True Tales From Brunch: SCRAM FLAT, Part II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked up. “Scramble them flat.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Deer In the City.

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you're close.
Put a paved road underneath his feet and you’re close.

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.

Hat Frisbee.

posted in: Art 0
This hat came up when I searched for a public domain image of a stocking cap. You should've seen the other ones.
This hat came up when I searched for a public domain image of a stocking cap. You should’ve seen the other ones.

On the train late this afternoon, I was out of sorts. My psyche was pulling to the right while some other part of my self was tugging on the leash to go left. This is a strange feeling but I was on a wobbly train on top of it. Good thing I had a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or I might’ve slipped through the cracks.

The train conductor announced the next stop: Smithsonian. I jerked up in my seat, seized with the desire to not go home but go there, to Smithsonianworld. Seeing some art would jerk my brain stem back into alignment for sure. I could do it fast, too; take a quick dip in the eternal pond and then get back to my day. The Smithsonian museums are all free, so you just walk right in, fill up your tank and walk back out the door. Surely a painting or some kind of strange installation would break my mini-fugue.

I decided this almost too late, however; right before the doors closed at the Smithsonian stop, that’s when I decided to execute my plan. I shot out of my seat at the last possible second — scaring the bees out of everyone, I’m sure — and jammed my body through the closing doors. I was the person that annoys everyone riding a train: the person who delays the train leaving because they’re standing in the doors. Sorry about that, comrades.

The doors released their silver jaws and I went, “Phew!” and began to walk away. Then I hear this, “Hey!” and I turn around to see my stocking cap flying through the air.

I had left my stocking cap on my seat and someone inside the train had chucked it out the doors as they closed for real. “Wow, thanks!” I called after the car as it pulled away. Someone threw my hat out for me. They saved my hat. I stood there for a second, feeling my heart get warm and my brain get right. Also, flying stocking caps = comedy.

Up at street level, I passed several museums but couldn’t go in. I couldn’t handle the Holocaust Museum, clearly; I couldn’t give proper attention to the African American museum or the Chinese art collection at another grand building I passed. I saw a Barbara Krueger exhibit advertised at the Hirschorn but no freaking way could I have handled Barbara Krueger today. I found the sculpture garden out back of the Hirschorn, though, and that was just right.

My stocking cap kept me warm as I walked among the statues.

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!!]

True Story Update: New York So Far

posted in: New York City 3
Impossible, beautiful, dangerous to walk in -- just like New York! Keith Haring shoe, Nicholas Kirkwood, 2012.
Impossible, beautiful, dangerous to walk in — just like New York! Keith Haring shoe, Nicholas Kirkwood, 2012.

I had lunch with a born-and-raised, lifelong New Yorker yesterday. He asked me how I was getting along.

“You seem a little ambivalent in your blog,” he said. “I can’t tell if you’re warming to the city or not.”

We were eating sushi in a restaurant only a local would know about, one of the best sushi bars in Manhattan, as it turns out, tucked away deep in Soho. There might have been a sign on the heavy wooden door, but I didn’t see one when I pushed it open.

“Oh, I’m great! It’s great!” I chirped. “I love it here!” That’s the truth, too. In no way has my New York City life truly begun yet, but the hunk of molded clay has at least been dropped onto the wheel. It will begin to take shape, if you’ll tolerate me extending that lame clay metaphor.

But then my lunch date spooked me a little.

“But how are you doing really?” he asked, eyeing me as I put more edamame into my face. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well, he just knew he was asking a serious question that deserved a thoughtful response.

“The pace of this place,” he said, “is not for everyone.”

Correct. I’ve known New York City to stomp, chomp, and otherwise flatten people. It does happen, absolutely, every day I’m sure, and even though there are plenty of folks who lament the glossification of New York, who say the city is a soulless shell of what it used to be, all Carrie Bradshaw and no Joe Strummer, those people probably didn’t grow up in rural Iowa like I did. Please. New York is still a killer whale. Have some imagination.

I chewed. I considered. Okay, how am I really doing? Because there are a thousand thoughts a day that pass through my brain and right now, directly related to moving here or not, all those thoughts are tagged “New York City.”

“There are moments when I feel overwhelmed,” I said, and a mini-monologue suddenly poured out, because one had been waiting, apparently.

“It’s like… So you’re on a street corner here, waiting for the light. And you look over and you see the most beautiful girl you have ever seen in your life. Right there, a supermodel, maybe the supermodel of the moment that you just saw on the cover of a magazine. And then the light changes and you’re crossing the street and you see the craziest person you have ever seen in your life. Like, in a wig, with a parakeet or something, screaming into a transistor radio. Then, an old Chinese man zips past on a bike and you smell his tobacco and it’s this wild smell, totally from another world. Then a black, mirrored car snakes through the street and you wonder, who’s in there? Jay-Z? A congressman? The Shah of Iran? Maybe all of them?

And in those moments, you realize the layers of existence here. It’s like shale. And all these people, they all have their own realities, they all have their own days, their own New York City. And the truth of that can feel like a comfort, because everyone is just like you, or you can lose your mind, because that’s too much input, too much to think about and still remember to blink.”

This answer seemed to satisfy my lunch date. That I could identify the complexity and consider it, that is maybe proof that I’m keeping my head above water. And maybe proof that I have a chance to thrive, too. We’ll see.

I rode a Citibike back home after lunch. They’re the Divvy bikes of New York!

 

Thomas Hood’s Real Downer: “Song of the Shirt”

posted in: Poetry 1
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.

There was a tugging in my heart today and a longing I couldn’t place.

Oh, it was probably just nostalgia brought on by spring weather. The sweet, chilled spring air came in and I pulled out last year’s jacket. What was in the pocket but a pack of now-soggy gum and a book of matches from a fancy night out last spring. When these sorts of things happen, I need to read poetry. 

After slogging through an afternoon’s worth of paper on my desk, I went to one of my favorite poetry anthologies to find something expansive. I was hoping I might find a poem on moving or relocation: I arrived in Chicago this morning at dawn and I have one week to wrap up all the ends here before trundling off to Manhattan for the summer. (Or longer. Probably longer.) When you crush up your arm, you need surgery. When you realize you’re about to say goodbye to the view from your bedroom, you need poetry.

I did not find a poem about relocation. What I did find was really good, though, especially if any part of what you do for a living involves sewing. And I know you’re out there.

“Song of the Shirt” is a poem by poet, writer, and humorist Thomas Hood, written in the 1820s in England. It’s about the suffering of the factory drudge, told from her perspective. It’s pretty bleak; it also pretty damn relevant. The refrain, “Work–work–work,” is as imbedded in our discourse as ever. I read it and cackled like a crazy person; she’s got that right. The poem was especially interesting/fitting because she speaks of spring.

I hope you enjoy the poem, as much as it can be enjoyed. In its admonishing way, it’s a little like being forced to take a dose of nasty medicine. But I said I needed help from a poem and that is exactly what I got.

Song of the Shirt
by Thomas Hood

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

“Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It’s O! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

“Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

“O, men, with sisters dear!
O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out,
But human creatures’ lives!
Stitch—stitch—stitch,
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

“But why do I talk of death?
That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
And flesh and blood so cheap!

“Work—work—work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!

“Work—work—work!
From weary chime to chime,
Work—work—work,
As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.

“Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—
While underneath the eaves
The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
And twit me with the spring.

“O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
To feel as I used to feel,
Before I knew the woes of want
And the walk that costs a meal!

“O! but for one short hour!
A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
Hinders needle and thread!”

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
She sang this “Song of the Shirt!”

Can You Panhandle It?

NOT COOL, FLORIDA.
In Florida. Photo: Wikipedia

America is big and wide and I’ve seen a fair amount of it.

Before I gigged around as a quilter, I gigged around as a theater performer, and before that, I gigged around as a poet, if you can believe it. I’ve couch surfed in Massachusetts, I’ve lugged a duffel bag through California, I’ve been on stages in Maine and in all the major Texan cities (I think.) When you add in drive-throughs and personal, non-work travel experiences, it appears I’ve gotten on and off airplanes or in and out of cars in all the continental United States except Montana, Delaware, and West Virginnny. Oh, and Rhode Island. Always piping up to be counted, little Rhode Island.

SIDENOTE 1: May I remind readers residing in these last four (attractive, well-governed) states that I am available for booking and can be contacted via the booking form on this website? Wouldn’t it be fun to check these states off the list together? As for the Alaskans and the Hawaiians… Surely there is an over-achiever among you who would like to inaugurate me into the All Fifty States Traveler’s Club. You get me to where you are and you will be richly rewarded, bonus prizes for everyone if we can find a way to book Juno and Honolulu back to back. Think of the PaperGirl posts!

I write to you now from deep in the Florida Panhandle.

For the next couple days I’ll be working here, meeting and greeting and communing with quilters. The location itself is remote to be sure: the Pensacola airport is an hour away from the town where all this is taking place, and I was informed the dirt roads in the area were only recently paved with gravel. The simplicity of the area belies the commerce taking place within it, though; there’s a whole lot of sewin’ going on down here, and I’m looking forward to the action.

SIDENOTE 2: I am compelled to admit that until (very) recently, I never knew that the Florida Panhandle was named for the shape of the region. I knew it was geographical, the term, but I didn’t realize people were being so adorable about it. The stick part of the shape of the state of Florida looks like the handle on a pan! Could you die? No, you’re saying, I don’t want to die in or because of the Florida Panhandle. And you’re also saying, “You didn’t know that? But everyone knows that.” But that’s not true. There’s a lot everyone doesn’t know about the Florida Panhandle and a lot of other things. 

II also hope to see an alligator from far away. I also hope to eat fried chicken. I am 80% confident at least one of these things will happen on this, my current American adventure.

Book Signing! Launch Party! NYC! City Quilter! May 20th!

posted in: Art, New York City, Work 6
Look in there. Just look in there! Heavenly.
Look in there. Just look in there! Heavenly. The City Quilter is at 133 W. 25th St., New York City. You can call them at 212-807-0390 and visit them at cityquilter.com. They are very nice.  

One month from today, there is going to be a neat party. I am personally inviting YOU to come to it.

But of course I am! Because I see you.

I see you there, scrolling down the screen in your adorable pajama pants. I see you too, you at your desk at work with your candy drawer. (May I have a piece of candy? Thanks! You’ve always been so incredibly nice to me. :: unwraps, chews :: ) I see you with your tablet on the couch, sir, and I see you, gal on your phone on the bus, reading the RSS feed of PaperGirl like a champ. You’re all fabulous! And you’re all invited to this here party.

On May 20th, 2014 — one month from right now — in the early evening*, come to The City Quilter in scenic Manhattan. We’re having a party for my book! Wow! Isn’t it a wonderful thing to celebrate the existence of a book?? Humans are so cool.

I’ll be there, selling and signing Make + Love Quilts. Really cool quilters and designers will be there, too. I can’t name-drop, but if I did, you’d like, WOAH because these are name-drop-worthy people.

And hey, if you don’t give a whiff about quilts but just really like PaperGirl, guess what? You will love the party, too, and be most welcome there. There’s a lot writing in my book. It’s a quilt book for sure, but it’s a PaperGirl quilt book. A non-quilter can actually curl up with tea and this book and not wonder why he/she is reading a quilt book. It’s a book-book. It’s for everyone.

So, come to the party! You guys! You ladies! Let’s do it! Let’s have fun! I want to meet you! Have you ever been in Manhattan in May?? It’s ridonk-a-donk! So beautiful! It’s like being in a Gershwin song!

Book a flight, take a train, hail a cab. Come to the party on May 20th. Live a little!

 

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.

 

There Will Be Mud: A True Life Kid Story

posted in: Family, Story 9
Awwww, yeah.
Awwww, yeah.

One day on Meadowlark Farm, my sister Nan and decided to get out into the timber for awhile. It was late enough into spring that stuff was thawing. There was a lot of mud out in the field between our farmhouse and the timber, and this was annoying. We were slightly feral, but we were also girls. Getting dirty was never the aim of our adventures; our adventures were the aim.

We put on our lighter snowsuit-overall-things, at Mom’s request. It was still cold and these would keep us warm, keep some mud off our clothes, and protect our little bodies from the burrs and pokey sticks out in the forest. We grudgingly put them on, followed by our galoshes. And we set out.

I’m sure we had fun, but I don’t remember what we did. I only remember that when we came back through the mud field to go home for lunch or dinner, something terrible happened.

Hannah (Nan) fell into a mud pit.

I’m telling you, that girl sank into a mud pit of Neverending Story proportions. She went down and she went deep, at least to her waist. Since we were small, the mud pit couldn’t have been that deep, but for a ten-year-old, a waist-high mud pit is a helluva mud pit.

“MARY!!!!” she screamed. I was 20 paces or so ahead of her when this happened. “MARY!!! HELP ME!!!”

I whirled around to see half my sister, flailing around in the mud. It’s so interesting to me to think what I must’ve said. I know what I’d say today, but at that age, I didn’t know those sorts of words.

“MARY!!!!” my sister kept screaming. “MARY! GET OVER HERE! HELP ME!!” and assessing the situation, I determined she really did need help. Her boots were totally, completely stuck and was she sinking further into the mud? Yeah, she was. Yikes.

I decided that this was definitely an emergency situation, but that I was definitely not going to help her myself. It wasn’t logical! I was smaller than she was! What was I gonna do? Pull my older sister out of a sucking mud pit with the power of my six-year-old will? I knew that if I gave my sister my hand, sloop! down I’d go into the mud, too, and at the time, I only came up to her waist, so I’d be totally drowned in mud. Hell, no. I wasn’t going down like that. I had cookys to eat.

“I gotta go home,” I said, a little scared at how my decision would land with my big sister.

There was a pause in the flailing. “WHAT??!!!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled, and my eyes got real big as my sister understood that she was totally screwed. The expression on her face, even from 20 paces away, made it clear that if she was able to survive this mud pit problem, I was in serious trouble. As I ran away, I contemplated hiding places.

“MARY!” I heard her screaming, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU!”

“I gotta go home!” I yelled again, and what I meant was, “I gotta go home for help,” but this wasn’t being communicated properly, so Hannah just sent daggers shooting out of her eyes into my back and I ran as fast as my little feet could carry me, out of the mud field, onto the gravel road, into the yard, and up onto the porch of the house.

When I told her what had happened, my mother looked out the kitchen window and saw her eldest child flapping around in a pink coat, far, far out in the muddy field.

“Oh, Mary!” she cried, and we went out and retrieved Hannah. She was fine. A little muddy. Furious at me, of course, but my point was made. A smaller person cannot retrieve a bigger person from a sucking mud pit. Mom could help, I could not.

This is crucial decision-making.

 

 

The Canoodling Burrito: A Love Story

No.
No.

I found myself on a Chicago el train tonight, but I wasn’t supposed to be there. If my itinerary had gone as planned, I would be in Iowa.

After my gig in Cleveland, I planned to go straight through Chicago to Des Moines, no pitstop at home. (I’ll be in Des Moines for the next two weeks, filming Love of Quilting for PBS.) But when our flight was delayed (and delayed and delayed) out of Cleveland and most everyone missed their connections, I had an idea. I deplaned, slipping through the crowd of grumpy travelers to seek out a free Southwest ticket agent further down the terminal. I spied a friendly-looking blonde lady at gate A9 and went for it.

ME: (Exceedingly chipper, non-threatening:) Hello! How are you!

SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Hi there. How can I help you?

ME: Well! It’s cra-ray-zay! I was on Flight 313 from Cleveland and, you know, all that rain… Well, I have not missed my connection to Des Moines. I can absolutely make it. But the truth is, ma’am, is that I live in Chicago? And my home is here? And is there any way that I could, you know, go home to my condo tonight? Could I fly to Iowa tomorrow, instead? I don’t know if this is possible, but wow, would it ever be great to, you know… Could… My bed, and my…my bed.

SOUTHWEST TICKET LADY: Let’s see what we can do. (Clacks on computer. Pauses.) We can do that. No problem. I can put you on a flight tomorrow. Morning or evening?

I nearly hugged her.

My luggage went onto Des Moines, but I didn’t care. It would be safe in the baggage room overnight, and who needs mascara, anyway?* I got a boarding pass for tomorrow and waltzed out of the airport. I was going home! I wasn’t pulling any heavy luggage! The words “footloose and fancy free” came instantly to mind. I did a little two-step on the moving walkway. I had visions of a glass of red wine, a book, and my glorious, glorious bed, which would be waiting for me with fresh sheets because I had thought to change the linen before I left town.

I made my way to the train platform. Orange Line to the Loop. Right before the train left the station, a couple came in and sat in the two seats directly in front of me. They were early thirty-somethings; white, preppy and well-groomed but not so wildly attractive that I thought I was looking at prom king and queen. There was actually a touch of nerdiness about them, but they were both dressed like they worked in PR or at Deloitte and Touche, whatever that is. It was abundantly clear that the guy had just arrived and the young lady had come to the airport to meet him.

Let me tell you that they were excited to be together. Very excited.

The pair were talking rapidly and kissing each other in between sentences, then in between words. When they first started this canoodling, I was filled with happiness: lovers reunited is a beautiful thing to witness. This feeling was followed hot on the heels by a terrible pain, however; Yuri is in New York and I am not and I wanted nothing more in the universe than to kiss my lover between sentences, too. (And everywhere else while I’m at it — hey-o!)

My self-pity didn’t last long, because the canoodling couple started to annoy me. They were talking a little bit too loud about the guy’s trip, for one thing. And these kisses were sort of anemic; his lips were squished into a droopy grape shape that he kept smushing into her cheek. And she’d be halfway through a syllable and stop to pucker up. It was like this:

GUY: Yeah, he’s doing great.

(Kiss.)

GIRL: Did your mom saying anything about the oven mitt?

(Long smooch.)

GUY: She loved it. Oh, Ronnie’s going to be in Chicago next month.

(Kiss.)

GIRL: Oh (Kiss) that’s (Kiss) awesome.

(Kiss.)

I pulled out my magazine and slumped down in my seat; I tried to get into an Atlantic article about helicopter parenting and fight the urge to wield, in this perfect of circumstances for it, one of the finest expressions in the English language: Get a room!! 

But then came the food. And I was too grossed out to do anything but cover my mouth and look out the window.

The kissing and cooing sounds were joined by the sounds of a food wrapper being opened. Cellophane or paper was being pulled down what I perceived to be a burrito. Now, between syllables and kisses, there was…chewing. Mastication. Food. She would take a little nibble of this burrito and then, mouth full, would peck him on the lips. Then he would talk a little more, bend his head over to take a bite, and then talk more, and then smush his grape lips onto her neck. I was horrified. I could not get the vision of refried beans and saliva and bed sheets out of my head. It was a physical reaction; I felt ill. When you’re on a train, the people sitting in front of you are right there. I was almost directly implicated. It was almost that kind of party.

This went on. We were close enough to my stop that I didn’t get up and move. I also realized immediately that this was PaperGirl material, so I hung on. I stole two glances: the first, to try and catch the guy’s eye to give him a cold, hard, “EW” look; that failed. The second time I looked up from my recoiled pose was to confirm that these two people were actually making out while eating a burrito. I’m glad I took that second look because guess what?

It was a Rice Krispie treat!

I brightened considerably. Well! A Rice Krispie treat! That’s sorta cute! I kinda like these two, I thought, and I no longer felt like I could barf. Rice Krispie treats are sorta like kisses themselves: sweet, kinda sticky, well-intentioned. It was amazing to me how different I felt about the situation I was in when the food changed from a stinky, cheesy burrito to an innocuous rice-and-marshmallow snack.

They probably went home and had a lot of sex.

*Me, a lot.

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.
 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

ArtSpy #071862: George B. Luks, Allen Street, c. 1905

George B. Luks, Allen Street, c. 1905.
George B. Luks, Allen Street, c. 1905.

I was there today, right there to the left of the red chair. You can still see my imprint! I have a yoga mat on my back and I’m wearing really insane winter boots with saw soles.

My NYC yoga studio is in the Lower East Side at the corner of Stanton and Allen, the very same Allen Street George B. Luks captured so brilliantly in his painting. His version of the scene in oil and the handful of versions I snapped of it in Instagram aren’t dissimilar. These days, there are fewer bonnets — or are those burkas on Luks’s women? — on Allen Street, but there’s just as much stuff for sale and there are dress shops and people stacked on top of one another.

Luks was an artist of the Ashcan School. If “The Ashcan School” sounds fancy, that’s just what the Ashcan painters want you to think, but the name comes from the actual object: the ash can.

These guys were a belligerent bunch. It was around the turn of the 20th century they were doing their thing. The grand poo-bah of the (loosely affiliated) group was a newspaper illustrator named Robert Henri. He said he wanted art to be more like journalism: hard, honest, unflinching. The John Singer-Sargent stuff was starting to rot everyone’s teeth out, and Henri and his band of super grumpy painters wanted to portray the real people they saw in the cities where they all hailed from, New York City and Philly. Down-and-out beggars, rag-pickers, elderly indigent women, the unwashed masses — these were the subjects for the Ashcan guys. They painted on wood panels they found, on boards, on window shades. They got into bar fights. Luks was such a bad boy, he actually died in a bar fight in 1933.

In New York, on Allen and Stanton, I can feel the past bear down so hard on me, I actually tend to walk a little faster. I love it down there on the Lower East Side, but the air has an edge and it ain’t the rock clubs. It’s the tenement houses, long burned down. It’s the rag-pickers. It’s that Allen Street was Asylum Street for a good while — why? Because it was where the New York Orphan Asylum was, of course. There’s something in the grime that produces slides in my brain: hungry faces and brawling drunks; the smell of boiling meat, boiling clothing, boiling hot days in August.

Yoga was good. I’ve returned to my Bikram practice. It wasn’t so rough today, but I’ve been in class when there were forty or fifty people packed into that room. It’s no more than 450 sq. ft. and it’s heated to 105 degrees. I’ve been in classes so packed that when I did my forward standing bend, I’ve hit the butt of the girl in front of me with my forehead.

And the grime becomes you.

Ghost Light: Philip Seymour Hoffman

posted in: Art, New York City, Paean, Tips 1
Playbill, 2000.
Playbill, 2000.

This very morning, I passed a poster for a George Bernard Shaw play and thought, “Don’t wait, Fons; see a show.” When you’re in NYC for longer than a few days, it’s easy to allow art opportunities to slip away because the sense of urgency isn’t there. You have time, you can get to that show before it closes, you can see that exhibit before it’s gone, etc.

The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died this morning, or maybe he died last night or Friday night; only the coroner knows for sure. Hoffman was found, maybe at the moment I was looking at that poster for the Shaw play, in the West Village where he lived. The New York Times reports he had a needle in his arm and that there was an envelope of heroin nearby. An addict’s nightmare would be one without the other, I guess.

When I was in the city in 2000, I went to see True West by Sam Shepard at Circle in The Square Theater on Broadway. Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly careened through that delicious brother-against-brother play, hitting the highs and the lows with this painful tenderness that made the crashes even worse (or better, depending on how you see your emotional manipulation as an audience member.) They made that theater ache, man. I didn’t come up for air the whole time. How could I? They weren’t breathing. That script was bare-knuckled before those guys got to it; in the hands of a director who had the foresight to a) cast Hoffman and Reilly and b) get out of their way, it was a life-changer.

I mean it. I was at a place in my life where I had to decide if I was going to get married to the theater. After seeing True West, I knew I would. I completed my theater degree from the University of Iowa and promptly moved to Chicago, still the best place in the country to make stuff to put onstage. I helped found the (now) wildly successful Gift Theatre Co., and found an artistic home with the Neo-Futurists. Someday, we’ll talk more about all that, but not now.

This is about the actor I saw in True West fourteen years ago who showed me that good theatre is so hard to make, you’ll see it about as often as you see a shooting star — and when you see it, your DNA changes. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one role, in one production, wiped every crappy college show from my eyes and removed the illusions I had about what I thought I knew about making theatre. His ferocious performance was in fact an act of kindness to me, and he had no idea I existed. But I did, in that dark theater, and I was watching him. He helped crystalize for me a vision of the kind of work and the kind of art American theatre is capable of and when I heard he died, my hand shot up to my heart and I could feel it beating.

I’m sorry you were addicted to heroin, Philip Seymour Hoffman. That is a terrible drug and I know you were afraid when you died. But it’s over, now, and in all the good ways — only the good ways — you’re still making great art. You made it in front of a lot of people who were watching, hard, and plenty of us are still alive, still trying to reach your standard.

* “A ghost light is an electric light that is left energized on the stage of a theater when the theater is unoccupied and would otherwise be completely dark.”

 

 

“A Quilter and a Voguer Walk Into a Lobby…”

Vintage Vogue. Horst, 1939.
Horst, 1939. Vogue magazine.

If you want to work in the quilt industry — and with a $3.5B+ annual market valuation, a lot of people do — you’re going to need to go to Quilt Market. Anyone doing serious business in the quilt world is there and though there are many shows throughout the year that serve the industry, when people ask you, “Will I see you at Market?” they mean either International Spring or International Fall Market, whichever comes next on the calendar. The answer to the question should be, “Absolutely.”

At Market, you see what’s new. You get the V.I.P. scoop. You make predictions. You discover new designers, new talent. You see who’s hot, who’s tepid, and who isn’t there at all. You make deals. You make friends and faux pas. If you want to be in the business, you have to be at Market because please. Everyone who’s anyone, darling.

Really, going to Quilt Market is a little like being in New York City. Everything happens here first. If you’re not here, you’re just gonna have to find out when everyone else does: later.

I’m staying in an East Village hotel while my NYC living situation sorts itself out. At 4:00am this morning, I woke with a stomachache and couldn’t get back to sleep. (When you don’t eat much during the day and then you eat steak, these things happen.) My hard and fast rule about insomnia? Get up. Tossing and turning is unacceptable. Just get up. Read something or clean something. If you’re in my situation, pad down to the lobby with your computer and talk about vogueing with Zachary, the night porter.

I was scamming some tea from the not-technically-open tea and coffee station when Zachary appeared. He startled me and I instantly regretting not combing my hair or at least putting on flip-flops. I looked like a barefoot, homeless crazy person.

“Please don’t throw me out,” I said, sleep-deprived and thieving. “I just knew where the honey was. I-I’m a good person,” I spluttered.

“You’re fine,” said Zachary, dressed in black skinny jeans and a cap, laconic and cool in that way that early twenty-something New York kids are laconic and cool.

“Thanks,” I said. “I couldn’t sleep, so I’m awake.” Even in the middle of the night, I am excellent at stating the obvious. It’s a talent.

We started chatting. I told him about being a writer and a quilter; he told me about a nearby gallery that is currently exhibiting quilts. I asked him what he did when he wasn’t working at a small hotel at 4am. He told me he graduated last year with degrees in art history and publishing, that he was also a writer, and that he is holding a panel discussion on ballroom culture on Thursday.

“Ooh,” I said, “Tell me more.” Because Zachary wasn’t referring to tango clubs or waltzing, and I knew it. Ballroom culture refers to the dance-centric, underground LGBT subculture that brought us such touchstones as vogueing and the “house” system, a way of forming alliances/collectives within the underground drag and dance community. Mainstream references to all this include the seminal Paris Is Burning film (1990), Madonna’s “Vogue,” and RuPaul’s “House of Love” and Lady Gaga’s “House of Gaga,” though one must note the mass-appeal versions of these things look different from the ground-floor ballroom world Zachary knows.

What he shared with me about the evolution and current state of ballroom culture was fascinating. I was getting the story, that Market-style scoop.

Vogueing has its roots in 1960s Harlem, it became vogueing in the 1980s and 1990s. But it’s been twenty-five-ish years since Paris is Burning and a whole lot has happened in the scene in that time, no surprise. There’s femme voguing (extravagant, feminine, beat-centric) and “dramatics” (jerky, hard, battle-centric) and those styles are already waning to make room for what’s next. The music has changed a lot, too; less wailing diva house, more crunchy, techy beats so fast and frenetic the standard measure of “beats per minute” ceases to be applicable. The Internet happened in there, too, so now the good DJs are instantly hot across the country, as opposed to how it happened in the old days: slowly, while mixtapes were transported from NYC to Chicago to San Francisco and back. Dance styles are instantly mimicked and adapted. We watched YouTube videos together for some time and Zachary showed me the vibrant and vital community of people who are keeping ballroom alive, well, and just as competitive and snatchy as ever. That’s a compliment, by the way.

Anything I’ve gotten wrong or weird in my report is to be blamed entirely on me and my lack of sleep, not Zachary. He knows his subject, he dances, he is more than qualified to host his panel on Thursday.

This is why you get up when you can’t sleep. There’s so much to learn. There’s so much to see, even at 4am. And in the center of the world (that would be New York City), it’s ever-so-slightly more true.

Work.

My Soup, My Salad, My Nemesis: Vapiano

I'm sure these people had a better time.
I’m sure these people had a better time. Especially the dude in the hat. He always has a good time.

At brunch on Sunday, my (affianced!) sister Rebecca told tales of her recent trip to Tokyo. A transcription of that exciting conversation is forthcoming, but last night I was reminded of the specific tale she shared of the elegant efficiency of Tokyo noodle shops. I was reminded because I was sad.

Here’s how a Tokyo noodle shop works: you step up to an automated kiosk and put in your money. You press a button for the kind of ramen you want (select by picture) and bloop! out comes a ticket. You take the ticket to the noodle man and zing! he makes your ramen. Double happiness, arigato! No cashier, no waiter, no wait. The only possible mess in this process might be soup on your blouse.

Friends, let us leave the Tokyo ramen shop and pay a visit to its berserker anti-matter evil twin: Vapiano in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

[Pardon me, darling: before I begin, I’ll need my blood pressure medication, yes, thank you, and my smelling salts. Is there Xanax? There is? Yes, dear. I’ll have two, please, one for now and one for five minutes from now. I’ll take them with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Thank you, darling, and a napkin. That’s good. Yes, that’s very nice. Now, gather ‘round, children.]

Vapiano is a German-owned restaurant chain. The first Vapiano opened in 2002 and today there are 120 locations worldwide. Chicago got a roomy one in the old Carson Pirie Scott building about a year ago. During the construction phase, I passed it and felt happy because a quick, freshly prepared salad option downtown is always welcome news. Indeed, Vapiano proclaims “fresh” Italian-style pizza, pasta, soup, salad, and dessert. And each Vapiano restaurant has a full bar and a large dish of gratis gummy bears at the host stand when you walk in. Why, I don’t know, but when we went there, Yuri ate two handfuls of them immediately. This ended up being a smart move because at Vapiano, it’s gon’ be awhile.

The first thing that happens is that you’re greeted by a hostess so scared to tell you what’s about to happen, she races through the spiel fast enough you may wonder if she’s speaking English. Something about cards? Something about stations? Tapping? Paying…sometime in the future? She thrusts menu cards into your hands and you are then absorbed by the Vapiano food pen. We learn from the Vapiano website that the name is a word inspired by an Italian proverb that goes, “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano,” which translates to: “People with a relaxed attitude live a long and healthy life.” Clearly, Vapiano stakeholders are being ironic. There is nothing relaxed or healthy about their “high-concept” restaurant. “Long” works. Keep “long.”

So you get a credit card thing. There are stations in the food pen for the different offerings, pizza, pasta, etc. You stand at the counters and order what you want from the long-suffering line cooks whose smiles are so obviously required for employment there, you want to lean forward conspiratorially and tell them they can give it a rest. But you don’t. Because you’re hungry. You tell them what you want and then they say something you can’t hear and they make a swiping motion and gesture to your card. You look around for a credit card machine, but there isn’t one. There’s a screen, though, embedded in the counter, so you smoosh your card down there and it goes beep! and the line cook looks with a pitying look of congratulations and begins to make your carbonara.

Which takes a long time. So long. And you’re not seated at a table waiting, remember. You’re just standing around. And what do you do with the card? Well, the Vapiano people tell you that this is the beauty of the whole thing, that you can take the card all around and just keep ordering all kinds of stuff for hours and hours and your card keeps everything straight for you. (A waiter is surprisingly efficient for this, too, but don’t mind me; my Xanax just kicked in.) But… But where do you put it? Your wallet seems a little…final. Your pocket seems risky, though, because you’re blithely eating all this German-Italian (?) relaxation and health and what happens if you lose that card or forget what it is and give it to your kid’s teacher for Christmas? And it still wasn’t totally clear whether or not we should pay and then eat or hang onto the card even longer and let its confusing presence further flavor our caprese salad.

I spent most of the “experience” running all over the damned place, picking up the food we had ordered 20 minutes earlier. Got the soup! Okay! What else? Oh! Salad! Be right back! Ooh! Our pager went off! (Oh, there are pagers involved, too.) Pizza! Okay, do we have everything? Okay, I totally wanted a piece of pizza, but that’s okay! No, I wasn’t here. It’s fine. How was it? Awesome. Ooh! Dessert! Be right back.

Surely there are people who love this. Surely there are people who understand it better. I am entirely aware that I’ve probably done Vapiano incorrectly, that there’s something wrong with me. If anyone, German, Italian, American, or otherwise can help me, help me, because I really really like the tomato soup.

Seriously, it’s great.

Traveling Quilter

See, it's a hobo duck and it's got a patch on its jeans, so it's like me, kinda homeless, trying to figure out how to be a quilt designer/maker without a studio.
Illustration © Magic Sweater 2013. Permission Pending. (Also: a patch on the elbow and on the pants? He’s so a quilter.)

The phrase, “I’m just really stressed out” is a tired one. The phrase is tired. Upon hearing it, the listener is tired, and we all know the person saying it is extremely tired. I stay away from phrases like this because George Orwell said I should. But Orwell also believed in saying what you mean and this time I mean it: I’m stressed out.

On Wednesday, I get in a plane and fly to New York City. I will stay there for six weeks. Six weeks! If you’re new around here or if you don’t have room in your head for the details of my life (I don’t either), here’s why I’m leaving Chicago: I have a refrigerator, a dishwasher, a range, and a kitchen’s worth of cabinetry in my living room which was already layered with dust and compromised with construction zones. (I’m renovating a kitchen and bathroom in a 1500 sq. ft. condo.) Also, my main squeeze is moving to New York City. Also, my sister lives there. Reasons abound for a sojourn in Manhattan, but it’s no weekend jaunt: I’m going there to live for over a month and a half. It will be mid-March before I’m home again. Jiggity-jig.

Here’s the main issue: I’m a quilter. I make quilts. I ask you, fellow quilters: how do you pack up your studio for a six-week trip in the middle of a tremendously inspired and productive period? Seriously, your input — or commiseration — would be appreciated.

 

For those of you who don’t know, fabric to quilters is as paint is to painters. Fabric is our palate. I have a mad decent palate, too: my stash is sick. If I want, say, a black and white polka dot, not too big, mostly black, well, I just go grab it from the drawer. Whatever will I do in New York City? Yes, yes, I could buy more, but I’d rather not my NYC spell be doubly expensive because I’m 3,000 miles away from my fabric. Trust me: this relocation is gonna cost a few bucks already. And my design wall! And my cutting mat! Oy.

Here’s my solution so far: make up kits for the two quilts I have going right now. Pack them with fabric I want and additional fabric that I might want. Send my machine ahead of me. Commandeer a wall in the apartment to serve as my design wall: be flexible, gentle, and concessionary on everything but this in terms of space-sharing with the fellow.

And make my quilts. And do my work. And look out whatever window I end up with and smile, because my life is charmed, charmed, charmed, after all.

Fons In Love

Love means absolutely saying you're sorry. A lot. Who writes this stuff?
Love means absolutely saying you’re sorry. A lot. Who writes this stuff?

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’m in love.

Given as I am to hyperbole and dramatics, one could read the above sentence and figure I’m in love with a dress, or an author, or a particular kind of squash. But no, I’m in love with a man. It’s happened, and it’s time to say something.

Admitting that you’ve fallen in love is a bit (I hear) like sharing that you’re pregnant: you don’t want to say anything until you’re absolutely sure and everything looks rosy because, you know, things happen. And people are so excited when someone falls in love or gets pregnant because except in a very few sad cases this is a happy occasion. (Sad cases for falling in love include it occuring when you are married to someone else; sad cases for getting pregnant include when you have a gaggle of children already and someone just lost a job. These sorts of things.)

It’s going on five months, now, spending time with this fellow. I reckon that’s about how long it takes to go gaga and see a relationship of consequence grow and inspire. Think about it: one month is just enough time to understand the other person’s job. Two months is great fun but come on. Three months and you’re like, “Hm, now wait a second,” four months is like, “Holy crap, I like you so much and we’re sort of dating,” and entering the fifth month is the bare minimum in terms of acceptability for announcing the world that you’ve gone round the bend and there has been embarrassing levels of eyeball-gazing between the two of you.

Is this all too sterile an analysis? It might even sound defensive. Okay, then forget all that. Let me just tell you about this person.

He’s devastatingly good-looking. (I will spare you details of his perfect smile, his sparkly eyes, his abdominal muscles.) He’s gainfully employed. He’s an excellent writer — perhaps the only “dealbreaker” I have, much as I hate that concept — he’s witty, he’s responsible, he’s way too much fun, he’s trilingual, and ladies? Brace yourself: he’s an accomplished piano player. HE PLAYS THE DAMNED PIANO. Very well, I might add. Oh for heaven’s sake! The moment I witnessed that, I was toast. Toast!

I out with it now because at this point, I’m skipping huge swaths of juicy PaperGirl content for the sake of modesty. But the adventures I’m having with this person are too good not to write about. So here we are.

He’s marvelous. I’m over the moon.

And in a mad change of plans, I’ll be leaving the icy slick of Iowa tomorrow morning on a plane to sun-drenched California. He’s visiting his family there and we’ve been apart almost three weeks. We can’t stand it another minute, so I booked a ticket. When I arrive in Santa Ana at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, it’ll be the smooch heard ’round the world.

Darling, I’m on my way.