Pesto Recipe…From The PaperGirl Kitchen.

posted in: Food 1
Not a covergirl, that pesto. Photo: Wikipedia
She’s no covergirl, pesto. Photo: Wikipedia

What is this, a food blog?!

I have been making a lot of pesto lately. Most of the items in my fridge right now are just vehicles for this pesto. I learned how to make it in Iowa City when I worked at The Motley Cow Cafe my last two years in college. I’m drumming up a PaperGirl mini-series on that experience. High-stakes drama, bodice-ripping, love triangles, salmon papillote — fascinating times. (Jeff, I remain ashamed about Charlottesville.)

Not long ago, Claus was coming over for dinner. I texted him to please pick up pine nuts because I was going to make my pesto and had forgotten that important ingredient. But the text was not received; Claus did not bring a single pine nut with him. I huffed and puffed; the man, much like me, never turns on his phone. I got my coat and went to get the dang nuts myself, when he said, “Let’s just eat something else.” No! Pesto! Then I realized I had walnuts in the pantry. Wasn’t walnut pesto a thing? I seemed to remember that it was.

It’s a thing, all right — and to my taste, walnut pesto is far superior to pine nut pesto. I’ll never go back. Pine nuts grind down almost to butter, while walnuts retain some body. Pesto is supposed to be a paste, sure, but walnuts lend a fantastic texture. That night, necessity was the mother of realization, and I’d like to share my excitement. This recipe is similar to my Cheesy Biscuits For All recipe, which is to say it’s rough — but I stand by it 100%. If you prefer a more precise recipe, may I show you something in life-altering chocolate cake? 

PaperGirl Pesto

*You’ll need a food processor to make this.*

Ingredients
A big thing of basil from the produce section of the grocery store
Olive oil (a lot)
A passel of raw, whole walnuts (make sure they’re not old — old nuts are so gross)
Couple shallots
Decent-sized clove of garlic, if you like garlic
Parmesan cheese (a big hunk of it and don’t use the powdered stuff! Don’t even have that stuff in your fridge! Buy a hunk of Parmesan cheese for your fridge and grate it onto your food fresh! It’s such a small thing and it makes such a big difference in life! Got it? Okay, good!)
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper

NOTE: “But how many cups of walnuts is in a passel?? And how much cheese? What does “a lot” mean?? This is madness.” I don’t know the answers to your questions. Really, I don’t. But I don’t have to know, and neither do you. Just look at pictures of pesto. Think about how pesto tastes. Pesto is mostly nuts and basil, right? Right. And it’s oily. And it’s got a savory, almost onion-y flavor, and the tang of the Parmesan. Think on these things and then just go with your sense. It’s ratios. You’ll know what to do.

Directions
1. Fill a big bowl with water and float the basil in it. The dirt, sand, etc. will fall down to the bottom of the bowl. I don’t know if I have to do it this way, but when I wash basil in a colander, it gets depressed. Shake off water, blot with a paper towel.

2. In a pan on the stove, roast the nuts on a low heat. You don’t want to actually toast your walnuts, just “release the aroma” of them, as they say in Fancy Food Blogs That Don’t Know I Exist. Set aside. Don’t burn those nuts. Yuck.

3. Dice up those shallots. Same with garlic. Get olive oil in pan. Roast your shallots and garlic. People will come into the kitchen and ask you what you’re making. Say, “Go away. I’m doing something for the first time. I’ll let you know if it works out.” When the shallots and/or onion are translucent, set aside.

4. Pick stems off basil. Throw stems out, throw the leaves in a food processor. Put shallot and/or garlic mush in food processor, too. Dump in your walnuts.

5. Oh, I forgot to tell you: get that hunk of Parmesan and grate it. You can have too much Parm in your pesto, so don’t go overboard, here. And remember that Parm tastes salty, so when you add salt to your green sludge, go easy on it. You can’t unsalt.

6. Pour some olive oil into the food processor bowl with all the other stuff in there already. You’ll be surprised how much oil is in pesto. Because you don’t want crumbled green stuff; you want a paste. You want to spread this stuff on bread, or steak, or on someone’s face. Smooth. Almost creamy. So pour it in, baby.

7. Salt and pepper. See #5 for a word about salt. Now hit the button and watch the green sludge begin to blend and swirl.

8. Unlock the bowl, stick a finger in there. What do you think? Do you have nuts left? Do you need to put more in? Is it smooth enough? Is it amazing? Yeah! You did it! It’s tough to un-salt, and it’s hard to put more basil in your pesto if you’re out, and yeah, you might’ve put too much oil in this time but you can pour some of that off and with enough wine, no one will notice. But I bet you did pretty well your first time out!

9. Eat it.

Bein’ Weird: Two Notable Encounters

posted in: D.C., Day In The Life 0
This picture has nothing to do with this post. I just love it so much I had to select it. Iberian Airlines stewardesses/stewards. Sexy, classy, and bygone. Photo: Wikipedia.
This picture has nothing to do with this post. I just love it so much I had to select it. Iberian Airlines stewardess and pilots Sexy, classy, and bygone. Photo: Wikipedia.

 

My older sister once said to me, “Mar, you’re getting a little…eccentric.”

I took offense, naturally. But then I looked up the word (always a good idea) and yeah, I totally am eccentric. I like it. “Eccentric” means “away from center” and that’s me. I’m not a joiner. I’m super weird: too familiar with strangers, too bold when I ought to chill, etc. But my eccentricity leads to memorable encounters because I’m weird enough to engage them, even pursue them.

To wit:

In a taxi the other day, I needed to go east and my driver turned west. “No, no,” I said, “You’re going the wrong way; I need to go east.” The driver was like, “No, this is the way.” And I was like, “No, dude. East. You’re going west.” He insisted he was right and I insisted that I was right. We actually started shouting at each other. Shouting! I was like, “Look, man, I lived over there! I’m telling you! H Street! East!” and he hollered back at me until he realized he was absolutely going in the wrong direction.

“Ha!” I shouted. “See? You see? Ooh, I am so mad at you right now! I told you, east, man!”

Then he backpedaled like crazy, saying, “Oh, I thought you meant,” yada-yada. Then we hollered at each other about that, too. Then, in the middle of shouting at each other I started laughing. It was so funny, yelling at each other like that. “We’re like family right now,” I said. “Like brother and sister at holiday time.”

The driver looked at me like, “Okay, this is a change.”

Then he laughed with me and was like, “You are right. We are family right now, brother and sister arguing.” It was a great cab ride. When I got to my destination, I smiled and patted him on the shoulder and said, “Bye, bye, my brother. I’m telling Mom I was right.”

He hooted. “God be with you, Miss,” and we were both in a great mood.

Then, the other day there were movers working from a big truck outside my building. As I turned the corner to head toward the grocery store, I heard one of the guys sing the first line of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.” 

And I was right there, right then, so I sang back — on pitch, I might add — “It’s not warm when she’s away…” *

I might as well have flashed them. They were like, “Whaaaat?!”

I smiled big, gave them a little wave and kept walking. And … Well, I might’ve given ’em a little wiggle.

The singing guy called after me, “Girl, you know the rest of the lyrics?”

“Of course!” I called back, but I kept walking. That was all really weird, right? I think so, but I can’t tell anymore.

*This encounter spurred a Bill Withers binge for the next two days. Glorious.

Quilts Are Like Poems Are Like Quilts: Fremd High School

posted in: Poetry 1
[Photo credit forthcoming.]
First period performance at Fremd High School Writer’s Week. About 8:12am. Photo: Gina Enk.

Thank you to all the students at Fremd High School today, the kids at the Latin school last week, and the students I’ll see tomorrow at Bartlett.

It’s an honor and a privilege to come to your schools and revel in the beauty of the English language and all the marvelous tricks it can perform. Fetch! Shake! Roll over!

I hope to see you all soon.

Tips: Best Shower Ever

posted in: D.C., Tips 0
Edgar_Germain_Hilaire_Degas_045
After the Bath, Woman Drying her Nape, by Edgar Degas, 1898. Pastel on paper; Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The best shower you can take is a post-move shower. If you set it up correctly, this can be an almost ecstatic experience. Here’s how to do it.

1. Push yourself to make just one more pile of objects disappear.
2. Repeat No. 1 until you put your hands on your hips, survey your home, and go, “Nice.”
3. Because of No. 1 and 2, your bathroom should be primo at this point, but double check: your shampoo, conditioner, almond oil, back brush, shower pouf, exfoliating scrub, shaving cream, and bone-handled razor should all be in place.
4. Turn on the shower. Start with warm water so that you’ll be able to slowly increase the temperature as your body adjusts. You’re going for lobster, here.
5. For dramatic effect, to absolutely no one at all, shimmy out of your robe and wink over your shoulder as you step into the shower; swish the curtain closed with a flourish.
6. Scrub, soap, lather, clean, cleanse, and otherwise scour thyself into a wholly new creature.
8. Exit shower.
9. Wrap yourself in a fluffy robe and put slippers on your feet; pad downstairs to the living room and sink into overstuffed easy chair.
10. See another pile over by the side table.
11. Repeat No. 1.

I Shot A Gun Today, Oh Boy.

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life 0
I wish I could have been wearing this!
I wish I could have been wearing this!

A friend of mine who lives in Chicago picked me up after we wrapped the Quilty taping. Neither of us had much time, but a few hours was better than nothing. I was expecting a cup of coffee and a snack, but instead, we shot guns.

There’s a huge, down-to-the-studs remodeling project going on in the warehouse that is part of my friend’s business. And there’s a giant wall of insulation that is going to be torn out tomorrow. On Sunday, not a soul is in the warehouse and that wall of insulation is smack in the middle of that absolutely enormous, raw, space, and if a person had a Colt 45 and some wax bullets, why, it would be really fun to shoot a few of ’em through that big insulation wall, now wouldn’t it?

It’s just what we did.

My friend was in the armed forces years ago and respects every firearm safety measure there ever was or ever will be. He made sure the wax was placed correctly, that the chambers were loaded just so (there are six chambers but you only load five) and he had me stand far away so he could take the first few shots and ensure everything was okay to let me try.

The combination “BANG!” of the pistol and the essentially instantaneous “PAP!” of the wax slug as it shot through the insulation board was intoxicating. I cocked again: “BANG!” And again: “BANG!” and the holes appeared in that towering piece of two-inch thick pink insulation board. I was shooting a little high and brought the gun down, or so I thought. My shots kept hitting higher than I thought they would; it made me want to get the whole bag of wax and practice till I got good. Practice till it got dark. Practice till I didn’t feel like shooting anymore.

I have no comment on the rightness or wrongness of guns. I can only comment on how good it was to see my friend, how thrilling it was to make a loud sound.

“Suddenly, The Koons Is Me.”

posted in: Art 0
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons, 1988. Photo: Mary Fons
Michael Jackson and Bubbles, by Jeff Koons, 1988. Photo: Mary Fons

Yuri and I went to the Whitney Museum yesterday for the Jeff Koons retrospective. We loved every second of it. If you are in New York now or will be between now and October 29th, I urge you to see the exhibit yourself.

Maybe don’t take your kids if they’re under thirteen or fourteen. There are a few moment of technicolor nudity writ real large in the show and that could be disturbing for a kid, I suppose (probably more so for the adult who has to answer the inevitable questions, e.g., “Why are that man and that woman stuck together like that, Mommy? Is she crying?”, etc.) But there’s so much that a child would absolutely go nuts for, though — the giant pile of clay, the inflatables, etc. — it’s painful to actively dissuade families. Maybe just skip the fourth floor of the show where all the porny stuff is?

Here’s what the Whitney says about Koons:

Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era. Throughout his career, he has pioneered new approaches to the readymade, tested the boundaries between advanced art and mass culture, challenged the limits of industrial fabrication, and transformed the relationship of artists to the cult of celebrity and the global market. 

That means he’s really cool, he’s super smart, and his art is very, very expensive. A lot of people cannot stand Jeff Koons (or his art) for those very reasons. Koons haters have long hauled out the tired, meaningless, “That’s not art,” defense, or — worse because it’s incorrect — they’ll sniff, “I could do that.” You couldn’t. Neither could I. You could make your art. And I could make my art. But Jeff Koons’s yacht-sized balloon dog (or the glorious, exuberant, first version of “Puppy,” made of 20,000 live flowers, which wasn’t at the show because it was an installation in a castle in Germany in 1992) is his art and I, for one, think it’s marvelous.

The “readymade” that they reference in the Whitney bit is the Warhol thing of taking a box of Brillo pads, for example, and putting it literally on a pedestal and saying, “This is art.” Now, Warhol got that from Marcel Duchamp, who did it first: Duchamp was a koo-koo-krazy Dadaist who put a ceramic urinal on a pedestal, signed it “R. Mutt,” and sat back to see what the art world would do. That was in 1917 and art has not been the same since. Plenty of folks (then and now) wished art would go back to nice, simple paintings, but that is silly because there has always been transgressive art. Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, Manet’s Olympia — today, these paintings are downright tame (albeit beautiful and kinda creepy in their respective ways) but when they were unveiled, they were not. People lost their minds and said the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Under the sun, there is nothing new for us. You do get that, right? I am reminded all the time.

If you want nice simple paintings, you can get them. Boy, can you get them. But for those who want their art to reflect back the world as it truly feels — fractured, splintered, beautiful, hilarious, ridiculous, frightening, etc. — we need our Koonses, our Duchamps, and our Warhols for sure. The Koons exhibit reminded me that the world is all of the things I think it is, but more, so much more than that as well: more frightening, more beautiful, more unknowable. It did precisely what art is supposed to do.

And you know, boobs and plastic and stuff.

**Editor’s Note: The title of this post is a line from a Lady Gaga song. Gaga’s latest album, “ARTPOP”, features cover art by Jeff Koons. I have listened to that album so many times, my iTunes is like, “Oh for heaven’s sake… REALLY?? AGAIN with the Gaga???”

Why I’m Moving To New York City

 

 

My new street, St. Mark's Place. East Village, NYC.
My new street, St. Mark’s Place. East Village, NYC.

Have I said, explicitly, what’s happening? Does anyone know what’s going on? Am I just dashing off posts with no regard for my readers, kind, hard-working people who can’t possibly follow where I am in the world at any given time, why I’m there, or when it all might shore up? Would it be wise to debrief you and, in debriefing, might I find much needed answers for myself? 

Is it ever good to lead off with a list of questions like that?

No?

I am moving to New York City.

I own a home in Chicago that is dear to me. Thus, I do not see this move to New York City as being permanent or even long-term, if you’re using my entire (hopefully long) life as the measure. But as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, you can’t slightly have three people that are not you move into your home or kinda move operations halfway across America into an apartment on St. Mark’s that you’re a little bit renting. As I write this, in view are boxes of belongings that will go into storage, go to Goodwill, or come with me to New York. There is no halfway, here, no semi-move, even if I see New York as a kind of interstitial thing. I am faced with a choice and I have chosen to relocate, at least for the next year. And why?

“Why not?” is an acceptable answer, as ever, but there’s more. Look:

1) Why not?
2) Yuri and I fell in love. Four months later, he got his dream job and moved to New York. Not being together is not an option. I’m mobile, he’s not. Look at it this way.
3) The safe choice (try long-distance, stay here, risk nothing) is rarely the most interesting one.
4) New York City, though it’s cool to hate it these days, is still New York $&@#! City and I wanna see.

Yuri came to Chicago day before yesterday to help me and he is helping, though he can’t pack up my fabric stash, exactly. Mostly, it’s moral support I’m getting — moral support and bear hugs so good I’m moving to $&@#! New York City.

We were at the big table yesterday, drinking miso soup from styrofoam cups, eating takeout sushi. There is no time to cook, no sense in making more work with pans or bowls or spoons. There’s so much to do here and so little time before work deadlines crush us both. It’s all happening at the same time. It always does.

“It is insane,” I said. “People will think I’m insane. I can hear it. ‘But she just lived through a renovation! She just did her kitchen and bathroom! That’s crazy!'”

Yuri opened his eyes wide. “Do you really think people will think that?”

I shrugged. “Probably some people will. But I’m not going to say no to love because I like my backsplash.”

And then my eyes opened wider because what had popped out of my mouth was the truth, and the truth gave me the ability to keep packing.

 

Let’s Go Crazy.

posted in: Art, Tips 2
It's a cool logo, you gotta admit.
It’s a cool logo, you gotta admit.

Music plays a strange role in my life. When I was in high school and college, I was typical, obsessed with the musicians that I was obsessed with: Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple. I listened to their records over and over and over, through headphones, through “boom box” radios, via cassette mixtape in my Honda CR-X. If you had tried to take my music away from me, I would’ve snarled like a rabid cat. And I woulda’ bit, too.

I’m not so slavish to my artists, now. When I walk up Michigan Avenue the whole way, I usually listen to music. But I have longed moved from emo singer-songwriters to brash female emcee’s: Nicki Minaj, Angel Haze, Azalea Banks, MIssy, L’il Kim, and most recently, Iggy Azalea. These women fit me better right now: I don’t want obscure metaphor; I want life, served up cold.

Something’s trending though, in my head: lately, I’ve been choosing to take the earbuds out and just listen to the city when I”m walking or taking public transit. With no Prince blaring in my ears, I hear birds, traffic, conversations. I feel more in touch with the place. Headphone music is great, but it takes you away from where you are, and lately, I like being where I am. It’s confusing, it’s unknown, but it sure is exciting. And so I need to make sure I can hear when opportunity or goodness knocks.

I leave you with the lyrics of Prince’s immortal, “Let’s Go Crazy.” It’s a great song with a brilliant message. Besides, you can dance to it. Do a close read and be in a better mood, instantly.

LET’S GO CRAZY
Prince

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today
To get through this thing called “life.”
Electric word, “life;” it means forever — and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you: there’s something else.
The afterworld. A world of never ending happiness.
You can always see the sun, day or night.

So, when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills —
You know the one; “Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright”?
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left,
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld
This life you’re on your own

And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy punch a higher floor

If you don’t like the world you’re living in
Take a look around you; at least you got friends
Call my ‘ol lady up, for a friendly word
She picked up the phone, dropped it on the floor
“Ahh, ahh” is all I heard

Are we gonna let the elevator
Bring us down, oh, no let’s go
Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s go

All excited but we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause we’re all gonna die
And when we do, what’s it all for
Better live now before the grim reaper
Come knocking on your door

Are we gonna let the elevator
Bring us down, oh, no let’s go
Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts
Look for the purple banana
‘Til they put us in the truck, let’s wait it your turn.

Come on baby let’s get nuts
Yeah, crazy

Let’s go crazy…”

 

Read more: Prince – Lets Go Crazy Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

 

I Am A Cheetah

posted in: Family, Luv 6
Lee Meriwether, everyone. Image: Wikipedia.

 

 

Let’s out with it: Yuri is younger than I am. Notably younger.

Notably, but maybe not noticeably. I moisturize, I don’t smoke, I hardly drink. I do my best to keep trim. But there’s nothing like dating a younger man to make you moisturize more, continue to not smoke, and pass up the pork belly appetizer and the second glass of wine you would definitely have ordered if you were dating a man who was, say, fifty-six. As opposed to a man (ahem) thirty years that man’s junior.

Do you see what I’m saying? Yuri’s in his twenties. Yes he is.

In the grand tradition of comparing women to cats, I have learned that there is a feline name for me. As a woman in my 30’s dating a man in his 20’s, apparently I am a “cheetah.”

I can’t be a cougar, you see, because cougars are women in their 40’s who date men in their 20’s, and cheetahs are younger than cougars? Anyhow, I’m not a Courtney Cox-starring sitcom pitch yet, but I am dating down, age-wise, so I must be given a moniker. How else could I be effectively marketed to? I’m sorry, my cynicism’s showing. I should stop. Wouldn’t want any fine lines forming when I furrow my brow in that cynical way I do when I think about Proctor & Gamble/Lancome/Big Pharma.

In the years since my divorce, I have done some dating. I have met wonderful, kind, interesting, intelligent men. They are out there. I met a few I didn’t click with, sure, but that doesn’t mean they’re frogs*; we just lived our lives differently and it wasn’t practical to pursue a relationship. Every one of these gentlemen were older than me, sometimes by a notable (there’s that word again) margin. I thought that’s what worked for me and what a gal generally wants: a fellow older than herself. I’m not sure why, but I think for many of us it has to do with security. It’s deep-seated. It’s not easy to explain, but the converse proves the rule: I would never have considered dating a person younger than myself if you had asked. Are you crazy? Younger men are immature! They’re still figuring out everything! They drink non-micro-brewed domestic beer. Ew!

But then…

Enter Yuri, The Younger Man. Exit Hamlet’s Ghost.

There is so much that’s wonderful about dating someone in their twenties, someone who is currently climbing various ladders. Older men have climbed. They’re in the business now of maintaining their perch. But I’m a hustler, so I love the guy scaling the cliff wall. The ambition, the drive of Yuri, this excites me because I recognize it. Every day of my life — and this was true before my illness but has been much stronger since — I am aware that I have a woefully limited time on the planet. I must work hard, must play hard, must go hard as I possibly can because this is a war with death. I can’t wait, can’t stop. And Yuri’s right there. His energy to go matches my energy to go. So we go, then check back at the end of a bone-wearying day, knowing we did wring every last drop of marrow. And we sure do have fun doing it.

There are other benefits. I will spare you any crowing about his physique, though you must pardon me while I fan myself with this here fancy fan on this here fainting couch.

:: fans self, faints ::

Do I fear the semi-significant age gap? From time to time. There have already been a handful of moments when a twenty-something chick plopped down on a barstool near us and I thought, “Ah, she graduated when he did,” or something equally self-defeating. I’ll take a deep breath and have to consciously remember that I have earned every single day of my life and am rather proud of the sum, thank you. In a way, these moments are good. I’m reminded that, as cute as that girl may be, I do not want to trade places with her. At all. I’m stoked that I’m a) still alive and b) wearing cuter shoes. The second isn’t so petty: when you work really hard for many years and can buy the shoes that make your heart sing, this transcends catty Girl Zone stuff and becomes more about loving oneself and setting an example. When I was in my mid-twenties, I totally wanted to be able to afford better shoes. Now I can, and that came from working hard. No shame in this, no competition. Just achievement, and all girls can claim it if they like.

I miss you, Yuri. I hope it’s okay I told everyone you’re younger than me.

 

*Men get amphibians, women get cats. I don’t make the rules, but I am happy with the arrangement.

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

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

 

I have just made a lobster bisque.

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

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

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

“Can you make lobster bisque?”

Yikes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just hurry, Yuri.

Billy/Chicago.

posted in: Chicago, Paean, Story 1
Writer Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir, Chicago. Sun Times Photo, 1950-ish.
Nelson Algren and Simone de Beauvoir, Chicago. Sun Times Photo, 1950-ish.

I have a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.

I have a collection of those, I’m afraid; my track record for “staying in touch” is appalling. Scoff if you like, but this serial inability to keep in consistent contact with people that aren’t in close proximity to me is based in love: Friend A deserve buckets of attention and time; if I can’t give Friend A all of what Friend A should have, I should excuse myself and Friend A can find a Friend B, who is way better at returning calls and text messages. Like, way better.

There’s also the little matter of what I think is a bonafide phone phobia on my part. That’s a topic for another day.

The friend I’m thinking of this morning, we were close for a number of years; we met in college and he moved to Chicago shortly after I did. I found him an apartment in my building; we lived in units separated by the lot in back, almost close enough to string a tin can telephone betwixt our windows, though we never did, we just skibbled back and forth, sometimes in our pajamas. We were together so much, driving in his car, listening to rock n’ roll, working our crappy jobs.* Rent was forever due, it was cold and then it was hot, the laundry room was scary, and there was no nearby train, only a bus stop 1.5 blocks away that you could only get to by walking up a lonesome industrial corridor.

There were two reasons we didn’t slip into acrimony and defeat: 1) we had each other; and 2) we were creating things.

Billy was creating music and a persona; I was creating writing and a persona. Today, Billy is part of a wildly successful band that tours the world and sells out big concerts; I have been living as a full-time writer-performer for almost a decade. We made good, is what I’m saying. And dammit, we knew we’d make it. We knew. Our ability to withstand the bus stops, Comcast, entropy, etc. was due to youth, okay, sure, but also to a shared and indefatigable confidence that we were good enough to scale up, and soon. Oh, and we worked hard. There was that, too: Billy played his guitar whenever he was awake, which was about 22 hours out of every day; I wrote poems on the back of guest checks at the restaurant, wrote in my journal in the coat check room at 4am, and read nine books at once, on average. We were dedicated.

We were intertwined. We were coffee cups, or maybe cream and sugar. We weren’t lovers, but we slept in the same bed a lot. It was kind of a brother-sister relationship, I suppose, except sometimes we’d make out. We were always pretty hot for each other but there was something both of us kept back in order to preserve what was out front. It was complex, it was simple.

Billy told me something once that I hated him for. He said, “Mary, the truth is that I’ll never love a woman as much as I love rock n’ roll.” He was twenty-five and being platitudinous and dramatic, but he was also being honest. I was furious at the time because dude, but today I understand what he meant. His love for music is singular, untouchable; it exists within his bone marrow, shapes his walk and his spine. His love of making music will die with him — not before him or after him, like a partner has to die. Christians talk about agape love, a love distinct from erotic love or emotional affection; that’s what Billy meant about loving music more, or differently, than he could ever love a person.

I feel that way about writing. And I feel that way about Chicago.

Sitting here on my lily pad, I cannot believe my transgressions. New York bewitched me. Indeed, the city may get me in chunks (I have a return ticket even as I write this) and my favorite thing in the world is to get on an airplane. But I can never love a person or another place on this earth like I love this town.

It’s good, as they say, to be home. Yo, Billy; let’s get that drink.

*And I do mean crappy. I was a brunch waitress in Uptown and a coat check girl in two different/terrible nightclubs; he did the graveyard shift at a desk at mental health facility on Western and North Ave.

 

PaperGirl Celebrity Encounter: Tim Gunn!

Tim Gunn backstage during New York Fashion Week, 2009. Image: Wikipedia.
Tim Gunn backstage during New York Fashion Week, 2009. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have only a few days left in Manhattan before I return to Chicago for a few weeks. I was getting worried that I hadn’t bumped into Madonna in the park or seen Sam Harris on the subway. I don’t seek out celebrity encounters, but I was a little bummed my elbows hadn’t been bumped by anyone fancy since arriving in the city.

Then I met Tim Gunn.

Yuri and I both had loads of work to do this weekend and decided to set up shop at the Balcony Lounge at the Met. This is a private lounge for members of the museum, and my family has a membership. (Thanks, Ma!) The lounge is quiet, serves excellent tea and cheese, there’s fast wireless, and if you need to take a break and go see Walker Evans photographs or stare at The Harvesters by Bruegel the Elder, you can absolutely do that. We all need Bruegel the Elder breaks from time to time.

I was focused on editing the May/June ’14 issue of Quilty when I heard a one-of-a-kind voice. I looked up to see none other than style icon and Project Runway host Tim Gunn greeting the nice lady at the registration desk. My mouth dropped open. I grabbed Yuri’s leg. I do that a lot for a variety of reasons on a regular basis, so he didn’t look up from his laptop.

“Yuri!” I hissed. “Yuri, it’s Tim Gunn. Tim Gunn just walked in!”

Yuri was programming. “Who?”

“Tim Gunn! Tim Gunn from Project Runway! And, like, fashion!”

My body was contorting into Martha Graham-like shapes. I was excited. Tim Gunn is someone whose career I admire. He taught at (and led) Parsons School of Design for many years. He was Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne for awhile, which, according to my research, put him at the company during its morph into the Kate Spade-Juicy Couture-JC Penny animal it is now? This is unclear to me, but it is clear is that Tim Gunn is the man. And, as most people who are not named Yuri know, Tim Gunn has served as beloved mentor to designers cast in Project Runway since the very first season of the show in 2004. He’s written books, he’s done TV and film cameos; he’s even got his own catchphrase. Though we know people on screens are not magic, it’s plain as can be: Tim Gunn is neat.

I tried to focus on my work but it was impossible. I kept stealing teensy glances over to the sofa where Tim Gunn was sitting. He was perusing a large art book. There are many beautiful books of art on offer in the member lounge, no surprise, and he was engrossed in his selection.

What to do? I desperately wanted to meet him but refused to be weird or annoying. I decided after he had been there for an hour or so to write an extremely short, non-creepy little note to him. (Hear me out.) I would buy his glass of wine and give my note to the waitress to give to him in lieu of his check. My note said something like:

“Hi, Tim Gunn! Thank you for inspiring so many of us who work with textiles. If you ever need a quilt or a quilter for any reason, call me!”

I taped my business card in the center of the note using one of the stickers for my upcoming book. Actually speaking to the man was not part of my plan. I’d take care of the bill and Yuri and I would leave before he did or he’d call for his check and before he left, I’d escape to the bathroom so he wouldn’t feel obligated to come say anything. I wanted to make tiny, meaningful contact with a compliment. No awkwardness, no foul.

But then the waitress went on break! She was his waitress and my waitress! She was the lynchpin of my entire scheme! Now what?!

After a few panicky texts with my sisters, I changed my mind: I would deliver my note in person. If I didn’t try to say hello to Tim Gunn at the Met lounge at that moment, I would never have the chance again. I put on some lip gloss and walked over to where he was sitting.

Readers, I am happy to report that Tim Gunn is wonderful.

“Excuse me, Mr. Gunn?”

He was immediately on his feet.

“Call me Tim! Please!” He placed his book down on the table and stood to shake my hand. “How are you?” he asked, as though we had met. Eep!

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said. I was more timid than I have ever been in my life, I think. “I had this whole plan how not to disturb you. I was going to give you this little note and buy your glass of wine, but then the waitress went on break and, well, I just wanted to say thank you so much. You’re very inspiring. I’m a quilter.”

Tim Gunn was looking at my note. “This is wonderful! How delightful! My goodness! A quilter? That’s marvelous! What is this?” He was pointing to the sticker.

“That’s my book! My first book. It’s coming out in May.”

“That is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Tim Gunn. “I don’t know what I’d do without my co-author. She turns what I write into something actually worth reading! Congratulations to you! When does it come out?”

“May,” I said, beaming. Talking to Tim Gunn was like talking to… Well, Tim Gunn. It was the best. And yes, he looked amazing in tailored everything and he smelled terrific.

We chatted a teensy bit more. He said, “Oh, good. I see your email, here. I’ll send you my last couple of books!” and I said, “I’ll send you mine! We’ll trade!” and Tim Gunn said that sounded like a fine idea.

Start to finish, the encounter was all of two minutes, but it sure was pleasant. Thanks, Tim Gunn, for being kind to a stranger who admires you a great deal. I hope you do receive my book when I send it to you; since it doesn’t come out till May, it’s possible you’ll forget why you’re getting it and your people will move it to the revolving file. But if you do get it, I hope the quilts in the book will inspire you, even a tiny bit.

My Sixty-Dollar Blunder-cum-Challenge-cum-Dinner.

The pan, the chef, and the tattoo combined cost less than the steak. Roughly.
A pan, a chef, and a tattoo combined cost less than the steak.. I’m bad at math, but that still about right.

Speaking of being remarkably stupid, I accidentally bought a sixty-dollar piece of meat that can’t be cooked where I’m currently living. Please let me explain.

About three weeks ago, I was having a heated discussion with someone I love very much at a chi-chi food emporium here in New York. Who I was with and what we were discussing is not important; what is important is that I bought a sixty-dollar piece of meat that I can’t cook where I’m currently living. Please let me keep explaining.

“I gotta get some meat for dinner!” I hollered at my loved one and she (essentially) said, “Fine! Get’cher dumb meat!!” and I stomped off, past the fancy spice aisle, around the fancy sweets display, up to the fancy meat counter. You’d think gazing at gorgeous, dead flesh in a wide glass case would make me forget my heated conversation, but it didn’t. I was distracted. There was only a vague awareness of my dinner plan. I was not registering the high prices of the meat I was scanning. My thought process was doing something like this:

what a lame day —> ooh lamb chops —> I’m a bad person who shouldn’t try to be right all the time —> do I need rosemary? —> that man is wearing a blue suit —> wow, look at that meat —> a roast would be good —> why does she say things like that? —> she loves you, just stop it —> standing rib roast —> Adam’s Rib —> Katherine Hepburn —> Out of Africa —> I want to go on my safari now, not in five years —> it’s getting late, pick something —> I should apologize —> chocolate —> order meat now

Indeed, it was within the stream of this magnificent cognition that I opened my mouth and ordered some meat. My selection? A 28-day dry-aged tomahawk ribeye steak, two-and-a-half inches thick. Oh, I didn’t say, “Please give me a 28-day dry-aged tomahawk ribeye steak, two-and-a-half inches thick.” That might’ve stopped me. No, I just pointed to it and said, “Let’s go with one of these guys.”

The butcher smiled (wouldn’t you?) and hauled the enormous section of cow from the case. He Frenched me a steak and wrapped it with what I can only assume is butcher paper made from unicorn hide. It was when he pushed the massive thing across the steel counter to me that I had my first moment of panic: did that sticker give the price of the entire steak or the price per pound? This was either bad or gasp-inducing bad news. Turned out to be the latter. I had requested a two-and-a-half pound cut of beef that cost $27/lb.

Can you give meat back? Once a butcher butchers, isn’t it like getting a manicure? It’s yours, now. The lacquer is dry; the meat is cut. If I could say, “Oh, wow! That is absolutely not anything I can afford! Please take your steak back!” and the butcher would, then what?* Does anyone want someone else’s meat? Will it just go to waste? I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I’m still not sure about this (feedback is welcome.)

I was thinking about whether or not to try and give it back when the second wave of panic hit: I had nowhere to cook this. Remember, my “kitchen” in the East Village is a tiny stove against a wall. That’s the kitchen. There is no countertop. My “workspace” is a cutting board I put over the sink and I’ve made that work pretty darned well, but this… In no universe was this gonna work. The steak is half the size of the range, and that is barely an exaggeration. And the place is so small, any large cut of cooking meat would deliver a film of fat over everything and impart a eau de seared cow fragrance to every last possession of Yuri’s and mine. What had I done?

My loved one and I left the food emporium worse off than when we came in, for a variety of reasons. The conversation hadn’t covered new ground, both people were hurt, and one person now felt very poor and very foolish. I don’t believe in a magical wizard in the sky who doles out punishments (or rewards) and karma is just one half of a song title by Boy George, but I did feel major cause-effect comeuppance. Being a brat, Fons? Bam! Sixty-dollar steak you can’t cook. You’re welcome.

The story ends okay. Me and my loved one still love each other very much and are fine. And this very night, I’m taking the tomahawk to my sister’s place. I will make this thing (no small feat; I’ve been researching for days how to not ruin it) and we will all enjoy it. It could feed a family of four, easy. I’ve learned the best way to get an even sear on it before you cook it in the oven is to place a foil-covered brick on top of it, after you truss and season it.

I will use the brick I frequently use for smacking my forehead.

 

*This notion of trying to return a manicure is fascinating. Consider: how awful would it be if you got a manicure and then realized you couldn’t pay for it? No cash, credit card declined. Would you have to sit there while the technician removed the manicure she had just given you?? The shame! The awkwardness! The stained (but nicely filed) nails! To me, this is almost Hitchcockian in its spookiness.

The Pendennis Observer: Dispatch!

posted in: Pendennis 1

Remember: Pendennis is never posed, ever. These are candid shots of my monkey found as he was — and ever is. Check the “Pendennis Observer” category here in the archives for more.

That's my bed. That's my journal. And that for damn sure is my monkey.
That’s my bed. That’s my journal. And that for damn sure is my monkey.
The New York apartment. East Village. Not a great couch.
The New York apartment. East Village. Not a great couch.
It's either insomnia, afterglow, or dread. I love Pendennis precisely because we can never know.
It’s either insomnia, afterglow, or dread. I love Pendennis precisely because we can never know.

 

 

 

 

I Spent The Night in the Bellevue Emergency Room.

Before neon.
Pre-neon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bellevue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.
 

 

Mary Kate’s Book Report: Fahrenheit 451

posted in: Art, Rant, Word Nerd 2
The best part of Fahrenheit 451 is learning to spell "fahrenheit." Also, the awesome graphic designs for the book over the decades.
The best part of Fahrenheit 451 is learning to spell “fahrenheit”; also, the awesome graphic designs for the book over the decades.

Plenty of folks tell you what’s good and what you should like:

“This restaurant is so good, you’ll love it.”
“Have you seen that show? It is so good.”
“Oh, it’s a classic. It’s so good.”

You are smart enough to realize that a musician, say, can be very good at his or her craft and that this has nothing to do with the fact that you’d rather listen to two cats in heat for two hours than be subjected to that musician’s greatest hits. You are smart enough to realize that there is quality and there is preference, and these things don’t always meet up. Look at the case of my mother and Frank Sinatra: she hates him. She thinks Frank Sinatra was a creep and his ubiquitous music, now on repeat from beyond the grave, is like, ear-porridge for people in shopping mall food courts. I don’t like his music, either, but I argue (with Mom) that Frank Sinatra was a talented entertainer, and that this fact that cannot be disputed. He could sing, dance, act, and probably sleep with nine women in a single night: this was a person with gifts. You don’t care for the tone of his voice, fine, but he’s still remarkable. My mother will begrudgingly allow this position, but she will always, always announce that she hates Frank Sinatra and damn what everyone else says when the strains of “Strangers In the Night,” are within earshot.

I recently had an experience that confounded me vis a vis the quality/preference nexus, though. I tried reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and dammit, that book sucks.

I sincerely do not believe that my dislike for the book is an issue of taste or preference: this not a good book. The prose is weak. Darlings were spared right and left and the dialogue is not-believable. The characters are one-note. And Bradbury’s social commentary is woven through the tale about as elegantly as a rubber hose might get through a placement. “Books” are ideas, Ray, got it. Okay, they’re symbols for people, too, I see what you did there. I tried three times to pick that book up and make it through, but I couldn’t. It’s a short book!

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian tale, set in a world where books are burned by the nasty Powers That Be because books inspire people to think for themselves, something that is bad for the PTB. In this sooty world, “firemen” don’t put fires out; they start them (an admittedly badass conceit.) The novel centers around protagonist Guy Montag’s uncivil disobedience and attempts to save a world that is almost entirely obliterated by the time he decides to do something about it.

But it’s just a cudgel of a story. Bradbury writes Montag as 100% savior material while everyone else is suspicious. There are bad guys and good guys and there’s hardly a whiff of “But whose side is that character on?” which is what I crave in a novel and crucial to a meaty story, in my view. Montag’s zombie of a wife is hardly necessary for the story, she’s so early written-off; her arc is non-existent. There’s an old professor who still loves books (oh, really? an old professor still loves books? you don’t say!), and Montag’s fireman co-workers have names like Stoneman and Black, which is way, way too on-the-nose for me. That’s not a wink-wink from an author: that’s being cute. I don’t want cute. I want a good story, bro. [SPOILER ALERT] The book ends tidily enough, with everyone learning at least a little bit about themselves and the dangers of a Leviathan-style society. Wow! I didn’t see that coming. Except that I did, from the first page.

Perhaps the most damning thing I can tell you about Fahrenheit 451 is that Bradbury kills off this young girl early on in the story, but when the film version was made, they changed her fate. Instead of dying, Clarisse goes and lives with the exiles, which is way, way, way better for the story. Bradbury was like, delighted and all-in on that massive change to his book, so much so that when he wrote the stage version of the story, he used that storyline, instead. That’s called a major re-write, dude. That’s supposed to come before your book is required reading in for freshman in high school from Santa Monica to Albany.

And that’s the thing. Fahrenheit 451 is “so good.” It’s “a classic.” It’s won all kinds of awards and everyone has heard of it if they haven’t read it themselves. I bought a copy at the bookstore because I was like, “Dang! Fahrenheit 451! I’ve never read it and that is a shame. Time to set things right.” But I don’t like it and I don’t think I’ll finish it.

It is a good thing for a person to take up arms against a sea of hype. If you don’t think the ocean is beautiful, then don’t go to the beach for spring break. My mom hates Frank Sinatra and I think the case can still be made that he was “good,” but I am open to any arguments that he actually did suck. Staying open to revision and re-consideration, and being a proud skeptic: these are “good” things and I’ll argue that till I’m dead.

“It was a pleasure to burn” is not a good opening line to a novel, Mr. Bradbury. It’s cloying and snotty.

 

Zion = Drop-Off Laundry Service, NYC

Photograph man working at Chinese laundry. Artist and date unknown.
Photograph man working at Chinese laundry. Artist and date unknown.

I can’t believe it exists. Drop-off laundry service. Pick-up and drop-off laundry service. I can’t believe my eyes.

I’m from small-town Iowa, from the plains. Where I’m from, we do our own laundry. The idea of someone else even seeing the family’s (used!) skivvies is insane, but actually handling them? on purpose? You can go to jail for that, son. And aside from the total (voluntary) intimacy breach in paying for a laundry service, there’s the “Well, now don’t you just think yer fancy!” part, which might be worse. The day you’re too good to do your own laundry is the day you’re sent to de-tassel some corn. That’ll bring you back real quick from any illusions about where you’re growing up. Hint: it ain’t New York City, sweetie, so put down your hairbrush.

But it’s amazing, the drop-off laundry service! It’s so great! And in New York, it’s not glamorous at all. It’s quotidian. But I’m new here, so for me, the magic has not yet been shat on by pigeons. Here’s how the wond’rous process of drop-off laundry service works:

You wear clothes. You get soup/grit/blood on them in various quantities, in various places. You put these clothes in some kind of vessel; an IKEA bag is a good choice. Got dirty sheets? Great. Musty pillows? Stuff ’em in. Take ’em to the laundry place. There’s one a half-block away, most likely. Smile to the nice lady behind the counter and get a ticket. You will see no washing machines: remember, this is is not a laundromat. Prepare to be weirded out because it’s weird. The cheery lady will tell you in a thick Korean accent that your order will be ready for pickup this afternoon. This afternoon? You nod, slowly, and say, “Thank? You?” and carefully, carefully back out the door. When you come back hours later, your laundry will be waiting for you. Clean.

But wait.

It’s not just there and clean. Your laundry is the cleanest it’s ever been, ever. And it’s vacuum-sealed in plastic bags, all tidy. It’s as though your dirty, vaguely-smelly self lifted from your terrestrial body while you went out and did other errands and was sucked up into a big cleaning vortex in the sky where you were agitated, bleached, color-boosted, and dried with fluffing agents and then folded and vacuum-sealed…and you didn’t even notice. That’s what you’re paying for when you take laundry to the laundry. You’re paying for the cleaning vortex. And don’t you think that’s worth ten bucks a load or whatever it is?

What price, Zion?

Record, Repeat, Dance, Advil.

Nicholas Kirkwood gold-studded chrome heel pump, pre-fall 2013.
How does this gorgeous pump translate to my fear of death? Read on! (Nicholas Kirkwood gold-studded chrome heel pump, pre-fall 2013.)

Every morning, I rise before the sun, make a pot of Earl Grey tea (milk and honey, please) and I write in my journal. I fill page after page with narrative just like this, except in the journal I gleefully put down every last nefarious, disgusting, turgid, and/or bodice-ripping detail. When I die, these books may be worth something, not because I’ll be Very Important but because there will always an interest in the market for steamy non-fiction, especially if that steamy non-fiction comes from a gal who enjoys making quilts.

These journals — there are thousands of pages by now — keep my brain in order and help me quash a deep fear: when I die, I will be dead and my life will be lost to the sands of time. I’m a realist, come on. Unless you’re a giant, a Mark Twain or a Queen Elisabeth, the average human gets maybe a couple generations of people who actually care that much that you’re not around. After they’re gone, you’re just someone in a photograph who “died a long time ago,” no different than all the zillions of people who existed before you showed up and then also died. Bleak? Oh, heavens yes.

I suggest keeping a journal.

Last night, I went out. Big and bold, dahhling. I wore very high heels with a very short dress and I had very big hair and a very small handbag. (These contradictions, they are fascinating — and smokin’ hot!) There was lip gloss, there was a sexy black jacket. There were multiple taxi trips due to epic venue changes throughout the evening. At the house party in Wicker Park, I did a shot. At Studio Paris, I was invited to join a party that had purchased bottle service and when I told one of the fellows inside the velvet ropes that I felt like dancing on the bar, he was enthusiastic about my plan and helped me up right away. At the dance club/bar in Lincoln Park, I just flirted and smooched on my man and that was maybe the best part. Well, that and the second Grey Goose and tonic. Hit the spot!

I tell you all this because this description, this chronicling of a night is proof that it happened. It happened to me. I did that. I may have a little baby someday and when I do, I will not be dancing on bars — not till the kid is eight or nine, anyway. Chronicling is important for nights in, too, and plane trips, and mornings in Chicago. A record of it all is proof of life and I am a person who demands proof, needs proof. Life is slippery; it’s easy to forget not just details but whole swaths of time, whole people, whole versions of oneself.

Though I frequently read through the journal in which I’m currently writing, the time isn’t right to pull out the entire catalog and start reading from, say, Oct 12-Dec 23rd, 2009. No, that will be saved for my old and wizened days, when my knees are shot from wearing high heels every day and my rheumy eyes drip tears onto the pages before I can even really cry about it all. I look forward to that, actually. (Not the rheumy eyes; the journal reading.) Really, I’m just following the advice given by Gwendolyn in Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest:

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” 

Cheers, comrades.

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.

Mary Fons, Chips

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

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

Wow, okay.
Let’s discuss.

What can we learn?

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

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

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

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

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

Chips.

Chips!?

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

“Mary Fons, chips.”

“How d’you do, chips?”

:: crunch, crunch, crunch ::

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

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

On White Stuff.

Credit: Chicago Tribune archive photo.
A shot of the aftermath of the Chicago snowstorm of ’67.  They got 23 inches in 35 hours. (c) Chicago Tribune archive photo.

I live downtown on the sixteenth floor of a mid-rise building. I have a south-facing wall and that wall has five windows: two of them are in my bedroom, the other three line up in the main room. I’m not surrounded by skyscrapers, thankfully, so from my perch, I can see Chicago for miles. Sometimes, I’ll bet you I can see clear to Indiana, all the way to those fruited plains. I don’t see the actual sun rise (being that I’m looking south and all) but of course I get the slowly strengthening light. I wake up quite early to catch this; it’s my favorite time of day. I make my tea, read one of the three things I have going, and write in my journal. I take from 90 minutes to two hours to do this every day, come rain, shine, or — wait for it — snow.

It’s been sifting down for hours. Every so often the white stops to catch its breath and then starts up again, and it was the same pattern a few days ago. It’s winter in the midwest.

The town I love is quiet. I look down on the street and no one is out. I look across the tops of the buildings and see white billows of steam from the heating systems working in overdrive because it’s not just snowing here: it’s cold. We’ll have temperatures back in the minuses the next few days and when it’s this bad, I think about the homeless people who will die this winter. Macabre, sure. Also true. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do in the world.

To the couch. To the books. It’s Sunday and it’s a blizzard. I may have to venture down to the 7-Eleven for milk and chocolate later, but that’s later. For now, it’s time to hunker down and enjoy one of the many quilts I have made. I have quite a selection and I do believe they were made for this.

I’ll pick my favorite of all. It’s called “Whisper,” and it’s white.