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April 2004
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May 2004

Maybe I Should Have Used A Spoon

We have a kitchen closet with shelves on one side. As the realtor explained it, this is a pantry and it is where we store most of the food. With the consistency of the waning sun I forget what we have in there and inevitably buy more of everything.

Currently the pantry holds:

Jars of mayonnaise (quart sized) - 3
28oz cans of diced tomatoes - 13
Bottles of oyster sauce - 2
Jars of Dijon mustard - 6
Boxes of Plantation Mint tea - 17
Gallon jugs of prune juice - 4
Cans of cat food - 87
Bags of brown sugar ...

Well, you see, here's the story with the brown sugar.

Our realtor would unfailingly tell us what each room was as we looked at it. "BATHroom," he would enthuse and Steve and I would nod like sheep. Like sheep who nod.

What he should have said when we craned our three heads into this pantry is, "Pantry. Pantry on crack" because, seriously, muffins, this little room is all fucked up. Amongst other peculiarities it has a window with a really nice view. Why? It also has a door that, when opened, completely blocks two-thirds of the shelves. The opposite wall is empty- no shelves, just a clean blank space. The wall that the door slams into, though? That's where the glass jars go.

In order to get anything from this pantry it is necessary to shut the door behind you. This enables a person to visually establish that there are three enormous containers of mayonnaise in stock before trotting off to buy another. It also prevents a second person, let's call this one Steve, from realizing that the pantry is already occupied before entering.

Today I was rummaging around in there before heading off to the grocery store. I was considering making chocolate chip cookies tonight and wanted to know whether we were adequately supplied to do so. I keep all the baking stuff in a bottom basket. Big baskets, by the way, make no sense in a pantry. It is possible to just bend over and poke around in the basket, but it is easier to sit on the floor and do it. And I always do whatever is easiest. So I was sitting on the floor, hefting a bag of brown sugar in my hand and trying to decide whether it had a cup and a half left in it. Well, a cup and a half and a little bit left over for me. I decided it did. I figured I might as well just open the bag and pinch out a mouthful or two while I was there.

You can see, can't you, that this is why I was sitting on the pantry floor with the door shut, eating brown sugar with my hands when Steve came in? Perfectly normal series of events, right?

So what was with the stricken glance before backing slowly away and shutting the door behind him? Who was he expecting in our pantry? Lorne Green?

Ooh La La

Sorry for the eerie silence over here, but Steve took me to Paris for the weekend.

Ahahhahhahahhahahhahahahah! Whew, I kill me.

Seriously, if only you could have seen how I actually spent Sunday - scrubbing every inch of the screened porch on my hands and knees, trapped by a blackout for 24 hours, Patrick's high fever...

Let me back up here.

At some point on Thursday, Steve and I launched a massive battle royale. A multi-day, drag-out Fight of Fights. I think the best line was Steve's incredulous: "What are you? Evil?" We don't actually argue that often, which is a testament to Steve's unflappability because I tend to be scrappy. However, in this case, he was the one looking to row (for reasons that are still shrouded in obscurity) and what was I going to do? Let him be a dick? I think not. Oh no.

So we yelled at each other and stomped around and glowered. Steve seemed to be obsessed by the fact that I don't keep the kitchen clean enough. I can only assume that this is a metaphor for something because otherwise, jeez, eat me. The fucking kitchen? Please! I agreed that I do not keep the kitchen clean enough and went on to add that I do not care. So what was he going to do about it? He suggested that we get a maid. I suggested that I move to Kuala Lampur.

Ultimately it was a good fight, like a marital spring cleaning. I felt great afterwards and, as a show of good faith, have kept the kitchen so clean you could eat in it. Yeah. Steve, for his part, cheerfully took me to THE MALL OF AMERICA (where Steve is convinced murderers go when they die) on A SATURDAY (he doesn't go shopping on weekends - too crowded) to buy me a new dress for the black-tie charity wine thing we are going to next weekend. We got a babysitter afterwards and went to a very nice dinner and then ended up at the 40th birthday party of a friend we don't see nearly often enough. A really lovely evening.

Sunday we did actual spring cleaning and put the front and back porches in order for the season. Steve moved his oversized grill off my porch, so now we can put a few chairs in the spaces not otherwise occupied by his accursed hot tub. We felt tired and grubby but had a pleasant sense of accomplishment. Just as we were sitting down for dinner a storm blew through and knocked our power out. Let me add an exclamation mark here: knocked our power out!! It is hard to overemphasize just how much I hate it when the power goes out in this house. For starters it gets VERY DARK here. Totally dark. Complete darkness. I don't like the dark and we are in a valley surrounded by woods... I feel like Hansel and Gretel. Second, we have a well and the well has an electric pump, so not only do we not have any light, we have no water. No water means no bath after a grubby porch cleaning and more importantly... you know... the commode? Eesh. Somehow all of our phones require electricity except for the one in the garage, so communication is haphazard. Taking care of a toddler with no electricity sucks ass, as I believe Dr. Sears said before me. Patrick has led a good life so far, and assumes that when he races forward into the darkness nothing will leap out and knock him down. Like the stone fireplace, for example. Not a good assumption.

I started to hyperventilate after an hour of this, so we took a late night run to Target until Pack's bedtime. Note: NEVER go to Target just to kill time. You WILL come home with stuff you do not need. I bought a handheld Freecell solitaire game. Why? It is the mystery of the bullseye.

Back at home Steve put Patrick to bed and I stayed on the porch for as long as possible, enjoying the lightning. Steve eventually drug me into to our dark dark house and I finally fell asleep despite the feeling that I was in a coffin. An inky black airless coffin.

It probably would have been an ok night, but Patrick woke up screaming. Frantic, pitiful cries, and I raced as fast as I could through complete darkness to get to him. When I reached his room I could not see at all, but groped my way to the crib and discovered that he was burning up. His hair was soaking wet and he had a hoarse little cough all of the sudden. He obviously caught my cold, but made it uniquely his own by adding a touch of flambé. There might be a way to safely take a rectal temperature in complete darkness but I certainly don't know what it is. I opted not to take one. There may also be a way to measure Baby Tylenol to an exactitude under the same circumstances. Beats me. Suffice to say I did the best I could, waited until he fell asleep in my arms and gently placed him somewhere in his crib. I crawled back downstairs and ran into that damned stone fireplace myself. Limping, I threw myself into bed and eventually fell asleep again.

Only to be awoken by more hysterical cries, still in total darkness.

I took him to bed with us and was reassured for his sake when he instantly fell asleep on my chest. He didn't stir until morning, a fact of which I am absolutely certain because I never slept again.

It is not that I am afraid of the dark, it is just that it makes me feel like I am suffocating. Even with my eyes shut I can feel it weighing upon me, squeezing the air out of my chest. With a sick Patrick sleeping on top of me I was afraid it would be worse. In truth, it was better. He would breathe and then I would breathe - all night long.

I recounted this harrowing tale to Steve in the morning and he nodded in sympathy.

"You couldn't find the flashlight on your bedside table?" he asked.

Flashlight? Oh for the love of...

Thursday Afternoon

I have four stitches just over my tailbone. I will leave you all to contemplate, deeply, upon the discomfort this might cause a person. Say, a person who likes to sit. Or recline, casually. Or walk even. Upon my return home from the doctor's office I suggested to Patrick that we should lie on our tummies (I never really talk like this but I obviously feel like I should, otherwise why do I keep recounting my conversations with Patrick in Toddlerese?) and read for awhile. He cheerfully obliged. For about six seconds. Until he climbed on my back and starting bouncing up and down on me like a supermarket pony ride. Between this and grabbing me by the hair to give me slobbery juice-reek kisses and slamming my head in the toilet I think Packy and I might be developing an abuse cycle. He hurts me but I love him so!

Last night I made an emergency grocery run for cornichons. Cornichons are those little pickles that need to accompany paté otherwise it just tastes like liver- liver and mustard on French bread. Patrick is a paté fiend and I usually pick up a wedge of mousse truffée for him once a month or so. Unfortunately, even the hungriest little gourmand can only put away so much of the stuff in a sitting and it has a shelf-life of about a minute. Thus the necessity of my weighing in to dispose of it, and equally thus the need for cornichons. Tout de suite.

While at the store I also bought a fancy counter-top cleanser that promised to smell like Lemon Verbena but actually smelled so much like my kindergarten classroom I was overcome and cried for my m-o-t-h-e-r all over again. Most embarrassing. Oh, and two bags of Peppermint Patty Bites.

My final impulse purchase was a copy of the (weekly? daily? I know not) local newspaper, "W Bulletin." By local, I mean it reports on the monster suburb that is our neighbor to the west, the place where all the stuff is, like Target and Home Depot and every other big box retailer you can think of. I am new to local newspapers and confess that I am utterly, utterly enchanted by this one. What's not to love about the headline: "People promoted at Wells Fargo." Or "Travel agent attends event."

My favorite favorite favorite, though, was the reader's letter that described a poetry workshop held by a nearby Catholic school for their first-graders. Apparently, they spent a week discussing "the depth and reality of homelessness and hunger" and then asked the students to articulate their thoughts on the subjects through poetry.

This is great:

House is burnt
Out of the house
Mom said, "We will go to a shelter."
Excellent, we're here!
Let's go and sleep.
Excitement for all.
Sweet dreams
So exciting.

Um, so, do you think they really nailed the reality of homelessness or do you think this is just a cheerful kid.....

Thursday Morning

I never really liked the old look here. So I sweated over a new one for a few hours and then proudly showed it to Steve.

"It's really me, don't you think?"
Steve considered the new design and agreed.
"Yes, it really is YOU. Provided, of course, that you are a vampire. Or maybe just a teenager who who wants to be a vampire?"

And I had to admit that all the black backgrounds and silvery lettering and cool hippogriff gargoyles were a bit, um, gothic. Suburban-gothic. The real me, of course, but not the me I think should be shared with the general public. So I scrapped the whole thing and came up with this. I think it is pretty, like a guest bedroom. Hey! Julia- your guest bedroom on the web. Gurk.

I have the worst cold and I am about to get yet another mole removed. This one is very close to my sit-me-down-upon and I have concerns about whether it will hurt afterwards. I have something funny for you, though, so I'll be back this afternoon to type it up. Provided, of course, I'm not popping Advil with my rump in the air.

An Arrangement In Black And White

Once upon a time I took a cab ride in Chicago. I was 20, maybe 21, and I thought I was simply adorable.

The cab driver was an African immigrant with an accent so rich and delicious that I wanted to swim in it, or perhaps serve it on the rocks. When I grew up in DC, asking where a person was from ranked second in the top 3 Appropriate Questions to Ask Someone You Have Just Met. They would reply Borneo or Little Biddlescombe and you could say, "Ah!" Every now and then you would meet someone who was from DC, too, in which case you would see if they knew Blue, the lesbian skinhead, and work from there. In Minnesota I keep going down in flames with this question (not about Blue, about where someone grew up.) People recoil as if I have spit in their wine and they reply stiffly without moving their lips. It baffled me for years (what the hell was I doing wrong this time?) and I recently mentioned the phenomenon to my sister-in-law. She struck upon the answer, I think. In Minnesota, everyone is a Minnesotan of course. So when you ask where they are from, they assume you are asking what town/suburb/neighborhood they grew up in, each of which carries its own well-known socio-economic meaning. Thus when I blurt out "Where are you from?" I am really saying "Hi. I'm Julia. I came with Steve. Did you grow up with money?"

My cab driver did not take offense. He was from Mali, he told me. A beautiful country, did I know it? Alas no, for I had never been to Africa. "You must go!" he cried, and described a vast lake near his home.

As we talked, I smiled benignly and thought how nice it was that he was able to come to the United States and create a better life for himself and his family.

"Isn't it wonderful," I thought, "that such a great guy is able to take advantage of all these opportunities. Cab drivers do pretty well for themselves. Pretty well indeed."

"Is Chicago the first place you've lived in the US?" I asked him.

No, he had started in Georgia. Georgia? How strange.

"Did you like Georgia?" Yes, but he was very busy there and had had little time to enjoy the area.

"And what brought you to Chicago?" I was slowing my words down and speaking just a little too brightly, if you know what I mean. Lots of teeth showing.

"School," he replied. "I am going to school here."

Hand on my heart, I was almost moved to tears. An American Dream in the making - wow, oh wow. What did I think? A GED perhaps? A technical college? Maybe he was going to be a dental technician. I was always seeing late night advertisements for schools that offered short programs and guaranteed job placement upon graduation.

I beamed at him.

"And what are you studying?" If I had had a cookie I would have offered it to him.

There was a long pause. "I am finishing my doctorate in Comparative Theology at the University of Chicago."

Our eyes met in the rearview mirror. His twinkled at me.

And that, my friends, is when I shrank to the scant inch and a half I stand today. It is so hard not to be an asshole, sometimes, it really is.