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.

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.

31/05/10

PRIDE AND SHAME

A friend mentioned that no images of me show up when I am googled. This left me feeling equal parts of pride and shame. Is there no record of the me who enjoyed various lines of overextended credit? The me who told overzealous art lovers not to touch the Francis Bacon? The me who drove the 1981 Honda Prelude? The me who did step aerobics? In the interest of filling this essential void, I offer a selection of my outdated ID cards.

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.

08/01/10

COLLECTIONS OF NOTHING

Give me your broken, your useless, your rusty refuse yearning to be saved… I lost a new cashmere sweater before Christmas, which was kind of annoying, but if the wire thingy with the two red plastic discs were to disappear it would be a real tragedy. Where did it come from and when did it mutate from junk to talisman? William Davies King answers my questions in his book Collections of Nothing, which intersperses a poignant chronicle of lonely childhood to midlife crisis with lists such as Here are all the varieties of tuna fish for which I have labels. Wise man. And I thought I was the only one collecting the patterns on the insides of envelopes.stuff

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

19/11/09

CALL YOUR MOTHER

On my desk are two squished foil wrappers – found on separate occasions in front of the same building – that remind me of twin cheerleaders: one fat, one skinny. My mother is a twin. And was once a fat cheerleader. But is now skinny. Must be a sign.

skirts

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