Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Good

What a drag I've been lately. I keep thinking back to when I'd write about the simple pleasures, like a yogurt maker (now gathering dust on a shelf, too much trouble) or a gig at a local bar (familiarity breeds not contempt but irritation) or a caramel eclair (fattening) or a rainbow (last seen eleven months ago). I don't blame anyone for averting their eyes from the sad posts here.

But while dealing with the detritus of a few years back, it hasn't all been bleak. There are two new restaurants nearby - a Chinese woman and her English husband have opened a good Chinese place just across the road from a nearby chateau and today we tried this really cute tearoom/pottery shop that an English/American couple have put so much work and inspiration into. There's a new system in France that makes it much easier for people to open new businesses, without all the steep charges and restrictions that have existed in the past. It might seem insane in this economic climate (I can't believe I'm using that phrase but I don't currently have the brain power to come up with any other way to describe the recession) to start a new small business. But my friends who run workshops for people interested in starting independent bookshops say the workshops are selling out - when it comes down to it people possess stores of resourcefulness and imagination that are only unleashed when they stop believing someone else is going to take care of everything for them. (I'm speaking out of hope here, for myself and others.)

I'm on a memoir kick: Carolyn See's Dreaming, Mary Cantwell's Manhattan, When I Was Young, anything by Dirk Bogarde. And Strunk & White's The Elements of Style - if only I could put it in practice. I'd go back to school if I could but in the meanwhile studying writing is as easy as picking up a well-written book.

Eric just played a great Kevin Ayers record. Also Mott the Hoople. He told me some funny story about...oh, I don't know. He's got so many. He can entertain me for hours. One time we were in a Bob Evans outside of Cleveland and he explained very carefully to the waiter how to make a proper cup of English tea. The poor man didn't know what hit him. He'd been suddenly whirled up out of Northeast Ohio into a Monty Python sketch.

We're on our way to England for some house concerts. We'll get to visit friends too, and Eric's daughter and his mum. And when we come back it'll be spring for real, I just know it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

So How Was Your Weekend?

I’m broke, and the IRS says I owe them $89,000. They end up sending me to prison. I’m depressed, menopausal, and my hair’s falling out. In the women’s penitentiary, I keep to myself.

I’m in the yard, all alone at a picnic table when someone hands me a guitar. It’s been a while since I played anything, but it feels as comfortable as sitting in one of those special massage chairs at the mall. I remember shopping, drinking wine and being free. And then I start to strum. I play “Fernando,” the old ABBA song, because that’s the first thing that pops into my head.

A few women come and stand around me to listen. When I reach the chorus, Margie, one of the meanest, toughest convicts in the joint, joins in on the harmony:

There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando.

Next thing I know, they’re all singing with me.

They were shining there for you and me, for liberty, Fernando.

Up on the wall, a few of the guards have been deep in discussion. One of them looks down at us and I can see tears in her eyes. She opens her mouth and starts to sing, in a lovely alto:

Though we never thought that we could lose, there’s no regret.

The warden has strolled out to see what the commotion is. She shouts out. “Hey! Amy Rigby!”

Everyone freezes, and I feel myself turning bright red. I wonder how she’s going to punish me for this. Peeling potatoes? Breaking up concrete? Cleaning the bathrooms, probably.

She walks over and stares me down. “Maybe you could use this,” she says, handing me a capo. “Your key’s a little low.” Then she winks.

If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando.

And in that moment, even though I’m in jail, I’m as happy as I could ever be.

Some of this is true.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

She Bangs (Again)

I had a vision for how it would be. It seemed like a good time for such a bold step, what with starting a new decade and everything. I knew if I was strong, I could get...there. The other side. The land of the un-banged.

I held on for weeks, even when I desperately wanted to cut. I’d catch sight of myself in a mirror and say “I can do this.” I’d see women on buses, on the street, in restaurants. If they were doing it, so could I. I would show my forehead. I would grow out my bangs.

I was learning a new way of looking, and being looked at, that didn’t involve peeping and hiding, ducking and tossing. I felt clear-eyed. Exposed. Brave.

But this morning, I was weak. I saw the silver gleam of the barber shears, there in the shadows of the bathroom cabinet. And I caved.

Oh my God, I feel so much better. I feel like I can get on with my life.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My Work Here Is Done

Hazel found a job. I can't take any credit of course. All I did was buy the occasional meal, take her to a cheap afternoon movie, try to be supportive and when I couldn't take any more of Chicago in mid-February, headed off to NY for a fun-filled weekend with friends and family while she struggled along. It's not the perfect job:

Me: What's the uniform?

H: Visor and t-shirt.

Me: At least they don't make you wear a polo shirt!

H: (simultaneously) ...and when the training period's over they make you wear a polo shirt.

But it's something. She's happy and I feel better.

Conversations, from airports, trains and restaurants:

Girl in line at the airport. She's suntanned, with hair and nail extensions, Chanel sunglasses. "In Boca? This one family, they paid, like $500, they have to sell for, like, $207? We walk in, and they're there, with all the stuff they bought, packed up in boxes, and they're like, crying? But my dad's in a position to buy a bunch of stuff now so it's good for us..." She's like, twenty?

A Chicago bus. Woman, with a Dunkin Donuts bag, speaking loudly: "Yeah, I been on a fast for four days, I lost four pounds. Let's see, I was 252 and I'm 247 now, so that's five pounds, right? I gotta go for this test where they stick this rubber hose up, y'know, where you go to the bathroom? There could be some kind of obstruction up there, either a tumor and or impacted, ummm, y'know...poop. But you, you don't have to worry about that, til you're at least fifty."

The train, near Wicker Park. Guy, texting with one hand and talking on another phone at the same time. "Yeah, she flirts with everybody, so they all think she's available. (Pause, texting) Yeah, even like, on stage? She does it then, and that's different, cause she's performing. But then all these guys come up after cause they think that she meant it." (reads text, laughs silently, I don't blame the girl)

On the taxi shuttle to the LIRR (clearly marked Express Taxi Service to Train Station). Suntanned, white-teethed woman who's been shouting and herding three kids aged about 4, 6 & 8.

"Excuse me!? Excuse me, driver - where are you going?"

"Lady, where are YOU going?"

"I want to go to the parking lot! Where do you think you're taking us?"

Driver, patiently: "This is a shuttle to the train station."

"Shit. See what you kids made me do?"

Veselka restaurant on 2nd Avenue in New York. Two grandparents, their adult son and their grandson about 4 years old. Grandma is manically trying to keep kid occupied. The grandfather looks bored and the kid's father keeps checking his phone.

Grandma: Now if you eat everything, I have a big surprise for you! Max. Brenner's. Chocolate. Doesn't that sound gr-eat?

Little kid looks completely uninterested.

Dad: Hey buddy, I'm thinking maybe you might like the Belgian waffle, with whipped cream? Is that cool with you, pal?

The little prince doesn't answer, so they take that as a yes.

Grandma: Hey, Joshy, did you ever play 20 Questions? I'll tell you how you play...

She proceeds to go through the whole game, hypothetically. "I say I'm thinking of something - let's say it's the Statue of Liberty, but I don't tell you what it is, and so you start going through questions, like `is it bigger than a bread box, is it an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral, is it in this country, is it a person?'"

She illustrates, using up at least twenty questions.

Joshy, waiting until she's finished: I don't want to play.

He's really pretty well-behaved and makes it through the meal without incident. I get up to leave at the same time they do (maybe Grandma will take me to Max Brenner's too? I like chocolate) and Joshy proceeds to knock over a whole glass of water, on me. Grandma shrugs triumphantly.