12/08/13

RICHES

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.

20/01/12

MISERY LOVES COMPANY

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.

13/12/11

GOIN’ ROUND AND ROUND

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?

19/02/11

ME, AGAIN

Yes, loyal reader, I’m back. Where was I? Shopping the internet for maternity wear. Changing diapers. Washing itty-bitty things with snaps. Which has left my hands very dry. Might also be due to ten years of printmaking without gloves and a lot of cooking. Bought something at the drugstore called a hand mask. Things are improving. As long as you ignore the things that are deteriorating. And don’t ask too many questions. Or just the little ones. Should I paint my nails? There are eight shades in the refrigerator to choose from. None of them seem quite right.

12/03/10

DOG SHIT AND REGRET

Ah, Berlin in March. Now that the glacial covering has receded, vast swathes of slushy dog shit and piles of crushed gravel (strewn by the city in an ineffectual effort to keep us all from slipping) create an interesting obstacle course for the average pedestrian. If you lost your keys in November, now’s the time to search for them. And if you’re me and have a fetish for select kinds of garbage, it’s like Christmas. Alone on a block long walk to the mailbox I found these three treasures from the thaw.

But everytime I see a soggy rocket I’m a little sad. Berlin on New Year’s Eve is a war zone. New Year’s Day the streets are filled with the strange burnt out remains. I collected these for years in a large cracker tin when I first moved here. Then I needed the tin for something else and saved only a choice few, throwing out the bulk of the collection. So my instinct when I see a rocket is to pick it up. But I don’t. Because now, like clothes I once loved to wear but are no longer fashionable, they’ve just become something from another time and only serve to remind me that I can’t go back.

06/02/10

REBEL STYLE

A recent exchange reminded me of a collection I inherited from my grandfather. I returned from Florida after his death with a battered cardboard box overflowing with the grosgrain and woven linen watchbands he changed daily to match his seersucker jackets and madras plaid pants. He went to Princeton during the depression, his style was a combination of old school preppy and dimestore dandy. He made no apparent distinction other than color when choosing a sweater; some were 40 year-old threadbare cashmere, others polyester blends. There was a phone mounted to the wall in his bathroom, which he refered to as the office; it smelled like cigarettes and Old Spice. He was known to fart at the dinner table, dive into the pool with his clothes on or play tennis in golfshoes: always with utmost decorum.

Back in Chicago, where I was going to art school with a lot of people wearing a different kind of plaid out of a completely different context, I started wearing the watchbands as bracelets, or hooking them together to make belts. I wore bright pink or orange lipstick and embroidered cardigans buttoned up to the neck and spent a lot of time trying to get my hair to look like a model from the pages of the Sears catalog, ca. 1961. Of course I wasn’t the only one trying to look like I was from another decade, but at the time I guess I thought I was using an obscure code to engage in some highly private form of rebellion.

At the movies last night on my way into the bathroom there was a girl carefully prodding the elaborately pinned curls of her hairdoo back into place. Her lips were a perfect pouty heart on an alabaster face, and the clothes established her style somewhere between burlesque and rockabilly. Part of me thought, Such a rediculous effort, another part of me thought, Why don’t I wear fishnet stockings more often? I was wearing a gray sweater and jeans and the modern-yet-not-flashy accessories defined my style as middle-aged hip. A woman passed me on my way out, wearing the international uniform of the senior citizen: frumpy hat, tan coat over nondiscript beige clothes, wedge heel shoes.

I’m wondering if the progression from retro fringe to tastefully modern to nondiscript utilitarian is inevitable and, if so, if it’s something I should welcome or fear.

01/02/10

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

Certain days, certain jobs seem less than fulfilling. I find it helpful to remember some of the worse things I have done for money. The waitressing job where the cook threw a battered chicken leg at me comes to mind. Or the gallery job with the annoying, loud film loop where minutes became hours and hours nearly unbearable.

And then there was the guy I worked for who left himself little notes on index cards; Dao around the house and Rock-On, Holy Warrior are two I remember. I took two buses and a train every Saturday to get to his house on the South side of Chicago. He always drove me home. We always had lunch at Burger King. My job was to transcribe his journal entries into the computer, and when I had done that I was supposed to fold the laundry. He was trying to finish his dissertation on the weekends – something about Paradise Lost – while holding down his job at a company that installed water filters. For Christmas he gave me a copy of his self-published book of poetry. Oh, you’re his amanuensis, a smirking editor told me at a party.

He had a pale, weepy wife and two children: a very fat little girl and a mean-looking boy with coke-bottle glasses, both immobilized in front of the television whenever I saw them. One day I finally found a better job. Not sure how he would react, I waited to tell him until he dropped me off. The motor of his Buick was running and the door was open; I had one foot on the pavement. Ok, fine, was all he said.

never_forever

08/12/09

KEYS TO THE PAST

Whose keys are these anyway? Are they yours? Were you a Latchkey Kid? Did you hang them around your neck on a shoelace? Key to Success? Key to the City? Key to Your Heart? Etc., etc.

Family lore has it that my first full sentence was Where are the goddamn keys? Now they’re in every drawer like lint in my pockets. I’m guessing that one of them might open the padlock on the door to a windowless, nine square foot space at Your Personal Vault; a place my mother and I call The Family Estate. If you found the right key, you would find things that have been broken and then glued back together and are too ugly for anyone to want but can not be thrown away because of their official status as Family Heirloom. You might also discover a big black portfolio filled with drawings of fruit and baskets rendered painstakingly in colored pencil on bristol board. Or the electric pencil sharpener that was so essential to this neurotic activity. There are also some very overdue books from the Detroit Public Library, Main Branch. Also, clothes that no one wants to wear but thinks that someone else will one day want to wear. Which they won’t, unless they really like shoulder pads. Again.

keys

03/12/09

WISHFUL THINKING

Another Thanksgiving. Food it took two days to prepare is devoured in two hours. It always tastes the same, which is the point, I guess: ritual, family, leftovers. What remains: a wishbone. What I wish for: world peace, longer legs, another wishbone.

wishbones

09/11/09

NOT SURE YET

This summer at a farewell picknic in the park with R’s Kindergarten the kids ran wild while the grown-ups hovered by the food in various clusters. Men with hands in pockets talked about old punk bands. Women with folded arms whispered about schools and doctors. The quiet ones just sat next to each other in the dark under a tree. A soccer game started, chairs for goal-posts. Fathers peeled off layers, sweating and shouting as they tried to pass the ball to 4 year-olds who were running in the wrong direction. As usual, I couldn’t really make the commitment to join any one of these groups and spent the afternoon milling around between them. Finally I took off my shoes and did cartwheels on the grass, where I found another ice cream stick for the collection. Best thing that happened all day.
Lately, I’ve been started picking things up on my runs. I used to feel a jolt of recognition at seeing some sidewalk specimen and then run heartlessly over it. But one day the pull was too great and I turned back to retrieve a rusty paper clip. Now, as well as aerobic exercize and meditational zone, running has the added dimension of scavenger hunt. Finally I know what those silly little spandex pockets are for. But I sense a new collection starting: Things I Collect and find later in the Washing Machine in an Altered State. (Not to be confused with the already existant Kleenexes Washed in Pockets).
Which brings me to lint. After hanging the laundry on a rack and folding it into crispy rectangles all summer long, I will soon make the seasonal switch. It’s fine to air-dry when it only takes half a day (as part of the good German I’ve become, I now actually prefer the crispy rectangles over fluffy bundles, just as I do duvets to tucked-in sheets and room-temperature to freezing cold drinks), but when it takes a week for the towels to dry, I stop caring about the environment and start using the dryer. Which is where the lint comes in. My need to collect lint (as with all the other collections) crept up on me until it could no longer be ignored. I would empty out the catch and think: this is too special to throw away. But then I would throw it away. Until I stoped throwing it away and started putting it in a jar. Which is almost full. Personality Disorder? Wierd hobby? Lack of other creative outlets? Not sure yet.

This summer at a farewell picknic with R’s Kindergarten the kids ran wild while the grown-ups hovered by the food in various clusters. Men with hands in pockets talked about old punk bands. Women with folded arms whispered about schools and doctors. The quiet ones just sat next to each other in the dark under a tree. A soccer game started, chairs for goal-posts. Fathers peeled off layers, sweating and shouting as they tried to pass the ball to 4 year-olds who were running in the wrong direction. As usual, I couldn’t really make the commitment to join any one of these groups and spent the afternoon milling around between them. Finally I took off my shoes and did cartwheels on the grass, where I found another popsicle stick for the collection. Best thing that happened all day.

Lately, I’ve been picking things up on my runs. I used to feel a jolt of recognition at seeing some sidewalk specimen. And then just run heartlessly over it. But one day the pull was too great and I turned back to retrieve a rusty paper clip. Now, as well as exercize and meditation, running has the added dimension of scavenger hunt. Finally I know what those silly little spandex pockets are for. (I sense a new collection starting: Things I find in the Washing Machine in an Altered State, not to be confused with the existing collection, Kleenexes Washed in Pockets.)

Which brings me to lint. After hanging the laundry on a rack and folding it into crispy rectangles all summer long, I will soon make the seasonal switch. It’s fine to air-dry when it only takes half a day (as part of the good German I’ve become, I now actually prefer the crispy rectangles to fluffy bundles, duvets to tucked-in sheets and room-temperature to freezing cold drinks), but when it takes a week for the towels to dry, I stop caring about the environment and start using the dryer. My need to collect lint – as with all the other stuff – crept up on me until it could no longer be ignored. I would empty out the catch and think: this is too special to throw away. But then I would throw it away. Until I stoped throwing it away and started putting it in a jar. Which is almost full. Pathological behavior? Wierd hobby? Creative outlet?

jar_o_lint