind of do.

I am going to make cookies for Yuri now. Good grief! [Correction: Cookys! I meant cookys!!]

A Recipe To Change (Your) Life.

posted in: Food 2
With honey, I'm home.
With honey, I’m home.

Long ago, in a Chicago far away, when I was a poet with barely enough rent money and my friends were all theater performers and poets with barely enough rent money, I learned a simple way to be happy.

It involves a grapefruit. So have one handy. I’ll wait.

*       *       *

I was in a friend’s apartment at Belmont and Clark. If you know Chicago, you know the corner of Belmont and Clark is rough around the edges: there’s a Dunkin Donuts, a crack spot, and a recovery house all crammed together, and that’s all next door to the tattoo shop, the Chinese market, and the skankiest Jamba Juice on earth. The Mexican restaurant down the block is good, if “good” means a place that serves margaritas so strong you don’t know your name when you leave.

My friend and I had been up and out all night. We were twenty-two. Kids. Kids with lame jobs, adult responsibilities, and zero supervision. We woke hungover, of course, and annoyed that the sun existed.

My friend’s apartment was in the bird’s nest part of the building on the corner of Belmont and Clark and it had these gorgeous, tall windows. I appreciated them aesthetically, even then, but I hated them that morning. Light poured in; there were no blinds. We were clearly ants under a microscope held by some supernatural force who was punishing us for our sins.

“Do you want a grapefruit?” my friend asked me, coming back into the living room where I was, scrunched into the couch trying to escape the light. I had crashed on the couch several hours earlier.

“No,” I said. “I would like to go home.”

“It’s really good how I make it,” he said. “I promise. Come sit at the table.”

The look I gave him was full dagger. But he had been rebuffed the night before by the boy he was in love with, so I couldn’t be mean. I pulled my bones up and dragged my body to the formica-topped table in the tiny kitchen. And there, I watched my friend make a magic treat.

He cut a beautiful, big, ruby red grapefruit in half with a serrated knife. He put each half in a bowl. Then he took down a Honey Bear (proper noun?) and drizzled honey over the top of each half. He then went to the microwave and put the bowls inside. He punched some buttons.

“Thirty seconds,” he said, and I squinted at him. He slumped against the sink like he was an old, old man. Youth is not wasted on the young. The young, they pay for it. We paid for it.

The microwave beeped that it was done. My friend put my hot grapefruit in front of me, sat down with his, handed me a grapefruit spoon (clearly a possession in his life vis a vis a kind set of civilized parents) and we dug in.

And everything was okay. Because into my mouth went chunks of cool, juicy, tart chunks of grapefruit, each with hot, melted sweetness on top. The warmth, the chill; the tart, the sweet. It was a revelation, and nothing felt bad anymore, and the sun looked the way it actually was: beautiful.

I eat grapefruit prepared this way quite a bit, so many years later.

 

The Handbag Effect.

That's her.
That’s her.

In Nebraska, you get an extra scoop of ice cream at the ice cream shop just because you’re nice. That actually happened.

You can’t get a good piece of fish anywhere, but what’s wrong with you? You’re as landlocked as a person can get in the United States. Eat steak.

In Nebraska, you can visit the International Quilt Study Center — a.k.a. Valhalla for quilt geeks. You’ll receive a near-stately welcome and be rendered speechless when you enter the galleries. Perhaps for the first time in your life you will see quilts given the honor and solemn respect they deserve. This is way, way better than eating substandard fish or even well-ordered steak. Please go there.

And if you’re carrying a Celine handbag within state lines, you will be mobbed in Nebraska.

Look, these are things I know and I tell you because I care about you.

My mother and I stopped by an outlet mall on our way into town. Mom needed pantyhose. We figured at the outlet mall we could get out and stretch our legs, find a cup of coffee, get those hose. And so we exited for Nebraska Crossing, a sprawling, newly-constructed discount compound. I’m not a huge fan of outlet malls; the shopping experience always feels a bit like a mouthful of styrofoam. But it was a warm day and there was a Brooks Brothers store on the grounds, so I was game. I like Brooks Brothers shirts.

So Mom and I are going along and twice in two different shops, I was complimented on my handbag. I am currently toting around a rawther nice handbag, it’s true: it’s a Celine Phantom bag from last year. It’s oxblood-colored (strangely tempting to use the UK spelling there — “oxblood-coloured” — but I wouldn’t dare) and is not the mini-version of the Phantom that has been showing up lately. This beast is the full monty, the real deal, and it’s head-slappingly gorgeous, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am. The bag was a gift, and that’s a story for another day, when you and I have a quality Zinfandel and about an hour to kill at an airport bar.

My mother found her pantyhose and that was all we bought the whole time we were at Nebraska Crossing, but we looked around the place for well over an hour, enjoying being together and not working. The last store we popped into was the Michael Kors store. We walked in and were just about to walk out when a twinky young sales assistant approached me.

“Oooh, I love your bag,” he said, eyes fixed on the smooth leather. “It almost looks like Celine.”

“It is Celine,” I said with a smile.

My answer appeared to throw the young man into physical pain.

“NO!” he gasped. “Braden!!!”

A second twinky sales associate levitated over. Both of them were 90lbs soaking wet, both barely in their twenties. They flapped their hands and were jumping up and down, touching my handbag and clutching their chests.

“That is seriously Celine,” said the first young man, fingering the tiny logo at the top of the bag. “Seriously, seriously, seriously Celine.” He was almost in tears. He looked at his friend. “Phoebe Philo is life.”*

“Can I hold it??” the second one asked me.

Of course he could, I said, and I let the boys try out the bag. One of them joked that he was going to take off with it and made a little motion of turning and running, which was slightly less funny to me than it was to his friend.

Two other sales associates came over, both girls this time, both every bit as hysterical as their colleagues. I now had a veritable gallery of youth cooing and fluffernutting over my handbag. It was fun for a moment, but then a terrible wave of depression came over me. These kids cared too much about this. I darkened right there before them, though they didn’t know it. To be complimented is one thing; to be conspicuously gagged over for an object you happen to possess is another. It was intensely uncomfortable, being the carrier of such wanton material love.

But I took a breath and allowed it to run its course. Because I know what it’s like to grow up in the sticks and see an artifact From Beyond. When you have your sights on leaving cornfields for skyscrapers, it’s a big deal when a high-rise shimmers into view. You gotta inspect it, you gotta fuel your next year of high school with that image or experience. For some kids on the prairie, it’s music From Beyond that keeps them going. For others, it’s pictures of Istanbul or Belize. For others, it’s fashion. It’s Celine. And it’s not fair to judge a kid for the obsession, not fair to make his love small or light; to him, it’s entirely serious, possibly life-or-death serious.

We left, and my mom, who hadn’t seen the full freakout, said, “What was that all about?”

“Fashion,” I said, and we went to find the car.

*Phoebe Philo is the British designer at the helm of the house of Celine.

The Pendennis Observer, Observing Pendennis.

posted in: Pendennis 2
The author and the monkey.
The author and the monkey, 2012.

When life springs eternally from a suitcase, I turn to the monkey.

I’m not quite eccentric enough to pack him along with me on the road, but I do have a folder of pictures of him on my computer and sometimes, we flip. 

Travel means nothing to this monkey. I leave Des Moines for Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow, and Pendennis, he don’t care where we go or that we’re not going home. Or that we’ll be home just two days before going to Florida for four. 

Pendennis pays no taxi fare, cares not for TSA pre-check. Pendennis doesn’t need to take a jacket. Pendennis can’t miss his favorite teacup or wish he packed his softest nightgown.

Pendennis only has that face, that face that remains unchanged by death, taxes, and airport security. Indeed, the stuffed monkey remains unchanged also by happiness; in my most ecstatic moments, Pendennis is Pendennis is Pendennis. 

And he’s so funny.

Everything is going to be fine.

 

From the PaperGirl Archives: “Mary Fons, Freshman,” January 30, 2012

Dutch magazine illustration. I love those dresses so much!
Dutch magazine illustration circa 1880; artist unknown. Lord, I love those dresses!

Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.

Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.

The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!

PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”

And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.

This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.

Let’s do this.

“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)

THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM

Do you recognize these numbers? 

0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway. 

Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.

During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.

The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.

Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”

[end of post]

My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.

Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.

 

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

posted in: Food, Tips 1
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have just made a lobster bisque.

Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York. I’ve been crisscrossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being separated a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.

“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”

I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:

“Can you make lobster bisque?”

Yikes!

“Absolutely,” I texted back, because though I’ve never made lobster bisque, it’s just soup, right?

Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — science experiments. You take a beaker of this, a cup of that, you boil this, you mix that, and blam! stuff changes color, there’s oxidation, titration, solids, and who knows what else, but you can eat everything and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.

Here’s what I have very recently learned about making lobster bisque:

  • It’s expensive. I purchased four lobster tails (roughly 4oz. each) from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap — and those little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup. 
  • It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done. 
  • It’s sorta gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart. 

As I was going briskly about my bisque business, I thought about Maine, where “lobstahs” are to Maine folk as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.

In the summer of 2007 and 2009, I stayed a month on Maine’s picturesque Little Cranberry Island (known to the locals as “Little Cran”.) My artistic mentor and friend Sonja, along with her husband Bill, founded The Islesford Theater Project (ITP) on Little Cran and they asked me to be involved. Making theater with those people in the summer was a true gift and we made a lot of people happy, I think; whenever the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see.

And when you’re in the cast, you get to stay in Sonja and Bill’s house and eat Sonja’s home cooking every night. This is a very, very good thing. Blueberry crisps, tacos, Indian food — that woman can and does cook everything. Well, Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was transcendental. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Dinner was served. There was a dish of melted butter for each of us, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: Whole lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me. And after making this soup, I’m not that excited to eat it. I’m excited for other things.

Just hurry, Yuri.

Let’s All Hit Each Other In The Face More.

posted in: Family, Rant 19
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.
Close your eyes and think of anywhere, anywhere else, little chick.

I’m in Iowa filming TV. Tonight, the editorial team and several of our guests went out to dinner.

Halfway through the day, I began to feel poorly due to my excavated intestines. I therefore didn’t eat much and had the opportunity to visit the ladies’ room at the restaurant several times over the course of our dinner. On one of those visits, something awful happened.

I was in the furthest stall from the entrance when I heard the door open. Laid out in a kind of “L” shape, I’m sure the bathroom appeared empty. Ambient noise from the restaurant slipped in and then faded as the door gently closed. The moment that it had, I heard the unmistakable sound of someone being slapped across the face.

Hard.

A brief pause. Then an intake of air, and a child’s wail came high, high off the mountain and down into a deep, anguished sob. Confusion and shock and pain came crashing down in a tidal wave in a bathroom in Des Moines, IA.

“What is wrong with you?!” a woman’s voice hissed. And there was a tussle, a shake.

My rage came up fast from my legs to the very bottom of my throat. It stopped at my throat because I was speechless with horror and disgust for the slapper and an almost frantic need to console the child and take her into my arms.

I burst out of the stall the moment the two were going into the first. Their door shut. As I passed them, slowly, I could see the child now sitting on the toilet with the mother standing over her. Her scuffed up sneakers were dangling off the side of the toilet. Even now, I can see their little velcro straps.

My jaw was clenched so tight I might’ve shattered all my teeth.

“Where did you learn to make faces like that at Mommy?” the woman asked, now with a sticky, simpering tone in her voice. She screwed up, see. She thought the bathroom was empty. Now that she knew someone was there and had heard her hit her kid in the face, she was a little nicer.

The child wept. Plaintive, pathetic weeping. She was trapped. I stood at the sink and looked through my reflection in the mirror. I had to do something. I had to.

Once again I find myself, a single woman with no children, opining about parenting. I realize there’s a lot I don’t know about raisin’ up a chile; most ideals and proclamations about how I’ll do it someday are so much talking. But the argument that I know zero about childrearing because I presently have no children goes only so far. I am a human, and children are humans, so I’m qualified to take a position. You can’t be angry when you punish a kid, goddamnit. You calm yourself down, you get a hold of yourself, and then you figure out the negative consequences for that kid’s bad behavior. Never, ever punish out of anger. Is this not true? Is this not a stance I can take now, as a woman who has yet to hold her own baby?

So I’m standing at the sink in the bathroom, mentally eviscerating this kid-hitting woman four feet from me, and I remember a story my friend Lisa told about a similar situation she found herself in. She was on the subway in New York and this guy was roughing up his girlfriend. Really talking menacingly to her and smacking her around. Lisa was enraged. She was panicking. She needed to stop it, to say something to the guy. But she didn’t. Ultimately, she didn’t because, as she had to so horribly reason out, it might’ve made it worse for the woman later. The monster on the subway was maybe at 60%; at home, after an altercation on the train, would he hit 79%? 90% monster? What will monsters do at full capacity? Lisa burned and was quiet and told the story to me later, as upset at the time of telling me as she was that day on the train.

No, I wouldn’t speak. I wouldn’t make it worse for that little girl when she got to the comfort — the comfort — of her own home. But then I did do something. Something else that took me as much by surprise as I hope it took the monster.

Alone with them there in the bathroom, I smacked my right hand against my left. Loud. I made perfect contact with the one hand on the other: a loud crack sounded in the bathroom, bouncing off the tile and the linoleum. The talking in the first stall stopped. The sniffling ceased. I could almost see the confusion on the woman’s face and the “Wha?” on the kid’s.

I waited for total silence and then I did it again: crack! A crisp, violent sound.

In that moment, I might as well have been a professional sound effects person, paid thousands to come into a recording studio to capture the exact sound of someone being smacked across the face. Luck was on my side; if I tried to make that sound just so, right now, I might not be able to do it. But tonight, it was exactly what I needed it to be.

The slap hung in the air like a gun had been shot. I could tell no one in that first stall was breathing. The mother was surely, totally weirded out. The daughter, I don’t know, but at least for that moment her nasty mother wasn’t in charge. Of anything. I sent a silent, psychic message of love and hope to the little girl and then left the bathroom.

I had to run this story past my mom. Until I did, I wasn’t sure if my slap sounds were completely insane or if they were effective in breaking the evil spell that had entered the ladies’ room. Mom, who cried with me when I told her about hearing that little girl get hit, said she thought it was a great move. So there you go. We have an actual parent weighing in on how to do these things.

Don’t hit your kid in the face. That’s just a suggestion. But here’s another one: if you choose to hit your kid in the face in a public place, you are in my world. And my world might be kinda weird, but your kid is safer with me than she is with you.

 

Tips For The Beginner Quilter In All of Us (A Diagram-Chart-Schematic-Graphic)

posted in: Quilting, Work 6
Everyone likes shapes. That's Grandma Moses, by the way.
Everyone likes shapes. That’s Grandma Moses, by the way.

I’m in Cleveland at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo show. I’ll be teaching today; tomorrow, I’ll teach again and then give a lecture. If you’re in the state of Ohio, you should do the following immediately:

1. Eat a buckeye
The candy, I mean! Not the sports fan, tree, chicken, or passenger train that also use the term “buckeye.” Eating a passenger train… What’s wrong with you??

2. Drive to the OSQE show.
It’s at the I-X Center. I don’t know what I-X is for, but is there any better place for us all to find out than in the actual I-X Center? Clearly, there is not.

3. Come find me!
I’m wearing pants, shoes, and a top. And earrings. And a necklace. And bra and underwear, naturally, and I’m deodorized and flossed. Can’t miss me. Shouldn’t miss me, really. We can rap about the tip sheet up there. It’s full of good information for beginner quilters of all ages and stages.

4. Gimme one of those buckeyes.
I smell peanut butter on you. You’re holding out. C’mon, man, hurry up… No, just do it quick! Just be cool! Aright, aright. Now we’re talkin’… Mmmm…

:: munch munch ::

The End.

“I Love Your Necklace.”

posted in: Art, Family, Fashion 5
Robust, not fragile.
Robust, not fragile.

Most days, I have on a gold necklace. It’s the same one all the time; I hardly ever take it off.

This is necklace, in my view, is gorgeous and conspicuous. A woman is allowed one, maybe two conspicuously gorgeous accessories on any given day. She can switch out the conspicuously gorgeous accessories as she wishes, but more than two at once (e.g., nice earrings and a handbag) and you’re breaking a cardinal rule made by Big Mama Chanel. Chanel — who we can all agree was a real pain in the ass — said that before you leave the house, you should take off the last thing you put on. (I’m pretty sure she was taking about accessories, not shoes or pants.) And she’s right. If you find yourself wearing a necklace, earrings, a couple bracelets, a handbag of consequence, and a selection of rings, you end up looking rather…accessible, if you catch my drift. Can’t have that.

My necklace is my secret wardrobe weapon. It ensures that I am never over-accessorized. This is because my ensemble on any given day starts at the necklace; not the other way around. Because I never take it off, the piece anchors my look. (Verily, it anchors my very soul.)

The medallion is a solid gold coin from Canada. My grandfather on my dad’s side did some business up there many years ago. The company he worked for screwed him over (this is what grampa told the adults in my life, who then vaguely explained it to me and this is how family lore is created) and grampa is dead now, but before all that depressing stuff happened, the man bought a few of these gold coins.

My mom and my now-deceased grandfather had a complex relationship while my parents were married; the relationship remains complex to this day, even though it now only exists in the abstract. It’s like that with most people who knew my grampa; he was not a kind man. I’ve been assured from several well-intentioned sources that he mellowed considerably toward the end of his life, but to me, being mean your whole life and then being nice toward the end is like apologizing immediately after slicing someone’s throat: you feel terrible and you help with the paper towels, but someone is dying and it’s a little late, darling. Carnage wreaked.

But Grampa, feeling expansive one day, decided to have one of his Canadian coins set by a jeweler. And so he did, and he gave this piece to my mother. She did not wear it then; she did not wear it ever. It sat in her jewelry box for decades, sleeping the days away in the box’s velvet lining.

Mom and I were looking in her jewelry box several years ago she came across the coin. I gasped. I had never seen it before. I thought it was beautiful.

“Zounds!” I exclaimed. “What’s that?!”

Mom helped me unclasp the gold chain I was already wearing and we slid off the little seashell I had hanging from it. We replaced it with the medallion. As soon as I felt that coin around my neck, I felt like I had discovered America. The weight of it on my breast was thrilling; actual gold is heavy, it turns out! The shine, the yellowness of the disc communicated a first-prize win, a blue-ribbon. I felt like I had received a gold medal for simply being alive. I think we should all get a medal for that very reason; life is too hard to not get an award just for surviving more than a few birthdays. Mom saw how much I loved it and it is on permanent loan.

It’s only a piece of metal. But my necklace is the closest thing I get to a talismanic object. I wear my necklace around my neck and my heart on my sleeve and that’s all the adornment I need. Well, then there are my diamond earrings, but that’s another jewelry story for another day.

Note: Chanel also said, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” This declaration was made in 1930, presumably from a chaise lounge inside La Pausa, Chanel’s home on the French Riviera. A person has to admire Chanel the businessperson, but no one has to like the woman herself. I mean, ew.

I Spent The Night in the Bellevue Emergency Room.

Before neon.
Pre-neon.

Saturday night, my body refused to be told what to do any longer; I was forced to visit to the emergency room. I ended up at historic Bellevue Hospital’s ER from about 1am till daybreak. This is my tale.

Earlier in the day, I had found it difficult to walk. My guts were churning toxic waste and my tummy hurt a lot. My bathroom trips were numbering in the ridonkulous. I rallied enough to make dinner for Yuri and myself, but I ate very little. When every morsel you put into your body winds up a punishment, you’re don’t get too hungry. I was weak and sad. We went to bed. I woke an hour or so later and, like a wounded/dying animal, I left the bed to try and curl up with my pain alone on the couch. I found no relief there, so I scraped myself up and went to deliver the bad news:

“Yuri,” I said. “I need to go to the hospital.”

Yuri bolted upright and mobilized quickly. I made sure he packed his laptop and brought anything else he’d like to have for the next 6-8 hours. I’ve done middle-of-the-night hospital trips plenty of times; he hasn’t.

I knew from riding the subway that Beth Israel Medical Center was on 1st Ave. and 16th. (There’s a tiled sign in the subway that says, “Beth Israel, 1st Ave. & 16th”.) We’re staying just down the street, so it was okay that when we went outside we couldn’t get a cab. I shuffled along the sidewalk as Yuri tried to hail one, but I knew he’d fail. Saturday night in the East Village means taxis, taxis, everywhere, and not a ride to catch. The cabs are full of nightlife already; nothing is available. And since the East Village in way down on the island and 1st Ave. is a one-way going uptown, you’re pretty much out of luck unless you catch someone coming out of a taxi and you slip in before it leaves again. We reached Beth Israel-Mount Sinai in about 15 minutes on foot.

When we found it, though, it appeared to be closed. Like, closed-closed. We went to two different doors. I know it sounds crazy, and a New Yorker might scoff at me that I didn’t “just go around” or something, but I’m telling you, that hospital was not open. Doors locked. No people. At this point, I was kind of hunching over, too, so if there was an arrow someplace, I missed it. A taxi driver was passing slowly and we caught him.

“Is this hospital open?” I asked at the window.

“Uh…” The driver wasn’t sure what I was asking. Or maybe I just looked that scary.

“Do you know if it’s open?” I asked again, and then, seeing there was no one in the backseat, I opened the door and asked a way better question: “Can you take me to the nearest hospital, please?” Yuri jumped in and we were off, headed to the other nearest hospital, which was at 1st and 27th St.

Bellevue.

Bellevue is the oldest public hospital in the country. Since 1736, the sick, maimed, crazy, indigent, burned, frozen, dying, pregnant, drunk, beaten, wounded, frightened, blitzed, and otherwise in-jeopardy humans of New York have made their way to Bellevue for help. The first-ever maternity ward? Bellevue. The first-ever ambulance service? Bellevue. But despite all that, despite the millions (counted and uncounted) who have received care at Bellevue over the centuries, despite being a landmark of American innovation and civilization, Bellevue’s reputation is not so great. This is probably because of the psych ward.

In New York City, everything is extreme. The poor are really poor, the rich are really rich. The food is really, really good; the garbage smells really, really bad. And the crazy people — sorry, the mentally ill people — are really, really nuts. Bellevue is where they go. And throughout the hospital’s history, tales of terror from the halls of Bellevue have kept Americans in thrall; suicidal starlets, frothing lunatics, axe-murderers, giggling perverts — they all end up in Bellevue. Add to that the occasional (and sorrowful) stories of mistreatment and abuse inside the ward and you get a place frequently referred to zero-to-little irony as “the hellhole” or “bedlam.” I was vaguely aware of this history as I entered the ER. I wasn’t going into the psych ward, but the buildings aren’t too far apart.

I was admitted quickly. It seemed quiet in there. I was hunched over in my chair while the triage nurse put the bracelet around my wrist and felt a surge of excitement push past my pain. I was going to get the inside scoop on a New York City emergency room on a Saturday night! This was gonna be great.

It might’ve been great, relatively speaking, except that I was injected with morphine and I am allergic to morphine. It wasn’t Bellevue’s fault; it’s been so long since I’ve even heard that drug suggested to me that I neglected to mention that I have a terrible, terrible reaction to it. When they asked me if I had allergies, I said no; I’m used to being treated frequently in hospitals that know me, and I was feeling so sick I didn’t think to mention, “Oh, yeah. A long time ago, morphine nearly killed me.” So when I was writhing in pain on my sickbed, the very capable and kind internist said, “I’m going to give you an injection; we’ll get an IV going soon,” I spluttered, “Yes, thank you,” and zip! There you go, morphine in my arm.

It’s a sad thing indeed to be injected with something you’re allergic to.

I wouldn’t feel that allergy/reaction immediately. All I felt was drowsy and in less pain, and that was okay for the moment. Yuri got a chair and sat near me. We heard people talking on the other side of the curtain to my left and tried to listen in on what they were saying. Our eyes grew wide as we realized…the guy got stabbed! We had a stab wound victim in the bed next to us! Holy crap! There was blood on the curtain, too! Wow! Then there were cops! Five cops! All grilling the guy about the stab wound! So far, New York City emergency room report = excellent!

From there, though, the Bellevue ER took off and I went down. It was nuts. I passed out and woke up, hella nauseated, to two Jersey girls screeching next to me; one had twisted her ankle and the other was furiously yelling into her cell phone. They were both roaring drunk. On my way to the bathroom, I passed four indigent men passed out on beds in the hallway; each of their pants were 90% off. When I got to the bathroom, I couldn’t use it. It was filthy. Fecal matter was sprayed around the back of the toilet. There was blood, dried and fresh, kinda everywhere. I turned on my morphine-woozy heels and Yuri helped me back to bed. I stepped around other gurneys and sick people and caught the nurse.

“The bathroom… It’s… I can’t use it,” I said, reeling.

“Oh, yeah. That’s why I hold my urine for twelve hours,” he said. “There’s another bathroom, though,” and he told us where to go. I don’t remember if I used it or not. By that point, I was quickly succumbing to my morphine problem. I don’t remember being released. I don’t remember getting home. I slept the entire day on Sunday and today was mostly lost.

Bellevue, you didn’t do me wrong. But I still ain’t right.

On An Uptown 1 Train.

This be the line.
This be the line.

After making buttermilk pancakes for Yuri this morning (I had some buttermilk leftover from the pie and not everyone likes pie for breakfast, astonishingly) I hopped out the door and into New York. I was headed to the Yarn Co. for a good chunk of sewing time and I felt like I was wearing wings, that’s how excited I was to be sewing-machine bound.

I took the L line to 6th Avenue and then got on the 1 going uptown. On one single train ride I saw three quintessential, only-in-NYC, New York City moments. Let’s revisit.

Moment No. 1
At 34th St., the train pulled in and opened its doors. I saw a drawn, junkie-looking white dude in a stocking cap jump the turnstile right in front of me. He jumped it, gave a fast look around and then bam! he punched the Emergency Exit door to the left of the turnstiles. Through the door came his junkie girlfriend, every bit as strung-out as he was, maybe more. The alarm went off the instant he hit the bar to open the door, but they were gone just as fast. Junkie love in the city.

Moment No. 2
A kid of about eight, I’d guess, was sucking on a pacifier with fake teeth molded into it. It was a joke pacifier, I guess? I didn’t know they made joke pacifiers. If you had told me they existed, I would’ve been hard-pressed to guess at the audience for such things, but now I know. Eight-year-old New York City kids on the subway to school. And she was like, “What?” when I looked at her and in a very good-natured, friendly way, laughed a little. It was funny! Whatever, kid. You got a driver’s license? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Moment No. 3
Almost to my stop, I noticed a woman repeatedly digging into her purse. She was with a friend, clearly frustrated that she couldn’t find something important in her overstuffed, large handbag. There were two MTA employees across from her. Both older gentlemen, they were just getting off work or headed there to start the day. Kinda scruffy, both of them; one Indian, one of indeterminate (to me) ethnicity. The one guy took his flashlight off his tool belt and held it out to the woman with the nicest smile. She was so grateful and took the flashlight, shining it into her purse. It probably totally helped her. I had to exit the train before I found out what happened, but that was awesome.

All on one trip to the Upper West. This be the city.

For [REDACTED]

posted in: Day In The Life 1
To "redact" is to omit text for publication. It's usually synonymous with censorship, but sometimes it's because the author (ahem) would like to a) be classy and not use names in situations like this for heaven's sakes; and b) bad words.
To “redact” is to omit text for publication. 

Poetry is in my head a lot lately; love may be responsible for this. Loss can do it, too, and I’ve had doses of both over the past few months. Nothing but nothing is better than poetry for unsolvable situations like love and loss.

And now, a poem I recalled while walking through the Midway airport earlier today. I’m home in Chicago for 48-hours before leaving for California. I wrote this piece in my head while gazing at a roaring fire in a fireplace in early 2012. I was up at our place in Door County where it was almost as cold as it is tonight. The poem took about two hours to write, which is either not any time at all or a very long time, depending on how much poetry you write. Because I composed it in my head, I had to repeat the lines over and over so I wouldn’t forget them; as I edited, those lines had to be re-memorized and then put with the other phrases. As soon as I had it just right, I fetched some paper and wrote it down.

I enjoy writing poems in this way. It’s challenging for sure, and there’s a lyricism that happens naturally when you don’t have the paper to tack you down. This piece is pointedly in the style of Dorothy Parker; I felt a kinship with her vis a vis the subject matter.

I hope you enjoy the piece. Do not give it to your lover if he/she snores. I am beyond grateful I don’t have that problem these days. If I did, this poem would not see the light of day. Poetry is dangerous!

For [REDACTED]
by Mary Fons (c) 2012

I shall not see you anymore;
You snore.

I cannot sleep!
Besides, you weep
(Pray tell, what can a man be for?)

Your kiss lacks the ability
To prime my parts most womanly,
And if they did but once or twice,
Well, that was me just being nice,
I feel nothing for you, dear,
I’ll repeat, while I’m still here:

Don’t bother with text messaging –
This is me, exiting,
And where I’m going I’ll have no cell –
Best to find the next fresh hell
Than stay with such a wretched bore, Oh, I am certain to my core:

[REDACTED] you,
I shall,
nevermore.

Oh, dear, my dear:
You snore.
 

 

Fremd High Writer’s Week 2014: Part I

posted in: Day In The Life 2
That's the door I usually take to go inside. By year four, I actually remembered that.
That’s not the door I need to use. By year four, I actually remembered that and went to the other door.

Every year for (oh my) nine years? ten? something ridiculous like that, I have served as a presenter at Fremd High School’s Writer’s Week. Writer’s Week XIX kicks off on Monday, and I just happen to be headed to Chicago on Tuesday, so on Wednesday morning, bright and early, I’m taking a Metra train to Palatine and to try and kick up a little writer-y magic for my Fremd homies.

Here’s an abbreviated description of what Writer’s Week is, taken from the Fremd website:

“Writers Week began in 1995 when we featured students, faculty, and professional writers during lunch hours for a week in April. Since then, about a thousand Fremd students have taken the stage to share their writing. Faculty members from every department have related their stories through writing. More than two hundred professional writers from around the world have visited the Fremd campus during Writers Week to help us better understand writing and authors.”

Good idea, right? Lots of folks agree, including the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, who presented at Fremd years ago. Billy Collins. Marc Smith. These are writers of consequence, authors whose work has shaped (still shapes) the American literary conversation. And because people on that little patch of land in Illinois believe in the power of and the need for good writers writing, high school students get to walk into an auditorium in their very own high school and receive the lessons, the joy, the discomfiting feelings — the blessed thought — good writing can bring. The amount of work involved in putting on Writer’s Week is head-spinning. Scheduling, booking, fundraising, booster-ing, coordinating — it’s nothing any of the teachers get paid extra to do and they do it all anyway, year after dedicated year.

I’m slightly famous at Fremd because I usually end up kissing people. There’s a piece in my lil’ repertoire that involves kissing an audience member. You want to make an impression on an auditorium full of 500+ high school students? Try kissing one of them. I’m not making out with anyone; it’s just a kiss on the cheek. But it’s a kiss on the cheek with commitment, and I’m nothing if not committed. That usually causes a stir, but I might be famous at Fremd because I write a poem on the spot for a student every year, or because I had a breakdancer kick it onstage (he was up there anyway getting a poem!), or because I presented a Lady Gaga song as verse once time — anything can happen and I think we all like it that way. Whatever the material might be, I give 100% of myself (my attention, my focus, my passion for words, my passion for having fun with them for heaven’s sake) to the Fremdians.

I seriously love that entire high school. It’s like we’re dating long-distance. I don’t see you very often, darling, but when I do, when I do.

I’ll dress up for you, darling. And I’ll bring you a gift from New York. Wait for me.

 

 

Subway Light Switch.

It's easy.
It’s so simple now.

There was a tiny shift in my brain a couple weeks ago that changed the way I see New York City. The shift will probably change the way I see a lot of things because it was so simple. The simplest concepts are the stickiest: work hard, take a jacket, crack is wack, etc. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but since it might help someone else, here goes:

You don’t have to learn the subway system in New York. You just need to figure out how to get where you need to go.

Let’s have that again:

You don’t have to learn the subway system in New York. You just need to figure out how to get where you need to go.

I’ve been coming to Manhattan with fair frequency since I was sixteen. Until three weeks ago, on every trip here, I operated under two subtle, negative assumptions: 1) to get around New York City properly (?) you need to know the subways and 2) figuring that out would mean seriously studying the system at length and doing the MTA equivalent of times tables or vocabulary drills. That was how I thought, and you can marvel at the weirdness of it, but I ask you to marvel with attendant compassion. I look at those assumptions and I think, “My goodness, who was in charge of this girl? Why on earth did she think she had to take graduate-level course work in the New York subway system? Poor thing, someone wrap her in a quilt and get her a piece of chocolate. No, the whole bar. The Ritter Sport. She likes the dark chocolate with hazelnu — yes, that’s it. Here you are, dear.”

(MARY eats chocolate, nods pathetically.)

All that business about being perpetually in the dark about the subway system ended the other day in a flash, don’t ask me why. You don’t have to know the trains. You don’t have to know where the A, C, E trains terminate. You don’t have to memorize the stops on the 6 from Fulton to 110th St. Not only do you not have to do that as a new New York person, you don’t ever have to do that. By osmosis and routine, you will naturally learn subway route details and shortcuts. But the vast majority of veteran New Yorkers don’t know when the 7 runs express to Queens and when it runs local and if you asked them about it, they’d say, “I don’t know, ask the ticket agent,” or “There’s a map over there, I don’t know, sorry.”

If you want to go somewhere, find your somewhere on the map, and then figure out which train will take you close to it. Thought I’ve done just that for years, I always came at it cock-eyed, as though the train system was my destination, not the Natural History Museum. There was this little, niggling voice that said, “You should know this by now,” and that voice distracted me from noticing what I was doing: getting around New York just fine.

Did any of that make a lick of sense?

It’s just a subway system, it’s just a map. It’s just a city, it’s just a person. But the shift in my head from “you’ll never get this” to “you already have this” has given me that singular feeling of “Oh, right. I’m not broken, I’m not wrong, I never was wrong, I was making it too hard, everything I need, I already have.”

Pretty good at $2.25/fare.

 

 

 

 

Home Is Where the Bobbin Is.

"Northbound." From my forthcoming book, "Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century." Pre-order now at ctpub.com.
“Northbound.” From my first book, “Make + Love Quilts: Scrap Quilts for the 21st Century.” Available nationwide May 15th.

Most people assume I have been making quilts since I was small. My mother, Marianne Fons, is a famous quilter, so it makes sense that she would’ve taught me how to sew from an early age. If I had shown more interest, she most certainly would have. We made a few doll quilts and a few quilts for friends of mine, but my creative pursuits took me to writing stories, putting on plays, singing…and creating and editing a magazine for my junior high school called TRUTH, the name of which I got from a film strip we watched about Russian communist propaganda newspaper, PRAVDA (translation: “truth”). I hired my best friends as columnists and we put out six issues with zero ad support. True story. Have I mentioned I didn’t have a boyfriend till my senior year of high school?

I started making quilts about six years ago. In my lectures to quilters, I talk about the reasons why:

  • I realized I didn’t have to make quilts that looked like what I saw in contemporary magazines or books; my quilts could look like ME, with solid black fabric, and teeny-tiny prints, and washed out shirting prints, and zero rick-rack
  • it was no longer uncool to be like my mom — in fact, it struck me as the coolest thing ever to be a part of my family’s place in the world
  • I got really, really sick and I needed non-medicinal healing (hello, patchwork)
  • the timing was right, age-wise. I was in my late twenties and ready to sit down for five seconds

And so I became a quilter and making quilts has brought me untold joy ever since. I’m not sure how many quilts I’ve made; it’s dozens, and they’re all kinda huge. Mom has always told me to make quilts that cover people, since that’s what quilts are for. The Fons women don’t do table toppers, though we support anyone who does. We support quilters, period.

A sewing machine with my name on it arrived in New York City yesterday. The fine folks at BabyLock are loaning me an Ellisimo while I’m here, and I carried that huge, glorious box 2.5 blocks and up 2.5 flights of Manhattan walk-up stairs with huge smile on my face. Anywhere I hang my hat for more than about four minutes simply ain’t a home unless I’ve got a sewing machine nearby. Making patchwork and making quilts isn’t just something I do: it’s something I am. The craft, the gesture, the sense-memory of the process is in my DNA, now. I quilt, therefore I am a whole person.

I have absolutely no idea where I’m going to put this thing. Seriously.

 

The Cashmere Snuggie

"Oh please, please, please let me be a Balenciaga pre-season resort collection sweater one day! Please, god!"
“Oh please, please, please let me be a Balenciaga pre-season resort collection sweater one day! For the love of BAAAA. BAAAA.”  — A Cashmere Goat.

Who among us (other than the vegans among us) can resist cashmere? The cold is punishing; the wool is combed. The chill is evil; the fibers are thick. My white cashmere turtleneck is in heavy rotation this winter and it’s starting to look ever-so-slightly dingy, like fresh urban snow. But as I only have a couple pieces of cashmere in my wardrobe, I have no choice: even dingy cashmere is better than boring old wool and infinitely more fabulous than some kind of sporty, wicking PolarTec. Oh, the humanity!

My pocketbook contains a dash o’ cash, a personal debit card, a business debit card, and only one credit card. That card is for a department store whose name rhymes with Schmacks Smith Flavenue. I have a very low limit on the card to keep me from getting into debt. I hate being in debt and simply won’t accept it as an option if at all possible. Though fashion often feels like an emergency, it usually isn’t and not worth going into debt for. Not for long, anyway.

But as cash flow is a little weird right now with the move to NYC, I thought I’d use my slightly-dusty credit card today for a purchase I actually needed. Charging something has its benefits and today’s errand was a good example. But o, sweet, mysterious Fate: whilst looking for that other item, I found a full-length cashmere robe/nightgown/caftan thing so head-slappingly on sale I bought it faster than you can say “snorgle.” The garment is 100% cashmere. It’s pale-pink. It zips up the front. The only way it could be more adorable is if it had feet and a hood. I would’ve paid double if it had, but I’ve got it on as I type this and it’s working out just fine.

So that I don’t go to sleep — wait, wait. No. So I don’t drift to the Land of Nod on pale-pink cashmere gossamer wings thinking I allowed PaperGirl to be only about buying a nightgown, here are three fascinating facts about cashmere you should know. You really should, because check it out:

1. Cashmere comes from the soft undercoat of goats bred to produce the wool. Something like two-and-a-half goats are needed to produce a single sweater! That’s one reason it’s expensive. The other reason it’s expensive is because this undercoat has to be combed by hand, in the spring, by men in newsie caps who smoke pipes and say, “Aye” a lot and drink dark beers at lunch.

2. Everything in No. 1 was true except the very last part about the men.

3. I would like some hot chocolate right now. Do we have any hot chocolate?

 

 

Cookshop

A lil' sompin' like dat.
A lil’ sompin’ like dat.

I’m mad decent in the kitchen.

My junior year of college, I went into a newly opened cafe in Iowa City with my boyfriend Wes. The Motley Cow was the sort of place I did not feel cool enough for: it was tiny, there were interesting objects everywhere (e.g., glass seltzer bottles), and there were words like broccoli rabe on the menu. I spied a pasta dish on the paper menu that contained…truffles? In my world, truffles were chocolate. We went in because Wes wanted to ask for a job. They didn’t hire Wes, but they did hire me. I’m still not sure how it happened; I truly do not remember asking for work. Besides, I was horribly intimidated by the whole operation. In conversation with Wes and the owner that day, I must’ve mentioned that I had waited tables all through high school. Within a week I was on the schedule as a waitress at the cafe. From there, out of curiosity and a deep desire to help that beautiful place succeed, I got into the kitchen. The Cow became my contemporaneous college. It changed me as much as normal-college did, probably more.

We ate five things in my house growing up: pizza, chicken tetrazzini, mostaccioli, lasagna, and chili. In a single-parent household where that parent is on the road much of the time — trying to make enough money for any sort of food — there is no food worship. There’s no interest, money, or time for it. And this was twenty years ago in small-town Iowa, mind you; that I even knew what a chocolate truffle was is saying something. I don’t mean that we were a bunch of rubes; I mean that it was a different time and that time did not include sauteed shallots or aged balsamic.

When I started inching into the kitchen at the Cow, I started from nothing. I didn’t know about the soup-starter triumvirate (carrot, celery, onion); I didn’t know hummus was made of chickpeas, nor did I know what a chickpea was; pan-searing and braising were revelations; I remember the day I learned what a roux was and I made one; I remember the day David needed me to make a soup and he said, “I need you to make a soup,” and I did: I made a delicious French onion and we served it. I made the soup! I fell in love with making simple, gorgeous, nourishing food and I owe it to the Cow and the people who were patient with a willing kitchen student who didn’t know anything at all.

In New York City, you walk out your door and before your very eyes is some of the best food in the world. (I actually think Chicago beats NYC for Best Restaurant City in America, but that’s another post.) But would you know that I’ve been cooking since we got here? I haven’t had a working kitchen in so long, it feels like the sweet breath of life to be standing at a stove again. The setup here is laughable: there is no countertop. No counter at all, just a sink and a tiny, tiny stove. But it’s a gas range, the oven works, I’ve fashioned a counter by putting a board across the sink, and I can use the small dining table if I really need more room. I’ve made lasagna, chicken-quinoa-vegetable chowder, penne caprese, maple cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Irish soda bread, rolled oatmeal with cream and almonds, and beautiful asparagus and salads.

Feeding myself and Yuri in this way feels like watering a plant and that plant is love and that love is five-star.

 

 

“Do You Have Poison On?”

Rather lovely, the poison ivy plant.
Rather lovely, the poison ivy plant.

Weird stuff happens in New York City. For example, yesterday morning I opened the door of the apartment and littered on the two flights of stairs down were dozens of Mini Twix wrappers. Dozens of them, tossed like so much confetti! It was as though all the Mini Twix in the East Village were like, “Yo! Party at [REDACTED] and 1st Ave!” and I was seeing the aftermath. I’m happy to report they were very, very quiet. I didn’t hear a peep. (‘Cause Peeps weren’t invited — hey-o!)

Today, something even stranger happened — stranger, even, than a candy party in the hallway. I was walking near Thompkins Square Park when a young woman came up behind me and asked me one of the more disorienting questions I’ve ever been asked:

“Excuse me, do you have poison on?”

You know that search box feature in the upper righthand corner of your computer screen? When you need a file or a word or an image from your hard drive, you type it into the box and bloop! there you can make your selection. Our brains work similarly. When you’re out a date and your date orders the branzino, you might not instantly know what she’s having for dinner. You do the search box and in .0000003 seconds you come up with some old file with a weird filetype that has something to do with…fish! It’s a fish, right? Yes. Branzino is fish. Thank you, search box.

When that girl asked me if I “had poison on,” I could practically hear my little search box whirring into overdrive. Poison? Poison. Poison ivy. Poison the band. Poison the deadly substance. Hamlet. Poison on. Poison on…what?? What is poison on? Poison drips, poison oozes — poison does not go “on” anything. Are there headphones somewhere? Playing Poison? It would be impossible that “Cherry Pie” would be coming from my iTunes, but perhaps someone’s nearby? Is “poison” a new drug the kids are doing and she’s asking me if I’m either selling or interested in buying? Also: no? There were also data rejections of the “Poison Ivy” character from Batman and poisson.

I looked at the girl harder, my search box wheezing and puffing, shuffling through great stacks of data. “Get context clues!” it shouted, “I’m gettin’ nothin’ in here!” Pipes were bursting, coal was being shoveled into the furnaces within my gray matter. The girl was kempt and pretty. Mid-twenties, black, nicely dressed. This was no help. If she was clearly insane, I could just shake my head and keep walking. The search box could be satisfied with “she crazy.” No dice.

“I’m sorry,” I said, searching her. “Uh, poison?”

“The perfume. Poison. Do you have it on?”

It was almost orgasmic.

“Oh!” I cried, way too happy to give her an answer at this point. “No! No, I don’t! But man, that is such a great perfume! I love that perfume! No, no. Not wearing Poison. No Poison on.”

“Thanks — have a good one,” she mumbled, giving me a slight “Sorry I asked” look. Hey, lady, you’re the one who’s talking to strangers about poison.

My sister Nan used to wear that every day in high school, by the way.

 

 

1 2