All I know

Thank god for strangers who take the time to let you know.
I’ve always depended on the opinions of strangers.

Dave and Chet both had their band debuts last night. Georgia just texted to say Chet’s was fab. Dave’s, I would call really good. They played great, each of them individually sounded fab, but the mics didn’t work, so the instruments were much louder than the voices, which, when you’re a band, is not totally fab. But they rolled with it, and people seemed to really love them. Next time, some amps.

We hung out with Kismet and Kyle and Billy and Joan beforehand. Had dinner at Crisp and then went to have a drink before the music. Every bar we walked into had a distinctive odor. As an Amazon review of a possible purse I once wanted to buy said, “All I know is this bag smells BAD.” One bar smelled like vomit, another like yeast but not yeasty bread baking. Kyle thought maybe chlorine, which would have been preferable. The third smelled like air freshener which ordinarily would set me off, but suddenly seemed like at least they were trying.

We had a drink and then headed to the theatre where Midwest was playing an after-the-show set in the lobby. For friends and any theatre patrons who wanted to stick around. I realized about halfway through that I can’t go to live performances anymore. I spend most of the time being angry at whoever is talking during the show. Fifty people squeezed into that room, 48 of them listening intently to catch the words and the harmonies that were tumbling out, beautiful but a little remote, and all I can hear are two people talking, I swear in fake British accents, about studying abroad.

Although I turned around, very pointedly in my opinion, several times, they just kept talking. Something about a theatre program in London. Maybe I should have done something more, but if they turned out to be friends of someone else in the band, it could be awkward later.

Like last week at City Winery, when a table-full of women next to us kept yakking it up like they were at an Applebee’s, all the way through the singer’s ballad. I waited until I caught the eye of one of them, and then I smiled, and then she smiled, and then I mimed turning down a stereo. Her eyebrows went up, and then I nodded at the stage, and then she said something to her friends, and they all stared at me. I smiled back and looked, again I would say pointedly, at the stage.

They quieted down, but later, at the break before the headliner came on, the woman came up to me in the women’s room. “I just wanted to say,” she said, “I didn’t know we were being so loud.”

I washed my hands and tried to laugh it off. “Oh, I’m terrible about things like that.”

Clearly she agreed because she said again, “We didn’t think we were being that loud.” She added, “My friend said you can order food here, so we can talk if we want.”

I couldn’t make sense of that, so I just said, “Enjoy the next act.”

“My friend’s daughter is one of the musicians,” is what she left me with.

“I hope that means you’ll keep your trap shut,” is what I didn’t spit back.

Night riding

two dogs playing
Equal status.

Yesterday I did the first night ride of the year on my bike. I battled my fear almost the whole time. Every time I heard a car coming up behind me I would briefly turn my head back, hoping that would help them notice me. I would hope the driver was the type of person who considered hitting me enough of a mistake or sin or inconvenience that they’d pass carefully by.

Faith had come over in the morning so Otto could play with Izzy. We watched the two dogs wrestle and I fed Django treats so she wouldn’t keep going over and breaking them up, which was amusing to me but not desirable when you’re trying to help your dog (Otto) recover from the loss of his pack leader so you set up play dates with dogs who actually play (Izzy, who’d been dropped off by Kismet on her way to work). Faith told me she  rides her bike everywhere from Spring through Fall. She gave me advice on good bike streets – Damen, Wilson, Leland – and said night riding is her favorite. “Especially in the Fall, when the streets are quiet and the leaves above you are turning color…” It sounds poetic, but then there are the cars.

It’s not that I think the car wants to hurt me, it’s just that it can. It’s about status. A bike object is low status because it can be so easily hurt by a car object . But I can’t think like that. I have to remember that both are controlled by humans, who are equal status. So I rode my bike to the first rehearsal for Boy Small. The director, Emmi Hilger, let me stow my bike on her inside back porch so I didn’t even need to use my lock.

At rehearsal, Emmi had the actors read the script once, then she led a discussion of it. She has an uncanny sense for knowing what to ask and when to say nothing and how to gently guide people into speaking freely. Then she had them read the script again, with all they’d learned or confirmed or discovered. It was humbling. Because I’m already working with Emmi and one of the actors (the amazing Chris Popio) on the WTA piece, I was comfortable speaking just as myself, not trying to be what I think a playwright is supposed to be (silent and enigmatic). By telling what I am seeing in my head, I can learn how much is on the page. And I can learn what else is there that I haven’t even seen, which helps me go forward. I feel like I’ve lucked out in both these pieces, to have actors who are both powerful and nuanced performers and so insightful and articulate about character and all the little moments that connect into a play.

Faith has given me a worksheet she uses in developing a play. It forces you to state things like conflict and premise. Things I often avoid or resent because I want to work in the dark. I don’t want to commit to definites because I’m afraid either I won’t fulfill them or in fulfilling them I’ll miss an opportunity for something better. But the questions stay with me. What is the question the play is asking? How does the central character change? If I can be clear on these they will free me to ride. My power is that if this play fails I can just write another one. Try again, fail again, fail better, as Beckett said.

After rehearsal I rode home. Ainslie is another good street at night. Lots of speed bumps but not many cars. I rode over the bridge at Lawrence behind a guy on his bike, carrying a grocery bag. The only time I actually felt scared was when I realized that I’d just spent the last few moments enjoying the quiet dark and cool air so much that I’d forgotten to worry about speed bumps and cars and ambushes. I tried to make up for it by worrying harder in the moments ahead.

Reality shows

It's like a show within a show.

Kismet and I went to Cici’s–or maybe it was Ceci’s–for mani-pedis. First we went to Whole Foods for groceries. I thought we’d need to drive, but Kismet said she’s used to going grocery shopping on the train. She shops from a detailed list. I made a list too. I almost stuck to it exactly, and only had to purchase one additional thermal bag when I checked out. We carried our purchases to Ceci’s or Cici’s or maybe it was Cice’s.

“Put them down!” they cried, pointing to our bags. “There!” They pointed to a spot that looked like it would be in the way. We smiled and nodded, but held onto our bags as we studied the wall of polish, choosing our colors. “Put them there,” my nail technician demanded.

“We’re okay,” I smiled, trying to decide between a dark glittery gray and a pale green.

“That’s a nice color. Very pretty. Put bags here.” Things went along as they usually do in a salon, me not sure how much conversation to make, messing with the chair massager controls, feeling nauseous when the massager thing pounded on my shoulders but embarrassed when it thumped my kidneys and pushed my hips out. Kismet paged through a magazine.

Finally I turned off the massager and looked at the TVs. There were two or three installed high on the walls. A reality show was on. Although there was too much salon noise to hear, closed captioning was on so I could read the lyrics and dialog. “Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h.” “Great job, dude.” “Thanks, bro.”

When my nail technician sat me at the drying station, I was right across from a screen, so I could hear a little. Kismet sat across from me, so she could hear, too, though she couldn’t see the screen unless she turned around. Bro the team leader had to choose between Dude and a guy in red pants. He had them both sing a U2 song. I loved that they sang at the same time, like a high school audition.

Kismet and I agreed that we liked Dude better than Red Pants. Kismet turned around to check them out and didn’t like Red’s swagger any more than I did. But I felt Dude’s blazer and jeans looked too straight-laced compared to Red’s pants. I was sure Bro would pick Red. Kismet seemed less worried, or maybe less interested.

Bro: I love you guys both so much.

I tell Kismet, “He loves both the guys so much.”

Kismet smiles.

Bro: This is an incredibly hard decision. I never thought I would have to choose between two such incredibly talented people.

I tell Kismet, “It’s an incredibly hard decision, and he never thought he’d have to choose between two such incredibly talented people.”

Kismet nods.

Bro: Red Pants, you really surprised me today. I knew you’d bring it, but your theatricality really blew me away.

Me: “He’s talking to Red Pants. He knew he would bring it, but his theatricality really blew him away.”

The screen shows a woman and two little girls. A caption reads “Dude’s wife and two little girls.” Under it is the captioning of what Bro is saying to Dude. “There’s Dude’s family!” I say. Kismet turns around but they’ve cut back to Dude, listening to Bro. Kismet turns back around to face me. “Sorry,” I tell her. “They looked worried though.”

Bro: You were amazing and I knew you would be.

Me: “He’s talking to Dude now. He was amazing and he knew he would be.”

Bro: Your first notes were really strong. Really right on. And I thought, he’s gonna do it. Then your next note.

Me: “His first notes were really strong. Uh-oh, it doesn’t look good. If he doesn’t win he has to start all over, he was saying before. He’s got to support his family. They’re showing the family again!” Kismet turns back around but they’ve cut back to Bro. “Sorry,” I say again.

Bro: You are incredibly talented, there’s no doubt about it. This is such a hard choice.

Me: He’s incredibly talented, there’s no doubt about it. This is not looking good at all.

Bro: It’s really hard. But I’m going to have to say…

Me: “He’s going to pick Red Pants. I knew it.”

[Tense music plays]

Me: “Tense music is playing.”

Bro: I’m going to have to go with…

Me: “They’re showing the two guys. They’re cutting to their wives. Tense music is still playing.”

Bro: … I choose Dude.

Me: “Oh my god he chose Dude!”

“Yay,” says Kismet. She waves her new gorgeous nails. “I think we’re done.”

“Maybe we should give them a few more minutes.”

“I need to make appetizers,” she says, getting up. It’s Syd’s birthday dinner tonight. I can’t argue. I still need to make my salad.

We sling our insulated grocery bags over our shoulders, clearing a space in the salon large enough for four more women. I take one last look at the TV before we head out the door. Dude is hugging his family. “I’ll TiVo it for you,” Kismet offers.

“Please don’t,” I answer. We head to the train.

Nothing but trouble

Everyone dressed up for the Oscars. No lie.

I dreamed I went to young John Malkovich’s apartment to cancel my lie audition. He was about 30 and dressed in evening clothes. His huge 1930s apartment was lit with chandeliers and filled with people drinking cocktails. He came toward me with arms outstretched, very elegant with that leonine Malkovich walk but also like a society hostess.

I’d come to use Malkovich’s computer to email my cancellation, but I suddenly realized the auditions were actually being held right here in his apartment, right now at this moment. Yes, I’m having audition anxiety.

I tried a couple times over the weekend to cancel my audition. I told Dave, “I don’t think the story I came up with is the kind of story they’re looking for.”

“You don’t know what they’re looking for,” he said.

“But I don’t even want to get cast,” I reasoned.

“But you don’t think you will get cast.”

“I know.”

“Go ahead and cancel,” Dave said. “Then you can stay home all day Tuesday and not go out at all.” I have anxiety about turning out like my mom, who never wanted to go anywhere except TJ Maxx. That shut me up for a while.

But then Scheherazade called when I was at Walgreen’s, buying a curling iron for yesterday’s Oscar party. She’d heard about the audition and said her impression was that it was more for guys who would be one-upping each other with outrageous stories. “Like drinking stories,” I said, trying to choose between a 39-dollar ceramic curling iron and a 9-dollar non-ceramic one.

“Exactly,” she said.

“It’s not that I’m scared of auditioning,” I said as I pulled a 19-dollar compromise curling iron off the shelf, ceramic but only two heat settings. “I just feel like there are more important things I need to be working on.”

“If it’s not your thing, honey, don’t sweat it,” she said.

“Exactly,” I said, “it’s not my thing.”

“So don’t sweat it.” I love Scheherazade.

I typed up my story and had the lady from Final draft read it. At the Oscar party, I told my friend Xeena how this lie thing is taking too much time when I really need to be working on my play.  “So it’s not a fear thing,” she said.

“No, not at all.” I love Xeena, but she has these crystal clear eyes that seem to stare right into your soul. “I don’t think so. Maybe a little. But also I need to write a new scene for my play.”

“Hm. It’s hard when it’s both.” I got another plate of food from the Oscar buffet. My favorites were the spinach balls, blue cheese gougeres, mini fruit tortes, Nutella sandwich cookies, some kind of cheese that you put on a tiny skillet ‘til it melts and you put it on flaky cracker, peanut butter buckeyes, and champagne grape focaccia slices. All homemade by Vandamm Lovely and Kismet. I’ve given up drinking for Lent so I ate as much as possible.

When we left, a lovely young woman who was extremely drunk was also leaving, so we walked her to the train. Dave asked if she was from London and she said, “No, Pakistan.” Then a minute later she added, “I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say. Yes, I’m from London. I’m really sorry.”

Then she asked what we did and when I said Dave was a violinist she said, “That’s brilliant. No one plays violin anymore. Everyone plays fucking guitar or fucking bass, I hate fucking bass.”

“I play bass,” I said.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

I laughed, “No I don’t. I was just messing with you.”

“Oh God,” she said, “I’m always saying these stupid things. Why do I–”

“No,” I interrupted. “I was lying.”

She didn’t seem to hear me. “I don’t know why I say these things.”

“But I was lying,” I said.

She didn’t seem to hear. “I’m British so I’m always bloody polite even though I’m always swearing and saying something insulting and then I’m always apologizing.”

“But I really don’t play bass. I wasn’t insulted.”

“I’m really sorry,” she began again. We were still a block from the train. This lying business is nothing but trouble.

Recipes for guilt

“Don’t break the chain!”

“If you have a moment to spare…” A moment? I’ve got to get through all my emails, finish a brochure, edit my audio, go pick up a woodcarving of my dog, get groceries, make dinner for our guests tonight, figure out my finances, and maybe write something. Yes, I have exactly one moment to spare. What’s up?

“We have picked those we think would make this fun.” Did you? When I did this last time, I picked those I didn’t think would get mad at me. Cousins, childhood friends. You’d think I’d pick people who cook a lot, but most of them are disciples of food blogs or they have multiple shelves devoted to cookbooks. They don’t need these emails.

“Please send a recipe to the person whose name is in position #1 below (even if you don’t know him/her).” Him? Do men ever receive these things? Dave’s never gotten one. Just me, and other women who won’t get mad, and also who can be counted on to do what they’re told. “The best recipe is the one you know in your head and can type right now.” Here are the recipes I know in my head: Toast. Everything else, I look up on my phone. Hard-boiled eggs, I look up every single time no lie. I always forget how long you let them boil and how long they should sit with the lid on while they simmer, and do they simmer or do you turn it off and leave the lid on, and it’s not like anyone wants a recipe for hard boiled eggs anyway.

Other, more recipe-sounding things, like pasta with whatever, I do based on whatever the whatever in the fridge happens to be – shrimp, tomatoes, basil, squash. There is no recipe. If there’s a recipe, it usually means I have to go get groceries. “Don’t agonize over it; it is one you make when you are short of time.” If I’m short on time, why would I be cooking?”

“After you’ve sent the recipe to the person in position #1 below, and only to that person, copy this letter into a new e-mail, move my name to position #1 and put your name in position #2. Only my and your name should show when you send your e-mail. Send to 20 friends BCC (blind copy). If you cannot do this within 5 days, let us know so it will be fair to those participating.” Jesus.

All these discrete actions combined are only going to take me one moment? It’s already taken me six moments to read this, fume, and write about it. By the time this is over, I’m thinking we’ll be at 46 moments, each of which takes approximately three minutes. That’s the cinematic equivalent of Red River, during which John Wayne ages about 20 years.

And yes, each friend I send this to counts as three separate moments. I have to decide whether each particular candidate will be annoyed by this message, whether they’ll actually do it, and whether I’ve sent them one of these in the past. If so, did I use their recipe? Probably not. Will sending them a new request be an admission of that? Probably.

“You should receive 36 recipes.” Last time, I got two.

“It’s fun to see where they come from!” I guess.

“Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas.” You know what? Let’s see who drops out. I wrote back to Jordan, the friend who sent this. Jordan’s not the type to send chain emails, so I felt safe telling her, “love this idea but I’ve done it before and can’t send it to 20 friends.” I did send a recipe to her and person #2, but it was one I’d copied from another email someone had sent me, which I’ve never made.

Jordan wrote back to tell me no problem. She added that she’d only sent the email because the person who sent it to her was a good friend. And the friend had only sent it to Jordan because her aunt asked, and the friend felt guilty. Jordan added, “I imagine her aunt felt obligated to someone; and then I see a very long line of women exchanging recipes from guilt.”

One day, no one will send these messages anymore. Instead, people will send recipes just when they feel like it, with no expectation that anyone’s going to do anything about it. Until then, when I want a home-cooked meal I’ll concentrate on getting myself invited to Kismet’s. We had dinner there Sunday: grilled-cheese-with-apple-and-dijon on homemade honey-wheat, with cream-of-tomato soup, followed by Marzipan cake topped with raspberry-and-rosemary-and-black-pepper magic. Her husband used to blog about her amazing cooking, but he’s dropped off lately. I hope this picture re-motivates him.

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?

The undeciders

cocktail napkin
Maybe it makes more sense to a decider.

I shot my wad on the way up to Bay City. We were closing in on lunch time, and I remembered a café near New Buffalo that I’d eaten at a few years ago. I didn’t have to actually make that decision, just suggest it. But when you’re travelling with three other undeciders, even a comment can be construed as a command.

Lunch was fine, though for some reason the waitress didn’t want to give Kismet water. Throughout the weekend, we had a hard time getting four waters. However, the booze was cheap.

After lunch, I left the decision-making to Kismet and Kyle and Dave. At the fest, there were multiple good options for doing something at any time: three film venues, plus a few workshops, plus parties, plus restaurants, plus bars. One of us would say, “Do you want to go to this?” Someone would answer, “Sure, if you do.” Followed up by someone else’s “Whatever you think.” Confirmed by the fourth person’s “I’m good either way.”

I was the one who probably should have had some plan, for how I could meet as many other filmmakers as possible, how I could insert myself into as many conversations as possible, so I could be one of those people quoted on film fest sites, “I made so many great connections and we’re already talking about collaborating on future projects!” But that’s not me. The transition from “Liked your film” to “Wanna read my script?” always seems fake.

Plus, I’m too distracted by new faces or off-topic conversations or pictures of peoples’ dogs or another event happening three blocks away. Like the wonderful family parties that ended just as I realized I still hadn’t talked to the one person I wanted to catch up with, I was too busy having fun. Wandering from place to place, sometimes with the other undeciders or sometimes alone, because in addition to being undeciders we are also unclingers. Watching good films. Eating good food. Meeting an occasional filmmaker and making vague plans to talk later. Because there seemed to be infinite time in this friendly, happy world. Just like the parties at Auntie Aggie’s, where there was always another roomful of interesting people, another tray of food coming out of the kitchen, and rumors of Mr. Microphone in the basement. Oh wait, no, Mr. Microphone wasn’t at the festival.

I did a pretty good job of not putting myself down, though Kismet scolded me once for advising someone to watch Sandman “in a group – it’s not as good alone.” “But it’s not,” I protested.

“Have you watched it alone?” she charged.

“That’s different,” I said.

“That’s your opinion,” she replied. “Keep it to yourself.” Kismet also took apart our distribution plan, late at night in the hotel bar, on the napkin from her Manhattan. In response to my presentation of our strategy, “We’ve done some festivals, so now, hopefully, I guess, some distribution,” she asked for a pen.

“First we identify our long-term goals for the film. Then medium-term goals. Then short-term goals. That’s this column. Then organizational considerations. Then allies.”

“What are organizational considerations?”

“Don’t worry about those yet. Start with goals. What are your long-term goals?”

“Um…” Saved by the waitress. “Another round here?”

“Yes, please!” We decided to finish the discussion on the drive home. That was the one actual decision we made, but we didn’t keep it. Instead, we nursed our hangovers and thought about gifts for the people who were taking care of our dogs.

In classic undecider form, we couldn’t figure out where to exit for the gifts. Maybe a gas station would have something suitably kitschy? But these were favorite people; we didn’t want crappy. Was there something local? Dave took out his phone. “If we detour through downtown Lansing, there are two gift shops.”

“Detour? Do we want to detour?” No one said anything. “Is there something right on the highway?”

Dave searched. “There’s a Gifts from the Heart. It’s about a mile off exit 127.”

I wondered what about a mile might mean. “Do you guys want to stop?” “Sure, if you do.”“Whatever you think.” “I’m good either way.”

We neared the exit. There was some construction; there could be delays. “What do you think?” “Should we just keep going?” “Should we stop?” “Should we…?” “Exit,” Dave suddenly said. And Kyle exited.

We followed the directions, the sure enough, one mile off the highway, was Briarbrook road. But it was inside a gated community. Gifts from the Heart is online-only. “But we commend you for deciding,” we consoled Dave. He was done with decisions.

To get back to the highway, Kyle had to turn around in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. Which turned out to be a great place to get kitschy gifts. Even better, once, we’d bought them and could forget about it, we saw a sign for apple cider. We sampled from 23 flavors of cider, ate cider donuts, posed for pictures on rocking chairs that seemed more authentic than the ones at Cracker Barrel, and played in an outdoor metal dinosaur museum. It was the perfect Michigan roadside stop, discovered only because an undecider decided to stop at a store that didn’t exist.

The finer points of conspiracy theory

Loft dress label
Cocktail stick.

Clearly I’m stressed about finding a cocktail dress for this benefit tomorrow. I dreamed someone asked me, “So when are you getting your prom dress?” Also something about a horse in the house, thought that may have been unrelated.

Dave didn’t buy the tickets until Wednesday, so it’s not like I procrastinated. That evening, Kismet and her husband, the Beau Brummel of Albany Park, had us over for dinner and I asked what cocktail chic meant. Kismet said, “Oh I’ve got a couple of things that would be good.” Beau picks out most of her clothes, so I knew they’d be perfect, but “Thanks,” I said, “I don’t think they’d fit.”

“Sure they would.” For some reason, we always think bigger people will fit into our clothes. After dinner, Kismet gave me two dresses to bring home. Very chic but size 0. As in, zero. Kismet waved that off. “Oh, they’re from Loft.” Meaning Loft is one of those stores. The ones that participate in the women’s sizing conspiracy, so when you shop there you suddenly feel you’ve lost ten pounds. Maybe at The Dressing Room you’re a 10, but at Loft you’re a perfect 8. If you were an 8, you’re a 6 – maybe even a 4! You’re thin and fabulous! You should buy more!

It’s the opposite of buying lumber. When you buy a 2×4, you’re actually buying a piece of wood that’s one and a half inches thick and three and a half inches wide. So if you actually want a piece of wood that’s two inches thick you have to buy a 3×6 and rip it down. You’d think someone would say, let’s just re-label everything so the sizes are accurate, but like relabeling clothing to reflect actual body sizes and relabeling defense terms to reflect economic ambitions, there’s no changing midstream.

So with a little bit of hope (I think I got into a size 4 once) I tried on the dresses. The first wouldn’t even zip up. The other mostly made it, but when I looked in the mirror, the dressed looked confused, like a toddler set down in the middle of a Packers game. Very gently I got myself out and hung it back on the pretty padded hanger.

There’s something odd about dressing up for benefits, though from the industry’s point of view it makes sense. If you dress fancy you feel fancy, and therefore more like someone who can drop a lot of cash at the silent auction. You’ll forget that you spent your last bit of disposable income on a cocktail chic dress and probably shoes. And do people still wear nylons?

Xeena just texted to see if I want to go to lunch today. I’d better shop before I eat so I can fit into the size 6’s at Loft. After all, I want my money’s worth.

The cling wrap next door

package of Press n' Seal
Historical re-enactment.

The only problem with getting a gift-wrapped package of magical crinkly and non-sticky cling wrap is that I don’t want to unwrap it. It’s sitting on the desk in the front hall. I really needed it last night, but I just couldn’t unwrap it. Couldn’t even bring it in the kitchen. Officially it’s called Press ‘n Seal. I have to keep checking the name because I can’t keep it in my head. I know it only as the magical crinkly-but-waxy-so-how-does-it-stick-cling wrap.

Apparently it’s been around awhile, but I first saw it, really saw it – the way you really see the boy next door for the first time when he checks your receipt at Best Buy – at Syd’s barbecue. Stretched over a tray of bruschetta that Xeena carried in. She pulled off the crinkly magical stuff and I held it in my hands, marveling. “What is this stuff?”

“Oh I love that stuff,” said half the women in the room.

“Why don’t I know about this stuff?” I stuffed it into a ball, feeling its strange tackiness, feeling how right it was for so many of my food-covering moments that heretofore had been so unsatisfactory, thinking vaguely about taking it home to reuse, but sensing it wouldn’t rinse well. Already I knew its limitations, and loved it the more.

The next morning, like the Best Buy security guard neighbor who rescues your newspaper from the driveway and sets it on your porch before you even wake up, it arrived. Virtually wrapped in thick red ribbon that covered it on all sides. Dave had gone down around 8 to check for my cell phone, which I’d left at Syd’s and she’d kindly offered to drop off on her way to an early-morning graduation. I’d left a big pillow just inside the door so the phone would have a soft landing when Syd pushed it through the mail slot. Dave brought it up with my coffee, and that was magic enough for one morning – forget your phone at a friend’s, and have it delivered right to your bedside table before you even wake up.

But an hour later, when I was downstairs eating breakfast, Dave brought in a second item, the item. He didn’t think it had been there when he grabbed the phone, so it couldn’t be Syd. Xeena doesn’t get up that early, though she does go in for fancy gift-wrapping. Kismet also denied responsibility. That left only the Lovely sisters, Vandamm and Starbeck. They would neither confirm or deny, though Starbeck replied something about a possible “group of Santas” being responsible, and Vandamm added something about “Mariachi Santas.” Also, I know from previous experience, namely being at a David Wilcox concert where Vandamm left early to join Starbeck at a late-night Kohls sale, that they are intrepid shoppers. So if anyone is out grocery shopping at the crack of dawn it’s the Lovely sisters.

I am so delighted with this gift, and delighted with friends who deliver gifts early in the morning, and delighted to own for myself the means of covering any plate or bowl tightly, without the hit-or-miss heartbreak of Saran wrap. And yet, I can’t seem to use the stuff. I don’t even want to take off the ribbon. I thought about it last night, when I needed to wrap up the leftover vegetable rosti, but I got by with a layer of saran wrap and another of aluminum foil instead. It’s like the very day the boy next door moves back from that ecovillage in Ohio. You want to get the scoop, and for all sorts of reasons you should do it sooner rather than later, but… not just yet.