Counts for Easter

lamb cake
He is eaten.

Among my mom’s many mildly annoying sayings was “Well, this counts for eatin’.” I was never sure what it meant, whether she hadn’t really enjoyed the meal or she really had. Or maybe that she wasn’t hungry but felt obligated to eat. Or maybe it referred to something specific the first time and she enjoyed saying it so much she just kept doing it. If all the annoying habits of my family could be charted on a huge tree there’d be a dotted line running from “Well, this counts for eatin’” to her mother-in-law’s standby, “I wonder what the poor people are eatin’ tonight.” I believe that was meant to be a compliment to the cook.

Saturday night I saluted the end of Lent with a cold glass of sake at Katsu, where Dave and I went with Xeena and Buck. Usually we meet at our old standby, Midori, but we decided to try somewhere new because there are a million restaurants in Chicago, for Pete’s sake. We agreed that the quality of the sushi at Katsu may be superior, but we enjoy Midori more. Not just because it’s cheaper, though that helps, but we’ve gone there together enough that it feels like ours. I crave my favorite rolls there, and the margaritas, and the familiar faces.

At the table, Xeena said she misses ritual. “Holidays come and go,” she said. For Easter they were having her family over for barbequed fish tacos.

“I thought we were going to try going to church sometimes,” I reminded her. We had talked about it maybe a year ago, on a Sunday morning when we were all at Ann Sather, how we could check out churches of different denominations around town.

“We were,” Xeena agreed. She asked Dave and Buck, “You guys interested?” Buck stared blankly ahead, just as he did when she mentioned it at Ann Sather. She added quickly, “We could go to brunch afterward.”

Dave replied in the same words he used the first time, “Couldn’t we just go to brunch?”

Our Easter dinner was mostly traditional. Ham at my brother Rolando’s. They also served eggplant parmesan for the vegetarians, and many side dishes. I laughed more than I have in weeks, sitting with my brothers and their wives and their kids and Dave and cousin El, who’s more like a sister. El made two lamb cakes, just like last year, and this year both their heads stayed on. However, one lamb fell face forward into the green coconut grass, so it seemed to be sniffing the other lamb’s butt. Also, the upright lamb’s ear fell off so she re-attached it with a dental floss pick. She swore it was unused.

After just a few years of El bringing two cakes instead of one, I now expect two. The first time she was trying to make up for her ugly homemade one with a bakery one, which froze  and shrunk in the car so it actually looked worse than the homemade one. Last year she made two recipes, pound cake and chocolate zucchini. This year they were both pound cake, the difference being that the upright one with the dental floss pick ear had white frosting while the toppled-over one had white frosting plus a layer of coconut flakes. I’m not sure how many years it takes for a pattern to become a ritual, but there’s a little place in my heart now that longs for a pair of lamb cakes this day every year, ever striving for perfection, always failing in their own perfect way.

One of those annoying dream posts

House up on jacks while new foundation is being poured
Eventually it will be a new foundation for an old house.

It was late at night and I was working in some office. I went across to the ladies room, pushed the door open, and thought, “It’s late and no one’s around. If I scream no one will hear me.” So I checked the stalls. First one, empty. Second one, empty. Third one, a guy was standing in there looking at me.

He was young and white-skinned. He quickly explained that he wasn’t an attacker, he just wanted to return this big ring of keys he’d found but didn’t know how. It made perfect sense, and we walked together down the hall to a party where my brother Rolando was. I was sure Rolando would be able to solve the key ring dilemma but he was busy just then, in a circle of people, so my new friend and I went to wait at one of the bar tables scattered nearby. Other guests were milling around. A woman friend was standing at our bar table and I introduced her to my new friend. He was so cute and she was so cute, they’d be perfect together. But when I started explaining how we’d met in the bathroom, I realized that my new friend kind of sounded like a psychopath. Then I realized that he could have been lying about wanting to return the keys and it was perfectly likely he’d been waiting to attack someone. It was suddenly awkward.

The basis for this dream seems obvious. Yesterday I was late for my playwriting class. I rang the buzzer at the building’s entrance, a woman answered, I said who I was, and she buzzed me in. From there it’s a short walk to the elevator which takes you up to the second floor, where the offices and classrooms are. They’re very careful about letting people into the building. They always call down and check who you are before they buzz you in. There’s a sign on the door that reads, “Please do not let anyone into the building behind you. Everyone must be buzzed in individually.” Except how do I tell that to the young dark-skinned man who followed me in, so closely I couldn’t have shut the door behind me without physically pushing him out?

I hoped he was headed somewhere other than the elevator. Nope, he followed me into the elevator. I pushed 2, and hoped he’d push a different button. Nope, he didn’t push a button. That worried me more. He was wearing a hat and he wasn’t smiling. I thought about making small talk, maybe about the great weather, but if he did have bad intentions he might take me for soft, so I held on to my late-for-class scowl. At floor 2, he followed me out of the elevator and into the theatre offices. What was this guy’s problem? He stopped at the front desk and I kept walking. If they wanted to yell at me for letting someone else into the building they’d have to catch me first. I snuck into class, which had already started, and forgot all about the guy. When I came out at break, he was sitting on a couch, sorting through headshots. I smiled tentatively at him, feeling like an idiot. He smiled slightly back.

So clearly my brain lodged those few moments of vague fear of a possible elevator attack and rearranged them, as it likes to do in dreams, into an incident involving a bathroom. But why did my brain switch the situation from being wrongly founded in fear to being wrongly founded in trust? And why did it change the color of the person’s skin from black to white? It’s moments like this that make me suspect my subconscious is either a lot wiser than the rest of me or a lot more devious.

Go backs

from “The Kentons,” by Wm. Dean Howells.
  1. Tub of pine nuts from Gene’s Sausage Shop. Reason for return: The label says ‘Product of China.’ When I brought them home, Dave mentioned a news story about how some Chinese pine nuts aren’t actually pine nuts and may taste metallic. I got them so I could replicate Justine’s amazing quinoa salad, which she credited to Cookus Interruptus. So I went to a different store and bought Alessi pine nuts. But though Alessi markets itself as Italian, the label on these said ‘Product of Italy and China,’ which probably means product of China. I was so fed up that I used them anyway and they tasted fine. So maybe the Gene’s ones would taste fine too?
  2. Curling iron from Walgreens. Reason for return: Didn’t have time to use it before Oscar party. And as Wendy pointed out, I don’t need curly hair.
  3. Feathered headband. I thought it represented the only time I would enter a Forever 21 store, when I purchased it for Oscar night. Wrong.
  4. Lacy top from Urban Outfitters, along with two pairs of tights, none of which I will ever wear. I hate that I always feel compelled to buy more than the one thing I went to a store for–in this case, a perfect dress I found on clearance. Instead of marching it to the counter, I needed to continue shopping so as to extend my bargain.
  5. Last night’s audition. To get the bad taste of it out of my mouth I went to Bed Bath & Beyond afterward, looking for a 2-Qt saucepan with a spout and a glass lid.
    Before the audition, in all my thinking about the specifics — how it made me reexamine lying,
    whether I should cancel,
    why I was spending so much time making up lies instead of working on my script, which lie to tell,
    whether to go funny or serious,
    where on earth to dig up my acting resume and how to revise it for the new me, etc. — I had totally forgotten about all the very general ways in which an audition can mess with you. How the floor can shift from under you the moment you walk into the audition room. No matter how prepared you think you are,
    no matter how much you might love performing,
    no matter how ready you might feel to share yourself and your creativity,
    the smallest thing can get the escalator moving in the wrong direction, and you’re suddenly scrambling to get back to level ground. Things that should be easy, like saying your name, suddenly sound strange in a room you thought would look different,
    would feel different,
    would have different lighting,
    would have a different combination of people sitting behind a different set of tables, with a different look on their faces. Maybe I’m just out of shape audition-wise, or maybe it’s because I didn’t truly believe in my own lies the way I do when I’m telling them spontaneously, or maybe it really was because I didn’t go with the first thing in my head the way I used to when I improvised, but it was the longest five minutes of my day.
    So I went back to the car and drove Dave to Rolando’s for band practice, then I continued on to BB&B. And because I cannot buy only the thing I came for, and because I was still in shock that things hadn’t gone the way I envisioned them in my head, and because I kept thinking of really great things I could have said and should have said, like “I’m originally from Mars,” yeah that would have killed, I continued shopping.
  6. I found a wall-mounted paper towel holder that Dave wants me to take back. It’s exactly like the one we had at the condo. Even when I put it in my cart I remembered Dave saying he didn’t like it, but I needed something besides the saucepan, especially because I was getting an extra 10% off on it because it was the last one, and I’m tired of not having a paper towel holder. When we got home and I showed Dave, he reminded me of all the reasons this was not an acceptable design. Distasteful prominence of the rubber ball grabbers and how they collect lint, and insufficient roll grip as time goes on, and I forget what else, he lost me at linty balls. “I’m not returning it,” I said, and went to bed.
  7. Removable wall graphic from JoAnne Fabric and Craft. “Songs and Wishes Tree, Black.” “Not a sticker!” “Easy on Easy Off!” But nowhere to put it, now that I’ve begun drawing story charts on the walls in my office.
  8. Cute toothbrush holder from the Chicago Architecture Foundation Store. Dave got it for me because it grosses him out that I keep an extra toothbrush in the shower, right on the soap caddy. But he mentioned it in front of a bunch of our friends, who were all grossed out by the thought of me brushing in the shower. At first I fought back, but over time, every time I shower I think what if I’m getting spit somewhere it shouldn’t be? So I’m giving up. The toothbrush holder goes back, maybe not all the way to China, but at least downtown.
  9. Spring. I don’t care if March steals it back tomorrow, I’m getting my money’s worth today.
  10. Say what you won’t about William Dean Howells, because no one reads him anymore, but I swear to God, I opened iBooks for a minute while I ate breakfast, and out of the blue, he captured life in one line, with a sense of humor so subtle that it would never audition for anything, buy more than it needs, or get seduced by removable wall art.

One good lie

blurry crowd
What’s not to believe?

I got an email inviting me to audition for a show filled with lies. For the audition, I have to tell a three-minute lie, as outrageous as I like. How hard can that be? So I accepted and figured something would come to me. But now the audition is just days away and I’m starting to panic.

I’ve come up with two so far, one about a friend’s strange restaurant behavior and one about accidentally killing my piano teacher. Both sound good in my head, but when I start telling them out loud, I trail off. I lose my sense of purpose, which at least tells me something about why I like true stories, even when they’re not outrageous. They’re true, so they reveal something about something, even if I don’t always know exactly what the something is. But what does lying reveal? So far, I’ve lied only to hide things. But then again, a lie is just a fictional story and I’ve written those, so this shouldn’t be any different. But it is. I’m thinking about cancelling my audition, but I don’t want to chicken out.

Last night my brother Rolando came over. His friends have opened a hardware store, Matty K’s, and we were going there for a sort of gardening pep rally. Rolando came early to bring us gifts of dog food. Their dear old family dog passed away last month, so they had boxes of treats and bags of food which I coveted. My plan was to pass it on to Zoe’s new owner, because the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park has also passed on, and Zoe was now living with one of the B’s.

There are two B’s, B-e and B-y. For months we’ve emailed each other to schedule Zoe’s walks. We’ve also tried to plan a dinner together, because the Hepburn sisters gave us checks to dine at Blackbird, as a Zoe thank you. We’ve tossed dates around and B-e even made reservations twice, but something always comes up. Yet when Miss Hepburn died, we found ourselves suddenly able to wrangle ourselves and husbands and bottles of beer and whisky for pizza at a local BYOB. It was soon enough after Miss Hepburn’s death that it didn’t feel real, and we had a boisterous time.

I planned to email B-e and tell her I had food to pass on for Zoe – it’s even her brand – but B-e had already emailed to say she’d brought Zoe back to live with Miss Hepburn’s sister. She convinced her that we didn’t mind continuing the walks, and Zoe is good company and good protection. So in a little while I’ll go over and pick her up for a walk. But first, I need my lie.

Last night, after Rolando parked the car and we had dinner, we walked over to Matty K’s. We passed a man dressed in a plumed page’s costume. He looked exactly like a royal chicken, with a plumed headpiece and puffy satin middle and tights. I wished I had my phone out, but he didn’t look like he would appreciate a picture. He was smoking a cigarette and adjusting his headpiece. We continued on to the store, where we had cookies and root beer and got fired up about gardening.

When we left, the royal chicken was still standing on Western, greeting people going into an event. If this were a lie, something outrageous would happen right here. But because it’s true, all I have is a blurry picture, because I grabbed my phone in time but didn’t stop to focus because I was afraid of getting yelled at. I don’t know if I’m cut out for lying, if I don’t even have the nerve to get a decent picture of an outrageous apparition placed right in my path like a golden egg.