Tuesday, February 26, 2008

grown up and cool

One of the things I love about living downtown is that I can leave work, shake the dust of the office off my shoes, and then head into the traffic and lights and humanity at "Feierabend"--a not very translatable German word that is both the end of the work day and the greeting you give to people to acknowledge that transition from professional to personal.

This evening I walked down to the Pike Place Market and bought a loaf of 8-grain bread at a bakery. The guy was horrified that he didn't have the 12-grain that I wanted, and he gave me his card and told me to call ahead and that he would hold a loaf for me next time...and then he gave me the 8-grain for half price.

A homeless woman shouted out to me "I love your earrings!!! It's the first thing I noticed when you walked by! Those are GREAT!" And she grinned a big, lopsided grin and ducked, waving, into an alleyway.

Another woman fell out of her wheelchair and hit her head on the street at the corner of 6th and Pine and 15 people swooped down to tend to her, while another 5 directed traffic away from and her and 10 more called 911 on their cellphones. I was useless, except to hold her hand and talk to her. She said she was afraid, and to please keep talking to her until help came. Once the firetruck with the first responders arrived, about the same time as the woman's son got there, everyone dispersed silently. We'll never see each other again, so we can't test the bond that formed in a second around the woman on the ground.

I stopped in a little risotteria and had a glass of barbera and a plate of tomato-y rice by candlelight, all by myself. I felt more grown up than alone. The waiter talked to me as if he found it more cool than pathetic to serve a single woman with a loaf of bread and cheeks flushed from a walk and a streetside drama, surreptitiously taking iPhone pictures at passersby on the other side of the window.

Dean Martin crooned.

It was good.

Monday, February 18, 2008

living the questions

What a gorgeous morning. What began as a series of curses, a smashing of the alarm clock with a hammer, a stumbling into clothes and to the gym--I forgot it was a holiday and made an appointment with my trainer for dark:thirty, stupidstupidstupid, but ah, well, now it's done--has turned into a bright expanse of day ahead of me.

I may take a leisurely bath with salts and unguents instead of a utilitarian shower.

I may walk down to the Sculpture Park and turn my face toward the sun instead of ticking off a life maintenance errand from my list.

And I may ponder questions instead of tilting at the windmills of my life, my career, my relationships, my age, money, unrequited loves, unredeemed dreams...there's time enough for that tomorrow and tomorrow.

...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Praise of the Humble Saltine

I don't quite remember when it happened. First there were Ritz crackers, then Wheat Thins and Triscuit. Then "water biscuits" and pita chips and lavosh and rosemary-scented crispbreads of every stripe.

But somewhere along the line, the humble saltine cracker was tossed aside as old school, as passé, as soooo last century.

The saltine was the go-to snack of childhood camping trips and interminable car rides to visit relatives in the southern part of the state. The package held up well, and served as deferential companion to cans of Armour potted meat, vienna sausages, and sardines, along with a little bottle of Louisiana hot sauce: a long, rectangular, waxed paper bridesmaid.

My dad would pull the Rambler over to a roadside picnic table, and we would all peel our sweaty skin from the car seats and race over to get spots on the end. My brother was terribly fair-skinned, so my mom would secure a cloth diaper around his little shoulders with a diaper pin to prevent "blistering"--it was never just a sunburn, always the apocalyptic-sounding blistering.

The saltine tin came out, then the cans (the potted meat can was wrapped in white paper), the bottle of hot sauce, and then--finally--the metal ice chest with bottles of Nehi grape soda and Big Red. If we were lucky, there would be a bag of orange slices or marshmallow circus peanuts to round out the repast.

My stomach churns to think about most of those things today. It's a wonder we survived.

But saltines, I feel, got a bad rap. Tossed aside for no reason other than fashion, they did yeoman's work for years and years as vehicle for peanut butter and pimiento cheese, as binder for salmon croquettes, and as the lunchtime accompaniment to chili or tomato soup (the night time upgrade was cornbread for chili and grilled cheese for the soup).

I, too, passed them by for more glamorous starch, until I got sick in December. I was eating lots of soup, and, well, being sick just calls for comfort any way you can get it. No mom here, no grandmother to dab at my fevered brow, no dad with a brand new coloring book and crayons from Woolworth's...

...so I reprised the saltine, out of sheer nostalgia and desire for something that hearkened back to home.

And now, by God, I'm leaving Oz and its fancy crispbread, and returning, unapologetically, to the saltines of my youth.

There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.
There's no place like home.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

chosen families

Since I was flying out of Arkansas at dark:thirty on Sunday morning, I decided to spend the night with my friends J and J, who live in Little Rock, as opposed to on a dirt road an hour and a half north.

After a too-short visit and too much wine, I crawled into "my" bed, which is always made up for me as if I am the Queen of Sheba, and forced myself into a few hours of fitful sleep before 0500 reveille. They got up with me and made me cappuccino while I showered, stood in their robes on the porch in the dark, and waved and blew kisses as I drove away. What sweet boys.

Uneventful flights to NYC.

First revelation on the ground: the iPhone's sensitive "touch" pad is way too sensitive for keyboarding in a speeding and lurching New York yellow cab. My "I landed safely" e-mail to my parents and J and J ended up being something like "A banjo ate me." Imagine their horror. I'm sure my mother believed that her worst fears about NYC had been confirmed.

I raced to meet Tara for a late brunch. We picked up right where we left off (only I come to lament that we live on opposite coasts more and more, each time we hang out). This time we had a lively conversation about things that are usually shared in privacy. The fact that conversation pretty much stopped between the two guys to my left tells me that we had an audience, who got an earful. They also got to witness two grown women fall on a basket of gougeres with passionate abandon.

Because we were so focused on our conversation, we didn't notice at first that everyone in our area had left, the waitstaff had removed all the tables but ours, and the water had been withheld for hours. Passive-aggressive bastards. By the time we looked up, we resembled a table for two in the middle of a vast, empty dance floor.

We relocated to a Korean Tea House, where T had good tea and I had something that smelled and tasted like squash baby food. But the Asian plinky-plinky (T's term) musical rendition of "Hey, Jude" wafting through the air made us giggly, and we continued on until dusk and "look at the time"--since we both had other plans for the evening.

I can't say too much about the transcendent meal I had at Bouley that evening, because it would be sinful to lord it over the blogosphere. It.Was.To.Die.For. I got back to the hotel 5 minutes before the end of the Super Bowl, just in time to figure out that all the subsequent hullabaloo outside was happy cheering and not Cloverfield screaming.

Meeting the next day. Blahblah.

Got to Newark for my 6:45 PM flight at 4:30. That would have been fine, except for the fact that my flight didn't actually leave until 9:45. The plane had been a victim of a bird strike, which meant lots of cleaning, checking, and maintenance men coming out with tales of carnage afterwards. The pilot warned us not to be alarmed if we smelled a Thanksgiving turkey sort of odor as he fired up the engines. TMI. Let us live in ignorant bliss, please.

After 6 hours of flying (and sleeping a bit, thanks to the Not Full Flight Gods, the incantation of a helpful friend, and a row to myself), I got home. Thankful to have spent time with my family, both blood and chosen, thankful to have friends in all corners of the world, and thankful to have a wonderful Tempur-pedic mattress to come home to.

I'm not particularly thankful that the Giants won the Super Bowl. I had about as much investment in that game as in, um, some other thing in which I have little investment.