It’s night before O’s third birthday and I have spent the day baking a cake and wrapping presents. I’m not cooking, I declare. We head out to the italian restaurant at the corner. The guy in the obligatory big square glasses at the table next to us is holding a wineglass full of the orangey-champagne drink that’s like an adult lollypop. I want one of those, says M. Moments later it arrives on a tray along with a platter of antipasti and spaghetti for the children. The sun is setting, we watch people walking by on the sidewalk. This is great, M says, why don’t we do this more often? Then the guy with the greasy hair and the suspenders comes around the corner. He’s a face we know from the neighborhood; we’ve lived here 19 years, he’s probably lived here all his life, but we’ve all been here longer than the guy in the big square glasses. Spare some change, he asks with his dirty hand out. M gives him a two-euro coin. And that piece of salami, he says, his long yellow fingernail nearly touching the hunk of meat. We all look at each other, not quite knowing what to say or do. No, M says, this is my dinner, you can buy something with the money I gave you. He shuffles off and R bursts into tears, angry with her callous father. I feel guilty that we have so much and others so little, she cries. We spend the rest of the evening talking about the line between a cold heart and a bleeding heart. The next day at the street festival R is planning to sell old toys and junk from our basement and donate the proceeds to charity. After she’s in bed, I go through the boxes of stuff she’s weeded out for the sale and pick out the rings: just because I really want them.



Lost cardigan. Stolen sunglasses. Everywhere: younger, prettier, faster, smarter. Sitting in traffic jams with children who hardly even role their eyes at your bad jokes anymore. Please change the color, size, shape: again. Letters from the accountant. January.



December in Germany – if you have kids – means you will find yourself more than once at the dreaded Christmas Market. You will be informed that your offspring wants to peruse the various crap for sale, eat cotton candy, ride the carousel. Buying three rides at once is cheaper. Around and around they go as your toes turn numb. Again! Again! No matter how many times, you always end up with one leftover chip in your pocket after the Christmas Market has disappeared, wondering, what now?



There is something so tragic about finding compromising images of strangers. I have to take them home with me, even though I don’t really want them around – I have enough photographs of people I know – but how could I just leave them there? That hopefull young girl in her yellow bikini languishing in a moldy cardboard box nestled between all the Nazi wedding portraits. The little boy left on top of a stack of encyclopedias (I resisted the urge to take them, too) next to a door where the dogs pee. And what monster throws their kid’s school picture out anyway?



What was it? A No Parking sign? Part of a car? A cleaver? A map of the great lakes? I found it in the street while running over piles of dead fishflies in 95-degree suburban Detroit heat. Then I carried it like the Olympic torch in my sweaty palm for another 4 miles and collapsed in my father’s kitchen. I suppose we have to take it home with us, said M. It was added to the stockpile of miscellaneous debris I had collected so far for the annual import: baking powder, vanilla, various bottles of vitamins, some old aprons, a stray baseball, 9 pairs of new underpants, a souvenir plastic replica of the 1952 Wienermobile in the Henry Ford Museum, an advertisement for the long defunct boat to Bob-Lo. 3 weeks later I surreptitiously wheeled our bulging suitcases under the Nothing to Declare sign, expecting the bored German customs guy to pull me aside and demand a cut of my treasure. He didn’t even say welcome home.



Whatever you’re saving – the strapless dress, the king crab in a can, the frequent flyer miles – don’t. Everything has an experation date, including you. And while the wish to wait and find the right occasion can be overwhelming, it is born only of the fear of squandering that precious item. More often than not you will miss the perfect moment and find yourself hurtling towards death clutching something outdated, spoiled and useless. Which may or may not be a green sequined belt.



I learned to swim at a beach on an island in the Detroit River. Across from the Uniroyal Tire plant on Jefferson. In 1980, the year of the dubble-whammy – my parents’ divorce and Ronald Reagan’s election – Uniroyal closed the factory. On our way to the beach we would see the mural of stylized rolling tires that to me were donuts with wings. As I grew up the paint peeled off. The property became a de facto toxic waste dump. But, my mother says, Don’t worry! It was downriver from the beach, they tested the water, I’m sure it was fine. In 1985, the City of Detroit tore down the building complex that had been built in 1906. The people from the suburbs were happy they could finally see the river on their commute downtown. I missed seeing the donuts as I drove past the huge empty lot every day on my way to Cass Tech High School, which later was also abandoned and left to decay. Then some french guys came and made beautiful photographs of what remained.



Steer clear of candles: votive, scented, whatever. They will only make your appartment smell like a gift shop and remind you of fat Wanda, your upstairs neighbor in Chicago with the inspirational posters of cuddly animals: Take time to Smile! Friends forever! You had posters from museum gift shops: L’Esprit Nouveu! Tentoonstelling Graphica! After a certain amount of use the wicks will just shrivel up and be impossible to light. Dust will stick to the waxy surface and you will wonder why you bought them and when you can throw them away, just like with the posters.



Brush properly. Always floss. No matter what time it is when you go to bed and what the hell you were up to before you do. You might find you have overindulged in BB-Bats, Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls, Bit-O-Honeys. Ask for Novacaine. Give up taffy for life. Stop thinking about how the skulls in the natural history museum still have all their teeth. Tell your children about the brushing and the flossing. Then try not to be fearful yet envious of the joyous oblivion with which they sink their perfect little teeth into all that candy.



Don’t cry, take a picture.