We spent time together on Monday. After work tasks were complete, he took me to the Chicago Botanical Garden to walk, to talk, and remember each other for awhile.
The Chicago Botanical Garden is a world-class joint. Hordes descend upon the place in warmer months but somehow milling among thousands of people doesn’t feel bad at the Botanical Gardens; it feels communal. English gardens, Japanese gardens, fields of field flowers, a glassy pond, sculptures big and small — if it’s green and cultivated you want, green and cultivated you shall have and there’s a great cafe for when you’re exhausted from walking and have pollen all over your shirt. It’s also free to get in.
Yuri and I walked through the grounds arm in arm. We did this because we care about each other a great deal but we were also freezing cold. Nothing has bloomed, yet; there were a few brave shoots poking up here and there, but not many. All the plants are waiting, checking final items off the pre-production list before the big launch.The greenhouses were thriving — greenhouses do that — so when we were almost too cold to be having fun, we found a greenhouse and slipped in to warm up. Tip: if you’re feeling disconnected from nature, pop yourself into a balmy, breathing greenhouse. You’ll get fixed right up.
We had fun together. We got soup and a glass of wine at the cafe. We argued. I cried. We laughed. Walking on the main promenade under the cold, grey sky, Yuri picked me up and spun me around and I hollered, “No! Don’t! Yuri, stop!” but it was okay. New York, we have both decided, seems like a dream. It’s a trite thing to say, but damned if I know how else to describe it. The East Village? Really? Manhattan? But when? I know why — passion, risk, love, adventure — but as to the how, I couldn’t tell you if you put a Rhododendron ferrugineum to my neck.
Yuri and I aren’t together, but we’ll always be together because of New York, because of Chicago, because of that day in the garden, I guess. When do you stop being connected to a soul?
That picture up top is one of a series Yuri took of me being a mom to a hunk of bronze.
For New Year’s Eve, I will be here in Washington and Yuri will be in Los Angeles. We texted and have arranged to talk at midnight tomorrow, which means that now I have plans for the evening. When I woke up this morning, I did not have plans. I don’t know if this suited me or not; New Year’s Eve is always a little problematic on account of all the people wearing paper hats and drinking Rumplemintz.
You know what’s hard? Breaking up.
You know what’s harder? After all that.
I’ve been working my house pride. There were leaves on my stone steps; I swept them away before any snow could fall and lock them into the corners. I’ve been sewing up a storm the past few days; I tidied my sewing table and vacuumed up thread this morning. I did laundry. I baked. Keeping the ship ship-shape is my tendency, but now, anything less than sparkly is non-negotiable. I can be on my own, in a new city, with colder weather bearing down; I can miss my boo and actually ask various people, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” with no hint of irony, but I cannot do any of this with a sinkful of dirty dishes or mud on the living room rug. Only clean countertops will do.
Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: If you are going along after a breakup and feeling relatively fit and optimistic, do not under any circumstances begin to hum the Rosemary Clooney rendition of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” This is dangerous. Circling sharks dangerous. You’ll forget one of the verses and be so crippled by how applicable this gorgeous, sad song is to your very life, you will have to go online and find it and listen to it.
I’m in South Carolina and this morning, I had breakfast with a group of women who dazzle me with their professionalism, their brains, and their hair. These are Women Of The Carolinas and I, for one, am impressed. “Good” stereotypes are really no better than the bad ones, so one has to be careful about saying, “All women in the South are this or that way.” But dammit, all these women are fabulous and they are fabulous in a way I’m afraid us Yanks only dream about. It’s the hair and the mascara, yes, but it also has something to do with their reactions to things. Down here, it’s like you get a .2 second grace period that isn’t available anywhere else in the country. You get just a moment more tiiiime with everythin’ and Lord knows we all need just a little more tiiiime, sweethaart. I have to think about it some more, what the difference is, but I’m full of dinner because they keep feeding me, which isn’t a Southern thing, just a fellow human being thing.
At breakfast, one of the Carolinians ordered a food I had never heard of. When she told the waitress what she wanted, the other women at the table wrinkled their noses and rolled their eyes. “You’re gettin’ that again, oh Lord.”
“What?” the young woman said, sheepish. “Ah love livermush.”
I set my coffee down. “I’m sorry; did you say ‘livermush’?”
She blushed just a bit. “Mm-hm,” she said. This girl is very good at her job and does it while looking like a cross between Botticelli’s portrait of Simonetta Vespucci and that character Elsa from Frozen. (Have you seen that movie? Do you know what I’m talking about? No? Frozen? Well, anyway.)
I asked this girl to explain what she had just told the kitchen to give her for breakfast. Turns out livermush is foodstuff made primarily in North Carolina that consists mainly of pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal. This…product is formed into a loaf and then sliced up and fried. When it is fried, it is then put between two pieces of bread and served as a sandwich, or it’s served with grits and eggs, or sometimes it’s served on its own, or it’s fried and then not eaten by anyone above the Mason Dixon line or any children anywhere, ever.
There’s another name for this food: scrapple. I know this because I just spent a half-hour researching livermush. When you read this blog, you know, you learn stuff.
I’ve had scrapple. I had it at a restaurant in Chicago not long ago. There was a moment in time when any self-respecting restaurant in any self-respecting city wouldn’t be caught dead without offal** on the menu. If you didn’t have a beating cow heart, a plate of entrails, or a cocktail served in a deer hoof on your specials list, well, kid, pack it up. I was never too into all that, but I did order scrapple once. I figured it sounded so disgusting that it had to be delicious. It just had to be, at a place like that, at that price. Indeed, it was delicious. There was a small portion. It was very protein-y, and the bottle of wine I was enjoying with my companion was extremely expensive, so really, everything tasted incredible.
“Ah I know it sounds gross,” my breakfast pal said, “But livermush is great. Ah’ve loved it since I was a kid. Ah know it freaks everybody out, I’m sorry.”
Go for it, Elsa. There’s all the tiiime in the world to have regular ol’ bacon. I’ll have what you’re having; let me live your life for awhile. Mine needs a Southern-style break.
**Offal: (n.) the entrails and internal organs of an animal used as food; refuse or waste material. I’ll have you know the secondary definition of offal is “decomposing animal flesh” which reminds me of this article I read about “high meat.” If you’d like to not eat anything else for the rest of the week, go google “high meat” and you let me know how that goes.
I went on a walk through Capitol Hill this morning and at the base of the front steps of the Capitol Building, I wept.
It’s fair to say that the widespread use of irony has flattened huge tracts of human experience in our culture. What I mean by that is that we say stuff all the time in an ironic way (e.g., “C’mon, I love fruitcake,” or “A rainstorm is exactly what I hoped would happen on game day,” or “Nothing like a pleasant stroll through Times Square on New Year’s Eve!”) and for the most part, we all recognize that irony (at least our American version of it) is happening. Art does this, too: Jeff Koons, though I really like his stuff, is totally ironic (e.g., a sculpture depicts the Pink Panther hugging a busty blonde; there’s a series of photographs where Koons is engaged in explicit sex with his wife, but it’s all styled in romance novel memes.) But one of the results of this style of communication is that it’s risky to have a genuinely sincere moment of vulnerability or sensitivity.
For example, when I say I wept at the steps of the Capitol, it would be easy to be like, “Yikes, that is really cheesy, Fons”; it would be easy to cringe a little because being touched by architectural beauty and the grand symbols of our democracy has so been done before.
Yo, irony: suck an egg. I was a grateful, wobbly, sincerely weeping American this morning and it felt fantastic. Not indulgent. Not grody. Just honest.
And as I stood there and gazed up at the dome and cast my eyes all around at the fountains and the sculpture, at the wide open space of Washington, D.C., I knew that later today, there would be crowds of protesters, exercising their right to protest. I loved that the grand space was so open; there are no gates to the Capitol, just sidewalks that lead right up to the door. I felt good to be a taxpayer and that definitely does not happen often. (“I love paying quarterly taxes, don’t you??)
Leaving New York was hard. The breakup was harder. But one has to trust oneself. I’m so much happier here it’s almost shocking. There are wide-open spaces, there is clean air, there are trains where you can find a (clean) seat.
“The moving gods giveth, the moving gods taketh away.”
–– A cold, wet me @ 6:08am
Several weeks ago, when I moved out of the apartment Yuri and I shared, my sister and I loaded and re-loaded a hand-truck with boxes and hoisted duffel bags over our shoulders. We schlepped my stuff six blocks or so, from the sad and quickly emptying unit at 2nd Ave. and St. Mark’s to Nan’s place at Ave. A and E. 11th. Back and forth, back and forth we went till the job was done, sister pack mules. Every time I move (and I seem to have a knack for doing it all the time lately) I am reminded why some people find a place to settle and commence growing moss. Moving is like… Well, imagine if you had to put all the things in your house into boxes — absolutely everything. Then imagine you had to carry all those (heavy) boxes out of your house, and load them into a vehicle. And then imagine you have to take those (heavy) boxes out of the vehicle, carry them into a new house, and then unpack everything! Ha! It’s like, “No way! That would never happen!” and “That doesn’t even make sense! All your belongings?? In boxes?? Please. How would you know where anything was?”
Moving is kinda like that.
When we moved my things to Nan’s, we had good weather and were grateful for it. But the moving gods are fickle. Around 5:00 this morning, a cold, hard rain began to pelt Manhattan. This was unfortunate, as our plan was to load everything into the kidnapper van at 6:00 sharp. Nan had jury duty today and had a limited window to help me. Moving quickly, pre-dawn, we got the van loaded in about 40 minutes. Just as we were finishing up and I was wondering what to do with the van until it was time to leave several hours later, a parking spot opened up and I successfully parallel parked the beast for the second time in two days.
It rained all the way till the New Jersey Turnpike; a driving, hard rain, washing the roads in water that was clearly trying to be ice. In New York, even the rain is a hustler.
When I got to Washington, D.C., I swear, the sun broke through the clouds for the first time all day. The rain stopped. I found my street. I got the keys from the lockbox. I stepped inside…and positively squealed with delight. There’s an upstairs and a downstairs! There’s a fireplace! There’s a big, long table in the dining room that has already been converted to my sewing table! Sure, the upstairs is just the bedroom, the fireplace isn’t functional, and my dining room is small now that I have appropriated it as my sewing studio, but I couldn’t possibly be happier.
I unloaded the entire kidnapper van all by myself in about an hour. Pure adrenaline.
There is nothing easy about ruthlessly, relentlessly dedicating yourself to the pursuit of happiness. You will cut your dry fingers on cardboard boxes, you will get mud on your boots and your jeans, you will say goodbye to people at airports and, over time, you will misplace or break everything that is possible to break or misplace.
When you sit down, though — when it’s finally time to sit down and you make a cup of tea with honey — that’s when, just for a minute, it stops being so damned hard.
In NYC a few weeks back, I set about getting myself a Known Traveler Number.
A Known Traveler Number (KTN) is a number assigned to you if you have filled out a bunch of forms and passed identification tests set up by the National Security Administration. You have to be a felon-free citizen. You give your fingerprints. Your passport gets triple-checked and you pay eighty-five dollars and if you do all this and look okay to the gov’ment, you get your special number, which tells the NSA you’ve been pre-screened and can now keep your shoes on in airport security lines (a benefit worth far more than eighty-five dollars, in my view.) There’s a special “TSA PreCheck” lane reserved for people with KTNs and this is also desirable. For months and months I found myself in crummy, regular security lines, looking at the people whizzing through the TSA PreCheck lane, twisted up with envy and self-chastisement. Why, why had I not gotten on the TSA PreCheck train? When would I just march myself to one of the places where they do it and just do it??
I procrastinated because I feared a DOT-like experience — and I was in New York City! Images of day-long waits and bus station-like environs kept pushing the errand to the bottom of my list. As It turned out, the process was painless and quick and as of today, I have a Known Traveler Number! I feel that life can truly begin. Kids, get your shoes on! We’re goin’ to the Sizzler!
In celebration of this momentous occasion, a flashback post. Some PaperGirl readers will remember the story of Gracie, Hell on Flight #3282; I hope you can bear reliving her, Grandpa, and the rest of the family. For those of you newer to the blog, I think you’ll like this one. I suffered for your pleasure.
Click here to read about a special flight and the darling, enchanting…Gracie.
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!
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.
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.
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?”
“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.