Five in Five: Tuesday, January 30

(Image by Lonely Planet)
  1. Watching a Nova documentary about the ruins of Petra in Jordan reminded me that my idea of heaven, if I get to write that script, is this: for all of eternity, I will be reclining a third of the way back in a movie theater, a naturally refilling Large popcorn on my lap, watching reels of actual human history project onto the screen in front of me. Since I have forever for this exercise, the images flickering on the screen will be detailed and take me inside the story of every last human experience, all while I sip on a Diet Coke that won’t kill me because I’m already dead. Naturally, in addition to snacks and all the mysteries of history explained, I’ll have good company in the seats around me, not a one of them with his hand on his penis as we compare reactions to finally discovering the truth about Jack the Ripper;

2. As soon as I finish my plate of sauteed greens for breakfast every day, the spaces between my teeth are ridden with green shards of kale and spinach. Thus, I have become incorrigibly sanctimonious about the pink and glowing health of my gums since I now floss two times per day. I’LL NOT BE DYING OF GINGIVITIS SO KEEP YOUR BETS ON A STROKE;

3. There’s this nice woman, Elena, who works at the neighborhood post office. She is a straight-shooter when it comes to the choice between paying the metered versus a flat rate, and for that I love her hard. Elena is from some Eastern European country; I venture the tests and rules of civil service have felt like a natural transition from the Old Country to the New. Yesterday, as I was packing up a fencing jacket for return, I experienced a revelation. See, this guy came in, and he started speaking Russian to Elena. Full disclosure: when they started talking, there were two seconds during which the walls got blurry, and I genuinely thought I might have entered a parallel reality wherein I had been transported to Russia; before my grounded brain re-engaged and reassured me I was still in Duluth, I zipped through a freak-out as I wondered how I would communicate “Please mail this to New Jersey” in English if I were, in fact, in Russia. I also — truly! — patted my pockets to see if I had any stray rubles tucked away, for to have neither payment nor language would stab with double humiliation. ANYHOW, once I felt certain I was still in Minnesota, I returned to packing, sealing, and addressing the box while eavesdropping on Elena and Guy. They said many things to each other, and I don’t have time to recap them all here now, but I can report they said hi, yes, no, please, and good-bye. Full of manners, these two caused me to inhale sharply as I realized I didn’t need to worry about not being able to communicate my mailing needs if this were actually an alternate reality — because, cher bitches, as my deciphering of their exchange indicates, it turns out I speak Russian!;

4. A student just submitted a Brief Summary Report activity, in which he was to take three articles on the same topic and synthesize the ideas into a short essay including a thesis, quotes, paraphrases, and summaries (along with the requisite parenthetical citations). The document he submitted was entitled Synthrdizing, which makes me wonder what in life he actually cares about since it’s clearly not the easy stuff;

5. In 2001, when we moved northwards and left Austin, MN, we were unable to sell our house for 26 months. For the first phase of that financially difficult time (carrying two mortgages, which ate up 55% of our monthly income), we rented the Austin house to one of my former students — a single teen mom — with the caveat that she would pay what she could, and any amount would be helpful to us. She had a full-time job as a bank teller, and her parents were simultaneously very involved and strongly in favor of her and her daughter learning to live outside of their home. Her mother had been my student, as well, so I thought this girl seemed like a good bet — and we wanted to pay back some of the many kindnesses the world had reaped upon us in our time. So we told her that since it was a relief to have someone in the house, she should take the first couple months to get on her feet and not worry about paying rent, but after that, if she could come up with $150 or $200 each month for us, then she would learn to manage a budget, and we might actually eat something more than rice and beans every once in a while. Another part of the deal was that the house would remain on the market, and she would keep it “showable” with the understanding that she would move out when we closed with the buyers. After a handful of months, we got a call from the realtor that this former student was, indeed, the living expression of a single teen mom after all. We knew she’d never paid us any rent yet had managed to buy a brand-new living room set of matching furniture, but we hadn’t known she was throwing parties or that our formerly tidy lot was littered with cigarette butts left behind by drunken lads who deeply dismayed the undertaker next door. In essence, the realtor said, “You guys need to get down here and put a clamp on this girl.” So we dedicated a weekend trip to driving the four hours south. She knew we were coming. But. When we entered the house, it was clear the place was not “showable” at all and that we’d need to evict her immediately. Most memorable were the carpeted stairs heading to the second floor. Every riser was laden with hot-dog-sized clumps of lint, hair, and weary world residue — so thick we didn’t need to vacuum but, rather, just picked up the debris sausages by hand.

Today, as I ran on an inch of newly fallen snow, I was reminded of those clumps and that strapped time of crystallized disappointment. The texture and movement of the snow was so much like untended staircase accumulation that I feared burping rice and beans.

Typing: 23:06 but I swear it felt like 7:00

Editing: 13:42

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Monday, January 29

1. For the past five years (I think?), I’ve been on the Board of Directors for our local public television station. What I’ve proven really good at so far is people-watching during the meetings. About six months ago, the station hired a new general manager, and she’s great — bringing energy and vision to an institution that has to evolve if it is to survive. One thing she wanted to do in her first months was meet with each member of the Board, to feel us out about our thoughts on and relationships with public television. Because I’m skulky and elusive, it was only today that we finally met. Fortunately, having just laughed out loud last night about the welcome incongruity of seeing Run the Jewels on Austin City Limits, I had a great opener for her about how much I enjoyed hearing the line “I’m a bag of dicks” broadcast by her station. Then, applying restraint, I stopped myself from further talk about foul-mouthed rappers on sedate airwaves — even though I feel certain she would have enjoyed some conversation about Big Mike’s statement necklaces — lest I get carried away and start parsing the RtJ line that goes “Got suspended for bullyin’ a bully/When I go back to class I’ma punch him in his shit again.”

2. I knew our meeting this afternoon was going well when we crept towards the three-hour mark, during which time she had twice declared “I can’t believe I’m telling you all this stuff.” That’s really all I need for a meeting to be successful, really. TELL ME MORE ABOUT HOW HER DOES THAT AND HIM DOESN’T WANT TO.

3. This article makes good points about the inequalities that crop up when real prices are charged for growing and raising non-industrial food: “Clean Food: If You Want to Save the World, Get Over Yourself”. Byron and I both work with populations that struggle with healthy eating due to unaffordable prices. While I have long maintained that it is possible to eat good food on a limited income, a big part of doing that that is education: a bag of lentils might be cheap and able to feed a family of four for a couple nights, but if someone has never eaten lentils and has no idea how to prepare them, then the point is moot. Or “mute,” as a colleague at a previous workplace used to say. I do think there’s a place in our society for a program that shops and cooks with low-income families interested in eating better. 

4. Yesterday, when we were driving to Y, Byron looked out the window, saw something, and then noted, “So I guess the next era we’re moving into will be one where we don’t see plastic bags hanging from trees, blowing in the wind, but rather one where we see reusable tote bags caught in the branches.”

5. Speaking of the awesomeness of Byron, he recently finished a cross-stitch of a favorite game: Boggle. He did a shake of the game board and then stitched it as it landed. Raise your hand if you see a T-W-A-T!

Typing time: 12:40

Editing time: 3:23, a large portion of it spent trying to figure out why WordPress says “unaffordable” is mispelled

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Sunday, January 28

  1. Last night we turned on PBS, and there on Austin City Limits was Run the Jewels, mics in hand. Turning to Byron, I laughed, “Wow. In about thirty seconds, we’re going to hear the words ‘bag of dicks’ for the first time ever on public television. Do not tell the Dowager Countess!” Discreetly, the broadcasters opted to bleep out every third word of the entire concert;

2. There’s a term for small talk! It’s horror vacui (also called kenophobia) — which means the fear of empty spaces, usually in artistic works, but I also want it to apply to things beyond design, like conversations that involve people yammering about the weather, knicknack-ridden living rooms, and the inside of our refrigerator;

3. A few months ago, I bought some amazing leggings from a company called the Girlfriend Collective; I’d read about them online and was interested that all their clothing is made out of recycled bottles — yet it’s so soft and fine. (If you want to know more about how some business people are putting their values into their products, you can read their explanation of recycling in Taiwan and their use of water bottles as the basis for fabric here). Sure, the cost is not insignificant since it reflects the realities of manufacturing and distribution rather than an artificially deflated price, yet I’m so crazy in love with these leggings — How can I be in love with leggings? But I tell you, they are quality stuff — now I really want a pair of their biking shorts, and let’s be honest: a big part of my enthusiasm is that I am in love with the muffin top suppression in their high-rise styles. It’s no fun getting sweaty unless your waistband reaches your bra-line, right? CAN I GET A WITNESS?;

4. The remnants of colonialism live strong, right down to the fact that people with colonialist mindsets still believe those who serve them are happy to do it. Getting real: the person wiping up after you is muttering curses under her breath and, when she’s not peeing into your soup, wishing you a hard fall into a shallow grave;

5. Paco’s been doing fencing for more than a year now, so every Sunday his doting parents get to run around the track and lift weights while watching all sorts of thrusting and parrying. Get this: today’s kids come into fencing classes with poor habits already in place thanks to the influence of cinema; the teachers have to caution youngsters, “Hey, Cody and Orlando, you’re light-sabering again.” Something else I enjoy: a good fencing jacket has a front-zip, not a back-zip, because all Big Boys Like to Dress Themselves.

Quick update from Friday’s post: I have hardly seen Allegra these past few days because she’s always at work, but I did message another girl on the ski team to ask for an update on the hurt skiier, and she replied that she doesn’t know much, other than the girl in question is fine.

Typing time: 8:50

Editing: 4:30

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Saturday, January 27

    1. I was walking along today, listening to the Atlanta Monster podcast, when I peeped over my shoulder and was startled by a creeper on the path. Seeking to defuse the threat of him, I married him 18+ years earlier and fell in lockstep with his gait;
    2. Atlanta Monster is a podcast exploring the murders of young black boys in Atlanta in the late 1970s. The fear and threat of that scary season reached as far as Billings, Montana; I remember watching the news as the numbers of deaths rose. In this podcast, listeners learn how Wayne Williams was eventually caught and imprisoned for two of the murders — and then it goes further, to question whether Williams was actually responsible. I’m all in on this storytelling that seeks to upheave easily accepted prison sentences. Even more, I learned from this podcast, as I listened today, that it wasn’t until the 1946 Democratic Primaries in Georgia (and other states, too, I do believe) that blacks were allowed to vote. My mom still isn’t over stuff that happened in 1946, so how on earth can those who call today’s discussions “race-baiting” rather than “an attempt to acknowledge deep and continual racism” think that black Americans should just “be better” (read: “act more white”) and “get over” (read: “stop being rightly pissed as fuck”) the systemic quashing of their every chance not to get ahead but just to get onto the playing field? Without the right to vote in primaries, blacks had zero chance at representation and influence;
    3. This past fall, I taught a literature class that was loaded with students who were bright lights — absolutely burning up the discussions, always apologetic if they missed a post or a deadline. Currently, I’m teaching that same class again, and students this semester are, so far, “a bit more messy.” They are still getting up to speed with expectations, of course, but it’s interesting that weaker students come at the teacher harder, complaining that things are confusing or that the deadlines aren’t clear. I struggle sometimes to stay even-keeled and not reply: “Strangely, 35 students last semester all found the class clear and straightforward.” Anyhow, I’ve been musing about how strong students apologize when it’s not necessary and weaker students blame when responsibility could be taken. Can I end this one with a shrug and a sigh about human nature?
    4. I heard on the radio yesterday that Minnesota is one of the states with the fastest-warming temperatures in recent decades (with cities Minneapolis and Mankato two of the top five fastest-warming spots in the nation). Blech. If Minnesota doesn’t have claims to frigid temperatures, what does it have? Big mosquitoes and silent grudges, that’s what.
    5. So the public library is super nice and buys me books when I ask it to. Oh, okay: it buys books, and they aren’t actually just for me — but I am very good at using the form for requesting new materials be bought, which makes it feel like certain books are “mine,” at least for a few weeks. So a while ago, I requested the library purchase Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties since it was nominated for the National Book Award and has been getting rave reviews all over the place. The other day, My Personal Library Dude brought it home for me, and I am not disappointed. What I really like is how Machado’s writing feels so unique and wonderfully weird, but there’s no sense that she’s trying to be these things. More, it’s like she is perfectly able to express on the written page what her brain feels like, and it’s a wondrous place to visit. Mind you, her book has eight (??) stories in it, and I can only read one or two at a time, as the cumulative effect is too much. My favorite so far, and I’m only halfway through it, is “Especially Heinous,” a story that uses 272 fictional recaps of Law and Order: SVU episodes to take readers on a slow screech off the rails with Detectives Stabler and Benson. Although there are some crabby reviews of this story on Goodreads, it’s making me snort with laughter and feel pangs of envy that Machado could create an oddball structure that is achieving itself perfectly.

Examples of episodes:

“Or Just Look Like One”: Two underage models are attacked while walking home from a club. They are raped and murdered. To add insult to injury, they are confused with two other raped and murdered underage models, who coincidentally are their respective twins, and both pairs are buried beneath the wrong tombstones.

“Hysteria”: Benson and Stabler investigate the murder of a young woman who is initially believed to be a prostitute and the latest in a long line of victims. “I hate this goddamned city,” Benson says to Stabler, dabbing her eyes with a deli napkin. Stabler rolls his eyes and starts the car.

“Sophomore Jinx”: The second time the basketball team covered up a murder, the coach decided that he’d finally had enough.

“Uncivilized”: They found the boy in Central Park, looking like no one had ever loved him. “His body was crawling with ants,” Stabler said. “Ants.” Two days later, they arrest his teacher, who as it turns out had loved him just fine.

“Misleader”: Father Jones has never touched a child, but when he closes his eyes at night, he still remembers his high school girlfriend: her soft thighs, her lined hands, the way she dropped off that roof like a falcon.


Typing Time: 15:39, which is a pretty healthy five minutes

Editing Time: 12:11 because I had to go find those Machado excerpts, and reading them as I copied and pasted cracked me up all over again, and also I had to scream and gnash teeth while fighting this blog template’s desire to enumerate every last thing whenever I hit Enter. This report brought to you from the hells off the html editor

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Friday, January 26

  1. I used a facial mask the other day — since every last thing on me is properly dry and flaky now that it’s January. I had no idea what Resveratrol means, but based on the picture on the packaging, it seemed to me “Resveratrol” meant “red wine,” so after pulling the mask out, I sucked on it real hard like and got tipsy; my skin looked both refreshed and blurry by the time I spit that sucker out.
  2. Yesterday, I went to a new Strength Training class during which we used real barbells and did lots of reps, and today, if anyone puts my chocolate higher than waist level, I’ma have to cry.
  3. With hopes of sleeping better, I cut out afternoon caffeine a few months ago; for Christmas, Byron gave me a bevy of herbal teas, and as soon as I post this thing, I get to go downstairs and make a huge mug of Toothless Chai, which will be awesome because I’m cold to my marrow right now.
  4. Last week I went to the one-year follow-up appointment for having had LASIK surgery, and mostly I like to see that doc because I get to ask her for updates on her daughter who’s a freshman at GW this year, but also I like to see that doc so I can confirm I still sometimes experience a high-up back-of-my-eye feeling of grit and irritation. She directed me to a night-time gel I can use to try to alleviate the problem, and let me tell you it’s bizarrely satisfying to squirt a quarter-inch of what is essentially Vaseline into my eye before I sleep because then my blurry vision has nothing to do with the Resveratrol. 
  5. The reason I’m cold to my marrow right now is that I spent a lotta hours outside today at a ski meet, running in the woods, and back at the ski meet. Those teens are so ferociously focused and fierce they make my heart sing. What made my eyes wet was when a girl on Allegra’s team had some sort of crash in the woods wherein she hit her head a couple times, lost consciousness, and threw up repeatedly — before the firefighters and paramedics got to her on their snowmobile and snow ATV machine. After a knuckle-biting wait for gathered onlookers, they hauled her out, such a small figure wrapped in blankets, being machined down the hillside in the open back of a rescue vehicle. It looked like she maybe had a tube coming out of her mouth, but what I know for sure is the firefighter riding in the back with her had his head bent low over hers. And all I could think as they drove past and I wiped my eyes is that the young woman being bundled towards help could have been any of those kids out there today, and, lordy, do I hope she’s okay.
  6. Because here’s the thing. 
  7. These teens are ferocious and focused and fierce.
  8. And this world needs them.
  9. We need our ferocious, focused, fierce future to be okay.

Typing time: 10:32
Editing time: Fuck it. I kind of edited as I typed. And I need some tea now.

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Thursday, January 25

  1. The best thing in Paco’s freshman year of high school so far has been making the cut for the robotics team. Each day, he has practice for a couple hours after school, and during “build” season (the 6.5 weeks when that year’s robot is designed and fabricated before it must be “sealed”), the hours are often longer. In March, there will be a big regional event held in Duluth; friends and family are already planning to attend. My favorite part so far is the enthusiasm of a former student but now life friend, Keri, who is wired as superfan in general. At one of Allegra’s cross-country meets this fall, Keri pogoed around the golf course like Tigger any time she saw our girl coming. Not one to short Paco, Keri is already planning swag to wear to the regional robotics meet; she had her wife, Linda, text me a photo of her sketches. My favorite bit? THE FAN TOWELS with our kid’s name and his team number on them. Byron’s February is going to be spent at the sewing machine, adding numbers to red satin.
  2. Based on my admiration for her essay about giving birth in a hotel bathroom in a Mongolian hotel, I recently tore through Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, and my final assessment is unkind: I like her better after her baby dies.
  3. Sometimes I get to late afternoon here in Minnesota and, as I take stock of the interactions that have populated my day, I wonder if there’s an official ranking of the most passive-aggressive states because, even though it would make Minnesotans uncomfortable to be best at anything, we could be contenders.
  4. I could be a professional laundry folder, but I could never be a professional dishwasher — and definitely NOT a professional washer-outer of empty peanut butter containers.
  5. I am so in love with GIFs that at my funeral when people are hard-pressed to come up with nice things to say, I imagine at least three sad sacks will stand and note, “Well, she was selfish and blunt, but she surely did love a good GIF.” It’s at the point where I should maybe try to get a “Teaching Writing through GIFs” class put on the books since 70% of my feedback to students contains them.


Typing Time: 6:41

Editing Time: 3:37, including googling to see if it should be “pogo-ed” and if it’s “sadsack” or the two-word “sad sack.”

GIF-making Time: PRICELESS

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Wednesday, January 24

  1. It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been menstruating for nigh on 40 years, and my first reaction was: HEY, LOOK, I CAN DO A THING!
  2. My friend Ellen has started a newsletter; when she asked if she could interview me, my answer was “Hell, yes” followed a couple days later by “HEY, LOOK, I DID A THING!” You can read the first edition of her newsletter, along with my answers to some really fun questions, here: Oh, Yes!
  3. Allegra’s all done with high school, save for finishing out ski season; thus, she’s been on a diligent hunt for a second job so’s to earn enough money to travel this spring. The other day, she scored that second job. If you’re out shopping, don’t look for her by the Bed. Don’t look for her by the Bath. Look for her Beyond. That girl of ours has always been Beyond.
  4. I am actively envious — okay, let’s call it what it is: I’m miffed — that the middle and southern parts of the state got a huge snow dump the other day, and up here, where snow is supposed to live, we got none. I just went skiing today, and the tufts of grass poking through the groomed tracks made my heart weep and my feet stutter.
  5. The last handful of days at work have been “challenging” for Byron, in a way that has been a huge perspective restorer. I hate how dirty the car is? Doesn’t matter, so long as my boy is okay. Feeling fat? Is a bullshit waste of energy, if my boy’s not okay. Hating the book I’m reading? There are other books, ad infinitum, especially if my boy’s okay.

Final typing clock: 5:18.

Editing: 3:12

If you care to share, click a square:

Five in Five: Tuesday, January 23

In an effort to get myself writing — writing anything — I’m going to try to type every day: five minutes of freewriting and brain dump followed by five minutes of cleaning up the dump. The results will be random, but at least I’ll be making myself get words out. I have no idea how long I’ll keep up with this challenge (probably just today, knowing me and my interest in challenges), so don’t bet the house.

  1. I love having bright blue toenails when I go to yoga class because every time we do a forward fold, it’s like I’m diving into shards of the sky;
  2. Those twins on Season 16 of Project Runway were insufferable; I realize this is not breaking news to fans of the show, but we’ve only just gotten through the whole season, and so it’s only now that I’ve watched the reunion episode that my annoyance is complete. They remind me of a set of twins I had in class a few years ago who fed each other’s drama and upset the entire energy of the room. One of those twins, in finding out her final grade in the class was a “D,” petulantly told me “When I become a nurse, if you’re ever in one of my rooms, I’m going to give you poor care”;
  3. In the latest installment of my eternal battle with having a body that is both puffy and slack, I have been revamping what I eat. A few months ago, my pal Maggi told me about what she eats most days now that she’s following an anti-inflammatory diet, and it is from her that I got the idea for a daily breakfast of sauteed greens topped by a poached egg. Additionally, I add a tablespoon or so of a nice grain (all hail quinoa and farro!) to sop up the egg yolk, and it’s at the point now where I can’t wait for breakfast each day;
  4. Last week, I had about four days of eating sauteed mustard greens as part of that breakfast, and I tell you, my sinuses have never been so clear;
  5. While I am not purposely adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, I had this moment the other night where I realized that I hadn’t been taking ibuprofen during the day or before bed, as I have for quite some time. Like, it hasn’t even occurred to me to want or need ibuprofen. All this leads my sleuthing brain to wonder if staying away, for the most part, from bread, beer, and other carbs while eating more greens and lean proteins has yielded a surprise revelation: that I have not been a person who suffers from being both puffy and slack but, rather, that I’ve just been INFLAMED;
  6. Okay, all that typing in #1-5 actually took me six minutes and thirty-four seconds, so I exceeded my rule of five minutes. GOOD. I like to do things my own way, so thank you for showing up, #6! You are a welcome violation.

Check back tomorrow for further violations. Maybe I’ll take up two parking spaces or let my imaginary dog run off-leash within the city limits.


If you care to share, click a square:

Po’ Boy

Chin merging into neck, the guy sharing our table is persistently friendly, hail-fellow-well-met-ing his way through the world. In what feels like a bold wardrobe choice for a white suburban middle-ager, he’s wearing orange — but then again so were clusters of people around us during the long wait to get into the Parkway Tavern, home of Louisiana’s best po’boys.

I understand the business of hustling towards and milling in a queue for a good sandwich, but the masses of orange confuse me. Has Pantone declared Goldfish Orange the Color of the Year for 2018, and I missed the announcement? It is January 1st, after all, and maybe a deep bow to Pantone’s proclamations is New Orleans’ tradition when the calendar changes.

But then — aha! — I remember: there’s a sportsing happening in The Big Easy on this first day of the new year, and one of the wide-shouldered teams brands its skills with orange. So all these hungry sandwich-seekers are fanpeople, lining their stomachs with gravy and fried pickles before the chest painting.

It’s fortunate my brain catches up, for the friendly man sharing our table unthinkingly trusts that everyone is dialed into his channel. As we all wait for our food, he floats a few chatty queries, notable for being more ice- than ground-breaking, before nodding at the man sitting across the table and divulging overly casually, “This is my dad. He played for Clemson. I travel with him to all the games.”

I don’t know what a Clemson is, but the sentence structure clues: a Clemson must be a school. Or a team. Or a delicious orange fruit. Even more, the broadcast of his father’s past indicates we should be impressed. Across the table, the eighty-something-year-old man is smiling and nodding as though he expects an enthusiastic acknowledgment, and since he seems sweet as a dented helmet, I try to convey something like “WOW, IS THAT SO?” without using actual words — because I don’t know which ones to use with regards to having done something that sounds vaguely notable for a school or a team or a fruit named Clemson.

In moments like this, where I feel pinned against grimy vinyl upholstery by someone’s assumption that we share language and values, I am tempted to respond in my own tongue: “Isn’t it affirming that Jesmyn Ward not only won the National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing but also scored a MacArthur ‘genius grant’? Helluva year for a worthy author, right?”

It is not a fair bet in this country, however, to assume that a stranger would be a book reader and literary fanperson. Rather, all we can presume of the strangers among us is that they are conversant in Ball Sports, able to reel off scores and jersey numbers in between bites of sandwiches that could be tucked into armpits for a sprint to the end zone.

Such presumptions have, on more than one occasion, caused my husband — an honorary woman — to groan, “I don’t like men; they sidle up and think we’re going to connect by comparing notes on our favorite teams, but when I tell them I’m not into football or baseball or basketball, they do a kind of physical recoil and stutter a little bit. Then it gets quiet because they can’t think of anything else to talk about. MEN. UGH.”

Thus, it is shortly after the guy sharing our table has asked, “So if you’re from Minnesota, you guys must follow the Gophers?” that silence falls. I consider unleashing some tit-for-tat on him, thinking this would be a great moment to quiz him on his feelings about Jesmyn Ward, but the Parkway is a mad crush, and I worry that in the din he’ll hear “Quandon Christian” by mistake, and then I’ll end up paralyzing my facial muscles from “WOW, IS THAT SO?” overuse as our tablemate holds forth about linebackers. 

I opt, instead, to lean into Byron’s shoulder, put my mouth close to his head, and murmur: “So I don’t actually have anything to say, but to spare you from these painful conversational attempts while we wait for our food, I’m just going to keep talking intently and intensely into your ear here, okay? That way this nice guy won’t feel like he has to engage with us, and we can relax.”

Scratching his chin, Byron nods thoughtfully and responds loudly, “That’s a really good point. Tell me more.”

Patting his shoulder as though I’m talking him through a crisis, which, in a sense, I am, I continue. “So I’m super excited to have a big ole roast beef po’ boy with gravy on it, and the reviews said the fries are amazing, so I can’t wait to tuck into those, and isn’t it weird how we have to keep all those ceiling fans running in our Airbnb in order to keep the heat from rising, and I’m so glad we scored seats in this hopping joint. I thought we were going to end up outside in the cold, snarfing down our lunches. Also, I keep thinking our new friend here has a faux leather sectional couch in his rec room at home.” Making my eyes wide and sighing dramatically so as to communicate Important Words Being Said Over Here, I add, “I like how well organized this place is; they are very efficient in terms of getting people in, feeding them well, and then getting them out. I also really like that they use a microphone to call out the orders that are ready rather than just hollering, don’t you?”

Tipping his head from side to side to indicate “weighing a thought,” Byron slowly responds, “Yes, microphones are nice.”

Fortunately, the friendly guy sharing our table has managed to snag eyes with a couple passersby and, in this fashion, create for himself the feeling of community that our family is unable to provide. As nonsense waterfalls out of my mouth into my husband’s ear, we hear the guy in orange excitedly ally with other customers, using words like “game” and “ball” and “game” plus “game.” But for the grace of tight space, we would be watching an exchange of high fives.

In the midst of my murmuring, it occurs to me I have an actual thing to say to Byron. “Okay, so about the Gophers. I mean, when he asked us, it genuinely took me a second to realize he didn’t mean burrowing rodents. But when I realized people usually don’t talk about vermin while in a restaurant, I did cop to ‘Hey, this is sports talk,’ but even then I realized I didn’t know what he was talking about. Soooo. The Gophers. Is that what all the UMD teams are called? I can’t remember.”

Here’s a beautiful thing: after 19 years together, I can still surprise my husband.

He knows I’m often six steps behind public knowledge, but still. He would have guessed I would know who the Gophers are. 

I meant to know. My ears had heard of sportsing Gophers. But they hadn’t seen any reason to file the information into the brain, so one ear let it in, and the other ear ushered it out, thus leaving more memory storage available for details about what Rhianna wore to the Met Gala.

Smiling, Byron explains, “No, the Gophers are the U of M in the Cities. The UMD teams are the Bulldogs.”

Clearly, one of us reads the newspaper, and it’s not me.

“Oh, hey, that’s right! I might have known that, actually. We know so many people who go to hockey, um, hockey clashes — derbies? — that I do get an image in my head of toothless men on skates when I hear the word ‘bulldog.’ Well, anyhow, I had no idea what Dude Over There was talking about when he asked us about the Gophers. I was so glad you were able to tell him we don’t follow ball rodeos because I had no idea how to answer him.”

As we chuckle over my sports aphasia, I lean into his shoulder. He squeezes my thigh. 

Our moment of quiet communion provides opportunity; the friendly guy in orange can’t keep himself from small talk. It’s an impulse, this search for quick moments of compatibility. If we have something in common, we establish ourselves as together and somehow stronger. For a sports fan like the man in orange, this means we at the table have an opportunity to come together as a team, if only he can coach the right moves out of us. So he tries again. “Have y’all eaten here before? We haven’t. Are you first-timers, too?”

And even though this poor, lovely man was unfortunate to have plopped down at the table of standpat individualists, we let him score. 

Squaring my shoulders, facing the challenge, I enter the field. “No, we’ve never been here before. Did you read about it in a guide book? That’s where we learned about it — said it’s the best place in New Orleans to get a po’boy, so we figured we better give it a try. How’d you hear about it?”

The question makes him happy. It gets lonely with just Dad sometimes. But now we all have each other. It’s a relief.

As is the moment when the harried cook behind the counter pulls down the microphone and calls out, “Order for John.”

If you care to share, click a square:

Truffle Kerfuffle

She’s making a holiday gift for her friends.

17 friends.

Wisely, she is giving them homemade treats. 

At one point, she notes that a homemade gift really is the best.

So is having a younger brother who is both a good listener and a willing helper.

Because there are thirty-two squares of baking chocolate that need unwrapping.

And even though she has a recipe plan, all the ingredients on hand, and an evening set aside for this project…

…it is actually more complicated than she expected.

Initially, she is by herself in the kitchen.

But then, when the loud lament of “Oh my God, I need so many crushed candy canes and Oreos” starts to repeat on a loop, I wander in and suggest the old “put the candy canes in a Ziploc and whale on them with a meat mallet” approach.

When the time for cream cheese comes, she asks how to soften it.

“Put the little bricks of it in your armpits,” her parents advise.

The kitchen goes quiet for a bit, as she scrolls on her phone, her armpits stuffed with bricks.

The lull doesn’t last long.

She doesn’t quite know what she’s doing, but she has opinions.

Yes, Dad, I know you would use the food processor. I’m not going to.

Paco, after I dunk each one, will you dust them with candy cane sprinkles?

But not like that.

Mostly, I am watching —

laughing at my kids cutting up.

In the moment with a thing unplanned —

not on the calendar as a mandated “special day” —

listening to the teasing and mock agonies of my children —

I know this is the real holiday.

We won’t all live together much longer. There’s a sharp-edged melancholy to this phase of life’s forward momentum, so overwhelming it makes me want to grip the counter and press my gut into the hard ridge of the thing.

I make my brain stop thinking about the future and, instead, relax into this warmly lit evening of pipping and sparking in the kitchen.

When social media entered her life, I suggested she start a Tumblr named “Licking the Brownie Bowl.”

She did. It suits her.

NO ONE gets between her and a bowl that needs licking.

A few feet away, having eked out his own safe space in the fashion of a younger sibling, Paco layers of remnant chocolate with layers of candy cane shards, then more chocolate, then more candy canes, building a tower of yummy on his fingertips.

He’s six-feet tall, but that boy is still the three-year-old who put on a Spiderman mask and a pair of tights before tearing down the sidewalk on his scooter.

From the girl, there is much exasperated sighing. This process was not supposed to take three hours.

Stuff is sticky. Hard. Messy.

A few feet away, from that safe space he’s eked out in the fashion of a younger sibling, Paco critiques, “It’s not turning out because you’re not making it with love. Your food needs to be made with love. LOVE IS BOUNDLESS AND LIMITLESS, and you aren’t putting that into your cooking. Try adding boundless, limitless love, and then it will taste better.”

He is the best. She is the best.

This evening is the best.

It’s made even better once all the truffles are chilled, boxed, and labeled — because that’s when the girl, the young woman who’s just starting to figure out the power and expanse of her mess, comes into the tv room to announce a revelation:

“Those things you put on your hands shouldn’t be called oven mitts, you know. They should be called glovens.”

If you care to share, click a square:
Translate »