Notice the new coat of paint?
I’m so tired from making all the decisions and adjustments you see here now, I’m just plum tuckered out. But I couldn’t wait to show you. See ya tomorrow!
Notice the new coat of paint?
I’m so tired from making all the decisions and adjustments you see here now, I’m just plum tuckered out. But I couldn’t wait to show you. See ya tomorrow!
If you have a chronic illness and the fallout from it, you know what it’s like to feel lousy.
And it’s a great thing when you have respite from the (not so merry) merry-go-round, sure. But with the blessed absence of symptoms also comes a low-level dread: When will I get sick again?
Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. But if history is an indicator, you probably will. It’s a real fly in the prescription-strength ointment. You can’t ever really be free, not really.
And so it was that a wispy-but-dark cloud settled over my head in July because Symptom A appeared and stuck around long enough to make me worry. Then (because of worry?) Symptom B appeared. “It’s nothing,” I thought, and instantly began to think of everything I might have eaten or not eaten, done or not done to make this “nothing” happen.
Chronic conditions, especially those of the intestinal variety, are particularly cruel to the psyche. Surely it’s something you’re doing — or doing wrong — that’s making your condition worse. Eat more yogurt. Don’t drink any coffee, ever. Sleep more. Don’t eat eight hours before bedtime. Meditate. You’re not meditating? Well, there’s your problem. It’s as though an intestinal disaster and the management of the leftovers could be beautifully restored if one was more virtuous, sane, well-slept. No pressure, but you’re lazy/lacking willpower/something else or you’d feel better.
Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon into the evening reading books in bed, having tea, and telling my body, “We’re cool. There’s nothing wrong. See how we’re just lounging in bed and reading like there’s nothing wrong?” This is funny, because if I am lounging in bed and reading for hours, something is for sure wrong. I’m almost pathologically productive — until I’m not.
I feel better today, I really do. I think reading and resting helped, and besides, Symptom A has been less present, on the whole, for the last week. I’m sharing about it because I know there are readers out there who also suffer from chronic illness and/or conditions and it feels right to draw open the curtain to the non-emergency, non-total-regression kind of day that is normal for so many of us. I’m not going in for an iron infusion. I don’t think pouchitis is upon me. But I felt like crud, I have been feeling like crud in this particular way, worrying like crazy about it, and I know sometimes that’s true for you, too, but it’s not enough to talk about and worry everyone, right? I know.
Tomorrow is Sunday. If you need to, and you can, even for a little while, read in bed and have tea.
It’s been fun, talking about a summer crush, talking about grad school starting next week. It’s even been okay to think about summer coming to an end. I bought a nice sweater when sweaters were on clearance; before too long, I’ll get to wear it.
But just three weeks ago — three weeks and one day ago, to be precise, and one ought to be precise about such things, cannot ever be imprecise about them — there occurred one of the worst tragedies of my family life thus far. The terrible thing is not far from my mind, not at any time, however sweet the boys and the sweaters are.
Yesterday afternoon, I was walking home after a lunch appointment, forcing myself to recall The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. I know the whole poem by heart and have performed it many times, but not recently. I was mentally brushing up, headed south on State Street and furrowing my brow, trying to remember what comes after, “and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” when I heard:
My sister, Rebecca Fons, was walking north on the very same street. There has to be a word in some language (Urdu? Norwegian?) which expresses the joy of seeing a beloved family member randomly on the street in a big city. It’s a singular, nothing-compares kind of joy and surprise and comedy.
Finding ourselves not needing to be anyplace right away (thank you, late August), Rebecca and I went into the library and sat at a table. As Gramma Graham would have called it, we “visited” for over an hour. We talked a lot about Megann.
Part of what has been so difficult about our cousin’s untimely death is that I care for her siblings a great deal. When I think of those three people in this world without their fourth, I literally clutch my chest: I think of losing Rebecca or Hannah before we’re old and grey and ready to go and it is impossible to get air properly. Megann’s passing has thrown into relief the truth that surrounds us at all times, the truth we cannot bear to look at for long: we’re all born, and we all die at different times.
I stopped dead in my tracks Monday morning, alarmed at what I had done: Was it was “too soon” to be sweet on Receiving Room Guy? Too soon to feel good (or talk about feeling good) when so recently, life was so low, so pitch black? I realized when I was playing cards the other night that I was having lighthearted fun. Is that wrong? Grief is so strange. Both Rebecca and I were quite emotional in the library yesterday, talking through our emotions — and I assure you there were no thoughts of cards or foolishness then.
It will sound dour as all get out, but it’s true: We’re trapped. Our lives continue until they stop; experiences rise up to meet us over and over, or we rise up to meet them, however that works. I can no more control the death of a loved one than I can control a Cupid’s arrow in my flank. And if it seems disrespectful to talk about death and Cupid in the same sentence, you take that up with life.
I have nothing to do with it, I assure you.
If you’re new to this fun summer story, go back to yesterday and get the links for the first chapters. You’ll enjoy this development far more. See you in a minute.
Also: This post is quite long, but I assure you it’s super worth it. I’ve broken it into two sections. If I break it up into any more posts, some of you guys are going to murder me.
Over the weeks, my visits to the receiving room weren’t any more frequent than usual, but I would linger and chat with Mariano for a little longer each time. He’s just a really neat person. He’s from Miami. He’s in college studying sound engineering. He speaks Spanish. He’s a bassist in a metal band — I know, I know. But before you roll your eyes, you should know that he’s a gifted musician with an impressive list of awards and accomplishments and has been playing in bands and orchestras his whole life. Oh, and he lives in the building. That’s how he saw the sign on the receiving room door! Incredible.
So he talks to me about music, I talk to him about writing and quilts. We talk about all kinds of things. Mariano said to me a while back, “Well, I’d love to see your quilts sometime.”
Now, did I take that to mean “Maybe I could drop by and see your quilts sometime”? No, I did not, because I am a Total Nerd. No, I took this to mean, “Why don’t you haul a bunch of quilts down here to the gross receiving room where the lighting is terrible and show them to me where they can get dirty from sitting on the counter, and then haul them back upstairs?”
I had two friends who literally smacked their foreheads when I told them this. I can hear you doing the same thing. I also did the same thing. Later.
And so, a couple weeks ago, I hauled a big stack of quilts downstairs and had a little show-and-tell. Mariano was impressed. A few days later, I came in for a FedEx and he said, “Hey, you showed me your art. I thought I’d show you what I do.” And he gave me a copy of his album. Neat-o.
He went to get my package and I took a deep breath. I thought it would be easier to ask him to get a drink sometime if I wasn’t actually looking at him.
“Hey, do you want to like, get a drink sometime?” I said, doing my best, “I just thought of this just now” voice. “I mean, I really like talking to you and this is like, the worst place to have a conversation.”
He reappeared with my box, smiling. “I’d love that.”
* * *
For my birthday, I decided to buy myself a gift from the School of Life shop. I won’t wax on about how wonderful this organization is because right now, nobody cares. After you’re done here, though, google it; you’ll be glad you did.
Weeks ago, I ordered several sets of their beautiful question cards, including the “Conversation Toolkit” deck. Conversation cards aren’t anything new, but the School of Life is so thoughtful, so smarty-pants, I knew the conversation cards would be amazing. I swear to you, I did not have anyone in mind when I ordered the cards. (Remember: I didn’t pick up the “show me your quilts” thing, so.)
I got a notice that my package, shipped from the UK, was finally going to be delivered. And I had a brilliant idea: Why not ask Mariano if he wanted to do these cards with me! It was perfect! I sent him a text (we had exchanged numbers) and said:
“There’s a package coming from the UK. Let me know when it comes in. I’m going to open it down there with you. I’ve got an idea.”
The package came. Mariano gave me a razor to cut the tape. We opened the box to find these gorgeous boxes of beautiful, thick cards with wonderful questions printed on them. We set a date for Sunday night. I wondered if we should go to a bar for the game, but I felt comfortable asking him to just come up to my unit, like “Melrose Place.”
We had a blast. An absolute blast. What fun it was to learn about someone in this way! Zero small talk, zero fartin’ around. We jumped right to answering questions like, “Do you think other people regard you as a good listener?”
The whole time, though, I’m thinking, “I have to tell him I blogged about him. I have to.” Because at a certain point, not telling Mariano about all this felt dishonest. And then, miraculously, my chance was literally in the cards. I pulled a question:
“What’s the most surprising conversation you’ve ever had?”
Mariano told me about his neighbor back in Miami who shared a birthday with him. He told me about several remarkable conversations he had with this interesting person, what he learned over the years. I paused.
“I bet I can top that,” I said. I swallowed hard. Then, “I need to tell you something. I blogged about you. Several times.”
His eyes got big, but he didn’t make a break for it. I grabbed my iPad and summarized for him the first post. Then I said, “There were a couple other posts. But the most important thing is the open letter. I wrote it to hopefully read to you eventually. So…can I read it to you?”
He nodded. He took a drink of his gin and tonic. And I read the letter.
When I finished, I looked up at him. We were sitting on my couch. He was looking at me, smiling.
“I think you’re really beautiful, too.”
Me. Nerd Girl. Beautiful. Oh, Lord have mercy. I blushed about nine ways from…something. I mumbled, “W-well, that’s just… Wow, I mean, thank you. Um…”
There was an awkward silence. And then I said, just freakin’ going for broke:
“Do we kiss, now?”
“Yeah,” he said, and we were like two magnets, just zap!
Boy, did we smooch. I smooched Receiving Room Guy, you guys!! Can you believe this?? It was amazing! I mean, the whole thing is amazing: This is really a terrific story. Even if it wasn’t happening to me, I’m pretty sure I’d think it was an extraordinary tale.
Now, just hold your horses: We just smooched. For awhile, yeah. But that’s all, because, well, that’s all. (For the record, this would be the first time in the history of this blog I have ventured into smooch detail. No matter what happens next, don’t expect any more details of this nature! Blech!)
Anyhow, there’s what happened, my dear, sweet friends. You heard it here first.
How cool is that?
Remember when I wrote about the really lovely and sweet guy who starting working my building’s receiving room? I wrote about him several times, in fact.
You remember: I called him “Receiving Room Guy” and I wrote about how I gave him my pancakes. Then I wrote about how he was practicing bass guitar in the, you know, receiving room, then how he and I really were starting to be friends and how he was sewing. Then I wrote an open letter to him because I was feeling weird about continuing to have a friendship with someone who I had blogged about to thousands of people.
Well… There’s been a development.
An extremely interesting one. I mean, even if it wasn’t my life, I would find this development interesting. If you were me and you told me (?) this development, I would maybe have to go get a bucket of popcorn.
And tomorrow, I shall tell you what happened. Why not tonight? Because I have to tell this thing exactly right and writing is hard. The development is just 24 hours old and a girl needs to think for heaven’s sakes. You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out just how delicious a story it really is. For now, I’ll tell you three things:
See you tomorrow.
Writing graduate school starts in 10 days. Ten days!!
I’m having anxiety. I haven’t been a full-time student since undergrad at the University of Iowa and that was 15 years ago. Sure, there’s been a Spanish class here, a seminar there, but starting August 31st, my autodidacticism* will have to scoot to make room for real-life teachers who will like, grade my papers and stuff. I make a point to process a lot of information from day to day, but so far I have not required myself to write essays that I then grade and hand back…to myself.
“Sophie,” I said the other day, “I’m nervous about school.”
My friend looked at me like I told her I was thinking of changing my name to Bazooka Joe. “Why on Earth are you nervous??” she said.
We were at my place. I was sitting on the floor in a pool of fat quarters, selecting fabric for a new quilt (patchwork kills anxiety on contact.) Sophie was at the table, inking illustrations for her book. She’s got a book deal with a big-time publisher and is headed into her second year of our two-year program. (I think I’ve mentioned she hired me at the paper and made me the best birthday cake of my life. We were possibly separated at birth.)
“There are so many unknowns,” I said. “It’s overwhelming.”
Sophie put down her paintbrush. “Mary Fons,” she said, and then she said it again, but in italics: “Mary Fons. Stop talkin’ nonsense. You are about to have the time of your life. You are about to begin the most wonderful, happy, exciting, amazing two years ever. The writing department, the school itself — it’s fun. It’s so fun.”
My furrowed brow relaxed a little. Of all the words I’ve used to describe my concept of what this whole thing is gonna be like, “fun” hasn’t yet been one of them. “Thrilling,” yes, “exciting,” yes. But I hadn’t thought about fun. Maybe it was that first tuition bill.
“You will fall desperately in love with all the professors,” Sophie said. “They’re amazing. There’s a constant stream of incredible visiting artists and lecturers. And Mary: It’s the Art Institute. You can go sit in the museum anytime you want and write, or draw, or just be. For free. Every day. I’m actually jealous that you’ve got your entire two years starting and I only have one year left!”
Since Sophie’s pep talk, I have been less anxious. Writing, reading, learning, asking questions, making things, being challenged, and making discoveries — that’s my kind of fun. I’ll figure out where my classes are, get some school supplies (oh, glorious school supplies, how I have always loved you!), and I’ll be okay.
I can’t wait to tell you about my classes! They are so cool!
This morning, for no discernible reason except to make us both happy, I suppose, my friend Kristina texted me a picture of Natty Gann from the 1985 Disney film The Journey of Natty Gann. I nearly choked on my tea. What a memory!
My sisters and I loved that film. She was inspiring and tough and a girl. Natty’s ragamuffin style has influenced our sartorial choices at different times in our respective lives. I’ll wager both my sisters have, as I do, a tweed newsboy cap that is perfect for chilly November days in Chicago and New York and I’m 100% we all have at least one pair of fingerless gloves. From The Journey of Natty Gann, my sisters and I got a good role model, fashion advice, and a deep desire to own a wolf and ride the trains like a bum.
Thinking they would get as much pleasure from this out-of-the-blue picture of Natty as I did, I texted it to both Hannah (older sister) and Rebecca (younger sister.) What transpired was so life-affirming and weird, I thought I’d better share it with a wider audience:
They freestyle rapped about Natty Gann. Both of them. For awhile.
“What do you mean, ‘freestyle rapped about Natty Gann?’ you ask. Well, I’m about to show you.
What follows are actual transcripts of the rhymes my sisters made about Natty Gann this morning, totally off the cuff, via text messages. I just watched it all happen. I have no idea how they were doing this so quickly. The first one to the plate was Rebecca.
“This is a rap about Natty Gann; she’s a cool chick who doesn’t need no man.
Looking for her daddy with her new friend Harry; they got some chemistry maybe one day they’ll marry.
Her dad’s a logger workin’ in the rain; Natty’ll find him, just gotta hop this train.
Her best friend’s Wolf a.k.a., a dog; he’s a bada**, you can’t even see him through fog.
Natty’s got style, Natty’s got class; don’t call her girlie, she’ll kick your a**.
Within a matter of minutes, Hannah replied with this:
“Natty Gann got a dope newsboy cap; she wears a lotta tweed and takes no crap.
The Great Depression was no joke; her dad took off cuz er’yone was broke.
Natty walked da Earth to reunite; she and Wolf were mad brave, and it turned out alright!”
There was apparently time for one more, from Rebecca:
“Natty Gann, Natty Gann, sorry ’bout your momma; them’s the breaks in Depression Era drama.
Look on the bright side, you can hang with a Cusack; and you just got a bindle, a.k.a. a hobo’s pack.
As a kid I remember thinking your dad was real hot; please heat me some beans in your little vagabond pot.”
I love my sisters very, very much. They show me that while I’m weird, there are others like me.
I don’t keep ice cream around.
Because ice cream is delicious and it always looks better than anything else in the kitchen when it’s time to eat something, or when it’s not time to eat anything. If I don’t have a pint of Fancypants Farms Artisanal Organic Honeycomb Cashew Creamy-Time Gelato in my house, I’m less inclined to want it. Besides, that stuff costs eleven dollars!
But the other night, feeling, as my older sister would say, “a type of way,” I went into the 7-Eleven and bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel Core ice cream.
Back home, I took off the lid to find a chilled pool of thick, slightly salty, golden-amber-colored caramel, circled by a ring of sweet cream ice cream and — because stopping there would be out of the question — chunks of blondie brownie studded throughout.
Now, butterscotch is my favorite flavor of cavity. But caramel runs a close second because caramel is the poor man’s butterscotch and I’m used to it. (I guess everyone is poor because I never find butterscotch anything except in doctor’s offices and they never have the good kind.) My point is that the ice cream I had in front of me was 90% perfect in every way.
I put some in my mouth. And I realized that being an adult is very, very hard.
No one is watching you. You’re grown. If you choose to do something that puts you or someone else in danger, e.g., aspirating ice cream, you’re not going to get a spanking (unless you want one) and you’re not going to be sent to your room. You’re not going to get fined for eating a pint of Ben & Jerrys Salted Caramel Core Ice Cream at 9 p.m., or at 9 a.m, or both. It’s totally up to you. Totally. That’s a frightening amount of freedom. Too much?
I ate half of the pint, a spoon in one hand and the pint in another, except sometimes I put the pint down so I could smack my hand on the arm of the couch, grunt with pleasure, and yell, “Good God!!” and then I was back to it. I would’ve kept going but something very, very, (very) far back in my head whispered, “You will regret this… Wait until tomorrow at noon… No, eleven o’clock…”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against ice cream, enjoying it, or having it frequently, as long as you’re balancing things. But I am quite sure this particular ice cream has literally been engineered to shoot straight past “delicious” into “cocaine receptor.”
That food was otherworldly in its effect on me. I can’t buy it again unless I’m sharing it. I like my heart and I like my bluejeans. Eating a pint of Salted Caramel Core ice cream on an even semi-regular basis is not good for either, and I am not woman enough to stop eating it once I’ve licked the lid of a pint of the stuff.
It’s a jungle out there, guys — and sometimes, the beasts are caramel.
I’ve been getting nice mail from attractive and intelligent people who are new PaperGirl readers. May I be the first to welcome you! (There’s no one around here but me, but just the same.)
Today’s post is about how everything I print out of my amazing, obnoxious printer has German philosophy on the back of it. But for this to be entertaining in any way, new reader, I have to tell you about Claus.
If we were at a party and you introduced me and Claus to your eight-year-old niece, you’d say, “Suzie, this is Mary. And this is Claus. Her special friend.”
Claus is a German philosopher. He has many letters after his name and he has written numerous books in both Fancy English and Lofty German. He is tall and says funny things. We spent a wonderful year together going on road trips, learning from each other, aggravating each other, and growing as individuals. I miss him, because Claus moved back to Germany in May and that was hard, but — and let’s go with this explain-to-an-eight-year-old thing:
“Suzie, sometimes two people who care for each other very much can’t be together.”
“Because the timing’s not right.”
“Let’s see if there’s any Jell-O salad left.”
When Claus moved back to Berlin, he had a lot of papers that he didn’t need/couldn’t take with him: reams of photocopied passages and chapters from various German texts he used in his research. I’m a big believer in using paper twice if possible, so I happily absorbed all that paper into my Paper Cupboard. Now, unless it’s official business (e.g., contracts, stern letters) everything I’ve printed out for the past five months and will print out for the next year will have terrifying German academic writing on the back.
It’s a nice memento, actually.
“Suzie, did you know that Claus sent Mary a big box of birthday presents on her birthday all the way from Germany?”
“Yes, he did. Wasn’t that nice?”
“Yes, Auntie. Claus is a nice man.”
I like Mondays.
It’s true. Monday is my favorite day of the week. I was born on a Monday and even though one of the most popular songs in the world the day I took my first breath was “I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats, I like them. I like Mondays.
Tomorrow is Monday; I plan to grab it and squeeze. My hope is that the good ol’ engine of the standard work week will get my head on straight; I haven’t had this tough a time focusing since I had my last big surgery. I’m behind on everything and though I’m acutely aware right now that none of it really matters, the late fee on my condo assessment did wonders for yanking me out of the pain of the abstract. I simply must get things done tomorrow.
Tonight, as I did laundry and tidied, I decided I’d cook something. Cooking or baking always helps a black mood. Well, unless you burn everything up. If you scorch the cookies or the cake falls, well, that’s bad. You’re going to feel worse, maybe a lot worse. But it’s worth rolling the dice, especially if you feel truly rotten. There’s nowhere to go but up!
I made pralines. Pure sugar and pecans, baby. They’re a bit runny, but it doesn’t matter; I think you get your I Love Pralines Club membership revoked if you turn down a praline because it looks uneven. I’m going to send most of them to my Aunt Leesa; we made them the last time I went to see her and we ate them all in about 24 hours.
(1) Butter the sides of a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Put the two kinds of sugar and whatever dairy you ended up with into the saucepan. Get a wooden spoon and be ready to stand and stir awhile. Cook the mixture at medium-high heat to boiling, stirring constantly. You want to dissolve the sugars, and this will take 6-8 minutes. BE CAREFUL BECAUSE LIQUID CANDY IS BASICALLY NAPALM. SERIOUSLY, BE CAREFUL BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.
(2) Clip your candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. (Make sure the thermometer isn’t hitting the bottom of the pan but sits a bit above it.) Reduce heat to medium-low; continue boiling at a moderate, steady rate, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers about 235-degrees F, or “soft-ball stage.” This will take 16-18 minutes. *TIP: It’s better to go a little longer here than to short yourself; I think that’s why mine were runny tonight.
(3) Remove pan from heat. Gently slide the butter into the pan. Don’t stir it. Let it all cool to 150-degrees F. (This should take about 30 minutes and get your pecans ready while you wait and get your parchment paper or wax paper ready, too! It’s almost showtime.) Remove thermometer. Stir in pecans. Beat vigorously (!) 3 minutes or so with your wooden spoon until candy begins to get thick—but try to keep it glossy-looking.
(4) Drop candy by spoonfuls onto parchment or waxed paper. Work quick-like-a-bunny because this stuff becomes spackle as it dries. (If your goo becomes too stiff to drop, stir in a few drops of hot water.) Let them cool awhile. Then eat nine of them. Then put the rest in a tightly-covered container.
Yields: I don’t know. They’re always different sizes and I eat some before I count.
In Winterset, Iowa right now, time is unrecognizable. I’m back in Chicago, but the strange clocks in my hometown are exactly as I left them: not keeping proper time.
While I was home, I’d think it was afternoon and it was well past seven. But time didn’t fly; at other times, the hours felt sluggish and sticky as the heat and every bit as oppressive.
As we walked to the car yesterday to get me to the airport, the sun beat down on me and Mom; there was sweat on my brow the moment we got outside. Mom said it was 108-degrees with the heat index. I had two thoughts: “What the *#!@! is the heat index, anyway?” and I thought how the death of a young person has to be worse in the summer. A cold, hard wind, a forest of sticks; winter fits the grinding bleakness of grief. Sun, cicadas, and flip-flops feel absurd and revolting. Both the young people I have known who died, died in the summertime. Another reason to look forward to cooler weather.
I had to leave before Megann’s memorial today. I know many people were there. There will be another ceremony, I believe, in Olympia, WA, where the girl made much of her adult life, though people from WA and other parts of the U.S. flew or drove many miles this past week, yesterday, and today to pay respects and give love to the family. Times like this, it’s clear to me that people are basically good.
Lastly: What is a silver lining?
I looked it up. It originated with Milton, from a poem in 1634. In it, he detailed “a sable cloud…turning her silver lining in the night.” The Victorians worked that into the colloquialism, “Every grey cloud has a silver lining” which means, essentially, “Even a really crappy situation has good things that happen because of it.”
Megann’s mom, K., told me a lady said “this-or-that was ‘a silver lining in all of this.'” The woman who said that meant well; we all do and who knows what to say right now? But K., gracious and caring to absolutely everyone even in her agony said to me, quietly, “There is no silver lining.” It certainly seems that way.
It is also true that in the past 10 days, I have had deep, soul-affirming conversations with special people I haven’t seen in years. I’ve remembered the priceless nature of a sibling relationship. I am continually being reminded that no meeting, no delayed flight (I was delayed four hours in St. Louis and arrived home past midnight), no headache, no spot on the carpet matters very much.
It’s people. It’s always only people.
Why do I write?
Over the past year, a year thick with introspection, I have come up with an answer: I write because writing is how I order reality. It’s not quite that “If I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen”; It’s more that if I don’t write it down, I haven’t got a chance of understanding it.
Reminding myself why I write is a good thing to do when I’m moved to share what’s happening right now. Writing down what is happening in my hometown, with my family and my extended family at the time of this death isn’t happening because I am an exhibitionist. I’m not doing it because it’ll make good copy. I write in my journal, this blog, essays, my column, etc., because if I don’t do that, I’m a goner.
You could take drawing away. You could take quilting away. You could take reading away. But if you kept me from trying to order my life through writing, I wouldn’t make it. Honestly, I couldn’t.
There are colloquialisms everywhere. When something bizarre happens that freaks people out, we might say, “It was like a bomb went off!” We might say, when we enter a room where everyone is bummed out, “Woah, woah: Who died??” We say use these expressions – with no ill intent – and then, when the stakes are as high as they ever, ever get, when a literal bomb detonates or when someone actually ceases to be here way, way before they should cease to be here, we know we can never use those phrases again, not because we’re suddenly possessing of manners – we have always had manners – but because we know too much. Bombs and deaths are real and we figure out different words to use, thankful for all the choices available to us.
Megann’s family’s house is a shell. There are people coming in and out; relatives, friends, neighbors. There’s so much food over there, our house, five blocks away, has become the second freezer, the second refrigerator, the second pantry: We’ve got buns, cheese trays, salads, cookies. All of this will be used at the memorial, which is Saturday afternoon at the city park. There’s so much happening at the family’s house, it resembles a beehive but it’s not a beehive. It’s a grief house. It knocks the wind out of you when you walk in. The air stands still.
I saw Megann’s sister, Sarah, who was my best friend for decades and the first person I met on Earth who was my same age (we were only months old at the time), and we spent good hours together. Her radiant daughter, just three-and-a-half, is the only thing that actually makes anyone around here remember what feeling good feels like. I walked Sarah back over and when she got in the door, her little girl jumped for joy and cried, “Mama!!!!” Sarah scooped her up and buried her head in her daughter’s hair, hugging and kissing her. We all beamed for a solid two seconds and this was a great relief. Children are a gift.
I drank Scotch whiskey earlier. Scotch isn’t my thing, usually. But when I was with Sarah’s brother this afternoon, it just seemed like the thing to do, to ask him if he wanted a stiff drink. He accepted, thank God, and we sat on the front porch tonight as the rain poured down on Jefferson Street and we talked about what it means to be from here, and what it means to be at all.
I thought ground zero was last week. It wasn’t. That wasn’t even negative nine.
I’m going to Iowa in the morning for just a couple of days. I’m not Jewish, but sitting shiva seems the only thing to do right now.
I ought to be in bed already, but I went to see the Moth Storyslam on the south side and instead of getting the ride I thought I was getting, I rode a Divvy bike all the way home. It took about 45 minutes and when I got home, I was wired and hungry. Now I am tired and full of ice cream.
So tonight, a poem about what it’s like to ride a bike on the lakefront path in Chicago. Oh, the hours and hours of my life I have spent doing this. There’s nothing like it. (If you’re in love, it’s even better, but tonight I’m living proof that you don’t have to be in love to enjoy it.)
This poem is very old. I still perform it. But it’s probably circa 2006. I don’t split my lines up like this anymore; I had a thing with slashes at the time.
See you in Winterset.
bicycles are universal/but they are made for girls/they fill the space
some rock the basket/some ring the bell/some race/some ditch the Schwinn for the 21 speed/gotta get there mama/playing the fuel/the engine and transmission on metal thoroughbreds wrapped ‘round with rubber/we learned this as kids but these days it’s better/coming up on your left side
I think/therefore/I ride.
and there is another dimension/where it is always July/and I am always 25/pedaling fast on the lakefront path/grass stains on my knees/handfuls of skirt at my waist/ribbons laced between my fingers and kissing potential lit up on my lips
this is how I would come to you/so many nights in summer/you would get me/panting/at your door/but you never saw what came before I rang your bell/that was mine darling/the stillness at high speeds/the breeze that blew through me/waves that licked the shores on my left/trees with leaves like so many fans formed a canopy/tanned skin and bleached bone moved my bicycle toward you/two hearts leapt when I arrived/but I fell in love on the journey/one rotation at a time.
girls/ride to lovers and pick your dimension
the night sky/the skyline/lampposts at attention
give of your mind/your heart and the like
but ladies/when you get there:
lock up the bike.
My birthday, though I didn’t feel much like celebrating the night before, ended up being terrific because of a friend. Actually, several. This means you.
First, the picture:
I look sorta bug-eyed, don’t I? Well, sure. I am .02 seconds away from losing it because my sweet Sophie made me The Best Birthday Cake I Ever Had. Why? Oh, no reason. Just that she baked colored cupcakes and then put the colored cupcakes inside the pan before she poured in the white batter so that when she cut the cake, there were big, happy polka dots inside the cake. Some people get Funfetti frosting. I got a Funfetti cake. Some people get “friends.” I get Sophie.
Sophie is a polka dot in human form. She erases evil. She is pure good.
The other friends to thank would be you guys.
I hit “Forward”, psychically-speaking, on every encouragement that came my way starting Wednesday — there was so much. I’m not where all that grace must land first, though, so when I get to Iowa (I’ve booked a flight for Wednesday), I’ll be invisibly heaping all of your love, prayers, and compassion on those who need it more than I do. It will be felt.
Goodnight, ya crazy polka dots.
I mentioned the other day there’s something I want for my birthday. It’s here, now: in less than an hour, I’ll be 37. I planned on asking for a present. Only you can give it to me, it won’t cost anything and you don’t even have to get up. Sounds easy enough.
But then Megann died and I don’t feel like asking for anything. I don’t want anything.
Unless of course someone can remove the lead weights from the hearts of the people I love who suffer so terribly tonight. How much does that cost? How far must a person travel to do that? I swear, leave the weight with me. I’ll deal with it. Take theirs.
There are diamonds maybe a mile from my front door. Right now, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of diamonds in silk and velvet pouches in the Cartier and the Tiffany shops on Michigan Avenue. Under bulletproof glass, insured for billions, coveted around the world – those jewels are pebbles, worthless, every facet on every stone an insult to a woman who has just lost her child. Take your diamonds and choke the toilet with them. I’ll help you. I’ll help you see what they’re worth tonight.
Yesterday hurt more Wednesday. Today hurts more than yesterday did. I haven’t had the pleasure of grieving for a young person’s death in awhile; I forgot the way it twists and bends back on you, how it ebbs and then breaks all the levees. I keep having these other memories of my cousin and I keep seeing her smile and laugh at Christmas. Stuff I haven’t remembered in years. Oh, god. Oh, honey.
“It’s harder every day because of the permanence,” my sister said.
When someone uses precisely the right word, it clicks in the mind; when Rebecca said “permanence,” an iron door, rusty, old, as high as a castle wall came down in mine. It’s harder every day because of the permanence. I can’t believe I’ll never see her again.
If I don’t tell you about the damned present you’ll think I’m being dramatic. Look, I wanted to make a cute post full of links to various PaperGirl entries that folks seemed to really enjoy and I wanted you to send it to five of your friends. I love you guys much and I figure such lovable people probably know others who would like the blog, too – and I don’t use your reputation lightly and have never asked for referrals before. But I can’t do it. Writing something “cute” would feel like bamboo shoots under my fingernails. And I won’t ask you to recommend your friends meet me like this.
A Christmas light went out yesterday.
I’m sorry to be cryptic, but the details simply aren’t mine to give, nor would I give them this soon, even if they were. It’s just that someone precious died, and it wasn’t time, and it wasn’t okay, and it won’t ever, ever be. Hearts all over the place are just busted up like you can’t believe because you can’t believe how these things can happen and then they happen and you’ve got busted hearts everywhere.
This post is a request.
Do not delay. Tell the family member, the friend, the lover, the spouse, the pet you love that you love them – today. Make a better choice with a behavior today. We fall short. We are cursed with our own humanity. But all around there are acts of love and kindness and you just have to try to be a part of that. Be a part of that. In the short term or the long, hopefully both.
We cannot lose sight of that. We don’t have that kind of time.
I’ll miss seeing you at the table, sweetheart. I love you.
To my surprise, two of my best friends in the whole world have grown the slightest touch of gray hair. When I realized it, the strangest thing happened: these girls got like, nine zillion times more beautiful than they were already. Straight up.
The first friend is almost exactly my age; we’re three days apart. Her gray caught my eye when we were sitting in the sun. She was telling me about the breakup that began that day and that has been so ruinous in her life for some months, now. We were at the Art Institute’s coffee cafe, out on the patio. I was listening and holding her hand. I saw the gray when she blew her nose. I thought, “Holy crap. That is life. That is what life looks like. It’s gorgeous because…it’s real.”
My other friend is several years younger than me but in my same decade. Her gray is lighter – so light I wasn’t 100% sure it was actually there at first, but now I’m 99% sure it is. I was at my sewing machine and looked over at her across the table. I saw the gray and I thought, “If that’s what gray hair looks like, I’m looking forward to it.”
Because sometimes I get sad about aging. It’s because my birthday is on Saturday,* probably, and I’m weird about birthdays. They’re my favorite day because I love being alive and they are my least-favorite day because I love being alive and now I’m closer to not being alive. Happy Birthday to me!!
My grandmother Dorothy went prematurely gray in her thirties and she looked so great. My mom has never dyed her hair and that’s pretty cool, especially when you consider she’s a person in the public eye. People do not like the people on their TV to change. Mom’s hair is silver and gorgeous.
But I vaguely thought I’d dye my hair when the gray started to grow in. Hair is fashion for me. It’s an accessory. I love to change my hair, as folks who have watched me on TV/online have seen over the years. I’ve figured – though I haven’t spent hours thinking about it because I haven’t found any gray yet – that when the time came, yeah, I’d probably dye it. No big whoop.
But then I see Friend #1 and Friend #2 talking, laughing, crying, creating art, being brilliant, being funny, telling me stories, making me laugh, teaching me, learning stuff themselves, and being really, really good friends with these first gray hairs on their heads and I think: “Oh, man… I wanna look like that.”
*It’s true: My birthday is Saturday, August 6th. I am going to shamelessly ask for a birthday present, too. From everyone. I gotta lotta nerve, don’t I? Don’t worry: It won’t cost you a dime. Actually, I think it will be fun. Stay tuned.
I have a question about etiquette. Is the following statement TRUE or FALSE?
It is appropriate to ask someone, after appraising their clothes,
“Oh my god, aren’t you hot in that?”
Personally, I think it’s false; that is, I feel it is not appropriate to ask someone, even if they are wearing a snowsuit in June, if they are “hot in that.” I think it would be similarly strange if I was wearing a floral-printed dress and someone said, “Why did you get a dress with flowers on it?” Not only is the question a touch on the pointless side, it’s hostile. I mean, back off, man: I like floral, cable-knit, floor-length dresses. What’s it to you?
Also, if there are lots of people around and the question is said loudly, it means everyone in earshot is guaranteed to whip around and look to see what heavy, thick, sweat-inducing garment the freak’s got on, which then forces that person to explain herself not just to the person who has asked the rather insensitive question, but everyone else in the room. Everyone else in the room is sure to be wearing a sundress or a sleeveless shirt or a slingshot or whatever.
This is all personal, of course. Whatever you take umbridge with, you’ve got baggage about that thing, guaranteed. And I’ve got baggage around the “Aren’t you hot in that??” question.
I’ve never been comfortable in shorts or sleeveless tops. It’s stupid, it’s silly, I know, I know: but I’m insecure about my freakishly pale skin and my inability to achieve Madonna-like limbs. Yoga, pushups, squats, light weight-training; my DNA is not and will never be programmed for “ripped.” I can’t get past “pancake” unless I flex in this very specific way and you can’t go around flexed like that all the time or even longer than a few seconds. So I accentuate the positive (my neckline! my waist!) and minimize the negatives by wearing pants, not miniskirts, and tops with sleeves. I might drape a jacket or sweater over my shoulders.
Which, yes, sometimes means I’m a tad warmer than you. But when you ask – and of course, dear, I know you don’t mean any harm – it’s so awkward for me. If I say no, I’d probably be lying, and that’s never good. If I say yes, then I’ll be forced to take off my sweater and we now know I don’t want to. If I tell you the truth, that “Yes, I’m hot but I have a terrible body image and this sweater is allowing me to feel more confident as I move through the world today,” you’re gonna think I’m weirder than you do already and it’s Monday, man. I can’t start that far behind the starting line so early in the week.
It’s not that this happened recently. It hasn’t. But I wore a blazer over my shoulders yesterday because my top was sleeveless. The sun was shining and my shoulders were pretty warm back there. But I promise: I’m an adult. If I’m hot, I’ll figure it out. You don’t have to manage my body temperature. I love you!
Please prepare yourself for what is maybe the funniest/most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me. No, really. I think it’s better than when the pen exploded in my mouth and I didn’t know it, better than the situation in Utah last summer.
So there I am at the Trader Joe’s.
I’m passing by the avocados. But wait: I need avocados. I reach my hand over the display to grab a couple and I’m kinda going at this on a diagonal because I want to try and get out of the way of the woman coming from the other direction. She can’t get through until I move.
I make a face like, “Eek, sorry, just a sec,” and the woman says, “You’re fine!”
But then she just stayed there, watching me. It was a lot of pressure. Because you can’t just grab two avocados. You have to select avocados. You have to make sure they’ve ripened to your liking. Me, I like to buy one avocado that is quite firm because it’ll stay good in the fridge for awhile. The other one needs to be soft so I can eat it now, but not too soft so it goes bad before I put it on my dal tadka or whatnot. I’m one person. I can’t eat all these avocados right away. I need to stage my avocados and I’ve done this enough to know to stick to protocol.
How do I find these specific avocados? I squeeze ’em.
So this woman is standing there, not going around me, and I’m squeezing avocados with my thumb and forefinger. Squeeze, squeeze. Nope. Hm. Squeeze, squeeze. But this is weird because she’s watching me. And then, because I apparently cannot let there be a moment of silence ever, I say, “Squeezin’ the avocados!” and my tone is sing-songy and chipper, like I’m saying, “Just doin’ the chores!” to a neighbor because I realize as I’m saying it that “Squeezin’ the avocados” sounds like a euphemism for something and that is not good.
I didn’t stop there. Oh, no.
Because yes, yes indeed, saying, “Squeezin’ the avocados!” as I molested the avocados did sound super creepy, so in .05 seconds I decide to push further into this “I’m just a friendly neighbor at the store! Doin’ the shoppin’!” so I say, “Must be Saturday mornin’!”
Squeezin’ the avocados, must be Saturday mornin. That sentence came out of my mouth. I have never picked avocados faster in my life after that. I still don’t know what I ended up with.
By the time I got to the dairy case, I realized it wasn’t morning at all. It was half-past noon.
Somewhere in Chicago, a woman is shaking her head at her husband and unpacking groceries. She’s telling him how living in a city is really getting to her.
As I walked through the Lollapalooza throngs today – remember, there are tens of thousands of extra people in town for this – I wanted to swing my totebag around and yell, “I live here! I’m not like you!”
These people aren’t bad or wrong for wanting to spend hundreds of dollars to drink tepid beer outside in a crowd of sweaty people as loud music makes it impossible to talk and the only bathrooms are foul port-o-johns. It’s just that it’s my turf, you see, and I’m not used to gaggles of undergraduate girls wearing fringe vests and diadems being in my way when I’m headed to the bank. (It’s amazing: the Navajo Jezebel look is still all the rage! Kate Moss wore a poncho to Coachella in 2003 and it’s been floppy hats and hemp purses ever since.)
Crowded and crazy as is it, the people-watching is primo. As I muscled my way up Michigan Avenue, I considered…
…the parents of a just-graduated son who has been planning for months to come to Lollapalooza with his blokes. (There’s something about packs of young dudes, headed to a concert, in shorts, concealing cans of Foster beer that makes them “blokes.”) The parents’ fingernail count as of Sunday night: zero.
…the here-today-gone-tomorrow economy of this thing, e.g., people selling bottles of water on the corner, pedi-cab drivers, face-painters, etc.
…the VIP rooms for the bands and how tonight, someone who won a contest, maybe, will meet their hero.
…the Grateful Dead-style painted booze-cruise bus that made a hard left off Washington. That’s someone’s business model – and they’re probably doing pretty well.
…the panhandler guys in my neighborhood. Do they hate Lollapalooza or look forward to it?
…the girl from Lombard, IL who spent two hours making her hair look effortlessly tousled. It began pouring rain around 5:00 p.m. today; I pictured her furious about this, lashing out at her friend, “Becky, I am seriously not interested in your drama with Trevor right now. Everything sucks!”
…the weeks of planning the cops have to do to deal with all this.
…the ER doctors on call. They’ve been briefed it’s Lollapalooza weekend for sure.
That last thought lingers. I’ve heard so many sirens today. Oh, you guys. Please drink the water you bought from the guy on the corner. Please watch your stuff. I hope this weekend is the best weekend of your life thus far – and it can’t be that way if you have to head up to Northwestern.
And eat something for heaven’s sake!
If you live in Chicago’s South Loop, the last weekend in July is a good time to go visit Uncle Dan and Aunt Carol in San Diego, or finally take that True Manhood Workshop over there in Michigan (you’ve been hearing such good things.) If you can’t leave town, the last weekend in July is a good time to practice your emergency preparedness plan: can you survive four days without going outside even once? Is there enough water? Tea? Are your library books good until Monday??
It’s Lollapallooza weekend.
Since 2005, the four-day music festival extravaganza Lollapalooza has taken place in Chicago’s Grant Park. Grant Park is my backyard. Well, okay: I can’t lean out the window and spit on Grant Park, but I can lean out the window and hock a really intense loogie with a lot of torque behind it and I will totally hit Grant Park. It’s close, is what I’m saying. Guess how many people come to Grant Park for the festival each year? It’s somewhere around 160k.
It’s sorta cool that I might see one half of DJ duo Flosstradamus at my Peet’s Coffee. And I’m always happy that Chicago is a desirable destination for people who like this kind of thing. But mostly what Lolla means (if you’re local, you can call it that) is hordes of people, most under thirty and inebriated, cajoling, shouting, and running in flip-flops through the streets in t-shirts covered with paint, mud, and the insanely long list of bands and DJs playing the show. Michigan Avenue is essentially impassable from today until Monday. State Street is just as bad. Lake Shore Drive is a parking lot from the I-55 feeder ramp to Lake Superior. Sometimes when I tell someone I don’t own a car, they’ll look at me like, “That’s impossible!” and then I look at those people who are trying to get through Lolla traffic and I pray for them.
Our building (and I’m sure all the nearby ones) hires extra security this weekend and there are notices up in the building that remind residents to not let people into the building without permission, even if they offer you the rest of their six-pack of Pabst. One year, I saw some kids walking through the lobby barefoot. I’m pretty sure one of the girls lived here; I hoped that was true, not because I was concerned but because if you’re the kind of gal who likes outdoor summer music festivals and you live in this building, you’ve got it made.
Me, I can’t do crowds. I got spooked at Fourth of July this year and had to leave my friend early. We were in a city park! With families and dogs! If some firecrackers make me nervous, imagine what the throngs of Major Lazer fans would do to me. I can’t do the big show, but in an interesting turn of events I was invited to a party on Sunday that is loosely linked to the Lollapalooza festivities. I think I’ll go. It’ll be a smaller crowd.
I can handle that.
Dear Receiving Room Guy:
If you’re reading this, it’s because I told you I wrote about you on my blog. How many people read it? Nevermind that, everyone thinks you’re great! You say, “How could they think I’m great because of a single blog post?” Well, that’s funny. There’s been some content. It’s kind of a thing right now but it’s going to blow over.
We need to get two things straight right now:
1. I am not psychotic.
2. I am not asking you out.
I implore you to let me explain.
I’m a writer. I write about stuff I see and how I feel about it. One of the things I write is this blog. Often, Receiving Room Guy (I know your name but would never use it without your permission), what I see is people and how I feel about those people is interested. I don’t mean romantically interested; I mean that I am interested in a person’s funny jacket, the contents of their grocery basket, the particular tone in their voice when they said goodbye on a rainy day. These sorts of things never fail to surprise me and surprise is the curious person’s reward. I am a curious person and the world is full of rewards if you look for them.
I’m particularly curious about the encounters I have with people because though there are some real jerks out there, most people are terrific and will make you laugh, think hard, or just feel like a part of the human race.
My encounters with you fall into the “terrific” category – and they have also surprised this curious person, Receiving Room Guy. This is all your fault, when you think about it. You can’t be a pleasant, intelligent new person working in my building who also plays a guitar on the clock who also looks like the guy on the poster in the Louis Vuitton window on Michigan Avenue without me wanting to write about you. So I did. As you now know.
But after posting yesterday, I realized I had done a terrible thing. Unless I write this post to you and come clean about this, we can never go beyond talking about the weather – and for a curious person, nothing could be worse. Talking about the weather is like death. Actually, it’s worse. I would much, much rather talk about death than the weather. But if we leave behind the weather, it won’t be too long after that that I will want to tell you I’m a writer and that I write a blog and maybe you’d like to read it?
Under the circumstances, this would be bad. Unless I confess.
If I don’t tell you about all this, we’ll never go any deeper than, “Hey” and “Hey” and “Do you want these pancakes?” and “I have band practice.” We can do better than that. That’s why I gave you my card and told you to read my blog and why, when I said it, I looked at you with a look on my face that said, “I am going to put my head in the oven, now.”
Receiving Room Guy, I never meant to creep you out. I’ve been called plenty of things, but I have never been called “creepy.” And for the record, I feel a little weird – okay, a lot weird – about kinda objectifying you, though if comparing a person to a Greek God is a punishable offense, I give up. I just wanted to write about my life. You’re in my life. Aren’t you so glad?
A brief word on #2:
You are highly ask-outable, which I’m sure you realize, but I have a number of very good reasons why a drink with you, like that, is not on this particular woman’s mind. My reasons for not wanting that are so many and so good, that if there were awards given out for good reasons – The Good Reason Awards – I would clean up. I would be giving acceptance speeches with mascara running down my face every five seconds for all my good reasons. So don’t worry about that. We’re cool.
Are we cool? Are you okay? How are you doing right now? I ordered something from Jet. I’m going to have to get it at some point. I am legitimately going to avoid you for a couple days, though.
However, if you feel like watching a blog post go viral, text me. People will freak if there’s an Update #4.
Let’s get something straight: I am a decent flirt.
I’m not the prettiest girl in the room. I don’t have the sexiest bod. But there came a point in my life when I realized that though I know very, very little, most people don’t know that much more, and if I ask questions, listen to folks, read stuff, avoid eating breadsticks dipped in frosting for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and refrain from taking myself too seriously, I’m a catch! (The same is true for anyone, by the way.) This understanding has given me confidence in conversatin’ with the opposite sex. I fear no dude. Usually.
Something very interesting happened when Receiving Room Guy put his guitar down. He didn’t go directly for my delivery. There was this discernable moment of, “So… How’s it goin?” But of course I couldn’t possibly let a moment pass without filling it with words, and that is when my flirt game died. My actual sentence was:
“Well… You know, I was just sewing. Upstairs. That’s…my thing. Like, you have a guitar. That’s your…thing. And I sew. I make quilts. I’m on television. I teach people how to make quilts on television. On PBS. Patchwork quilts. You know? Quilts?”
Receiving Room Guy’s eyebrows went up. “Really? That’s so cool. Awesome.”
I nodded, smiling. “Yeah. It’s a…thing.” And then he said:
“I’ve been doing some sewing myself.”
[Go ahead. Squeak with delight. I’ll wait.]
“Oh?” I said. “Well, that’s…awesome.”
“Yeah, you know, working down here, there’s a lot of sewing supplies.” I laughed loudly and said something like, “That’s hilarious!”
He continued. “Well, it’s not sewing, exactly. But I have a denim jacket and I’ve been sewing some patches on it.”
I need to pause here and say that the youth, the long hair, bass guitar, denim jacket, and Michelangelo-level beauty may be portraying Receiving Room Guy a wee dim. Not so, and I don’t think I’m projecting. He’s sharp, and our exchanges in the receiving room are always enjoyable and sort of funny, like the time I got a box of wine – I mean a case of wine, people – and as I struggled to carry it out, I was like, “No, I got this” and he was like, “Are you sure?” and I was like, “It’s a box of wine” and he was like, “Well, if you get crushed underneath it, it’s a good way to go.” See? His eyes are bright, his pelt is shiny. He’s no bimbo.
After he told me that he has been sewing for Lord’s sake, I thought of one, single amusing thing to say as I stabbed at the iPad on the counter where you sign for your package. “Well,” I said, stabbing, “If you ever run out of sewing supplies, you should, you know, ask your boss. But if he runs out of sewing supplies, you know, let me know. I have a lot of, like, thread and stuff.” He laughed and I felt very much like I needed to leave that place while I was ahead.
Receiving Room Guy handed me my package and I wished him luck at band practice on my way out. (He told me at one point he had a private lesson and then band practice; this was after I blurted out at some point, “Areyouinaband?”) When I got to the elevator I literally smacked myself in the forehead. When did I lose the ability to talk to a person who is cute? With a dawning horror I wondered if it was because I’m older than him – by a lot, probably. Is that why getting older is hard? Because you revert to junior high school around cute boys?
There’s one more piece to the story. Tomorrow, the last piece (so far.) I’m telling you right now: you have a part to play tomorrow. I’m going to need you guys, so get your thinking caps and your advice gloves on. Advice gloves? Advice pants. I’m going to need your advice.
Just one more thing:
He has a name, you know. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. Wanna guess? Ooh! Guess! That’ll be fun. It’s good, too; if you just list male characters from Danielle Steele novels, someone will hit it eventually.
My thoughts on death. My musings on Faulkner. The people have spoken and the people say, “Whatever, Mary. Tell us more about Receiving Room Guy.” When I posted about the young man working in my building’s receiving room this summer 324 people “liked” it on Facebook. (Faulkner “like” count: 38.) Who am I to blow against the wind?
It’s a good thing that there has been a huge development. Two, actually.
First, I went in the other day to pick up a book I ordered. Receiving Room Guy was on the phone at the desk. I could hear through the receiver that on the other line was his boss, a man with a thick Korean accent. Receiving Room Guy reached over to get my envelope and made a face that said, “I’m stuck on this phone, I’m sorry!!” I flapped my hand to communicate, “That’s totally okay!” and I left. I thought it was nice that he felt bad about being on the phone. If I were in his place, I would’ve made the same face – especially if I had his face, which must be very fun to have. If I had that face, I’d just stare in the mirror all day and make it do things and be surprised that I couldn’t make it look anything but gratuitously attractive.
That was the first development. A moment of “I like you enough to wish I wasn’t on the phone when you came in so that we could’ve exchanged pleasantries.”
The second development came about two hours ago. Everything I am about to tell you is a true fact.
I open the door to the receiving room, go up to the counter. Behind the counter, off to the right, is Receiving Room Guy picking a bass guitar. It was a slow Saturday afternoon, you see, so Receiving Room Guy was using his time to practice his bass guitar because Receiving Room Guy is clearly reading the You Can’t Write This Stuff Handbook and I guess he can’t bring his baby kitten to work, so it’s bass guitar practice time. His long hair was not pulled back, so it was like, on the verge of falling in his face when he looked up and smiled at me. And so it was in that moment that all interesting, witty, or intelligible things I have to say left my cerebral cortex.
“Wow!” I said, noticing the embroidered guitar strap, clearly indicating Receiving Room Guy has a sensitive, introspective side. “Is that a bass guitar?” (See? I told you. Hang on; it gets worse.)
“Yeah,” he said, taking it off, looking shy. I caught him in the act, I suppose.
My knowledge about bass guitars begins and ends with this: they plug in. Without a cord that hooks up to an amplifier, they make next to no sound. But the thing is, Receiving Room Guy’s bass looked super weird, like Brooklyn hipsters made it out of reclaimed park benches and organic unicorn hair. There were no visible electric hookups, no nodes. So I said, at the risk of asking the dumbest question I have ever asked in my life:
“At the risk of asking the dumbest question I have ever asked in my life: is it… Wireless?”
You know how deeply happy you were as a child when you gave your mom or dad a picture you drew and they put it on the fridge? That overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment washed over me when Receiving Room Guy looked at me and said, impressed, “Oh, no, it’s not; see, it’s got the hookup right here. But yeah, actually, there are wireless bass guitars now, but only the really fancy rockstars have those ’cause they’re like, thousands of dollars.”
There is much, much more to tell you. This is like, not even half of what happened just now. But you know what? You’ll have to wait. I know when I’ve got a content tiger by the tail. In fact, I’m chuckling to myself as I write this because I know what I’m going to tell you tomorrow and you have no idea how much you’re going to love it. Until tomorrow, my little FedEx envelopes. My little Target boxes. My little Amazon returns.
The title of this post may pique the interest of those excited about my summer crush, working in the receiving room as we speak, but I’m afraid I have not yet gotten any surreptitious pictures, nor have I been asked out for a second round of pancakes. In fact, Overstock.com alerted me that my new bathroom rug has been delivered but I cannot go down there looking like this. There’s too much work on my desk to stop and get cute right now; I’ll have to get my package tomorrow. Love stinks!
Love doesn’t stink for everyone, though. All around me, I see summer love blooming. Oh, I see bedraggled people emerging from the subway in 100-degree heat and I see women depressed that anything they did to their hair before they left the house vanished on contact with the outside world, but I see love, too.
Yesterday I watched a coffee date that went very, very well, for example.
I was working in a coffee shop in my neighborhood. The girl and the guy looked to be on summer break from college. The girl had done something to her hair that I knew she was trying for the first time, a kind of bouffant avec ponytial that got a little too excited but saved it at the last minute. The guy was a standard-issue, cargo short guy; sandy hair, Cubs t-shirt. They sat down at a table near me just after I had gotten myself settled and I heard enough of the conversation to understand they were meeting for the first time. Either it was an online thing or they had mutual friends who put them in touch. In my heart of hearts I wish they were pen pals. This is unlikely.
From where I was sitting, I had a clear view of the girl. It was hard not to look at her because everything about her was saying, I really really really really really like you and it was an interesting study in body language. She was leaning ever-so-slightly forward. Her eyes were big and shiny. She was either actively smiling when her tablemate was talking or she was on the verge. At one point, Dude must’ve said something that was sad or bad, because she made a “Noooooo!” face and cocked her head to one side. Then she stuck out her lip and she sighed, shaking her head. A minute later she was laughing again.
I wondered if the guy knew how well he was doing. At one point, he got up to use the bathroom and the girl waited a moment or two, looked behind her to see if he was gone, then pulled out her phone. Her thumbs flew over the keyboard as she surely texted her best girlfriends that he’s hot, he’s nice, he’s funny, etc.
Is it a terrible, terrible thing that I felt depressed? It’s not that I envy the situation – I do not. I am allergic to love right now. I need a break from the Ferris Wheel of The Heart after these love affairs. No, I was depressed because – I’m such a drag – the puppy-dog looks don’t last. Even if these two people fall in love, get married, and live together till their dying days, the eyes-as-big-as-saucers thing has a shelf-life. First-blush love is fabulous. It’s addictive. It’s an atom bomb of happiness. And then the spaceships of infatuation take off again and you have to make things work for real.
My birthday is on August 6th. I like the age I am. It’s a little weird to be in the second half of my thirties, but I wouldn’t go back for anything. Still, insights like these come with a ruefulness and I find myself crossing my legs in my cafe chair and wondering if that on-again off-again pain in my knee might be a real issue someday.