I’m not sure why it happened, but it happened: I am a person who wears a sleep mask.
Not all the time — just when I sleep. And after about a year or so of sleeping with a sleep mask on, I find it almost impossible to sleep without wearing one. I need it to be dark when I sleep. I need to check out, go away, be in the state of sleep, not in the state of waking. I need darkness.
When I was a kid, sleep masks were so weird. Well, they were either weird or glamorous. You’d see them in movies, sometimes; Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, probably a lot of Bette Davis movies, etc., and that was glamourous. But there were other cultural cues that sleep masks were weird. I can’t think of any right now, but for a kid, it’s like, “Why are you putting on a blindfold at naptime??”
Oh, kid. If you only knew how badly adults need naptime and how much we want to be unavailable for comment while naptime is taking place. Blindfolds are good at communicating “I am unavailable for comment.” The sleep mask is that blindfold play — and I’m hooked.
I have a lot of eye masks/sleep masks/blindfolds. I’m becoming a connoisseur, you could say. Some are foamy. Some are silky. Some are cheaply made and don’t work very well; others are expensive but can’t work that much better than a regular old blindfold, can they?
All I know is that if I don’t “put on my eyes,” as Nick* puts it, I can’t get — or stay — asleep. Lucky for me, a sleep mask is pretty easy to get and maintain as part of my sleep hygiene.
It could be worse.
What if I needed to put on a chicken costume to fall asleep? How weird would that be? I’d have to travel with it! I’d have to get it cleaned and repaired. Every night. A chicken costume! A sleep mask doesn’t seem like a big deal, you know? When you put it that way.
This was three days ago, when I was connecting in St. Louis on my way to Baltimore. I know the St. Louis airport well, so I knew there was pizza to be had at the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) but I also knew I couldn’t trust the St. Louis airport CPK to get me a pie before I had to get on the plane. Oh, they say they can make your pie in under 10 minutes, but they can’t. They are very nice people but they never, ever can ever do that.
I knew I’d have to grab a different snack, but I really needed something hot. You know how it is, how you get when you travel — or maybe when you don’t travel — and the thought of consuming a handful of dumb trail mix or a dumb bag of chips just makes you feel despondent and wan while the thought of a Hot Item Of Some Kind gives you the strength to go on. You know that feeling, right? That’s where I was the other day.
On my way to my gate, having resigned myself to eating trail mix and/or chips for dinner, I passed by a Starbucks. Because I am trained by Jeff Bezos* to want the things his company sells, I thought:
“Oh. That egg-white sandwich thing. That’s hot and not horrifying. I’ll get one of those.”
So I approached the counter and I ordered my egg-white sammy and waited for the gal to heat it up. When she wrapped up the sammy in the paper and handed it to me, I have to tell you: I felt happy. I felt a mini-frisson of energy, a zap of hope that I could take up arms against a sea of troubles — at least until I got to the east coast.
“Thank you,” I said to the nice girl at the register, probably too intensely. “Thank you … so much.”
And so I’m walking to my gate. And I’m adjusting my attaché and re-hitching my purse up on my shoulder, when … plop.
Egg-white sammy down.
Ah, yes: I had turned the paper bag the wrong way as I was adjusting my things and that Starbucks sammy just fell right out onto the airport floor and came completely apart. I didn’t know what had happened at first; a rounded egg disc made for a Starbucks breakfast-style sammy does not make sense out of context. I mean, I felt something drop as I was walking and as I looked down, I thought, “Okay, I think I dropped my sammy,” but I didn’t stop walking because I was not yet computing, so as I’m trying to compute, I kicked the egg disc. Not on purpose, of course; it’s that I was walking and adjusting and obviously dropping egg-white sammy components and before I could stop everything and avoid contact with the sammy pieces and/or regain my dignity (lol), I kicked my own food.
I bought a sammy and I dropped it in the airport and then I kicked it.
That was new. That was a new experience, traveling.
Oh, I muddled through. Within 45 minutes or so I was nestled in 6D, munching airplane peanuts and drinking white wine. I had a drink coupon from Southwest, you see, so I got the wine. Because I fly a lot. And that’s what I get. I get coupons for white wine and packets of peanuts and when you are the kind of person who accidentally kicks her “delicious” dinner down an airport terminal on a Tuesday night, these kinds of perks are real. Real good.
*Wait, wait. That’s not right. Jeff Bezos is the Amazon guy. The Starbucks guy is the other guy. Zuckerberg.
How was Christmas?? Was everything okay? Did you eat cookies? I got a hairdryer! It’s the only thing I asked for, so I’m batting 1000. Now, onto a serious matter:
I have terrible cell phone anxiety.
The first cell phone I ever had I got the summer after college, right before I moved to Chicago. It was a Samsung flip phone, the pre-iPhone era. I remember being excited to have a number with a Chicago area code. I remember thinking the flip thing was cool. But I’m pretty sure that right away, I started to not like answering my phone when it rang. And when texting became a thing, I remember being extremely resistant to responding to texts in a timely fashion, most of the time.
To answer that question, I’m going to get a little armchair-psychologist on you; just bear with me.
When we don’t do something we’re supposed to do — or when there’s something we shouldn’t do but we keep doing it, anyway — it’s worth asking what deeper reasons might causing the detrimental behavior.
For example, if a kid is told over and over again that he shouldn’t hit his little brother but he keeps doing it, at a certain point it becomes more important (and far more effective) to ask lil’ dude what’s going on with his emotions and his heart. Is he frustrated with something? Is he sad? Maybe he needs attention. Maybe he doesn’t feel like anyone’s listening to him and he hits his brother so someone will look at him for once. The point here is that human beings have exquisite reasons for doing the things we do, even if the things we do are lame/weird/not helpful. Such as hitting your kid brother.
Or being “terrible” at cell phones.
I’m starting to understand something big about my cell phone problem because I’ve been looking at the whole situation with compassion instead of guilt and shame. (Amazing when you turn the tables on yourself with love, eh?)
The truth is, I hate that I have to have a telephone-computer-homing device with me at all times and that I will have said device, in whatever incarnation it takes, from now until I die. I deeply resent the tyranny of this small, plastic and metal box which pings and dings at me incessantly. It startles me. It breaks my concentration. And for the priviledge of all this, I pay an awful lot of money, just like you do.
I know I sound like a real luddite jerk. I’m not! I love GPS and being able to look up definitions of words while I’m waiting for an elevator. I love being able to check my email while I’m on the bus. I love Instagram! I love the Southwest app! And the other apps! Most of them!
In fact, part of the reason I hate cell phones so much is precisely because they allow for these kinds of things. My cell phone sucks me in when there are other things that could suck me in (e.g., the landscape, the beautiful woman sitting near me on the train speaking Swahili to her son, etc.), but other, real-life things are usually no match for flashing, beeping screen pictures, because people are like crows and crows are easily distracted by shiny objects. I am a person. I like shiny objects. I’m a crow, too. I get it.
So my friends and family get hurt because I turn my phone off a lot. I have missed important calls. I’ve played games of phone tag so long it approached being an Olympic sport. If you leave a voicemail for me … Woe, woe unto you. Checking my voicemail is like dental work for me; ergo, I don’t get around to checking it very often. This is bad. This is not good. Something has to change. I have to make peace with the phone thing.
Guess what? Peace is being delivered tomorrow — as in, UPS is bringing peace and will leave it in the receiving room.
I’ll explain everything tomorrow — and this time, I won’t leave you hanging. Hey! That’s kind of a phone joke. “Hanging”? Get it? Like a phone? Hanging up? Like …
In just over a week, I will have my first-ever, very official, art school critique. I am excited and nervous.
At the School of the Art Institute (SAIC), all classes are cancelled for one week near the end of each term for Crit Week. This is because the formal critique is given great importance here. Every student is assigned a panel of three faculty (visiting artists may also serve on panels) who look at that student’s work the week prior and then critique it with/for her at her appointed time.
My appointed time is Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. I will go into a room and sit in a chair and three people at a table will rip me apart, give me praise, ask me questions, etc. Gah!
Just today, I sent off pages to my panelists. What did I send?
I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you that I am writing a book. I mean a real-life, honest-to-goodness book, you guys.It’s got chapters and everything. It’s a collection of personal essays and I have to tell you: I’ve never worked harder as a writer in my life. There have been times in the past couple years when I got excited about the idea of writing a book — I even sent a proposal to several agents while I was living in D.C. and I did get several letters of interest back — but it wasn’t time and I didn’t have the fire within me.
Now that my quilts and my writing are married like never before, now that I’m exposed to the most extraordinary reading and art I’ve ever known, the fire has been lit. The book is happening. I’ve been working on it since school began. I can’t tell you too much more about it right now because that is dangerous. In fact, one of my advisors said to me the other day, “You should talk less about what you’re writing and just write it, instead.” This is good advice — and he was saying that while holding the latest 15 pages I had turned in that week, so I’m no slouch.
That’s what’s so incredible: I’m churning out pages like crazy because I’ve learned that when you’re really writing a book, it’s like being pregnant. What I mean is, the old saying “You can’t be ‘a little bit pregnant'” seems to parallel the writing of a book if you’re doing it in earnest. If you’re really writing a book, the energy is sort of shocking. There’s no halfway. I feel like this thing is coming — like a baby — and I’m just trying to get to the hospital in time.
True confession: It’s why I’ve been a little slow on posts lately. I’m writing so much but it’s like, where do I turn the hose?
I submitted two excerpts of the book to the crit panel; just over twenty pages. I’ve worked those pages, man. Hours and hours and hours. I’ll let you know how it goes. I thought about posting the panelists’ names and email addresses and so you could all send them super sweet, thinly-veiled threats to be nice to me, but that’s counter-productive: I want the truth. The truth will set you free. The truth is a far better read.
One Sunday afternoon, many years ago in Iowa City, I was trying desperately to charm my then-boyfriend’s parents.
We were all riding in his parents’ car. His dad was driving. His mother sat in front seat. Guy and I were in the back. And I did fine the majority of the trip.
The fellow I was dating at the time was a chef — a good one. When I got the job at the cafe where he cheffed, I knew nothing about food beyond Mom’s spaghetti and my young-adult version of it.* But this person, this chef, taught me how to eat. He showed me the world of fresh food beautifully prepared and it changed my life because I love my family, would die for my family, respect and value my family — but my family is not a food family. That’s okay! But when I learned how to eat (and how to cook) because of the chef, life tasted different. And I like different.
So we’re in the folks’ Beemer and Chef’s lovely, intelligent, handsome mother asks me this or that question about this or that thing. I have the occasion to use a word that I liked — liked, past tense: chutzpah. Great word. Yiddish. Means “shameless audacity, impudence.” Like, “He had the chutzpah to run for class president after pulling that stunt in gym class.” I knew how to use the word. But I didn’t know that chutzpah was pronounced “HOOTZ-pah” and ideally, one should do that Yiddish glottal cough thing with the “H” sound. I didn’t know any of that. Your hapless heroine pronounced it, “CHUTT-spa.” Hard “CHUTT.” Spa.
These people were Jewish. By the way.
Chef’s mother made this sound that was half-gasp, half-snort and turned back to look at me with kindness but great, great mirth. “Honey, you pronounce it ‘HOOTZ-pah.” I cocked my head to the side.
“Ha. Ah. I see. Well, you know, then, ha. Ha, then. It’s… She had HOOTZ-pah. For the thing. Are we close? I think we’re close.”
Over a decade! Over a decade since I said “CHUTT-spa” in a car with three Jewish people all with generous Yiddish vocabularies and I still can’t forget it. I thought about it today because I saw the word in an article and that’s a pain because the chutzpah memory starts a machine in my head that spits out all the other times I’ve mispronounced words in mixed company. I was at a fancy lunch meeting once — one example — and ordered the endive salad. I said, “I’ll have the EN-dive salad, please.” The waitress repeated back, “The ahhn-DEEVE salad?” and I wanted to stick my head under the tablecloth.
Turns out you can say “ahn-DEEVE” or “EN-dive.” Both are okay. But there’s just one chutzpah.
On the drive back from Beaver Dam to Chicago this evening, I stopped at Gurnee Mills. Gurnee Mills is a collection of small pond mills set in the rolling countryside of Illinois. Just kidding; it’s an absolutely enormous shopping center outside of Chicago off I-94 and a couple times a year for one reason or another, I’ll pass Gurnee Mills in an automobile. I’ve pulled off the highway to visit the Old Mill a couple times and both times, I was sad and happy.
Because they have a Neiman Marcus Last Call store there. The Neiman Marcus Last Call stores are where all the stuff that didn’t sell at Neiman Marcus Regular Stores goes to die. You’ve got your Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dresses here, you got your Fendi paperweights there — you get the idea. They price everything relatively low, low, low, but “relatively low” when you’re talking about Stella McCartney is still “relatively ridiculous.”
But lo, the siren song of discounted high fashion called to me and, as I was not able to lash myself to my own Toyota Corolla rental car, I had to exit and find a parking spot.
The dresses I tried on would make you crazy. Crazy with lust. With desire. There was the Akris shift with the hand-dye. There was the Isabel Marant snap-front mid-length thing that was a little tight but in a good way. The Jil Sander. The other Jil Sander. I kept thinking about restaurants I’d go to if I had this one, about various charity functions where that one would work, etc. When you try on clothes, you try on a life.
Now is not the time for dresses, though. I’ve got bigger things on my mind and don’t have the dough. Changes are afoot, comrades. More will be revealed and it’s a whole lot of more. I did buy a cute little jacket. It was 65% off the lowest marked price and is the hottest pink.
Confession: I also bought a chicken sandwich for the ride home. Jesus, take the wheel!
[The management would like to point the new reader’s attention to a threepartstory from April about a girl in a pretty dress.]
There were fish, sharks, fish, strange plants, and 1.5 millions of gallons of water at the aquarium. In response to the Shedd, I’d like to post a poem I worked out this summer. It’s longer than most of my poems, but I hope you will read through it today and when someone asks you, “Did you read any poetry this week?” You can say, “Yes, I did.”
I much prefer a mountain range, which strikes me as more traversable; The ocean just strikes you with waves.
The “treasures of the sea,” to me, Are going silver (such foolish gold) Not proof of some grand, courageous adventure, Just wet and old.
We are to find an endless blue (or anything endless) a reflecting pool? This is madness and all madness should frighten you.
For lurking under sunset fire, just beyond the lovers’ sighs Are beasts with coal black eyes blind with only one own-only mind: survive
And longer than you, laughs the whale; Killer, indeed, and with a tail to crush you, As you clap and wave and save your photo.
All combers, Mind the suck down — that human-sized sucking sound; So much chum and lunchmeat now, First for the mighty maw that spied you (what’s red and white and red rolled over?) Blood becomes you ‘till you’re dispersed in that vast, mast-hungry pool adrift on the waves that lulled you Back when Cabo was not the site of your grisly end; The fishes catch the tissue last and any flecks of left eye that’s left — Are you finally out of the office
Further below, in depths we cannot fathom deep — translucents sleep Why they wake at all A question we ne’er allow to ask; Preferring such questions as: “Shall we take the pink umbrella, dear?” “Is Carol bringing Jake?”
The sea does not care The sea does not love Carol
But for heaven’s sake!” the swimmers scream, “Death’s not all the ocean! Think of schools and dolphin, Think of shells and oyster feasts!”
A grinning manatee emerging from misty black is a heart attack — You’d mess your pants and your electric fan; And if walls of undulating weeds or tangerine clowns are cool to you Fix them in your mind for five minutes down the line these lives, too, are over;
Such is the lifespan of sea color And what a drag!
The cleverest trick the ocean ever played Was convincing us of her placidity
There’s chaos in the drink — A jungle reversed, inverted earth Primeval monster bedlam, Time and zero memory locked in loggerheaded war; What in heaven’s name are you out there for
The sea does not love you
The sea married herself a long, long time ago and she’s kept a tight ship ever since
See how she takes out the garbage
See how she freezes her food See how she sweeps the floor See how she claps herself on the back, see how she races herself at the shore, one more touch, one more touch, one more touch, one more
As many of you know, my fabric line, Small Wonders, launched in October. Small Wonders focuses on small-scale prints, which every quilter needs in her stash for a number of reasons. You can see the story on Small Wonders in this pretty video.
On this inaugural Small Wonders Wednesday (this will be a “thing” for the next seven weeks), I present to you the first of many giveaways! But I’m not giving away Small Wonders fabric. What?!
I have twelve (12) bundles of fabric like the ones above and one (1) kit from my days as a magazine editor. I got free stuff from time to time; not for the show itself, but goodies for various promotional reasons, plus freebies I picked up at Quilt Market, too. Very cool, but I’m out of room now that I have so much of my own line.
For the first thirteen (13) people who contact me with a scan, phone picture, or attachment of a receipt showing they spent at least $20.00 on Small Wonders fabric get one of these fat bundles of fabric!It’s all brand new, it’s all complete, and these babies are from the fabric companies you know and love.Basically, you’re getting more than double your money for Small Wonders plus the free fabric, all of which you will adore. You can scan a receipt from your local quilt shop (!!) or show something from an online shop like Missouri Star or Fabric.com.
Send your name and receipt to SmallWondersWednesday@gmail.com as quick like a bunny and you’ll get one of the prizes! This giveaway will last for 24 hours, so you’ve got till 3pm CST to go shopping.
I’ll snap a screenshot of the email box so I have proof of the winners. I play no favorites. Good luck, friends!
We have the Babylonians to thank for many things. They’re the ones who put 60 seconds in the minute and 60 minutes in an hour, a system called “sexagesimal” which is a word I think we can all agree is best left out of our vocabularies. We can thank the Babylonians (5500 to 3500 B.C.) for page numbers in a book. Very helpful, guys. Thank you.
And we can thank them for New Year’s resolutions. At the turn of the new year, the Babs had an eleven-day festival to celebrate the occasion, during which they made promises to the gods so the gods would show them favor. (Now that’s what I call accountability.) According to sources that I’m too lazy to cite, most Babylonians pledged to get out of debt.
I gave up resolutions years ago, mostly because I hate going with the flow. There’s one I flirt with each year, but as I know I cannot achieve it, I quit while I’m ahead. I resolve not to try and fix what I need to change. Want to know what I want to change?
I want to answer the phone every time I can see/hear it ring. I have a terrible phobia of talking on the phone, even to people I love. And I loathe voicemail. A week can go by before I finally enter the numbers to access my voicemail and when I do, my fingers feel like they have those little finger weights on them. “You seriously have to listen to voicemail,” I’ll say to myself, and it feels the same as when I say, “You seriously have to make a dentist appointment.” If I discover I only have three messages, I feel like I found twenty bucks on the sidewalk.
What is the root of this crippling phobia? Is it a control issue? Why am I this way? I just can’t do it. I can’t answer the phone. Text messages are the greatest invention since the telephone.
I cannot resolve to get better at this unless someone unlocks the problem. If you can do that, I’ll help you in your resolve to eat Marshmallow Fluff straight from the jar. I’ve got that down.
1. What am I doing New Year’s Eve?
a) going to bed
b) going to a wedding
c) going to a party where I don’t know anyone
d) going to get wasted
e) b, then later a
2. What were my goals for 2015?
a) make at least $100,000 and put it all into an attractive mutual fund
b) stay in one geographical location for more than five months
c) not buy more clothes until I have holes in the clothes I have now, seriously, like holes in them because I wear them that much that they have to be replaced
d) finish Middlemarch e) avoid writing an end-of-year pop quiz that gives me the uncomfortable feeling I’m pulling some Bridget Jones’s Diary thing by accident
If Bridget Jones’s Diary had been written just a few years later than it was, would it have been Bridget Jones’s Blog and if so, would it have been as popular and if so, would that have just been Sex In The City?
4. If Pendennis could eat one thing for every meal for the rest of his life, he would eat:
a) candy corn pumpkins
b) linguine with clam sauce
c) just sheets and sheets and sheets of nori
d) cotton balls
e) a and d but not b
5. What are you doing New Year’s Eve?
a) “Oh, right. I forgot. What night is New Year’s?”
b) having some friends over for games (e.g., Catchphrase, Twister “After-Dark” Version, etc.)
c) coming to that wedding with me (it’s going to be super fun)
d) taking a pop quiz
Answers: b, d, too tired to write it out but no and yes, e, c.
I am still quite ill. But laughter is the best medicine.
Mom read PaperGirl yesterday and saw that I was sick, so she called. She asked if I had a fever; I told her I don’t know because I don’t have a thermometer. I felt strangely embarrassed about that, like I was a twenty-two year-old dude living in an apartment with an X-box, an amp, and a bunch of Chinese take-out containers in the kitchen. That guy does not have a thermometer. Thermometers are things people have when they grow up. What does this say about me?
“You know, for all the things smartphones do,” Mom said, “They ought to be able to take your temperature.” She was driving with Mark and Scrabble back from Door County to Iowa. I laughed because she is so right.
“Just think,” she said, “You could put your tongue on the screen and it would read your temperature. Or, or! You could put it in your buttcheeks, like a baby!”
I was mid-sip and sprayed my tea all over my blanket and some of the couch. Mom suggested that putting your smartphone under your armpit would be better, maybe, than in your “buttcheeks.” I agreed. We decided if your smartphone could take your temperature in either of these places, there would be no more phone theft. Ever. Find a cell phone? Leave it right there. Some kid’s thinking about snitching someone’s new iPhone MXII when they’re not looking? Tell that kid to think about that person’s last bout with food poisoning. They were so feverish. So sweaty. They had to take their temperature… Several times…
“I really need to feel better tomorrow, Mom. There’s so much to do. I wish Scrabble was here to cuddle with.”
“Yeah,” Mom said. “She’s a good hot water bottle.”
1. Never enough candy punkins
2. People hang enormous fuzzy spiders all over their front porches
3. People hang enormous rubber zombies all over their front porches
4. People hang enormous gauzy ghosts all over their front porches
5. People hang out in enormously inappropriate costumes on their front porches
6. Pumpkin spice liquor (See No. 5)
7. Orange and black are gross colors together
8. Plastic Things
9. Fake blood, real blood, blood mix
10. Not all children who trick o’ treat come prepared with a joke or trick
11. If you dress up to go to a party, you have to try to drink a cocktail without the use of your hands or mouth or both, as they are covered, wrapped up, hidden deep in a plastic lobster claw (see image), or coated with oil-based paint, usually green.
12. Everlasting Gobstoppers
14. Snow possible
15. Deep brooding on entropy and decay as the faces of jack-o-lanterns begin to rot and cave in on themselves
All the tips and info I’m sharing regarding the extinguishing of Hot Fire That Can Ruin Your Life is meant to be food for thought (burning, fiery food) and to inspire you to brush up on your emergency skills.
Yesterday, I had a pan of hamburgers in the oven that were surprisingly greasy and got so incredibly hot, I believe I was minutes away from a grease fire. I can’t be sure and don’t want to be; if I was sure, there would have been a grease fire and grease fires are bad.
The burgers were from Whole Foods. “Steakhouse” it said on the label when I pulled them from the freezer. When I got home yesterday there was no energy to go to the store, so this would be dinner. I put the four thawed burgers onto a cooky pan — one with a lip around all sides — and put it in at 400-degrees then went about my business. Maybe I got busy doing other things and forgot to check on the burgers halfway through. Maybe when it was time to take them out I let them cook 15 minutes longer and only did that because I was not paying attention. Maybe.
Regardless, when I opened the oven door, I gasped. The grease in the pan was a scalding pool that seemed like it was beginning to smoke. (I guess “steakhouse” means “80% fat and frightening to prepare.”) I turned off the oven immediately and got my biggest oven mitts to move the pan carefully, cautiously, I’m-not-breathing-till-this-is-ten-feet-away-from-me, to the counter. I spent several long minutes spooked. Grave. Wincing. That was almost on fire, I thought, and it made me wonder if I know how to put out a grease fire. Do you?
Here’s what you do NOT do:
– Do NOT throw water on a grease fire! This is the worst thing you could do! Do not do it!
– Do NOT try to carry the pot or the pan out of the kitchen! Leave it alone!
– Do NOT put a glass lid on the top of a grease fire in a pan! It will break!
Here’s what you CAN do:
– Call 911. If it’s really bad — and I think mine would’ve been — there’s very little you can do and it could get dangerous, fast. Grease fires are extremely hot and spread quickly; they’re also fueled by a liquid, so splashing a la napalm is highly possible. Get help.
– Turn off the flame and put the lid on the pot. Obviously, this works if your fire is on a pan or pot on the stovetop. A lid on the pot will stop the fire from getting oxygen and may extinguish it.
– Baking soda can work. But you need a lot of it and most people don’t have a vat of baking soda three inches from their hand when they’re at the stove.
– Apparently there are better-than-ever fire extinguishers on the market that we should probably all have, including me. Get one.
– Even if you think you don’t need to, set a timer for heaven’s sake, and be somewhere within earshot of it. The fire safety info I looked at this evening said basically all kitchen fires happen because people leave the kitchen and forget they’re making things with fire and gas.
This post isn’t as fun as this one and it may not sell books — by the way, thank you for all the orders: I’m gratefully deluged! — but it’s one I hope you’ll share around online or talk about at lunch tomorrow. It’s easy to forget kitchen safety stuff.
At the Iowa State Fair a few days ago, a quilt was stolen. The quilt was a blue ribbon winner, made by a local gal who had worked so hard on it for a long time, obviously. Well, someone just up and took it off the wall where it was being displayed and now the Fair will surely have to add some long insurance rider that protects future quilters from being afraid to win first place, though they won’t be that afraid for that long.
But the story doesn’t end there. Oh, no. There was also a goat stolen.
A young goat was stolen from the petting zoo — one of triplets, apparently. I’d like to think she was a middle child like me and arranged the whole thing to get attention.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I initially wrote the above sentence this way: “I’d like to think she was a middle child like me, goading the bad guys into kidnapping her for the attention.” Do you see how I cannot possibly use either of these terms in this context without honking a clown horn?]
The story in the article that accompanied the ten o’clock news interviewed the man whose goat it was that was…kidnapped. He said — and this is a direct quote — “How could someone stoop that low to take a baby goat anyway? They knew it was a baby.”
That’s it. I’m done. I can never write anything as sweet, funny, charming, tragic, entertaining, or thought-provoking as those two sentences. Never, as long as I live, can I top that. It’s been nice knowing you. To the quilter who was burgled, it’s awful and I’m so sorry. Here’s hoping you get the quilt back someday. To the goat owner (who did get his goat back, by the way) you are my new hero. A girl can only have so many, so I’m taking Dos Passos off the list and sticking you on there in his place.
I have no idea who these people are. When I searched Wiki Commons for “Facebook,” I got pictures of gorgeous landscapes in Bejing and pictures like this, none of which made any sense whatsoever. Is this a Facebook conspiracy? to delete photos of itself on a public domain image repository? Is that a ridiculous thing to say? Not if you saw Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley two weeks ago, like I did. I’m here to tell you: Facebook is creep city.
(Also, I can’t login to my public page, so all of these posts are going unseen unless you’re a PaperGirl subscriber. Could you drop a line to a fellow reader that I’m back and better than ever when it comes to typing? I’m trying to get the problem fixed, but as Facebook appears to have no actual customer service, this has been difficult.)
One of the stops on the road trip was Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley, as you may know, is not really a valley, just a region in the Bay Area where for every 9,000 startups there is one that makes it and the one that makes it makes billions of dollars, like Uber.
Facebook, too. Facebook’s headquarters are in Silicon Valley, and my friend and I thought it would be fun to check it out. Facebook affects our lives in significant ways; why not see where they make the profiles of all those donuts? We actually went to the Googleplex, first and rode around campus on Google bikes until someone caught on that we weren’t employees and we thought we’d better jam. Google was cool because we could actually bike around the campus a little, but unless you have a friend or family member to get you a visitor pass, you should probably skip a trip there. You can’t go anywhere you would really want go, like Sergei Brin’s helipad.
Then it was onto Facebook headquarters and I’m here to tell you: never go there. Never go there not just because you can’t get in but because it’s terrifying. The building, first of all, is chillingly nondescript, all smooth walls and smallish windows. Is it a privately funded medical laboratory that tests things (read: brains)? perhaps a Quantico’s satellite building? Maybe it’s where they make the big red buttons folks push when they detonate atomic bomb. Someone has to make those things.
People were milling about outside, snapping pictures and generally clogging the walkway to the door and when they got to the door, they turned around immediately and clogged their way back. Because no one gets into Facebook. No one can enter the vestibule, so no one can enter the lobby — not even for the bathroom, which I know because I asked. I could’ve whipped out the “I Can’t Wait” card I carry from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation that allows me to use a bathroom pretty much anywhere (i.e., the Gap) if I really need to. It’s great fun to watch a snide salesgirl go from, “Sorry, there are no public bathrooms,” to a panicked, “Oh, sure, yeah, come with me” change of heart.
Anyway, Claus and I saw this “visit” was going nowhere, so we made our way past the security guys to the parking lot. I swear, there was a small fleet of camouflaged golf carts at the side of the building where our car was. Camo. Because Silicon Valley (and the Facebook campus) has a lot of tree lines. Look, I realize Facebook and Google aren’t there to entertain tourists; these are places of business. But the citadel thing left a nasty taste in our mouths.
Surely, there will one day be a Facebook theme park with a Zuckerberg Zipper rollercoaster and an I Like This Castle; when that happens, the tourists can get their Facebook photos at Facebook, something that would be so popular I’m surprised Facebook hasn’t done it, yet. Until then, I’m Mary Fons, reporting: Facebook is watching you, but you can’t look.
Here’s the thing about washing your clothes in a creek or river: when you’re done, they’re not clean.
Oh, they’ll be cleaner than they were, especially if you’ve been wearing those clothes three days in a row. But they will not be clean in the way most of us are used to. Our laundry, if we’re lucky, is gently, soapily agitated to purity and freshness then puffed into fluff by the warm air of the dryer. The river-wash (and subsequent tree- or rock-dry) is a world away. Indeed, one must be a world away to wash one’s clothes in a river; in a faraway country different from ours or, you know, in the country.
The road trip was three weeks long. I planned to go for two weeks with a possible one-week extension, but when I set out I didn’t figure I’d take the option. I don’t camp. I don’t rough it. I need things.
But then I found myself sitting on a rock on the bank of a real-life babbling brook outside Zion, hand-washing my dress. The sun was shining on the water, my skin, the water. Rub, dunk, swoosh, rub, dunk, swoosh. This was Week Two and it was right then that I decided that I wasn’t going home, that you’d have to drag me by my sleeping bag the whole way. No way, not yet, not leaving this.
Because Zion National Park is paradise. The early Mormons, when they were heading west, stopped the entire journey when they hit Zion because they looked at each other and said, “Yeah, so…it doesn’t get better than this.” They were not wrong. Lush vegetation, the modest-but-mighty Virgin River, the red mountains, the rich soil — it’s almost too much, especially if you’ve just come out of Death Valley, which we very much had.*
Butterflies were flitting around my head, goofing off as butterflies do, and I hung my clothes on the tree branches in the sun, basically creating a scene from an Ang Lee movie. The place and time, the reason, and the task were all in harmony. Harmony, as it turns out, is great.
Standard-issue life began yesterday. Sitting here, now, finally, I am glad to be back. Because washing clothes at the riverbank is good, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t miss you.
*One-hundred eighteen degrees our second day there.
Death Valley stories to come. Prepare to be entertained.
If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.
Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.
Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.
I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street — casual as anything — steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers. This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the encounter many times and believe that’s correct.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.
There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.
I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.
Since June of last year, I’ve been doing my Color Me Quilter webinar series. The enjoyable, informative, quilt geeky show happens once a month and helps you select fabric for your quilts. Many, many quilters have asked me for help in this area, and Color Me Quilter has helped a lot of you, which feels great.
There are just two months left of the series, though you can get bundles of my past webinars on the Fons & Porter website. Tomorrow, my presentation examines brown fabrics. I know, I know — brown does not scream “sexy.” It may not scream “modern” to you, either; by “modern” I mean “relevant,” not necessarily “modern” the way quilters use it — but modern quilters are using brown a lot these days, actually. I can pretty much guarantee you will be surprised, big-time at what you see tomorrow.
From Civil War quilts and their mega-popular reproductions to classic Amish quilts; from brilliant use of brown by today’s designers, such as Edyta Sitar to Amy Ellis; from timeless combos like traditional brown and pink to chic brown and black, you will be inspired and provoked to think about your own fabric palette and how brown plays a role.
Brown isn’t the new black, y’all: it’s the new brown.
It’s easy to join. Just go to the Webinar tab on my homepage and I’ll see you at 1PM EST tomorrow.
One of the more maddening conversations (or is it proclamations?) that I hear these days are among parents lamenting how their kids are always tied to their phones and video games computers and tablets, how social media sucks up all their attention. Stop buying them these devices, then. They get them because parents buy them for the kids. A parent may protest, saying that life is impossible without these tools, that their kids will be hopelessly lame and isolated from their peers without them. A fair argument; now, parents leave those kids alone.*
As it pertains to my life, however, I abide by one simple rule: I only use my smartphone for entertainment or time-passing if what I’m surrounded by is — without a shadow of a doubt — less interesting that what’s on my phone.
Usually, this means that don’t use it that much when I’m out and about. I do check email, I do respond to texts and things; if I’m getting navigation information, of course I use my phone because it’s made of magic. I’m talking about sitting in a coffee shop and burying my head in the thing, or being in an airport and never once looking up because I’m scrolling through Facebook. In a coffee shop, in an airport, in a hotel lobby and other places like these, I’m confident that what I’ll observe around me is more thought-provoking than playing Candy Crush.* Look at that: the woman eating her breakfast alone. The couple arguing under their breath over by the window. The beautiful chandelier. The bellman who is past retirement age but still working as a bellman. What is the world made of? What is American culture? Someone designed and built this building, someone is about to lose their job today, someone is having sex somewhere, right now, in this hotel! Observing the world leads to wondering how we interact. There’s so much to see absolutely everywhere.
Now, consider an empty doctor’s office with a table of magazines offering Newsweek, Golf Digest, and Men’s Health. I might peruse Newsweek for the 6.1 seconds it takes to go through the entire thing nowadays, but after that, it’s Phone City for me. There’s very little to take in in that situation; anything that might be worth it, I’ve already seen. I feel the same way about standing in a vestibule waiting to be picked up. Looking at Instagram seems appropriate there: pictures of quilts and Madonna’s latest selfie are way, way more interesting than staring at a vase of fake pussy willows.
As always, giving advice feels wrong, but a floating a friendly thought for consideration seems okay: consider the bird, not the tweet.
*I’ve never played Candy Crush, so I could be wrong about this, but I’m gonna roll those dice.
If you want to write, you have to read all the time because reading is the other half of writing. A person who is serious about identifying herself as a writer ought to say, “I’m a writer-reader.” We could get rid of that annoying hyphen and make it one word: writerreader. It’s hideous, but so are “stomachache” and “anodyne” and we get along with those all right.
Philip Roth said that the novel has about twenty-five years of relevancy left for the general public. Novels will still be written, he says, but the number of people who read them will get very small, similar in size to those groups of people who enjoy reading Latin poetry, say. Roth says that because print is changing so rapidly and because our pace of life is simply not matched to the form of a novel — neither in length or content — these particular sorts of books will fade away. Reading a novel takes focus, he says, focus and attention on one larger thing that we so often trade for many smaller things. “If you haven’t finished reading a novel in two weeks,” Roth said, “then you haven’t read the novel.”
While my hosts and I waited for a table at the restaurant in Georgia last weekend, I wandered into a used bookshop. I hunted for poetry but there was none to speak of, just a biography on Anne Sexton. (I think in my current brooding state five-hundred pages on the life of a brooding poet would be nothing short of disastrous.) The “Classic Literature” shelf drew my attention, but my perusal was desultory. As Roth said: a novel demands time and focus and I choose to spend mine elsewhere. Of course I read novels from time to time and I’ve read some pretty important ones (Crime & Punishment = hated it so, so much) but reading an engrossing novel almost unpleasant for me because I get too carried away. It’s the same reason I don’t watch or follow sports. A couple hours into great literature or the NFL and I start shouting at the book or at the television. I throw the book down and have some spasm on the couch because Character A is so stupid! stupid! stupid! or I jump up and down and twirl and hot-step when there’s five minutes left in the quarter (?) and my team is hanging on by a thread. I don’t like those feelings. I feel manipulated and vulnerable.
But I bought a novel anyway. The edition of Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser was just too perfect to pass up and at $4.25 I couldn’t afford to. The story of Sister Carrie is kind of my own: country girl goes to Chicago and makes good/bad. How did Dreiser know to write my biography 80 years before I was born? But here it is, to my left, a book published in 1900 that sketches out great tracts of my experience in this life. It’s hard to put down for that reason; it’s also hard to put down because the late-Victorian mores are hilarious. Here’s how Carrie and a character I won’t name communicate their white-hot, all-consuming, life-destroying passion for each other, no kidding:
He leaned over quietly and continued his steady gaze. He felt the critical character of the period. She endeavoured to stir, but it was useless. The whole strength of a man’s nature was working. He had good cause to urge him on. He looked and looked, and the longer the situation lasted the more difficult it became. The little shop-girl was getting into deep water. She as letting her few supports float away from her.
“Oh,” she said at last, “you mustn’t look at me like that.”
“I can’t help it,” he answered.
She relaxed a little and let the situation endure, giving him strength.
“You are not satisfied with life, are you?”
“No,” she answered, weakly.
He saw he was the master of the situation — he felt if. He reached over and toughed her hand.
“You mustn’t,” she exclaimed, jumping up.
“I didn’t intend to, he answered, easily.
Sister Carrie has been called “the greatest of all American urban novels. I’ve thrown it across the room twice already, which means it gets at least three stars from The PaperGirl Book Review.
I go out on the open road, I long for my bed. I long for the crisp sheets that I washed in the morning and put lovingly on the bed for the moment when I’d sink down into the white. Out there is the lush green of Georgia, the thunderstorms over St. Louis, but once there I long for the sewing machine that is always right where I left it. I love my luggage, but I miss my sink. Even the dumb kitchen sponge.
I come home and I embrace my sponge and my french press with an almost uncomfortable enthusiasm; these are inanimate objects, Fons. I realize that, but god how I missed you, little kitchen sponge, little frenchy-french. Then, watch a week go by and what happens? I wake before sunrise, as always, and pad to the kitchen and lo, the faintest sigh of longing comes as I go about my ritual: fill kettle, turn on burner, rinse french press, put in tea, close tea container, pour cream into pichet, get spoon for honey. Put all on tray. Scratch. Yawn. Think about life. Look at counter. Feel desire to scour it later. Wait for water to boil. Wait for the quotidian to kill me, eventually.
When the tea is ready, I’m so happy to have that morning hit of sweet, creamy Earl Grey, I forget that moments ago, I wished I was out on the road. Out of the house. Out of me, I guess.
I can’t be pleased and it drives me to drink (tea.) Forget the grass being greener; I don’t care about green. I just want the grass to be interesting. And what I can’t figure out is if there’s more to be found by chopping wood and carrying water day in, day out at the homestead or more to be found seeking whatever’s new around every single corner that I meet.
George Harrison said, “The farther one travels/the less one knows.” And there was a Swedish painter I read about years ago who never, ever left his hometown and painted the most wonderful paintings. His thing was, basically, “What on earth is there more beautiful than this? Why would I go anywhere else? I mean… Look.” But come on. Where would we be without the peripatetic, the restless, the road dog? We’d be at home. Booooring.
On Thursday, I go to St. Louis for four days. I’ll be lecturing with Mom, which tonight makes me so happy I could cry. Most of the time I travel alone. With Mother, you see, I get the best of both grassy worlds: I have the familiarity and comfort of my very own mom mixed with the plane and the pavement, the hotel room and the view of The Gateway To the West from whatever hotel room I’m assigned.
Somebody please tell me what the Sam Hill I’m supposed to be and just what I’m supposed to do. I assure you I have no clue. None.
The following is a transcript from a meeting that took place this morning (March 19th, 2015) at the offices of the Blossom Rights and Standards Committee of The National Cherry Blossom Festival, or, BRSCNCBF for short. Note: all speakers are actual cherry blossoms.
[BEGIN TRANSCRIPTION – 0.00.00.0]
TED: Okay, everyone. Let’s get started. Patty, are you here?
PATTY: Yes, I’m here! I’m in the back! Sorry, I was getting some coffee and the [LOST AUDIO].
TED: Great. All right, I’m going to jump right in, here. We’ve got a couple items on the agenda, but before we do that, uh, Bill… Did you want…
BILL: Yeah, I do. Thanks, Ted. Hi, everyone. I just wanted to start out the meeting with kind of a special announcement. Some of you may have heard that my wife and I are going to be moving and this is gonna be our last festival. It’s been a really hard decision, but we know it’s right for us and —
SALLY: Where are you guys moving?
BILL: We’re going to Tokyo. [Light murmuring, gasps.] Uh… I know that’s a decision that might make some of you, uh, maybe uncomfortable in some ways, ah, but Sandy and I really think it’s right for us and the boys, so… Um… Anyway, thank you all. We’ve loved being in DC all these years. It was a real tough decision. [clears throat.] Thanks.
TED: Okay, thanks, Bill. Thanks. You know we all think the world of you and wish you and Sandy luck and the boys and everything. Allrighty, let’s press on. As I know we’re all aware, the festival starts the day after tomorrow. Did you all know that? [laughter from the group.] You didn’t need a reminder? There are few concerns I’m looking at, but for the most part, we’re probably sitting in a better place than where we were last year. Action items, let’s see —
PATTY: Ted, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I just want to let you know that I didn’t send it to you, but I got confirmation that everyone’s 1077 Do Not Pick Me forms were filed with the State Department. They did go in last month —
TED: Oh, great. That’s great. All of —
PATTY: All of them, yep, so we’re all good. Part of the confusion, if anyone cares, is that the form used to be the 1054 Do Not Pluck Me form? So it was all screwed up because of that. And actually, some blossoms are still filed under that form, but it’s getting phased out. Anyway, that’s it. Sorry.
TED: No, it’s great news. Thanks. Let’s look at these items real quick: Jerry, tell us what happened with the Bee Department.
JERRY: Um… [papers shuffling.] Hang on… Right, here we go. Uh, I spoke with William over there — I think he’s the —
SALLY: He’s the new guy.
JERRY: Right, right, I think he was a queen hire, actually, but anyway, he said that the torch lights are not getting placed on the west side of the far hill to the west of the Lincoln Memorial? No the bees are all good. No smoke problems this year for them over there, so any blossom over there in… I guess it’s District 8 is not going to have any pollen distribution trouble. Which is nice.
BILL: Jerry, is that, are they not doing the torches because of the landscaping projects, or —
JERRY: I think so? But they didn’t go into it. I think so, though, yeah.
TED: That’s great. Thanks. Um, Amanda, tell us about No Blossom Left Behind. Joan, could you grab me that bottle of water on the table? Just throw it. Thanks.
AMANDA: If I make zero sense, just ignore me. I’m sneezing like crazy and I was up all last night with Nick; he’s blooming early, of course, like, now. I’m sleep-deprived. Anyway, donations are still way down, which is the bad news; but the good news is…that…we got the the koi fish grant. [Applause; cheering.] I know. It’s so great. They’re really wonderful, actually. Yeah. They’re all about it. And it’s not just the grant. They’re going to help collect petals from the ponds and everything and uh —
PATTY: Didn’t they say they could get the meeting set up with that pruner, too?
AMANDA: Yes! Thank you. I almost forgot. Henry is the main koi fish over there and he says he can get us that meeting with… I forget that guy’s name, but yeah. That’ll be a priority when the fest is over — thanks, Patty.
TED: Amanda, thank you. We’re getting so much positive press about No Blossom Left Behind; it’s been really impactful, really disrupting everything, so go team. Now I’d like to go around the room and hear from everyone about the goal sheets I passed out last time. I also want you to remind us all where you are, your District. And let me know if you need comp tickets and how many. I absolutely have to have the requests in today or you’re out of luck. Julie, how about you start?
I’ve returned to my Bikram yoga practice and it feels great, except that the first time I walked into the Capitol Hill studio on New Year’s Eve day, a real cruddy memory came flooding back.
In 2009, I was here in D.C. with the Neo-Futurists, performing for a month at Woolly Mammoth theater — which is just a few blocks from my new home, incidentally. It was that trip that caused me to fall in love with D.C. At the time, I was extremely committed to my yoga practice and would get up at five in the morning to walk to the Capitol Hill studio to take the six a.m. class so that I could be showered, fed, watered and at the theater by nine o’clock rehearsal. I kinda can’t believe I did that.
I had an ostomy bag for many years. I had my first bag for about a year and then the surgeons poked my intestine back into my body. I got sick again right away, so I had to get an ostomy again. The second time, I had it about two years. When I was well enough during both periods, I kept practicing yoga. Bikram yoga is 90 minutes inside a room heated to 105 degrees. An ostomy bag is attached to the body with a wax seal and a sticker. Before every class over those years, I would have to tape up my bag with athletic tape so it wouldn’t fall off, then empty it, and then explain to the teacher before class that in between the standing series and the floor series, I would probably have to go empty it again. I usually did; the second half of a Bikram class is done largely on your belly. A bag full of… Well, you can imagine. Typically, it’s not cool to leave a Bikram class at all, so it was my responsibility to apprise teachers of my special case.
The only time any Bikram teacher ever made me feel bad about my ostomy bag was at the Capitol Hill studio, and I’ve practiced in Bikram studios coast to coast.
“Hey, hi,” I said to the teacher with a smile. “I just wanted to let you know, I have an ostomy bag, and I usually have to go to the bathroom between the standing and floor series, so if that’s cool with y—”
The teacher looked at me like there was a bug crawling across my face. “Oh. Well… Is it…visible?” she asked me, her lip kind of up by her nose.
I blinked. No one had ever asked me that before.
“Uh… No, not… No. I mean, you can see a little bit of the appliance and the tape, I guess, poking up over my shorts…” I trailed off. I felt so lousy. It’s amazing how the differences we have become our “normal” until someone makes them bizarre and therefore wrong.
The other day in the changing room, I heard some very unusual sounds. Two girls were making the sounds, which were kind of breathless squeaks. I turned to see two young ladies smiling and jumping up and down and signing to each other like crazy. Either they hadn’t seen each other in awhile or one of the girls was having a really great day and telling the other about it. One of the girls had a Gallaudet sweatshirt on and I remembered that the prestigious college for the deaf, Gallaudet University, is here in D.C.
Bikram yoga is a class that is taught by one teacher who has a 90-minute “dialogue” that he or she recites. It’s the same every class. You listen to the words, you do the poses. Those girls come to yoga, but they can’t hear the words the teacher is saying. But Bikram yoga is also — and always — taught in a room with a floor-to-ceiling mirror in the front of the room. So you don’t really have to hear the dialogue, I realized; you can just watch what the class is doing and keep perfect pace.
I understand why “disabled” is a term that a lot of people don’t like. “Differently abled” is a far better choice of words.
After I had been in Chicago a few years and worked a few (very) odd jobs, I returned to my roots as a waitress. I knew how to wait tables. The first job I ever had in life was waiting tables at the Northside Cafe in Winterset, IA, right up on the town square. As soon as I was fourteen I marched through the cafe’s front door and asked for a job. The concept that I could do things and be paid for them was exciting. Far as I figured, I’d be doing things anyway; why not get paid for it?
Two women, Vicki and Betty, trained me at Northside. “Training me” meant they showed me how to make coffee and how to write out a ticket for the kitchen. That was basically the extent of their guidance. Vicki would’ve shown me how to smoke cigarettes if I asked, but I didn’t. I learned the front of the cafe first; a few months later I was allowed to take a section in the back room where the Lion’s Club had meetings. You could still smoke back then and I emptied a lot of ashtrays when I wasn’t making pot after pot of Folger’s.
I would work myself to death at that place. The Northside was packed on the weekends: farmer’s needed biscuits and gravy at 6am, the pre-church crowd was there from 7-9am, the late-risers came in from 9-noon, and then it was after-church folks and the typical lunch crowd. When the cafe closed at 3pm, we had to sweep, mop, scour, marry (ketchup), and lock it all down. It’s easy to mythologize about the past; the fish we catch get bigger and bigger every time we remember catching them. But my mom and sisters could attest to my exhaustion after a busy weekend at Northside. I’d drag myself through the back door of our house, throw my apron on the dining room table, kick off my sneakers and sink into the couch. I’d pull out my wad of tips and recount them while my feet went “whomp-whomp-whomp” with achiness.
Because good, god-fearin’ waitressin’ was programmed into me early, I never lost the knack. In Chicago, I took a job at a new brunch restaurant called Tweet. (This was pre-Twitter, by at least five years, I’ll have you know.) A friend of a friend recommended me for one of three waiter positions and I got hired. The owner, a brassy (brilliant) businesswoman asked me several questions in the interview but the two I remember were: “What’s your sign?” and “Are you on drugs?” I replied with “Leo” and “No.” My first day would be that weekend.
Chicagoans love their brunch. We love it. I’m sure there will be a brunch tax at some point. For two years of the three I worked there, Tweet was one of the hottest brunch tickets in town. The restaurant was only open on the weekend, which made it exclusive, in a way. The neighborhood around it was fairly crappy at the time (Uptown East), and the food was really, really good. There was also a bar next door where you could drink if you had to wait for a table and everyone had to wait for a table. On our busiest days, a three-hour wait was not that weird. And people did wait that long. (I’m telling you: brunch tax.)
If I had been tired after a day at Northside, I was a dead woman walking after a shift at Tweet. I made a lot more money, though. A lot more. Upwardly mobile white people from Lincoln Park tip better than sixty-year-old men who ride combines most of the day. Who knew?
I was thinking about my life in aprons the past few days as I encountered hotel staff and waiters working through the holiday. I feel you. I don’t work those shifts now, but I did for years. Working on Christmas, say, ain’t that bad — but it’s not that great. Having fun with the people you work with is the best thing for it, so try to do that.
And cheer up. All around you are members of the Secret Order of Former Service Industry Providers. I carry the card, myself, and we’re fantastic tippers.