- The Holy Thursday Bus Tour of Churches, with Food.
- Setting Up the Trellis. With Pictures.
- The Amusing Thing That Happened at Writing Class.
- The Weird Thing That Happened At Playwrights Coop.
- The Acupuncture Epiphany.
- The Miracle of the Dead Leaves.
- Revelations at Glen’s Diner.
- The Last Straw at Animal Medical Center.
- Perfect Eyebrows.
- What It Feels Like to Breathe Through Your Nose.
Two more days and I can drink again. Not that I couldn’t drink before. Actually I’ve had several drinks throughout Lent this year. First time in a long time for that. Don’t know why in previous years it didn’t bother me when people asked, “Why do you give something up?” And I didn’t have a definite answer. “It’s sort of a ritual.” “I always learn something.” “Er…”
But this year the steam just went out of me. Maybe laziness. Maybe because no one else I know is doing it. Maybe my faith is changing. I did keep my fast but the rules were more convoluted. If it feels in the slightest bit socially awkward not to drink, go for it. So I wasn’t allowed one at home, after a hard day, hanging out with Dave. But if we were out for dinner with friends, bring on the gin and tonics. Not that they would have cared, but clearly I did.
So this year I guess I didn’t give up booze, I gave up staunchness of purpose. I guess God wanted me to learn something about presumed expectations. He’s huge on that.
I almost always see T— at the park in the morning. She’s got two big dogs, one black and one brown. She used to bring them together but now she brings them separately. She’s not a chatty park person, the type where you know all about their surgeries and love affairs but not their last name. But she’s not unfriendly either, like the guy who drives in, stands near the tennis courts just long enough for his poodle to do what needs to be done, and then gets it back in the car and drives away. He doesn’t even return your waves.
No, T— always has a smile and a friendly response to your inane comment about the weather, but she never initiates. She always seems nervous that her dog is going to do something terrible, but they never do. I often feel I’m roping her into conversation but for some reason I can’t help myself. I want to know her secrets.
Yesterday she was walking with A—, my favorite, the brown one. I called to him and he came running up to me. He’s got a very wise face, like he spends a lot of time alone thinking. T— seemed afraid he was going to take Django’s ball, she was like, “Oh, the ball…” but he didn’t. Then she seemed worried Django would try to take A—’s sticks, “Oh, he’s guarding his sticks,” but she didn’t. It made me think something must have happened when she had the two dogs together at the park. I knew in the winter she’d said she started bringing them separately because they pulled too hard on the icy sidewalks. But the ice is gone, even if the cold isn’t. Maybe there’s more to it?
But I can’t ask her directly. There’s a layer of protection in her reserve. She always has a pleasant answer, but it’s as if she’s slowly backing out of the room. So I use my subtle powers of investigation.
“Do you always bring both of them to the park, one and then the other?”
“Oh yes, yes,” she smiles.
“Oh, I have to. They have so much energy.”
“Wow, that must take a lot of time.”
“No, only about an hour and fifteen minutes total.” I use an old interviewer’s trick and don’t answer. The uncomfortable silence will prompt her to keep talking. “Oh, he’s worried about his sticks.”
“Django doesn’t like sticks, don’t worry. Do you always bring them in the same order?”
“Yes, I have to bring M— first or he gets upset.”
“What about A—, he just waits?”
“Yes, he just lies down and waits.”
“Yes,” she smiles and sidles away, leaving me with nothing but awe for someone who walks here every single morning, twice. Note to self: work on powers of investigation and purchase walking shoes.
Yesterday I felt my mother’s body pass through me. Not her ghost, her body. It happened when I was sitting on the radiator, putting my boots on. It was another cold, rainy morning and the light in the kitchen was gray. I was feeling tired of feeling hopeless. I knew it was just the weather, the resurgence of winter we’ve had after all the pretty spring flowers started to open and now we wake up with snow on the roof.
So my brain knew this was the cause of my ennui but still. It was hard getting my coat and scarf and hat on. It was too hard to pull my boots on standing up, so I sat on the radiator. I pulled them on, one and then the other, and then leaned back, waiting for the will to stand up and go outside.
Then, just when my body was leaning back and my legs were stretched in front of me and I stared into the gray kitchen light with some indefinable combination of resignation and defiance, I felt my mother’s body. Like I was in her body looking out. Like I felt what she felt on those days she had that weird expression on her face and said annoying things like, “Come on, Cozzola,” to herself. I held myself still and felt it. It wasn’t happy, it didn’t feel good but it felt precious. I wondered if it was just because half her genes and stuff are in me that I felt this, the way you feel a creaky elbow and know it’s your dad’s arthritis. But this was physical and not physical. It felt like a body that had paused, briefly, inside my outline.
I spoke tentatively into the empty room. “Mom? I know how you felt. I wish I could tell you I know exactly how you felt.” I wondered if this was why people had kids, to know they continue after death, in other bodies. I was relieved I wouldn’t be passing this on. The moment passed and my body was mine again, so I got up and went outside. I really hope we get some sunshine soon.
I didn’t go to the Palm Sunday service at the big south side church. Instead, I stayed home and evaluated a bunch of mostly awful films for a festival. Some were really good, yours was brilliant, but most I just stared at. Angry that they were taking up my time. Waiting for the end.
Then I realized that someone, somewhere is probably evaluating my film, feeling the same dull rage. They can’t believe someone thought this was a good idea. They can’t believe how long it is. Will it never end? They can’t believe the sound quality. They can’t believe there are 12 more videos in the box. They’d much rather be watching Battlestar Galactica. They watched four episodes last night and it wasn’t enough. They want more. They want to watch all 72 episodes back to back. Their husband says they need to scale back, that it’s just a TV show, that it’s not good for them. But what does he know? He was at church all day.
This morning I couldn’t face another cup of non-Peets coffee. Not when we have two bags of freshly ground and delivered Peets waiting. But while we were waiting for the delivery we ran out of old stuff and our friend Chris generously brought us a bag of Julius Meinl which is perfectly fine coffee. At least, it’s great when they brew it. But when we brew it, Dave says it tastes like Folgers.
And this morning I wanted a cup of really, really good coffee, not just coffee that you have to drink fast before it gets bitter. So I snuck downstairs without hitting snooze, and opened the Peets while there was still Julius Meinl in the canister. God, we’re spoiled. We’re bombing Libya and I’m worried about the order in which we consume various packages of premium coffee? I can’t stand us sometimes.
Yesterday I said goodbye to the play I’ve been working on since February. For days I’d been telling myself I was close to finishing because I had more than 70 pages, but I admitted that what I actually have are a cool idea, a couple of good scenes, and a bunch of what I’d call bridges — scenes without conflict, without action, that just get us from place to another. Some bridge scenes are okay, even necessary, but somehow I’d boxed myself in with them and felt incapable of freely imagining different characters, locations, or situations that could make the place stay alive.
I felt so discouraged, and yet so unwilling to give up. Dave came in on a break from his work and I said, “Tell me it’s okay for me to give up on my play.”
He said, “Maybe you just need a break.”
“No,” I said dramatically, “it’s awful, it’s terrible. I’ve worked and worked on it and I have nothing to show for it.”
“Well, it’s one hundred percent your choice,” he observed. “If you’re not enjoying it, it’s probably not worth it.”
“True,” I said, not really believing him. It seemed so important. My Play. The one I bragged about when people asked what I was up to, the one I worried would upset the family when it hit Broadway and suddenly everyone knew our fictionalized business, the one I’d poured my heart and soul into. Or maybe I hadn’t, if here I was trying to figure out how much crappy dialog I could cut from a scene and still have enough to get my characters from the living room to the bus depot.
Dave added, “Maybe you’ll re-purpose it for something else later.”
“Maybe.” I closed the file and we took the dog for a walk.
Yesterday we also went to a wake. It was for a cousin of my late dad’s, Fred. Fred was a tall, handsome sweetheart of a guy who’d worked for Sears, had fought in World War II and been captured by the Nazis but escaped after 18 days (for which, I learned from a scrapbook near the coffin, he received one dollar per day from the US Government; I’m not sure if that was instead of or in addition to his regular army pay), and was an avid Sox fan.
After 92 years, he went very suddenly. Joking on the phone at 7pm, a stroke an hour later, a night in the hospital surrounded by his tall, handsome family, and gone by morning. Fred’s last words to his kids were, “How did the Sox do tonight?” This was funny in one way to all the baseball fans at the funeral home, and in a different way to people like me, who know little and care nothing about sports. I can’t imagine being on my deathbed and worrying about some guys who don’t even know I exist. It just doesn’t seem real that sports fans care as seriously and intensely as they seem to.
Which reminds me of my brother, who doesn’t understand why anyone would watch a play, much less write one. To him, it’s all just a bunch of pretend reality that has no point when you’ve got real reality all around you. He, incidentally, is a huge hockey fan. And that makes me feel better about abandoning my play. Not because I think plays are less important than sports, but because if his obsession seems as dismissible to me as mine does to him, it’s possible that we could both be right.
This morning I went down to get my juice and coffee, and X (not his real name) and Dave had already finished jacking up the floor. Dave was showing X how to use his somewhat complicated travel mug, which must be 10 years old by now. X hugged me as I came in, and started dancing me around. I was self-conscious about my morning breath and overplayed my sleepy incoordination. X told me to work on my dancing.
I got out my OJ and my glass and offered him some, which he accepted, grabbing a big water glass. As I poured it he said, “That raspberry vodka with OJ was fantastic,” referring to the other night when we served it to him and some other friends. “I should have some now,” he joked.
I joked back, “You should.” X was on his way to a meeting with a prospective client, and then a stint at a nonprofit where he freelances. X repeated his comment about the fantastic cocktail and Dave, who hadn’t heard the earlier exchange, joked, “Want some now?”
“I should,” said X, “They’re all doing it. My boss is always wasted, you can smell it on him.” Ha ha ha, Dave prepped coffee and I got out Django’s food bowl. “Maybe I’ll take a little,” X added.
“Just to see how it feels.” X stood in the dining room staring at the buffet where the raspberry vodka used to be. Dave got the bottle out of the cabinet and handed it to him, still thinking he wasn’t serious. “Just a little,” said X, unscrewing the top.
But X hardly ever drinks, and he doesn’t know what a little is. He poured in more than a little and I said, “That’s enough!”
He said, “Is it?” and tasted it. Dave said, “Vodka is the liquor of choice if you’re going to be a daytime drinker. It’s virtually odorless.”
I snapped, “I can smell it.”
X’s face grew concerned and he stopped chugging for a second. “Really?”
I felt sorry for him and backpedalled. “I think I smell the raspberry.”
“What if people smell it on me?”
“Tell them you had orange-raspberry juice.”
“Yeah, I can say I had orange-cranberry juice.”
Jesus, he’s high already. “It doesn’t smell like cranberry!”
“Just eat a banana,” said Dave, handing him one from the bowl.
“Thanks,” said X, “I better go.” And he opened a kitchen cabinet and pretended to walk through it. “Oops,” he said as we cracked up. Then he closed the back door and tried to exit through the hinge side. “Oh, I’ll just go…”
I handed him a granola bar. “Mm, chew bar,” he said.
“Chewbarka,” I noted, which was acceptable because I still hadn’t had my coffee.
“Maybe you better go out the front door,” said Dave.
“Ah,” said X, “close to train,” and he wavered his way out of the kitchen, making sure to bump his forehead into the dining room doorway.
“’Bye, X,” I said, still laughing, and continued prepping Django’s food as Dave led him out. It will be really funny until someone smells it on him and doesn’t get the joke.
Yesterday I met the neighbor on the other side, Ralph. He was passing through his yard from the garage while I was standing outside. For some reason I found myself behaving like a Stepford wife. He said, “We were just wonderin’ if you were going to put the flag back up,” and instead of saying, Yeah, we’ll get to it at some point, I was like, “Oh yes! We’ve purchased a new one. The old flag was so torn and faded we didn’t feel it was right to fly it.”
“Was it?” He scrunched up his eyes. “We never noticed. We just sure like looking out the window and seein’ it.”
“Oh, yes!” I said. “It’s terribly torn up. We’ve wrapped it up and have it sitting on a shelf. We’re not sure of the proper thing to do with it.”
“I guess maybe they burn them,” offered Ralph, “but we’re sure glad you’re putting the flag back up.”
“Oh, yes,” I said again, like I couldn’t imagine a yard without a flag.
Yesterday I made my first batch of pasta noodles. Kate was making linguini, and invited me to come get over my fear of the pasta maker.
I didn’t exactly want to go, because although Dave bought me a pasta maker for Christmas (by request), and the thing is set up and sitting on the counter, I haven’t been at all inclined to use it. Store bought is usually good enough. And if I need fresh I have an excuse to drive up to Pasta Fresh out on Harlem and Belmont, where I can see owners Tony and Tina and be handed a hot slice of focaccia while I wait for them to pack my order, and where I can enjoy the feeling in that little shop, which always reminds me of the eve of Christmas Eve years ago, when I went there for the first time. I’d moved out to that neighborhood after a breakup and was thoroughly depressed about life and dreading the holidays and wanting only to hide out in my hobbit hole of a basement flat in my cousin Lizzie’s building.
But Lizzie dragged me out on some cooking errands. She made me go to Caputo’s so she could get her produce. Then she made me go to Pasta Fresh so she could get noodles for the lasagna. Like a zombie without an appetite I trundled along, waiting til I could get back home to my two loyal mutts who would not annoy me by speaking English and expecting me to speak it back.
Then we got into Pasta Fresh and something happened. They greeted us so cheerfully, the white-haired man and his sexy wife, and started making up Liz’s order. Then they brought out a warm arancini, cut up and steaming, and tried to hand me a piece. “I don’t eat meat,” I said. So they returned with slices of calzone. To be polite, I took a bite, and then another. It was like the cheerful ghost of a calzone — impossibly light, with chunks of fresh tomato, not too much cheese, not too doughy. To wash it down, they handed us flutes of champagne. I ate and drank, and felt cared for by people I’d never met.
Liz asked Tony how things were going and he said something slightly sad, maybe about missing people who were gone. But he was smiling and he raised his glass to us. I felt a rush of Christmas spirit, joy and nostalgia and some sort of fellowship you can only share with strangers. That moment picked me up and lifted me past my sadness, and the holidays went better after that.
Looking back, I don’t know what I had to be sad about. A breakup? So what. It wasn’t like I’d lost my parents yet. I hadn’t even lost a dog yet. But of course, your heart doesn’t grade on a curve. So anyway, I like going to Pasta Fresh. And I’m afraid of my pasta maker. It’s so shiny and silent.
But when my friend Kate cooks, I show up. She serves delicious food and always makes it look easy. So it’s not just good to eat, it’s fun to be around when she’s cooking. And having claimed I wanted to learn how she made noodles I figured I might as well do it on a night when she had a fresh Puttanesca sauce ready to top them. So off I went, accompanied only by dog Django since Dave had a rehearsal.
Kate let me do almost everything – add three eggs and two tablespoons of water to two cups of flour and a half-cup of semolina, mix them, knead them (Kate had to take over briefly because I didn’t knead hard enough), and divide into a couple of balls. Let sit a half-hour and then feed through the pasta machine, level by level until it’s thin enough. Then through the other part to split into noodles. Sort of amazingly easy. And heaped with the sauce, so so good. Django is not big on starches, but she kept her mouth open like a bird, waiting for each next delicious strip of saucy goodness.
I think the solution is not to go less to Pasta Fresh, but to have noodles more often, so I can fit in some of my own. Because I didn’t even mention the other thing about Pasta Fresh, how it’s right near Palermo Bakery, where the best cookies in the world can be purchased. But that’s another story.