Will you be my one good action?

foster dog
Come on, will ya?

I got to have my fake Friday night last night, like I asked for on Facebook. But now I have to admit that the pub I want to love just ain’t cracking up to it.

I wanted my neighborhood pub to be snug and delicious and sparkling with the soft light of friendship and a pretend fireplace. Instead it smelled bad and the food was partially inedible and the service—which normally I don’t even care about unless I’m in a hurry—was random. Three waters for four people, no plates for the deep-fried apps, which thank god killed the other smell – magic markers? mold? – I noticed when we came in.

Why didn’t I say something? Because I didn’t want it to smell bad. It was my idea after all, dragging my friends out on a Wednesday night, and we were having fun, coming in from a brisk walk, happy to get a good table by the window. The waitress was smiley. There was just this faint…magic marker? Yes, it must be magic marker…smell. Once we got our drinks I forgot all about it.

Then Xeena and Buck showed up, Xeena who is allergic to everything and can smell everything, even styrofoam – that’s what she gets for being open to the universe—and her first Coke with lime was flat, and the second one was also flat and also tasted of something that was neither Coke nor lime. And they didn’t get silverware so they couldn’t enjoy the apps before they congealed.

But as long as no one wakes up sick today – and I don’t see how Xeena can get sick when she didn’t eat two bites of her shepherd’s pie—I’d say it was a fun evening. Vandamm showed up for an after-dinner drink that seemed to taste okay. And as we were wrapping up the confusing bill, Starbeck showed up outside the window with a new foster dog. Very cute black and white pointer mix? Not quite right for a Django companion, but really sweet. We all walked back together and then watched foster dog play with Kismet and Kyle’s cartoon dog. It was fun until Django started flying into them and barking her shrill cattle dog bark, trying to break up the fun. Foster dog had already had a rough day, so we left.

I should do a Yelp review but I don’t trust Yelp lately. I keep hearing troubling things about their advertising programs. Plus, I still want the pub to thrive. Would a review kick their butts, or lead to fewer customers and a failed business just because maybe they had an off night? I don’t know what’s important in this world where everything seems to be falling apart. When news about the central banks sounds so hopeful until I hear the analysis that predicts there’s an even bigger disaster they’re trying to avert, and the water in the world keeps rising, and nonprofit agencies keep sinking, and the Occupy movement gets more marginalized, and the wars keep multiplying, and for each of these things there is a perfectly good reason, all organized into stories in my hand, but all at once, all right now and constant, and yet I can easily turn them off and dip into entirely different banks of news and entertainment. So I’m confused.

I don’t know what’s important. And I don’t want to sit here and remind myself about the importance of just one action. I already know that. What I really mean is, I’m looking for the one action and I’m annoyed that I can’t find it. Foster dog arrived in Chicago after a 16-hour ride in a cage on a church bus filled with other dogs from a shelter in the Southwest. He ended up homeless because his elderly owner moved into assisted living. He’s almost a year old, extremely good-natured, has soft fur and one blue eye. He needs a good home. Why don’t you adopt him?

All you have is your joy

My new novel.

I was down most of yesterday because I didn’t wake up to write. I set my alarm for six – no, I had Dave set his alarm. At six I said, “six-thirty.” He reset it and we fell back to sleep. At six-thirty I turned on my light, reached for my notebook, and wrote half a page of drivel, about how I don’t want to write and I’m so sleepy and I have nothing to say. I was waiting for the magic moment, the spark into a surprise revelation or train of thought that makes the process worthwhile, but all that happened was I fell back asleep. When I woke again at eight-thirty I was clutching my notebook like a teddy bear.

Why is it so important to me? What am I trying to prove? I have another half-finished story that’s lost steam and I think I can fool my subconscious brain into telling me the rest of it before the editor wakes up.

At nine o’clock I opened the notebook again, this time at the dining room table, and wrote some more drivel. “I dreamed I was packing up the car but had to walk Django first but somehow she had to climb out of a basket of salad greens. She did it!” Then I wrote a scene for the story which I won’t use. There’s no need to use everything you write. That would be like a concert pianist performing a rehearsal for the audience. I know that. But it’s scary when the spark doesn’t come.

I popped into Facebook and watched a Thich Naht Hanh video recommended by Susy. It was about how the left hand doesn’t punish the right when it makes a mistake, like accidentally pounding the left thumb with a hammer. The left and right understand that they are each other. Susy said she watched the video three times and was calmed.

Leave it to the gods, Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED talk, which I also watched. Maybe it was on the same YouTube page? Leave it to the gods but show up at the page, because Sinclair Lewis wrote 5,000 words A DAY. I read that yesterday in Wikipedia.

At nine-thirty I got on with real work and spent the rest of the day writing video scripts. When Dave came back from his run I said for the millionth time, “I wish I could do that.” Then somehow it was eight p.m. and we were still working, which isn’t surprising when you don’t start til halfway through the morning.

Instead of having dinner, I suited up for the treadmill. I’d been thinking about doing that since Dave brought it home a year ago. But I’m not a runner, and I’ve never used a treadmill. I’ve been busy saying, “If only it was a cross-trainer.” “If only I had an idea of the plot.” “If only I weren’t so sleepy at six a.m.” “My shoes are caked with mud.” “I have nothing to wear.” I put on some yoga clothes and knocked my shoes around over the garbage and Dave showed me how to start with your feet on the sides.

He went back to work and I put my earplugs in and turned on Pandora to Eagles radio. As a runner I’m pretty wobbly. I walked and ran and watched myself wobble in the mirror Dave propped against the wall to check his form (perfect, the lady at Fleet Feet said).

After 32 minutes I realized I need shorts, a sports bra, and some shoes that don’t pinch my toes. I also realized that I was happy. It felt good to sweat and try not to wobble while singing along with American Pie and Beast of Burden and Penny Lane and other songs that share musical qualities with the artist The Eagles. I didn’t write but I did something else I’ve been wanting to do. All I have is what I feel, and right now I feel the joy of wobbling. It’s pretty much what I expected to feel at six a.m. this morning, but instead it’s ten at night, I’m fresh from the shower, and my biggest struggle is between a toasted D’Amatos mini-focacchia and the last of the sweet potatoes.


It made more sense after Dave translated.

We’ve eaten out a lot this week. Dave’s dad is in town and he is both a great cook and a lover of fine food. The other night we went to one of his favorites, Les Nomades. Serene lighting, sumptuous appointments (that is, chairs and stuff), and waitstaff who anticipate your every need without calling attention to themselves. Your water glass, your napkin, your every dining comfort IS the most important thing on the planet. And the staff’s comfort is the least. Maybe the point of restaurants like this is to let average people feel what it’s like to have servants—like, royalty-grade servants. You pay the price and you receive the experience.

Maybe that’s why a jacket is required. The Queen doesn’t dine in blue jeans. And there’s the food itself. A thimble-full of inspired parsnip soup,  a salmon appetizer prepared three ways, each better and smaller than the last, a presentation of warm apple tart contrasted with a melon-baller scoop of green apple sorbet. Tiny mouthfuls of gold.

But the experience changes with translation. The first or second time at Les Nomades, I didn’t try to understand, I just ate and drank and sank gratefully into my banquette as they invisibly pulled the table back for me after a trip to the ladies room. Which had a couch! But this time, I thought more about how it all works. Somehow, I couldn’t help analyzing the waiter. He was so formal in his language that I kept thinking he was kidding. “Would the Lady and Gentlemen care to order?” It was sort of like being at a renaissance fair, except I think in that time period Queen ate with her hands. At first, I tried to talk normal, but I am a chameleon and soon I transferred info formalese. “Perhaps a glass of the Springbank?” “Very good, Madame.”

At one point, he bowed in to ask, “Are the Lady and Gentlemen finding the meal to their liking?”

“Oh yes, it’s lovely.”

“Very good.” But when he bowed away, I saw him stop at the white serving table and make a small mark on a card. Suddenly I thought, is there a set number of times they have to check in with each table in their station, and the card helps them keep track? Doesn’t he really care? Did he only check with us so he could mark his card? I know, it’s all a business, like any other, and I appreciate that they run this business so well. But for a moment I felt like that king in the play, I think it’s by Ionesco, where he says to his servant, “Don’t you think I know that as soon as I go to bed you blow out the candles and turn on the electric lights?”

And the servant says, “So should I turn on the lights?”

And the king cries, “No. I want my candle. Bring me my candle!”

I started a new playwriting workshop this week. The teacher, Will Dunne, has already made me start thinking about writing plays differently than ever before. He had us do an exercise he called Translations. For the play you’re working on, you identify 12 words or phrases that come up in the play and then translate them into various actions or lines of dialog or images. When we went to see Clybourne Park at the Steppenwolf last night, I thought about what those 12 might be for that play. Racism, civility, institutional ignorance, what’s the point, burying your dead… It made it easier to identify what was so powerful in the play, and also to sense the few ways in which it could have been more powerful – at least to me. What were they? I forget now. Something about what was at stake in Act 2, but something more specific. Ignorance? Yes, I thought if the story of the suicide were more distorted by time, it would have strengthened the idea of ignorance being dangerous, or at least destructive. But maybe that wasn’t one of the playwright’s 12. Or maybe he didn’t have 12. This was only one exercise, in one class.

After the play, Dave translated his Dad’s classic reticence about what he felt like doing into agreement that a bite after the show would be good. At the table, when I was explaining this playwriting exercise, Dave’s dad said, “Music is music. It is what it is. No translation necessary.” That launched a discussion between Dave and his dad over who was the best composer, Bach or Beethoven or Mozart—or more specifically, what made each of them so good.

And that reminded me that at intermission, Dave’s dad stood up and said, “Back then, everyone listened to the same music.” Act One took place in the 50s, and closed with a Bing Crosby song that only Dave’s dad recognized. I was glad to hear him make a voluntary comment, but I almost replied with a disagreement. I remember my dad telling me about how, when he was growing up in the 30s and 40s, he used to have a radio in his room, and late at night, when the signals were stronger, he’d turn it to “the dark side of the dial” either the lower or upper end, I don’t know which. If he tuned it just right, and the night was clear, he could hear Black music, the blues and jazz he couldn’t get in the middle of the dial. But it didn’t seem worth pointing out, because it’s possibly pointless to disagree with a memory. Or maybe that’s why the world is so messed up, I’m not sure.

I don’t know if it’s okay to write “Black music.” We don’t say that anymore. But it’s how my dad described the music he loved. I guess we all pick our battles and our translations. Walking back to the train, I saw a For Sale sign. At first I thought the line at the bottom was the realtor’s name, and I was impressed that someone with such a strikingly foreign name would be selling such a swank property. Turns out it was a swank property, but I was still reading it wrong.

How do you measure your universe?

a piece of baklava
Fraught with pistachios.

We went to a sushi place to celebrate our anniversary. The man at one end of the sushi bar spilled his first bottle of beer. Then he spilled his soup. He was a regular so it was okay. The couple on the other side of us were regulars, too. They had jokes with the sushi chef about how the woman liked everything burning hot and the man didn’t. Also about some other regular they all know, who can’t come in because apparently he’s given birth to four kids in three years. We tried not to listen but also we didn’t want to be unfriendly. We compromised with vacant smiles and spoke our real conversation in undertones.

Then we wanted ice cream and stopped at a Baskin Robbins, but it was next door to a baklava shop, and the shop owner was sitting outside waiting for customers. He said hi, and we went in there instead. He described the contents of every tray of baklava. He said they use sugar and water instead of honey. This makes the baklava weigh less so you get more for a pound. He said this as a selling point. Also, you get a free beverage of any kind from the cooler. A premium beverage — Tropicana, Naked, Red Bull. When we made our purchase, he urged us to take a bottle, any bottle. It made me uncomfortable, just taking one, and I shook my head.

“They’re not expired,” he said, offended. “Everyone thinks they’re expired, but they’re not. It’s just something I do to bring the customers back.”

Dave took a water, even though he is philosophically against bottled water. It was the cheapest thing. The man added, “And if you can give me a review on Yelp it would be great. Please come back, okay?” Oh world, I can’t hold you up all by myself.

The milk of human sunflowers

Scheherazade tells a story
Humans are awesome.

Scheherazade called yesterday to check on me. I was down with some 24-hour stomach thing. I’m not going to blame the caterpillar I found crawling out of our farm box greens the night before because 1) I found it while I was washing them and did another two washings; and 2) a healthy caterpillar is proof that we’re getting healthy, fresh-from-the-farm produce, which is a good thing, right?

Dave carried it outside. He reminded me that one day it will be a beautiful butterfly, so I shouldn’t be grossed out. I don’t blame the caterpillar, but yesterday as I lay moaning on the couch, Dave threw out the rest of the salad greens.

Scheherazade checked in with texts a couple of times throughout the day. Then she called, but I missed it because I was able to stand up long enough to hold the back screen door while Dave took its hinges off.

She left me a message. “Hope you’re feeling better. I had a nice little Trader Joe’s story. I was buying a card for a friend of mine, and I told the clerk that it was for my friend who’s going through chemo, and she said, ‘Hold on one second.’ And she came back with a whole bouquet of sunflowers and she said, ‘Please bring this to your friend.’ That just made me feel so good. The milk of human kindness. And I am extending that to you. Feel better.” And I do.

The peculiar sadness of my potato cookbook

potato salad and mixing bowl
Desaturation makes everything sadder.

I was making potato salad for a bbq. I’ve never made potato salad before, but when I asked what I could bring, Syd said, “Maybe potato salad?”

“Sure.” I got a recipe from a potato cookbook my mom had given me. She’d found it at a yard sale. There was a Christmas card in it, presumably given to the original book owner with the book, or maybe just stuck in to hold a page. The note on the card hints at some kind of estranged relationship, or maybe not, that my mom and I had puzzled over. It doesn’t feel right to reveal the whole thing, but here’s the first chunk (names changed):

“Dear Chuck, Janice, and Arthur,
My appreciations for the New Year:
To Arthur:
–for being born
–for always being yourself
–for melting my heart the first time I held you (at the Jewel)

The note goes on to reveal that Chuck is her son, so my mom and I always wondered, what’s with the Jewel? Was she shopping with her daughter-in-law soon after Arthur was born and the new mom suddenly needed mom-in-law to hold the baby? Or, as we suspected, did Grandma and new mom run into each other at the Jewel, months after the birth, and Janice was like, “This is your grandson. Want to hold him?”

The note goes on to thank the son and daughter-in-law for making her feel welcome and loved, so maybe everything was okay, but still… something seemed off. A little sad. Like, too much detailed gratitude extended within a Christmas card that would have been a lot shorter if everything had been okay between them. Or maybe not. But I tend to read the card every time I open the cookbook, and wonder.

Anyway, Syd said potato salad, so I went to the bookcase in the living room, where there’s the shelf that holds the urn of my mom’s ashes (sealed properly for a Catholic cemetery, though we haven’t gotten around to burying it), and also her prayer book and rosary, and on either side of that little shrine all my cookbooks, starting with Where’s Mom now that I need her?, which she gave me when I graduated college. I pulled out the potato cookbook, re-read the Christmas card, found a potato salad recipe, and stuck the card in to hold the page.

The recipe said three pounds of red potatoes, but I discovered on my Harvestime receipt that I’d bought five. So I almost doubled the other ingredients, except for the mayo and sour cream, because I didn’t want it too creamy. Before I even started chopping I grabbed two glass bowls that have plastic covers. I mixed everything, and the results were okay. Not bad, but not great. Which, sad to say, is the case with most of the recipes in the potato cookbook. Sweet Potatoes Anna, bland. Parmesan-Roasted Potatoes, did I forget an ingredient?

But what amazed me was that I’d randomly chosen two bowls, randomly sort of doubled the recipe (wait, that could be a clue…never mind), and then when I transferred everything from the mixing bowl, the amount filled both bowls exactly. Right to the top but not over it. Is there some part of our brain that figures that stuff out, that calculates spatial tolerances and then safely guides us to the right bowl choice, the right number of celery stalks to chop? Or is it just dumb luck?

It’s another mystery of the sad potato cookbook. On one side, a possibly estranged relationship. On the other, mildly disappointing flavors. And smack in the middle, incredibly perfect storage container results.

Healthy! Easy! Quick! Delicious!

pasta fagioli recipt
The secret is in the underscoring.

Baby Dumpling’s dad emailed, to tell me he and Mrs. Dumpling had found part of a recipe Mom had given them. They were cleaning out the Dumpling’s stroller, and stuck in the side were half the instructions for Mom’s pasta fazul. “We would love to make it, but it cuts off on the right margin,” he wrote.

The Dumpling is now two years old. His first summer, Mrs. Dumpling used to wheel the stroller to Mom’s every day on their walk. Mom’s last couple of months, she’d start the morning saying, “I’m too tired for the Dumpling today,” but by noon she’d be sitting out front, saying “Where’s Baby Dumpling?” as they came up the drive. She would never hold the Dumpling, because she didn’t want to give him her cancer germs, but she’d make faces and talk to him and celebrate every smile, every laugh she could get out of him.

Mr. Dumpling also wanted me to know they’d watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and who do you think was in the credits? Baby Dumpling! “It was the name of one of the Governor’s children,” he said. “We said that Phyllis must’ve been watching with us.”

Hearing from them made me realize I haven’t called Mom’s sister Marie in weeks. When Mom died, I thought I’d be on the phone with her every day, just like Mom had been, just like I had been with Mom. I love talking to Auntie Marie. I love the way she looks at life, I love her cooking tips, I love her voice. But the prospect of calling is awkward. I feel like I don’t really have a reason to get in touch. Now that my parents are gone, I feel like I’m not really connected to their relatives. But once we’re talking, that all goes out the window.

So I called Marie, and told her about the Baby Dumpling sighting, which made her laugh her magical laugh. She and my mom invented many names for people and things they loved, and Marie’s vision of Heaven can easily accommodate some form of Mom watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with her former neighbors.

Marie said she follows basically the same recipe for pasta fazul, which she pronounces correctly as pasta fagioli. I can picture right where the Dumplings’ copy probably cuts off. Mom always made multiple copies of her recipes using her inkjet printer and creamy yellow paper she thought made things easier to read. Usually she was copying recipes she had already typed up or printed and then annotated in pen. Here’s the completed recipe.

Italian Bean Soup (Pasta Fagioli)
Saute approx 1/2 cup celery (diced) with about 1/2 onion (diced) and a clove of minced garlic in olive oil.

Add salt and pepper and a bit of red pepper flakes (optional).
Add: Small can of Hunt’s tomato paste (8 oz size) AND 3 CANS OF WATER.
Tiny pinch of sugar and simmer 1/2 hour.
Add: 1 can NORTHERN beans (Joan of Arc or similar) and simmer another 1/2 hour.
Add: 1/3 cup of uncooked spaghetti broken into small pieces and add during last 15 minutes.
Simple but very tasty, especially if you serve with a little parm.

Auntie Marie usually uses two cloves of garlic instead of one. Also, she adds some lemon. “You don’t actually taste the lemon,” she explained, “but it brings out the flavor of everything else.”

CVS gourmet

People entering Symphony Center
Delicious moment.

When I got on the El at 6:30, I happened to notice a slight hunger pang. Half an hour later, when I stepped out at Adams and Wabash, I was ravenous. I thought, if I don’t get to that takeout sushi place I’m gonna pass out. Do I have enough time? 7:03. Damnit. And wait, the sushi place is near the Auditorium, not Symphony Center. Damnit. Why in hell did I stop to do a search for summer boots? Did I really think I’d be able to find the natural-fiber crochet-style boots that had appeared in a vision while I was showering, much less order them in time for next day delivery? Actually, yes. The Internet has spoiled me. I’d googled “women’s summer boots” and waded through most of Zappos’s 742 results (rain boots, hiking boots, and platform sandals–how did those get in there?) before I gave up.

If only I’d known then what those twenty minutes would cost now: an Unagi roll and a seaweed salad. Even two blocks out of the way, I would have had just enough time. Instead, I walked halfway down and looked over the railing. East was Rhapsody and Russian Tea Time. Not enough time. West was 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts. Cream cheese on a toasted sesame seed bagel? Too bready for a warm night. What I  craved was soy sauce and sticky rice and wasabi. Not gonna happen. 7:09 now. So I walked toward 7-Eleven to check out the scary sandwiches. Then I noticed a CVS further west. That would be cheaper, and I could restock my favorite pens. I headed back across Adams.

Inside CVS, I grabbed a pack of Rollerballs, a Medium bag of pretzel M&Ms (Medium being the size of  my forearm), a bottle of Evian, and a pack of Eclipse. I was almost to the counter when I realized I might be cutting in front of a backpacker guy who seemed to have just decided he was in line. I circled wide behind him so he wouldn’t think I thought I was in line, and it was then I noticed the display of Keebler Snack Time Jalapeno Cheddar Sandwich Crackers. I wondered, do those look delicious or disgusting? Then I realized, it’s 7:18, don’t over-think it. I can always stash them in my purse, just as a backup. If the M&Ms don’t do the trick, or Dave’s hungry after his concert, or I’m out somewhere tomorrow and feeling desperate, they’ll be there.

As soon as I got outside I bit the corner off the crimped wrapper and popped the first sandwich cracker in my mouth. A symphony of salty and cheddary and spicy and buttery crackery. It was so astonishing that for a minute I couldn’t smell the diesel and urine of of the street. I barely heard the four guys yelling insults or badly worded compliments to two women walking ahead of me. “We got money, how much to see your tits? You want drinks, we can pay. Come on, what’s your fucking problem? We got money!” The women turned in at a parking garage, tossing a withering look over their shoulders.

As I walked, I continued to pop sandwich crackers into my mouth. I tossed the wrapper into a trash can just outside Symphony Center and stood outside a moment to savor the last crunch, heat, and cheesiness of the very last sandwich cracker. 7:24 now. The lights of Michigan Avenue were beginning to sparkle. Around me people entered the concert hall, decked out in suits and sequins and jewelry. I dressed myself up in a chiffon scarf I’d pulled out of my purse to make room for the M&Ms, and joined them.

Closet organization

bowl of popforn
First friend who puts a spoon in the popcorn bowl.

The first couple of times I lost a friendship, the pain was sharp and shocking and dramatic. But now I’m used to it. I understand that it’s part of the flow of life. It’s like clothes. If you don’t clear out the stuff you never wear, you won’t have room for anything new.

Last night I saw a recently lost friend across the street. I could have ignored her. If it were 20 years ago, I’d have looked the other way and walked on quickly. But I’m older now. I said hi and stopped. She said hi and stopped. Neither of us crossed the street to the other’s corner, but we chatted briefly, in the bantering tones we used when we hung out all the time and knew each other’s every life goal, hair goal, and dentist appointment. I thought about crossing the street, but I’ve learned that talking in a friendly tone doesn’t necessarily mean you want anything to do with a person.

So we exchanged a few pleasantries across the quiet street and then passed on, each in our own direction. I felt a pang of regret for all the wonderful times and talks and experiences we’d had, but that regret has itself become sort of an old friend. It still confuses my heart, but in a familiar way. I kept walking.

At home I changed and went over to a new friend’s house to watch Gasland. I ate popcorn and learned about the horrible things natural gas mining can do to ground water and air quality, and why it hasn’t been sufficiently regulated, and how it seems to have resulted in unsafe drinking water and lethal rivers. I saw dead fish and dead rabbits and dead birds, and people wearing respirators and mourning the loss of their farmland and lighting water from their kitchen faucets on fire. I was thoroughly depressed but grateful that I’d made a friend who cares enough about this stuff to host a screening when the Sierra Club asks her to.

When we left, we filled out a sign-in sheet with our name and email, and whether you want more information about the issues discussed in the film, and whether you want to host your own Gasland screening. They ask you to put either YES or NO in the blanks. In the more information blank I wrote YES. In the screening one I wrote MAYBE.

How can I go to Australia when I can’t even call them on the phone?

a piece of cheesecake
You can't handle the cheesecake.

I’m very happy about our film being in the festival, and I remember when we applied, thinking it would be the perfect excuse to see Australia. But now that, amazingly, it’s worked out, my ignorance may just be too much for me.

Ignorance is fine when you have tons of money. You can get the most expensive tickets and figure out the rest when you get there. But we need to be smarter. I did some Web research and figured out that if we only have two weeks, we probably need to stick with Western Australia. Trying to see Sydney, much less New Zealand, would be like going to New York and LA on the same vacation.

Okay, good. So I know enough to call the travel agent recommended by the festival. Fest guy says they’re super-friendly and if you tell them you’re with the festival, “They’ll be even nicer!” I love them already. They’re Aussies. They’ll get me all sorted out.

I have to call in the evening, right? They’re 13 hours ahead? That’s what the time zone website said. Really, 13 whole hours? Okay, so it’s 10 pm here, so it must be 11 am there?Except it feels like midnight here because I’m still on Vegas time and I’m so sleepy but I’ll just call real quick and get this going. Their Aussie directness will cut right through my confusion and point the way. Okay.

I open Skype and dial. It rings! Someone answers! She says something I don’t understand.

I say, “Uh, hello?”


“Um, do you guys… I’m calling from Chicago, in the states? And I was wondering if you help people coming from here to there?”

“Sorry?” She sounds like she’s talking from inside a Best Buy. Did I call the right number?

“I… Um… I was wondering, do you work with people who are planning a trip not from Australia, but who are going there?”

A pause. I consider rephrasing one more time, but can’t think how.

Then she says, “Yes, we can help with that.” But she doesn’t say it all warm and fuzzy. She says it like she’s waiting for me to tell her what I want. I realize I don’t know what I want. I don’t know our exact dates. I don’t know if we want to stay in one place or two or three. I don’t know if we want to rent a car. I don’t know our budget. I want them to tell me what to do and how much it will cost and then tell me how to do an even better version of that for cheaper, so I feel like I’m getting a deal. I want her to sound like she’s sitting in a small, homey office, sipping a cup of tea by the fire, with all the time in the world, instead of like she’s next in line at the Geek Squad counter and doesn’t want to miss her turn. She says, “Hello?”

I say, “Um, you know what? I’ll call back. Thank you.” Before she can thank me for wasting her time, I hang up.

Dave walks in, carrying a plate of cake. “What did you find out?”

“Nothing.” I walk downstairs.

He follows. “I need help with this cake.” It’s magnificent strawberry cheesecake from First Slice. But I feel like too much of a loser to eat it. “I’m not hungry,” I say, and flop on the couch.

He sits next to me and I watch him eat the cake. Small bites of whipped topping and strawberry middle and thick graham cracker crust. I’m only a little mad at myself for hanging up on the travel agent. Mostly I’m mad at myself for being so intimidated by the prospect of going somewhere that’s not Europe. It’s so far, and so expensive, and it would be so much easier to just not go.

And that makes me think of my mom, may she rest in peace, the Queen of Just Not Going. I always said I wouldn’t let that happen to me. I used to tell her how wrong she was and how I’d never end up like her and here I am thinking, it’s just too hard. It’s just not worth it. No point in going through all that. It’s not like it will affect how the film does. And to make it worthwhile I’d have to network and introduce myself to people at cocktail parties, and what could be worse?

Yep, better to just not go. Just like Mom. Though she would have eaten the cheesecake. Maybe there is hope.