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.



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.



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.