Monday, October 7, 2013

Many Happy Returns

The city where I live has a bulky-item trash policy, which goes as follows: Twice a year, free of charge, you can schedule a curbside pickup of your unwanted junk. This doesn't necessarily stop people from dumping their unwanted junk in alleys or public parks or in someone's orchard on the outskirts of the city limits -- but if used properly, the policy works extremely well.

If used properly, people dump their unwanted junk at the curb, where it lingers until someone picks it up.

Recently, my mother came over for dinner and expressed concern about a heap of trash outside a home two blocks away.

"Oh, they must be moving," I said, dismissively.

I had passed the pile for the last few days on my walk with Baxter, and then later gone back with my car to pick two old windows out of the hoard. What I will do with these windows, I have no idea, although Pinterest has 2,477 suggestions for me. I could just as well have let them be, since I'm way too busy to refurbish old windows, and now I have two junky old windows in a corner of my backyard where old things tend to accumulate. I mostly hide the pile with a tarp; when I do remove the tarp -- to add another old thing to the pile of old things -- it's always surprising to see what's there.

Where did all this junk come from?

Oh, yeah. From me.


Over the years, W and I have disposed of a number of things using our city's bulky-item pick-up policy: our first couch, which Baxter chewed to tufts of stuffing; a massive roll of 1970s-era carpet that had covered our original oak floors; a recliner with a sprung spring; a rusted wheelbarrow with a flat tire.

Often, the things left out on the curbs never make it to the county dump, or if they do, it's by taking a more circuitous route. Someone passing by will decide they need the couch, even if its cushions are missing stuffing. Someone will decide that decades-old carpet that smells vaguely of death and strongly of pets is the perfect covering for their own floors. And someone, no doubt, has found a Pinterest project for a rusted wheelbarrow with a flat tire.

On one occasion, the disposal truck came lumbering down the street and I tore myself away from my laptop to inform the driver that he was too late -- my junk had already been reclaimed.

"It's amazing the trash people will pick up," the driver said, shaking his head.

I thought this was a curious comment, coming from a disposal truck driver, but I feigned a shared incredulousness.  "I know! Isn't it crazy?"


Last spring, after sitting on our 2011 tax return for almost 12 months (which I felt must be some sort of national record), W and I decided to spring for a new couch, an L-shaped sectional that fit our front room much better than our current couch and had the added benefit of not being covered with cat hair.

But what to do with the old couch?

It still had life in it, I reasoned. We could give it to someone who needs a couch and wouldn't mind spending money on professional cleaning, Will suggested. And so, because the space could not bear two couches, we moved the old couch onto our patio.

I'm ashamed to say how long it lingered there, looking more and more shabby every time I opened the patio doors. Suffice to say, before too long, it was now a couch that we would not suggest to any of our friends or acquaintances. Immediately, other things appeared on top of it - empty boxes, bags of trash that we were too lazy to bring to the actual trash can and instead dumped at this convenient halfway point. Leaves collected there. A neighborhood cat discovered it.

Will and I had become the kind of people who have indoor furniture outside their home.

"Oh, don't go out there," I said to a friend, who was wandering in the vague direction of our patio doors.

"Why not?" He laughed. "Is that where the dragon lives?"

"Worse," I said. "So much worse."


After months of waiting for no reason at all, I made the thirty-second phone call to the disposal company, and they gave me a pick-up date. The night before the scheduled pick-up, W and I lugged the couch to the curb. I checked on it a few times that night before going to bed - or rather, I forgot about it completely, only to be reminded by its ghostly rectangular shape every time I passed the front windows. What is that? Oh, right. Our old couch. Still there.

But in the morning, before dawn, it was gone.


In the crazy rush of last spring, W and I took my spring break to fly to Cleveland and drive back to California -- part of a research project for my second novel. We visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, spent a half-day wandering around Oberlin College, visited my hometown of Napoleon, Ohio and rekindled a decades-long friendship. We saw an aunt and uncle in Chicago and met a friend downtown for coffee the next morning. In Omaha, we had dinner with a college friend and his family. Okay -- so part research, part memory-lane.

But in between, we drove, putting thousands of miles on our rented Toyota. When I drove, I sang or chattered to W or listened to one of thirty discs of Stephen King's Under the Dome. As a passenger, I took notes on the topography, the vultures that circled, the town names, the restaurant chains, the brown historical markers. We visited the landlocked lighthouse in Gretna, NE. We visited the pony express station in Gothemberg, NE. We saw Chimney Rock and Scott's Bluff (for you Oregon Trail fans). And we drove. And drove.

Every now and then, on a lonely stretch of I-80, we would see someone's castoff belongings - armchairs missing a limb, mattresses that may well have fallen off someone's station wagon. It would be sitting on the side of the road, as lonely and poignant as Willa Cather's big plow against the sky - and then as we came closer, we would see that it was indeed nothing more than a pile of junk.


After five days or so, we were back in California, heading south from Sacramento. It was full-on spring here, not the stinging sleet of Cleveland or the half-melted slush of Laramie, WY -- but spring. It was a good day to be alive. I began making a mental list -- laundry, pick up Bax from my parents, grade the papers I'd lugged across country and back without once glancing at.

We took our exit from the freeway, and began wending our way through the few twists and turns to our house. Less than a block away, I braked and we both stared out the window.

"Is that...?"

It was.

On the side of the road, bridging an overflowing gutter, was our couch.

It had returned.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Traffic and other exciting things.

Last week someone asked me: What happened to your blog?

And I answered cheerfully: Nothing. It's still there, as far as I know.

What I meant was: I really would like to be constantly updating my blog with interesting stories about my daily life and fictional accounts of other people's daily lives, but I've been swamped. (No, not literally.) But I've been busy and dutiful and productive in other areas of my life, which unfortunately has led to a major creativity suck.

When I think of my life at this moment, I think of the to-do list on my laptop, which shrinks only to expand again five minutes later.

Nothing on the list is funny. Nothing on the list is anything but "must do." It would be very boring to talk about the must-dos.

It is almost as boring as the story I'm about to relate.


Years ago, W. and I were invited to the home of some people who I am fairly sure will never read this blog. We ate dinner and talked about traffic. And then we talked about traffic some more. And then - although I longed to excuse myself from the table and bang my head against the nearest wall -- we talked again about traffic.

Apparently, there is a lot to say about traffic*, although absolutely none of it is interesting.

W., sensing that I was nearing my breaking point, tried valiantly to change the subject, but to no avail. I tried bitchily to change the subject and this was still to no avail.

We escaped before we could discuss traffic in other countries, or throughout human history, although I could see the writing on the wall. Make no mistake: it was coming, perhaps with another cup of coffee.

On the way home, Will and I rode in silence. It seemed a cruel trick of fate that we found ourselves on the freeway with a few thousand other cars, but we bore this in silence. We both knew that the first person who mentioned the word traffic would have to be shot.


This story is still not interesting, despite the passage of several years. It still does not make me smile.

And if I told you about the stack of essays I was grading, and the tedium of revising my novel and yes -- the horrors of my two-hour daily commute -- you would not be amused, either.

But don't worry, Live from the Bean will return. I will once again feel compelled to point out my own shortcomings and the shortcomings of others. There will be things to chuckle about and shake your head at. (There will even be the occasional sentence that ends with a preposition.)

And maybe this will even be tomorrow.

*If you're wondering, our traffic discussion included patterns, the fastest routes to just about everywhere, road construction that was happening, road construction that should be happening, commuting, potholes, hard and soft shoulders and the horrible driving skills of other people, some of whom happened to be women.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Men are from Mars, Women are from Neiman Marcus

Overheard: This conversation between two students.

Male: You know, the basic difference between men and women is that men would never wear uncomfortable shoes.

Female laughs.

Male: Seriously. Men would never try on fifty pairs of shoes only to find a pair that looks good but makes each step a living hell. It would just never happen.

Female: But I bet you like it when women wear high heels.

Male: Well, I don't mind, but I've never honestly looked at a woman in flip-flops and thought, "She would be attractive if only she was wearing high heels." Women just do that to themselves, so they can impress other women.


Me, conscious of blister rubbing painfully against heel of cute shoe, files conversation away for further thought.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dear Man who came out of the bathroom still zipping up,

Please note: That should really be done when you're still in the bathroom, before you wash your hands, before you unlock the door, before you step out into the hallway of this fine establishment, before you bump into me, before you say "Oopsie" (perhaps at your age, you should never say "Oopsie") and before I even have a chance to roll my eyes.

Just a thought for next time.


Woman who should just give in and get a kidney infection, already

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dear Woman with Braying Laugh,

Yes, I heard you.

From all the way over here.

See? That's me looking up over my monitor, giving you a little wave.

It's not meant to be a wave of encouragement.

I'm sort of tempted, teacher-style, to wander over and ask you if you would like to share the joke with the rest of the class.

Social conventions inhibit me, along with my deep suspicion that whatever it is, it isn't funny at all.


Woman who can't believe she forgot her headphones today

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Passengers

I fully admit it's my fault for not checking in 24 hours in advance.

"Set an alarm," my husband told me, and I replied, "Yeah, yeah." But I knew I didn't need to set an alarm, because I would remember. I am good at remembering things. I have, in my time, remembered many things, some very important and some quite useless, like the license plate number of every car my parents have ever owned.

But of course, I forgot this.

It wasn't until we were on our way to the airport that I remembered. For my negligence, I was awarded a spot in the "C" group -- and, as we all know, C stands for center.


By the time I boarded the plane, all the window and aisle seats were taken, as expected. After determining that there was a bathroom at the front and rear of the plane, I decided to take the first available seat. A quick scan revealed no infants in sight (although infants have a way of suddenly appearing on flights, from beneath blankets and small basketlike child carriers), so I stowed my bag (my beautiful red bag, which is so impractical and of which I'm so immensely proud) overhead and asked the occupants of Row 12 (two, benign-looking and vaguely "older" people, the sort who like to read or sleep on planes),"Is this seat taken?"

This produced simultaneous shakes of the head from the man in seat A and the woman in seat C. Seat C was kind enough to stand, and I scooted past to wedge myself, water bottle, cell phone and book of true crime into Seat B.

Seat C immediately settled into a book on her iPad (Atlas Shrugged, about five chapters in, I noted), and Seat A, who was borderline portly, flipped through the pages of Skymall magazine. They were both fiftyish, with graying hair and glasses. I had high hopes.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries:

Seat A: Boy, they really wedge people in, don't they?

Me: Yeah.

Seat C: At least it's not hot. The last time I flew out of this airport it was so hot. I mean, so hot, and there was no air on the plane, and everyone was getting testy.

Me: That's awful.

Seat C: But it's cool today, at least.

Me: Right.

Pleasantly but firmly, wanting to ward off further impending conversations about nothing, I opened my book. I happened to be on a chapter about a mortician-turned-brothel owner who was facing legal trouble at both businesses, and I wondered for the millionth time what in the world other people thought of me. But my rowmates didn't seem to think anything of me. Seat C returned to Atlas Shrugged; Seat A abandoned SkyMall to stare at the tarmac.

It was promising to be a fine flight.


Seat A was asleep by the time we reached a cruising altitude, one of those carefree, full body sleeps where you don't care that your legs are spread far apart and wedged up against the hapless person in the center seat (me). Seat C was reading.

A flight attendant came by and took drink orders, and woman in seat C and I both ordered. Guiltily, I looked over at my sleeping companion in seat A. Why guiltily? If he wanted a drink, he should have stayed awake, right? But it would have taken no effort at all for me to nudge him (he was, in effect, already nudging me), or to say near his ear, Did you want something to drink? But I did neither, and the flight attendant moved on.

When the attendant returned with our drinks later, the woman in the aisle seat and I both unlatched our tray tables and obediently received our plastic cups and square napkins. It was then that the man at the window woke with a start and demanded to know why he didn't have a drink.

What he actually said was, "Why didn't you order me a drink?"

Um. This was very awkward, and a little shocking. If I prefer not to have a banal conversation with a stranger, I certainly don't want to be scolded by one. I thought ruefully of all the other center seats that had been available at the time I chose this one. Missed opportunities, all of them.

"Well, I didn't know if..." I began, at the same time the woman in the aisle seat snapped, "You want a drink? Then you order your own drink."

Wow. I was sitting so stiffly that I could feel each vertebrae of my spine. The guts of this woman! She wasn't going to take anything from anyone, even a complete stranger on a plane!

And then the man said, "You do this every time we fly. I ask you to wake me up, and you just completely disregard me."

Without moving my neck, I glanced back and forth between them, the Bickering Bickersons. A couple, although they had decided to sit with a (n unsuspecting) buffer in between them, and to my observation had not acknowledged each other's presence up until this point.


 "You've never ordered a drink for me," the woman insisted. "But you expect me to..."

 "Never mind, I'll do it myself." The man reached up to the call light, jostling my left arm and therefore my entire body in the process. The flight attendant, looking subtly annoyed, returned and took the man's request.

All that for a Sprite -- it hardly seemed worth it.


Somewhere over Wyoming, the man demanded the iPad and the woman obliged with a noisy sigh, shoving it in his direction, narrowly avoiding my forehead. I read studiously on, pretending to be invisible. (Maybe I really was.) When he was through with the iPad, one red state later, he returned it with a similar thrust.

At one point he demanded gum; a stick of gum was produced and passed in his direction. At another point she insisted on his iPod; the headphones came popping out of his ears and the entire apparatus was passed over my head.

I decided that I hated these people.

I decided that they must have been together for years, miserable, keeping it up for the sake of a shared mortgage, children, assets that would have been difficult or costly to split. Or they had just had a particularly bad trip, one in which her phone had dropped into a toilet and his luggage had been lost, leaving him with no other options but to raid his brother-in-law's closet for the duration. Maybe divorce was imminent. Maybe they were flying to Milwaukee to meet with divorce attorneys and a court-appointed mediator. Maybe -- I was, after all, completely ensconced in a true crime tale -- one had cheated, and the other had discovered the affair, and the whole sorry mess was a raw wound, complete with lawsuits and allegations and late-night whispered telephone threats.


The descent into Milwaukee was smooth, our touchdown and deceleration unremarkable. I clutched my cell phone and book in one hand, and tried to plan how I would remove my beautiful but impractical red bag from the overhead bin quickly without whacking another passenger on the head.

That's when the woman stepped to the side, smiled sweetly at me, and said, "You go ahead, honey. We're not in any rush."

I was happy to oblige, and scooted around her, made a heroic grab for my bag, and hustled off the plane.

For all I know, they're still standing in Row 12, arguing over whose turn it is to carry the luggage.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dear Friends who discuss serial killers over dinner,

Thank you for being you.

And by "being you," of course I mean, being people who know about Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy and BTK and Ted Bundy, and don't mind discussing the gory details over plates of nachos, grande burritos and chicken enchiladas.

Thank you for the extended discussion of Ted Bundy.

I admit, I had been feeling somewhat exhausted from the day's activities and the night's reading, and when I heard his name I perked up, like a child who has been promised a soft-serve ice cream cone for being on her best behavior.

"Ted Bundy just seemed so normal," you lamented.

"And handsome," you added, sadly.

Thank you for the moment of silence, in which we must all have been thinking: What a waste.

I remember seeing a made-for-TV movie with Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy. I think it may have been my first serial killer movie, and I watched it with a pillow half-blocking my face. I was 10 years old at the time. (If you are interested, it makes a great late-night movie, and I'm also happy to share my recipe for kettle corn.)

Thank you for not even noticing when the people at the next table exchanged worried glances and eventually moved to the front of the restaurant.

All in all, it was a lovely evening.


Your sick friend

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dear Man Who Refuses to Say Hello --

I'll go ahead and say it first: Hello.

Well, to be technical, that isn't my "first" effort, or even my second, or eleventh, or thirty-seventh.

Do you know that I pass you four or five mornings a week (at the end of a leash being pulled by a lovably overweight beagle), and that more often than not, I say "hello" or "good morning" or, when I can't bring myself to face your rejection, a tight-lipped "hi"?

You have lived in the house on the corner for the better part two years.

But you have never once replied.

You could be a statue, really, hollowed out on the inside, with a spraying garden hose in one hand.

I'm not looking for any kind of relationship, or any favors. I'm not going to start up a long conversation about crabgrass or the mistletoe growing in our trees or the weather. I can live with neither of us knowing each other's names. (Baxter, though, would like you to know his.)

No, we don't know each other, except by sight. You are not the neighbor I'll come to when I've run out of eggs, and I'm (clearly) not your choice for a front porch-sitting, lemonade-sipping companion. But I do know that at 6:30 a.m., we are two of a very few people in the neighborhood who are dressed and ready to face the day.

It just seems to me like the very least little thing we can give each other is this: Hello.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Missing: One Large(ish) Remote Control

I have come to realize that few circumstances are more irritating than this one. Only half an hour ago, I had to stand up, walk to the television, locate a series of miniscule buttons, and then toggle my neck back (to locate the channel button) and forth (to check the channel itself), which has prompted this notification. This is how they did it in the old days, I remind myself. This is how my ancestors suffered, too.

For all I know, the remote has been missing for a month. I've been busy, for one thing, and for another, it's baseball season, and I'm strongly encouraged not to interrupt the W's viewing of any baseball games.

Yet today, I'm on vacation. There's a stack of essays to be graded, but they can keep until tomorrow, or Saturday, or Sunday night very late, or even Monday morning, when I'm frantically trying get ready for a week of teaching. It's 108 degrees outside -- at least according to my weather app, which is as close as I would like to get to experiencing today's weather. Three of my four pets are sleeping within arm's length.

It's the perfect day, in other words, for mindless TV.

And then W informs me that the remote is missing. It's been at least three days since he's seen it. I press further -- under the couch? behind a cushion? in the gap between the couch and the window?


I probe further: Did you maybe take it somewhere else? Outside, into the bathroom, into the kitchen? Did you retrace your steps? When was the last time you saw it? Has anyone else been in the house? Would anyone have reason to take our remote control? Did anyone attempt to make contact with you, was a ransom sum proposed? Do you have reason to suspect --

But now I'm being ridiculous. It's not such an imposition to walk to the television and manually change the channel.

Although it's even easier just to turn it off.

Monday, June 3, 2013

For Librarians Everywhere

Napoleon Public Library
310 W. Clinton St.
Napoleon, OH 43545

Dear Librarian:

Please accept this autographed copy of The Mourning Hours along with my thanks. I spent the first nine years of my life in Napoleon, Ohio and many happy hours in the Napoleon Public Library. In 1983, I was even a top reader in the Summer Reading Program, and I cherished the copy of Charlotte’s Web that I received as a prize that summer. It holds a place of honor on my bookshelf even today. Would I have become a writer if not for the people who introduced me to the right books at the just the right time?

In 1985, my family moved to California, but in my mind, I have returned over and over to town of my birth. The Mourning Hours is set in a similar small town in Wisconsin, where I have deep family ties, but much of the narrator’s childhood experiences are echoes of my own childhood in Napoleon.

As part of the acknowledgements for this book, I thank the librarians in Henry County, Ohio, and librarians everywhere. I mean this sincerely. Thank you for the work you do. It is unfortunate that the funding for something so essential to the life of every American is often controlled by a simple vote on a ballot – “yes” or “no.” You will forever have my “yes.”

With gratitude,

Paula Treick DeBoard






Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dear Person Conducting an Interview at the Table Next to Me,

In my extensive experience as a patron at Starbucks, I've seen a few things.

Once, a woman asked me if it were possible for me to unplug my laptop so she could use the outlet. I obliged, and she proceeded to plop a massive sewing machine onto the tiny table I was using. The machine seemed to work very well, and had me completely enthralled. It was impossible to type, anyway, since the entire table was vibrating, and even my noise-cancelling headphones were no match for that level of volume.

So -- there was that.

I've seen people show up with massive quantities of papers to be signed by other parties. I've been privy to a number of first dates. And I've seen a number of very professional people conduct very professional interviews in Starbucks.

So perhaps I can give you a few pointers:

1. Don't schedule interviews at 15-minute interviews, then ask a half-hour worth of questions. Half the people in this store are waiting for you, listening to the questions you're asking.

2. "Tell me how you have the soul for this job" is weird. Ask a fake question, get a fake answer.

3. Don't hire the girl in the blue shirt. I have the back view, and I can see she has tucked her shirt into her underwear. This is Getting Dressed 101, and although it might be a one-time slip, it seems like the sort of thing a person should have mastered by her age (20, give or take).

4. The guy in the white shirt was standing in the hallway outside the bathroom, talking about what a "douche" you are and how the job was a "joke". Probably not in line for employee of the month.

5. To really nail the "pompous ass" thing, perhaps try to work in a few more comments like "110 percent isn't enough for this job, I need 120 percent." It's probably useless to point out that 100 percent is actually the maximum a person can give. But why stop with 120 percent, anyway? Wouldn't 200 percent be better? Or 400, for that matter? Maybe you could suggest that your newest hire find a way to clone him/herself entirely at the employee's expense? Perhaps there is a polite way of asking the employee to eliminate all demands on his/her personal life and the pursuit of actual career goals in order to work for a company that seems to pay only commission and provide no actual benefits?

Just some points to consider.

Yours truly,

So Not Interested in This Job

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dear Man Who Came Running After Me in the Parking Lot,

Thank you.

Actually, I had just unloaded two bags into the backseat of my car and was thinking, "Wasn't there a third bag?" when I heard you behind me, yelling, "Woman in the blue shirt!"

I turned and watched you coming toward me, but it still took a long moment for me to realize I was the woman in the blue shirt.

I'm sorry. Lately, my mind is always somewhere else.

But then you came closer, panting, and I realized that you were carrying my third bag, which contained a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi and a two-liter bottle of Diet Sierra Mist. I'm always slightly embarrassed when I'm confronted with the evidence of my diet soda addiction (cans, bottles, Big Gulp cups with massive red straws), and for a moment I actually considered saying that it wasn't my bag. But that's silly, because it was.

"You have got to be the fastest person I could possibly chase through a parking lot!" you said, still catching your breath. I am horrible at guessing ages, but I think you would qualify for a senior discount, and it was quite impressive to think that you had followed me all the way out the store, across the parking lot, and through the maze of parked cars, just to hand me what a well-meaning friend has termed "liquid cancer."

I felt pretty bad, seeing how out of breath you were, because the truth is that I am not a fast person at all. Actually, I am slow. Ask my husband, or read this blog post. Or ask my former co-worker, who told me, after seven years as colleagues, that he "didn't know I could run."

"Thank you! That is so... wonderful," I told you. And it was. Just when I was starting to think that everyone in my city was a pothead gang-banging tagger with an obsence moniker, someone went and proved me wrong.

I wondered what the appropriate etiquette was for this situation. A profuse handshake? A cash reward? Split the profits? (No, you take the Sierra Mist... I insist.)

I settled with, "I really apprecate it," and you said, "No problem," and walked away, moving very slowly.

Anyway, you know that part. What you don't know is that I've decided to pay it forward. I am going to become, any day now, the sort of person who observes things carefully and steps in like a knight in shining armor (or a rather slow-walking woman in handmade Greek sandals) to save the day.


A Diet Soda Junkie
(aka, Woman in the Blue Shirt)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dear Mosquito Hawk who has been in my shower since Tuesday,

I thought we had an agreement.

I thought from the way we eyed each other warily on Tuesday morning, the sun only a smudged blur of light outside the window, that we understood each other.

It was a two-part agreement, a contract where each party had a specific responsibility. My responsibility was to let you live. Your responsibility was to come no closer.

As it has been explained to me by very intelligent, well-meaning, all-living-things loving people, mosquito hawks are actually good pests to have around. They kill mosquitoes, thereby protecting me from a host of diseases, such as West Nile virus, malaria, and bubonic plague. (I'm iffy on the last one.) Recently, I have become aware that I am more of a target for mosquitoes than others. Exhibit A: Will and I spent fifteen minutes in the backyard last Saturday night. He emerged unscathed. I had twenty-four bites of varying sizes (pinprick to BB) on my legs. Therefore, my second thought upon seeing you against the far end of the shower, a winged horror against the white tile, was that I would let you live. I could adapt to this new set of circumstances. We could live together, you killing mosquitoes and me not killing you.

And then, you got greedy.

For no reason at all, you left your spot on the wall and took a dizzying flight, while I screamed, clutching a loofah close to my body. You flapped dangerously near to my face, and this was where I am sorry to say we had to part ways.

I would like you to know that I still hold your species in high respect.


The Girl Who Showers Alone

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Very Cute Bagel Shop,

I love this place.

I could spend way too much time here. And money.

The funky topiary is neat. The hot pastrami bagel is fantastic.

But, a small suggestion?

This place needs a public restroom. If you want, I would be happy to conduct a small focus group on the issue.

I could poll your customers, for example.

"Check all that apply:

____I like to wash my hands before I eat.

____I like to check my teeth in the mirror after I eat and before I head into my meeting.

____I have children, and sometimes children need to use the bathroom on short notice.

____I would like to be able to order from your gourmet coffee menu and not have to rush out quickly to use the bathroom at the Togo's next door, risking adverse looks from the harrassed-looking Togo's employees.

____ I would be more inclined to visit in the future if I knew there was a public restroom available."

I think that about covers it.


Person About to Rush Next Door to Togo's

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Mystery Liquid on the Floor of the Women’s Restroom in this Fine Establishment,

We’ve met before.
Last week, in fact, when I was passing through the area and set my bag into a puddle of you that was somehow temporarily obscured by the flickering fluorescent light. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at the time, and it wasn’t until I had hoisted the bag onto my shoulder and found that the side of my blouse (dry-clean only, if you must know) was damp, that I was able to identify the culprit.
It was you.
Sometimes you are not wet, but sticky.
Sometimes you are dry, with muddy footprints.
But mostly you are slick, and I have to negotiate each step carefully, hiking up the hems of my dress slacks.
This is curious, because the hallway outside the door is dry. The line at the counter, full of angsty patrons, is dry. Outside, on the concrete walkway and in the asphalt parking lot, it is dry.
In fact, it has not rained here for weeks, and it’s possible that it won’t rain again for months.
This leaves only a few possibilities for your origin.
But I’m going to go with bioterrorism, since it is at least slightly less icky.
Girl Who Needs Galoshes

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dear Coward(s),

You did not win.


Me (and the rest of America)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dear Man Eating a Carrot,

It's kind of refreshing, in a way, to see someone eating an actual carrot -- ten inches easily, unpeeled, with a literal clump of green foliage hanging from the top.

Mostly when I see people eating carrots, they are eating them from little plastic baggies, where they can float around in a bit of moisture. They are sliced or whittled and resemble chubby baby toes.

This is what I do, at least. I don't like to be caught away from home for an extended period of time without a little baggie of carrots.

Someone told me once that eating so many carrots would cause my fingernails and the whites of my eyes to turn orange. I found this relatively easy to dismiss, and have filed it away under Bad Advice I Have Received, Completely Unsolicited.

The state of your carrot causes me to wonder if there is a garden in your backyard, and if on the way out the door each morning, you stop and pluck a carrot from a neatly tilled row.

And to this, I say, Eat on, Carrot Man. Eat on.


Your Kindred Spirit

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dear Girl with the Ponytail,

You remind me very much of me, fifteen years ago.

Except for the sweats. I wouldn't have worn sweat pants in public unless there was some kind of natural catastrophe (power outage, broken washing machine, break-up with boyfriend). And even then I wouldn't have worn the kind of sweat pants with writing across the seat -- because I wouldn't have owned anything like that.

But otherwise... you remind me of me.


Woman Who Still Wears Hair in a Ponytail

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dear Man Sitting Across from Me Reading Mein Kampf,

You can't be serious.

And could you please stop staring at me, like just because I'm blonde we share some secret superiority.

And don't you even think of passing me any literature.


Girl in the Black Dress

I've been busy.

Also, I like to make understatements.

I've felt horribly guilty about neglecting my blog, which has been with me for the last few years in the best of times, the worst of times.

It's the best of times right now.

I'm just too busy to say anything about it.

(Proof: This morning at 1:30ish, I woke up, my mind refusing to quiet until I made a to-do list for the day. I wrote down more than 50 things and felt like crying.)

So, I'm getting a lot of things done, but when it comes to this blog, not so much. I've been starting drafts of posts and leaving them as drafts instead of publishing them, because they read like a schitzoid version of my life and I dislike that person quite a lot.

And, so.

I propose this.

Since all I have time for is the sound-bite version of life, and since I'm spending a great deal of time in a number of coffee shops, and since stress makes me snarky, and since I'm basically a coward, I decided I would switch up the format of this blog, and instead of writing about myself, I would write about other people.

Only temporarily.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Stargazer

It's 28 degrees and my husband is outside, looking up at the stars.

For me, it's a tough sell. Inside, I have warm pajamas, two pairs of socks and a comforter pulled over my legs. There's a beagle sleeping upside down next to me, caught in a dream-chase. My laptop hums vaguely on my lap.

Every so often, Will comes to the back door and calls, "You can see the Red Spot on Jupiter!" and I sigh, and snuggle deeper beneath the comforter.


The telescope arrived in no less than four boxes in separate, highly-anticipated UPS deliveries. It's a serious piece of equipment, and I laugh when I see the finished product. I had tried to buy him off with a child's version of a telescope, something handheld and probably better suited to spotting land from a ship already very near the shore. Once assembled, this telescope occupies a rather large section of our garage -- a space where other, less adventurous people might park a car.


It's not that I'm against Will having a hobby. I've got a rather time-consuming one myself (Exhibit A: 3,000 books), and I can appreciate the romance and escapism of astronomy, although not necessarily the patience and the act of trying not to squint into an eyepiece.

My objection is more practical: It's January, the temperature hovering at or below freezing, and frankly, I'd just rather be inside. Somehow when the word "telescope" first came up, I envisioned us lying on a blanket, sipping wine, telling stories and admiring the sky.

I had discounted winter entirely.

But even I can understand that the planet he sees tonight might not be there in the middle of a balmy June evening.


When he finally persuades me to come outside, the telescope is pointed directly at the moon. The moon looks, in case you're wondering, exactly like you think it would look: Swiss-cheesy, with a giant depression for the Sea of Tranquility. When your teeth are chattering from the cold, it's hard to keep the entire moon in focus -- it seems to be wobbling up and down, although, of course, it's actually the viewer who is wobbling up and down.


I come from a short line of astronomy buffs, including only my mother.

Years ago she took a class on astronomy and ever since has spent two weeks of each spring crawling through a tunnel into an inflatable dome, then lying on her back with a laser-pointer, telling stories of Orion and Andromeda to giggling groups of schoolchildren.

I come to her StarLab lesson every few years, and it's always amazing what I've forgotten in the times between. I am only capable of holding the map of the sky in my mind for minutes at a time. Close my eyes or look away, and I've forgotten it all. Maybe I just don't look up enough, or pause often enough to be amazed. But each time I do, I see the scattered sprinkling of lights, and it's all new once again.


One of the first gifts I bought Will, for a birthday long ago, was a moon globe. Now he has moon maps, sky charts, a stargazing app, and a binder full of observations. He stargazes with a combination of extreme seriousness and a toddler's unbridled joy. Sometimes I ask if he is looking for anything in particular, because I have a deep suspicion that he is looking not just for a planet, but for someone or something.

From the millions of interesting Will stories I have at my disposal, I offer the following:

On May 2, 2011, we were relaxing in front of the TV on a Sunday afternoon when our programing was interrupted by the announcement of a special presidential press conference. We sat up straight; I was convinced we would hear news of a national tragedy or a natural disaster, but Will thought otherwise. He became edgy and pale, growing more and more flustered as we waited.

"What is it?" I demanded.

He began to pace the room, muttering under his breath as he went. It sounded like he was saying, "It's finally happened."

"Um, hello? What are you talking about?"

His eyes glistened, in a way that seemed almost... other-worldly, and he said, "I've been waiting for this! We've made contact."


You've probably figured out -- or remembered, or remembered after following the link -- that May 2, 2011 was the date that Osama Bin Laden was killed. President Obama revealed as much at the press conference that evening, and for days -- weeks, maybe -- media everywhere was consumed with the story. Everything from euphoria to concern to outrage was voiced, but in our little house, we were more subdued.

I didn't have the heart to say, "I told you so."

And Will was too despondent to do anything other than wander out into the backyard, and stare up at the sky.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The City at Night

We wake from a late-afternoon nap, dress, and step outside. San Francisco is hushed, a quiet brought on by the deepening evening, the susurration of cars passing in the rain. And it is raining – alternating between a gray mist and insistent droplets. We pull our coats tighter, thinking fondly of the umbrella packed in case of such an unlikely occurrence, an umbrella safely stowed in our car, which is safely stowed in a parking garage six blocks away.
We laugh. It’s not so bad. Every third of a block or so we stop beneath a store awning, catching our breath, peering inside at the people peering outside at us.
Two blocks later we hail a cab, slide giggling into the back seat, patting rain off our heads. We give the driver the address of our eventual destination: 261 Columbus Avenue. It's raining harder when we emerge, and we take cover beneath an overhang, catching our bearings.
First, dinner. We head up one block, where North Beach begins its merge to Chinatown. There are wet figures on every corner, waiting for streetlights. Pizza-by-the-slice, topless shows, gelato. We pass a half-dozen Chinese restaurants and reverse direction. It's raining harder, now. At any minute what seems a romantic, half-waking dream will become the stuff of bad memories. What about that time you dragged me through half of San Francisco in that downpour?
The restaurant we are looking for seems not to exist, and no amount of reasoning with our Maps app produces results. Half a block in another direction, toward Russian Hill, we see a miniscule awning and make a run for it. It's either this or pizza-by-the-slice. It's either this or starvation.
The restaurant has fewer than twenty two-seater tables, and appears to be at capacity. But no, miraculously -- there is a table near the kitchen, and yes, we will take it. We shrug out of our coats, place a wine order, listen to the specials. "My mamma handmade that pasta this morning," the waitress tells us. Beginning to dry off, we look around, noting the family resemblance in the servers. There is the matriarch, slightly stooped, a black skirt past her knees, orthopedic shoes. The two daughters, in black pants. A pre-teen girl, obviously a granddaughter, bringing checks to tables.
The arrival of the patriarch coincides with the arrival of a crusty bread, to be dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. "This is just what this place needed," my companion says. "A mafia don." And he does seem severe at first, in dark pants and overcoat, rainwater dripping off his fedora. Then the matriarch steps forward, using her thumbs to pat his face dry.
I realize that the table by the kitchen is the best seat in this house.
It would be too simple, too anti-climactic to say, And then the food arrived, and then we ate. Yet it would seem hyperbolic to say, And then the single best plate of food I have ever eaten was served to me.

There have been other good meals, some even fantastic. This one nearly made me cry with happiness, like a batty old lady in a children's book. To put a bite of this food (gnocchi pillows stuffed with ricotta and spinach, topped with a tomato and gorgonzola cream sauce) into my mouth was to realize that I had never really eaten before, and would probably never do so again. It was the most intense food experience of my life. My companion -- he of the flat-noodle pasta, tossed with Italian sausage, peppers and a tomato sauce -- fed me off his fork, and I returned the favor. We were full long before our plates were finished, but there was no choice but to press on, despite an uncomfortable fullness. It was simply a moral imperative.
The granddaughter brought our check, we drained the last of our wine, the owner thanked us, and we left, food-drunk and happy.

It was still raining, and the streetlights cast a faux glow over us. We linked hands; we made a run for it.