Thursday, April 9, 2020

It’s a rainy Thursday and I’ve been trying hard to get back to serious work on my Big Project, but I’ve been procrastinating by doing a little bit of work on a dozen tiny projects. I transcribed about five minutes of an interview. I wrote a couple of emails and answered a couple more. I made a list of things I might want to write about when (and if) my brain ever stops floating and flitting like a gnat and starts, instead, to trot again like a good and sturdy horse.  

Shit. I have been so sad this week. And so angry. And so frustrated. I haven’t wanted to sit down or to stand up. I have a tummy ache and a back ache and a head ache and I feel like I’ve been piped full of cement. Except when I feel like I’m paper thin and drifting away.

Two days ago, as I drove down Los Feliz Boulevard, I saw a woman selling masks from a plastic bag. A little while later, over in Pasadena, a man paced between the cars stopped at the light just off Lake. He held up masks in one gloved hand. This morning, I read a newspaper article about a tenth grader who was helping his mother sell masks so that they could make ends meet. Five dollars at a time. And the ends so far apart.

I’m so fucking fortunate to be in my house, at my desk, trying to come up with something cheerful to say.

Earlier, I wrote a few lines about some things that made me happy this week.

The hot water bottle. The filling of the thing gives me reason to stand alert over the kettle. Constant vigilance is necessary. The water should be hot, but not boiling. When the water is just right, the surface looks a little bit marbled and the kettle breathes deeply, but is nowhere near ready to whistle.

Acrylic Paint. Even the old, slightly sticky tubes I found in the craft cabinet. My husband and I took an online painting class taught by an artist in Albuquerque. Together we contemplated some tangerines piled against a gray background. We were given twenty minutes to see the shape of the tangerines. We dipped our brushes in brown paint and drew rough outlines of the fruit. They weren’t round. Some of them turned out to be square. The one at the bottom was dented as if by a heavy thumb.

Bagels. They arrived warm from the bakery, delivered to our doorstep by a dear neighbor. She and I shouted our greetings and gratitude from a distance and then I called my family and we all stood in the kitchen and my husband cut the bagels with a big, serrated knife and we toasted them and slathered them with cream cheese or vegan butter and ate them standing there together without worrying too much about the spill of sesame seeds.

I am trying to make some sense of things and it feels impossible. 

I remember asking my Dad what it meant to have a hole in your arm where all the money goes and he sat down and carefully told me about Vietnam and heroin and addiction. He explained that I was a "little pitcher" and that my big ears were good listening ears. 

Among all those lost this week, one soul was John Prine. I saw him play last year at the Ford Amphitheater. I arrived early and sat in the empty space, watching while it slowly filled with people. The sky was dark and the air was cool. I got to talking to the people beside me and we got to talking to the guy in front of us and the people behind us and we laughed together like old friends. That's the kind of warmhearted gathering it was. 

I'm really longing to be in the world; to be surrounded by people. 

I didn't buy a mask from any of those people selling them on the street, but I did reach out to give some cash to a very elderly man with a cardboard sign, and, when our fingers -- his gloved and mine bare - grazed, I tried hard not to flinch.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Green Chile Cheeseburgers

This morning, my mom sent me a photo of some pot holders she was going to turn into masks. I told her I’d sew her a mask and drop it in the mail. She taught me to sew and while I don’t do it enough to be very good at it and it always takes me about fifteen tries before I remember how to thread the thing or how to fill the bobbin or how to adjust stitch length, I can usually make something simple and reasonably tidy. It’s busy work and brain work and I am in sore need of both.

My dad would’ve been 80 years old today. He’s been gone nearly 18 years and we still talk about him and think about him and it’s like he’s here and not here. As is our habit, we are having green chile cheeseburgers for dinner. I thawed some meat and some Beyond meat for the vegan in the family and I defrosted some green chile that I keep in little cubes in the bottom of the freezer.

Green chile was one of the few items I bought at the grocery store a few weeks ago when I didn’t realize what was really happening. Everyone was filling their carts in slow, polite motion. Everyone looked a little worried, but their eyes held not a strategic gleam nor outright panic. We were all toddlers that day. Curious, clueless, trying to base our actions on the models around us.

I didn’t want to be too alarmist so I bought some kale and some spinach and some milk, a small bag of flour and, at the last minute, and just because I happened to see them, three cans of Hatch chile. Now I long for that day. When I could have casually added baking soda and wheat flour and strawberry jam. I might have looked for tinfoil or rubber gloves and things to make Easter baskets for the kids.

We’re living in a paved paradise now. Every day thinking about what we had and what is gone. Trying to make do and get through.

I sewed four masks today – three for a friend of mine and her dear daughter, and one extra for my own dear daughter who is keeping sane by walking up and down our block or sitting on a beach towel in the drive way. Today she made some tomato soup from a recipe she found on TikTok. She made a date shake. She took some selfies and tied her long, thick hair in a knot.

My son is waging a D&D campaign with his friends on the computer. Later, he plans to watch a movie with a bunch of other people on the computer. He lives in his pajamas. He eats toast and gives me bear hugs and leaves his cereal bowls in stacks on his desk.

Eighteen years ago, my dad was alive and my son was floating in my womb and I felt as out of control and as in control as I’ll ever be. Change was rattling the windows and shaking the walls.

My husband mentioned how present my Dad still feels. “The kids know him,” he said. “He’s like… around.”

I think he’s around because we ask him to be around. We conjure him with stories and with devotion to the objects he’s made. We delight in the things that he found delightful. In Albuquerque, my brother threw some burgers on the grill for lunch. Up in the mountains, my stepmother and her neighbors have gathered as close as they can to do the same. In Morocco, our friend Autumn is eating a green chile burger. Dad is nowhere and everywhere.

Dad was the king of keeping himself amused. There was not a restaurant placemat that didn’t turn into a sketchpad, not a stick of wood that couldn’t become a face or an animal or a mermaid with outstretched arms. He turned the newspaper into magical, growing eucalyptus trees and refrigerator leftovers into both dinner (Smosnane Moosenose – a favorite with Klondike Prospectors) and fodder for bedtime stories.

Tonight, green chile cheeseburgers, Bob Dylan on the stereo, beer in a glass. A toast to my Dad and a toast to all of us, keeping on, holding the talismans, creating the rituals, telling the stories.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Postcard Roadtrip

I’ve been looking at the news approximately every four seconds, but sometimes I just look at it. I feel my eyes grow big as beach balls and let them kind of bounce softly against the words, but not really stay in one place.

Isn’t it incredible to think about a beach ball traveling through a stadium or concert venue? Doesn’t it feel a little bit like a poem when you imagine those fingers reaching up to give that bright orb a gentle nudge? I could honestly cry for the beauty of a cheap, plastic inflatable and the willingness of strangers to work together, finger print by finger print to move the thing through the air.

I am missing so many things.

I was walking through the neighborhood past all the shuttered businesses. I was reading all the handwritten notes tacked to darkened doors and shuttered windows. Everywhere was a reminder of something I’d forgotten to miss: the shared bowl of wrapped candy on the counter at the Vietnamese restaurant, the public telephone, the slightly sunken wing back chairs in the bar at the Tam O’Shanter restaurant. I miss using my hand to summon a walk signal.

Stuck inside my house and wondering about the world, I came across a stack of old postcards. They’d been part of a bulk box I’d ordered on eBay. I’d sent all the innocuous kittens and flowers and landscapes, along with notes of encouragement, to voters in my own state and in many other states across the country. But it felt odd to send vintage hotel and motel photos. It didn’t feel right to send aerial shots of beaches and golf courses or muddy photos of unfamiliar landmarks. I’d kept the postcards anyway. In case.

Today, these postcards provided an activity and a destination. I picked a few, turned them over and wrote the first thing that came to mind. And then I mailed them.

If I am to believe the blurb on the reverse of this one, The Marott (aka Queen of Indiana Hotels) boasts 500 luxurious guest rooms and two suites. Three Dining Rooms. Two Cocktail Lounges. There is banquet seating enough for 500 guests.

I want to bounce on the beds in each room. I want to check my lipstick in a wide mirrored vanity and twist the cap off a tiny bottle of shampoo. I want to hold the soft rectangle of wrapped miniature soap in the palm of my hand and inhale the chalky floral scent.  In the cocktail lounge at The Marott (Queen of Indiana Hotels,) I will slide into a leather banquette, rest my elbows on the table and look up at the waiter as he deals out cardboard coasters like cards. Order a Roy Rogers, a Shirley Temple, a Jack and Ginger in a bucket. Get whatever you want. It’s on me.

Oh, won’t you join me, when this is all over, for a banquet at The Marott? Or for brunch at Lehr’s Greenhouse? Or perhaps we could pick up a hammer and join in the barn raising.