Cream and Funk

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August 12, 2015

The whole idea for writing this piece happens while standing in front of the open door of the fridge, here in an AirBNB in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m barefoot and in panties and a big sweater, my hair piled up on my head in a banana clip. I’m pretty much alone, standing with my head inside the open lions mouth of the fridge. The kids are in bed, although probably not asleep, and playing Minecraft, thinking they are putting one over on me, but I don’t care. They are quiet and happy and it’s summer and we are in Europe, I won’t quibble the details. But I don’t feel like being in bed. I’m trolling now, looking for some action. I grab little fistfuls of spinach leaves from a half bag of loose spinach. Nice. I eye the spinach like its a pin up queen. In the voice of Elvis, my brain says, I want you, baby. God, in my head I’m such a cornball. I take some spinach in my fingers, this could look piggish, but I’m actually pretty graceful, I’m pushing these little bundles of leaves into a mug of blue cheese dressing I made on the fly for Edie, because the AirBNB people left the tiniest, most unsubstantial drop of ketchup in the bottle in the fridge, creating the illusion there was ketchup, when there really wasn’t, and this tail-spinned Edie into a place where she had to conjure up a world where small children are forced to eat their fish sticks without ketchup, which seems like some gray steam punk dystopian netherworld of doom. As a consolation, I mix some Roquefort with mayo, sour cream, lime and salt, and call it blue cheese, which it is, gave it to her with her fish. Cheese and fish, what the hell am I thinking? It’s the flavor pairing from hell. But she loved, like totally LOVED, it. But there is a whole mug of it left, and I keep looking at it. I can see the little bumps of cheese popping through the mayo, welling up in the cup, and it makes me think of David, who is out at his show here at the Fringe Festival, which is the whole purpose of us being in Scotland. The blue cheese reminds me of him because he loves this salad I make for him for lunch sometimes. It’s spinach and little chunks of hot bacon, smothered in home-made blue cheese. My face smiles inside the fridge because I think about how much he loves that salad, and also how he makes such a big production of everything I make, like he always shouts,” Wow! Look at this, girls!” as I put a plate down on the table, as if I had deboned a duck for dinner every night. I think about how I’ve come to expect that, and how I love that, and how I feel all warm and glowy because he likes this stupid salad and a lot of other stuff I do. Inexplicably. Despite me. This makes me start thinking about his chest hair, because I remember noticing his chest hair the first night we met, well not his chest hair exactly, but that little patch of skin that is visible just above where his shirt is unbuttoned and that also involves chest hair, and how that was enough to make me imagine us, and when I imagined us I couldn’t stop imagining us. I wish he was here right now, because his chest hair, and the rest of him, would be here too. But he’s not, and all I have is this mug of blue cheese and a half-eaten bag of wilty spinach, and a pound of uncooked bacon. English bacon, which is a little too much like Canadian bacon for my tastes. Not real bacon. Imposter bacon. More ham than bacon. So not what bacon is about. How do the British not understand this? Rashers. Embrace the rashers. Not that I’m going to cook it anyway. I’m feeling lazy. I don’t want to wash dishes, or make a big show of the food. I just want to eat. Also, the bowls are very far away, like I’d have to push my left arm up to the left, and slide two steps in that direction and stick my arm into the cupboard to get a bowl, maybe on tip toes, which seems exhausting, and just too much. I pick up another fistful of leaves and smash them into the mug of blue cheese, and again, with my fingers because fridge eating requires, even demands, no utensils, and this allows me to get just the right amount of blue cheese on the spinach, not so much that I’m eating only dressing, not so little that I’m eating only vegetable, its a delicate balance. I taste a mouthful of the salad and I wonder if I washed the spinach, I can’t remember, probably because I’m well into my second gin and tonic, so I think about salmonella, and puking in a Scottish emergency room, I wonder what Scottish emergency rooms are like, and I remember a mad cow outbreak happening in Italy, and what the symptoms are for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and how my hand gets super-tingly a lot, and how the kids would be crushed if I got mad cow disease, and why did we eat that fucking carpaccio in Naples? Then the cheese hits my tongue, and jolts me back to the present. I get that spark of blue cheese, some funk in my mouth, and then the creaminess, and its all cream and funk and cream and funk and my mouth is like the cast of Glee singing a mash-up of cream and funk, it’s good, so very fucking good, and I realize it wouldn’t have tasted this good had I put it in a bowl or eaten it with a fork or waited for the imposter bacon to cook up into something. And eating it at a table with a napkin in my lap would have killed the whole point, the urgency of it, the improvisation, the sneakiness, the things we do alone, and things we do hoping to get caught, not get caught, the shame of being found with blue cheese smeared across our lips, and a mouthful of leaves, all that slow chewing while trying to explain yourself with blue cheese fingers, the sheer thrill of having this one minute alone with food, and to make all the decisions about food, and be completely indelicate and irreverent with food, how wicked and thrilling that is. I close the door, the kitchen is super-dark. I am a thief. I come in the night. My secret life. I hear my feet on the floor. I’m taking the rest of my gin and tonic to bed. I consider going back to the fridge, there’s a bit more blue cheese in the bottom of the mug, but I don’t. It was enough of a good thing. Anyway, it will be right there waiting for me at breakfast.

 

PS: And it was there waiting for me at breakfast! Or really lunch. We got up at 10, ate at noon, and I made David this salad with blue cheese (I added more to the meager smudge I had left behind), properly fried bacon (not nearly as good as rashers), and arugula, (a sorry excuse for the spinach I finished the night before). I even let him use a bowl and fork.

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Weights & Measurements

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August 6th, 2015

Can we go home?

We are in Rome, Italy. In the Colosseum.

It’s hot, stinking humid. I’ve got sweat leaking down the small of my back into my ass crack.

The crying starts. Edie.

David puts her on his shoulders. This is way nicer than I can be. I have a middle-aged womans aversion to heat. I want nothing and no one to touch me while I boil.

The tour guide is showing us where the wild animals entered the Colosseum before they were slayed, some 5,000 tigers, lions and bears, any wild animals they could get their hands on, a day.

Sometimes they fed prisoners and criminals to the lions for sport, she tells us.

And everyone cheered! 

She looks at the children and smiles.

Lucy is appalled.

Are you sure this is age appropriate? Lucy asks me.

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I watch everyone fill up their water bottles at a tap, and David and I realize we forgot the water bottles. We give each other the look parents give each other when they realized they have royally fucked their day.

Lucy solves this by drinking out of the tap like it’s a water fountain. Edie stands and looks at the running water, crying.

It is obvious we are the weak links in the tour group. When they move onto the Forum and Pallantine Hills, we mercifully cut them loose.

We take our kids to a restaurant to get sparkling water, gelato, relief from heat, relief from walking and from all things historical. We had been to this restaurant before and this makes Lucy pout.

This restaurant again?

Yes, this ivy-covered, gelato palace in the center of Rome? Yes, this one. Again. 

Edie is miffed because the waiter is not delivering the sparkling water to the table fast enough, and she explains, between great choking breaths, that if we had just gone to a shop and bought a bottle of water for her, her life would be 1000x improved.

She weeps silently at the table.

The water, gelato, (and ice cold beers, for us, because we need them) come and there is a moderate increase in happiness, but there is a fear we might make them see another ancient building. They are guarded.

But we are benevolent parent dictators and we take them to a store called “Accessorize” (think the British version of “Claire’s”)

This perks them up.

Until we politely refuse to buy Edie 20-euros worth of Italian strawberry lip balm and a new purse for Lucy. This is the last straw of injustices heaped upon them since the Colesseum.

There is pouting, and stomping across cobblestones on the way home.

David sees a mens clothing store he is interested in. He has been talking about checking it out. Edie refuses to enter, and stands in the alley, until I say I will stand in the alley with her, so she isn’t killed by traffic or abducted into a sex slavery ring. All so David can look around a bit. But he can’t really look around, and we know that, because we are being held hostage by cranky children. So he gives up.

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But then I see a store with lovely leather bags in the window and I have been wanting one. I almost never buy myself extravagant things, but maybe this one time.

Oh thanks…yes, I got it in Rome. 

The bag is dark brown, soft leather, the kind that feels like crushed up tissue paper in your hands. It matches my favorite boots. It looks very high end, and it’s big enough to hold my children’s chewing gum wrappers and bathing suits and snacks and rocks and Ipads.

I will look good carrying this bag.

Even though it will be filled with rubbish.

It’s on sale.

We pop inside and Edie sits on the steps outside, again, and Lucy whines that she is the one who needs a bag, not me, (which strikes me as nuts since I carry everyone’s shit everywhere) and then keeps “accidentally” stepping on our feet, while the sales person does a deep sales pitch on the bag.

But I can’t look around. Can’t focus on what she is saying about the quality of the leather and how the price is ridiculously low for the quality, and its the ultimate Italian hand bag, and it’s so….blah blah blah. The sulking and misbehavior are too much.

We leave the store – bagless – all of us angry.

We silently clomp down side streets and alleys, like bitchy horses, the children mumble about how they didn’t get anything for themselves, and how terrible we are….

Awful parents. 

Unfair. 

How could you be so mean?

And then something happens. It’s weird.

I start crying. Like really crying, not just tears in my eyes. But a full on wall of tears, while walking down this little street in Rome. I can’t hold it back.

My children are sociopaths, I think. Or those odd people who can’t take social cues and keep talking even though everyone wants to run away and they have no idea. 

We take our children to Europe and they are bitching about bags and lip balm.

Are they so entitled and given so much they can’t see how lucky they are? Or can’t even be grateful? Or nice?

Maybe I’m just hot and ornery…

But when was the last time I bought a nice bag for myself? Or any bag? Or any thing?

God, are our kids selfish? Like in the bad sense of the word?

I cry harder. Edie tenses. She looks terrified. I don’t come undone that often.

You’ve made your mother cry, David says. He’s pissed.

When I get emotional, he is a bit of a blow torch.

We’ve turned some kind of corner now, and our kids rarely feel the heat as hot as this. They are freaked out.

We get to the apartment. Edie is crying because I’m crying. If I’m undone, she’s undone. Lucy closes up, like an oyster in a shell. Clamped shut, her anger is her fortress. We sit in four different places in the tiny flat.

Silent.

The kids go for the Ipads, but David cuts them off.

No Ipads until discussions and apologies.

Edie is the first to buckle. As always. She cries in my arms. She cannot handle any unsettled territory between us. She apologizes, but I know she doesn’t know what she is apologizing for. She just wants everything to rewind.

I call her on it.

This makes her fall into tiny ripped up pieces. We know her deal. She switches the focus, her saddness takes center stage, then, we console her and forget why we are upset.

You hurt mummy, David says. He won’t let her off the hook. Won’t let her dwell on herself.

We talk about leather bags, and lip balm. And standing in the street alone in a foreign city. We talk about how much grown-up work has to be done to give them big gifts and little gifts, and we talk about tantrums and anger and self-control. We talk about what we have and what we don’t have, and we take the measurements of these things.

We talk about patience, and faith that the things they need will be provided. But not everything they want. There is a difference, we tell them. We talk about what we don’t do for ourselves, so we can do for them. We talk about when to be selfish and when to be generous, and we tell her we know its not always easy to know when and how much of both is needed, but both are important. We tell her she will learn, and we will help her.

There are make-up kisses and hugs for me and David.

But Lucy is harder to crack.

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She doesn’t crumble into our approval. Although she wants it, she will not walk down the path to get it.

She sits in the loft and pouts and mutters to herself.

She will not apologize. She is not ready to talk.

We let her be.

Finally, she comes down from the loft and plunks herself into the big leather easy chair, near us. She’s ready.

She tells us we don’t listen to her. That she was trying to tell us something, but all we cared about was the bag.  And the walls of the fortress crack, they are jagged pieces of shell now. She is exposed. I see her. She cries. She won’t hug us or come to us, so we go to her. We pile into the deep chair, which smushes us all together, like a soggy sandwich. It’s uncomfortable, but she doesn’t fight us. This is how I know she needs us.

We hold her, even though she won’t hold us back.

We listen to her talk for a long time, and we tell her that we hear her a lot, but she has a lot of ideas and things going on in her head, so sometimes we need to listen to other people, like the woman showing us the bags. And we talk about patience, and taking stock of other people, reading people, knowing when to talk and when to listen. We tell her there are right ways and wrong ways to get people’s attention. We tell her she is worth hearing, but people will tune her out if she doesn’t find the right way. We tell her she will learn, and we will help her.

We wait for her to tell us how she feels, and her apology.

It comes hard, but it comes, with tears and hugs and smiles.

There is snuggling. Finally.

We are all exhausted.

We are done.

We need a break from Rome.

Rome needs a friggin’ break from us.

We lay around the tiny apartment eating proscuitto, cheese and speck. We read quietly. We open the door into the alley and let in the Roman air, the sounds of people eating together at open air restaurants, and tourists hustling by. We hear someone playing an accordian. Of course there is an accordian – out there is beautiful Italy.

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But soon we ignore the beautiful, and all of us flop onto the big bed and watch “Shark Tank” on the computer, maybe because it reminds us of home, maybe because it doesn’t have the weight of an ancient stadium, with all its meaning and significance.

Maybe there is no weight at all. And that is what we need.

We are tiny feet draped across big feet, heads laying on chests, big fingers entwined in little fingers. A mess of a family.

Napoli, Italy

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We are in Naples.

Distressed, crumbling buildings, graffiti on every statue, every church, every inch of every building. There is nothing sacred in this city.

This is what I think when we first get here.

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Naples feels like it is actively, ferociously decaying, just falling apart or being torn apart, piece by piece.

Graffiti is on every conceivable public surface. Not exaggerating.

I like graffitti, the art behind it, the rebellion, the way it is a voice for the voiceless, but this is different. It is uncontrolled, unruly, messy, the words scrawled there without much artistic engine.

It’s almost the first thing you notice. It’s like the city lets people run wild, like tradition is of no importance, like no cathedral, no ruin, no church is so important it can’t be a place to scrawl out your name in paint. Garbage heaves from everywhere. Parks are un-mown, un-happy places, statues are obliterated by spray paint, bottles, cans and wrappers are left everywhere in the grass.

Naples is crazy different. And not what I think it will be.

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It’s Tuesday night when we get there, 10pm and the streets are chock full of people in shorts and sandals hanging out drinking wine and beer, some sit at tables on the jammed sidewalk in big boisterous groups, eating, drinking, laughing, clinking goblets of vino. Others clump into groups in the street, many have babies on their laps, in their arms. Everyone has their phone out on the table next to their plates, but no one is looking at them or snapping photos. They are loud and brimming over in the middle of a work week.

I wish we lived in a place this social, I hear myself saying.

Cobblestone alleys and streets run like wild, breaking cracks and fissures running through the city. Motorcycles whiz by, cars go bumper to bumper, and right up the asses of pedestrians. There is no right of way. It’s dangerous and bizarre and we remind the kids to always be super-aware when they step out in the street. They will be on their own, no one else will mind them. No one gives a rats ass.

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Just because it’s an alley does not mean a motorcycle will not run you down, we feel we have to tell the kids. 

Eyes open. Do not be sleepy in Naples.

I see a kid Lucy’s age peeling through the alleys driving a motorcycle, his friends piled on the back. I see four people crammed onto a bike, screaming and laughing at a group of friends on another bike, they ride tandem down a crack of a road, flying past pedestrians who barely look up. I see babies on the back of bikes, no helmets, screaming past me, their little faces stretching back in the wind. Our cab cuts off a car, leaving about an inch between them, and no one is pissed off and shaking a fist.

It’s full on in Naples. This is how it is.

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We visit a book store. With a bar.

Isn’t this the ultimate? I think. Books and booze. Yes. 

A place of calm during the day, but a bubbling mecca at night. Doors wide open. A band sets up outside the shop and plays, people gather, drink, buy books, dance on cobblestones and when the band takes a break, they stand inside and outside the shop, and listen as a poet reads from her book. They pump her voice outside so everyone can hear, even passersby.

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Poetry, accessible to everyone. Nice, Naples. 

Every space here is packed tight. It’s so the opposite of Vegas, which is wide and low and the blank spaces are huge, open gaps. Naples is condensed. I notice the windows of the buildings are long, like in the movies, old huge wooden shutters that open out into the air. Everyone, I mean everyone, has a tiny balcony to hang laundry, and on which they put pots of herbs, and step out for a smoke. This city is vertical and stacked.

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We notice a few things: Italians serve you fries without ketchup – much to Edie’s dismay and confusion – and calamari without tomato sauce, salad without dressing.

Why? Why would they do that? she asks me, bewildered.

It’s the ultimate cultural divide. I think this might make Edie actually hate Italy. 

Italians do not want to hide the flavor of the food, I tell her.

She is baffled. Why? Covering is good….

This makes me think: Do I use sauces to hide the real flavors of the food I cook? Not sure. I have to toss that one around a little.

In Naples, boys in Speedos and girls in bikinis jump off the walls of an ancient castle into the Mediteranean, and I think this would never happen in the US. There would be people telling us to stop. Stern, uniformed people would yell at us and demand we be respectful of history, of the past. 

And people make-out everywhere. Teenagers tuck into the corners of castle turrets. On the street. In alleys. In restaurants. On trains. Love is here in Naples. Sex is here in Naples.  You either join them or scoff at them, like a cranky old person.

Naples inspires me to kiss my husband more, no matter who is around.

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We eat at a lovely little restaurant. I tell the owner the food is simple and beautiful, the way I like it, and he grabs me kisses me full force on the cheek and leads me into the kitchen, where I and the kids, meet his wife, the chef, and she stops cooking and we hug and talk about food in broken phrases.

Such an intimate exchange between strangers. Naples, so nakedly impulsive.

Everyone is fearless. No one tells you to stop. Go have sex. Go kiss your man hard in the street. Drive your motorcycle like a crazy person through the streets, what could happen? Use the walls of the centuries-old castle as your diving board. Go tag that statue of Dante. Tag the shit out of it.

Who the hell cares about Dante anyway, when there is grilled squid, your friends, hot, endless summer nights, long kisses, and bottles of rose? 

Do what you love.

Be you.

Naples will love you for it, without judgment.

Dr. Google

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June 17, 2015

It started with my hand falling asleep at night.

Night after night I felt the tingling. I tried to ignore it.

Then, it throbbed, and felt weak. Not pain exactly. But I couldn’t grasp a glass and I couldn’t pick up anything heavier than a ball of socks.

What the hell?

I Googled.

Multiple Sclerosis.

ALS.

God.

ALS.

I Googled ALS some more. Actually, a lot.

Earliest symptoms. First signs. Hand weakness. That’s the first sign.

Holy shit, I say to myself. I have ALS.

And just by saying it inside my brain – I have ALS – the idea takes hold. It grows roots. Fuck, I have ALS. This is bad. I look at more symptoms, tripping and falling.

Yes, yes, I tripped and fell while taking out the compost the other day.

God, ALS. I’m so young.

How will I tell the girls? And David? He’ll be crushed. They all will be. I will turn their worlds upside down. But I don’t want that, so I spend about 20 minutes in my head figuring out how to manage my deteriorating body while making their life easier and better.

That’s when I write the letters – still in my head – to the girls. I tell them everything they need to know about the world – what to do when a guy gets unnecessarily “handsy” and how to put in a tampon, stuff like that. I also tell them how loved they are and I enter into this vortex of saying goodbye to them and how Edie will beg me not to go, and crumble into a heap, and Lucy will try to be strong, but she’ll buckle. It will be awful to say goodbye.

It will be so much worse than when our dog, Ramen, died.

God, fucking awful.

I read the Google machine some more, and I discover I have a few years, maybe even up to a decade. Not enough to see them have babies and find their true loves, but enough to maybe get them through high school. If the disease doesn’t progress too fast.

I decide to see a doctor. I’m going to be tough and face this thing, not at all like the fragile snowflake I really am.

Then, David comes home. I tell him what’s happening. Not the ALS part, this would be too shocking, because at this point I’ve pictured David and the kids standing on the edge of Sydney Harbor, throwing my ashes and handfuls of dying rose petals into the wind.

No. He’s not there yet.

My hand is killing me now. Searing pain. I move it and I want to scream. Is that supposed to happen with ALS? Does it escalate this quickly? 

Damn, ALS. You move in fast.

David is at the computer, punching keys.

“It’s carpal tunnel syndrome,” he tells me.

“You need a sleep brace from Walgreen’s and you should start taking B6 and Magnesium.”

“I think I have ALS. I fell taking out the compost.”

“This happens with you. A lot actually.”

“Maybe I’ve been in decline for years….”

“You have carpal tunnel. Go to Walgreens.”

That was the day before yesterday. This morning, I can pick up a glass. The screaming pain is gone. The night brace and the day brace have made all the difference. I dutifully take my B6 and Magnesium.

I don’t have ALS. Thank God. At least not that I know of.

But I’ll keep checking Dr. Google just in case.

Everest

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May 22, 2015

This morning I made, like, the best packed lunch of all lunches for my kids.

It was the Everest of lunches.

No peanut butter and jelly, or ham and swiss sandwiches.

No. This was the real shit.

Leftover Honk Kong noodles, pork dumplings, shrimp shumai, little chunks of chicken rolled in potato starch and deep fried, bottles of icy lemon water, wedges of manchego and crackers, fresh cut raspberries and strawberries.

I had pots and pans going, steam wafting out of the kitchen, smells and bells. All before 7 am.

I was ON FRIGGIN FIRE.

And when it was over, and the little dumplings had been arranged and packed and put carefully into their lunch bags, all with my undying love and purest devotion, I wanted to turn around and get the standing friggin’ ovation I deserved.

I waited for it.

Hands in the air.

Looking for my high five.

The pats on the back.

The “You rock, Mom! Wooot!”

Instead I stood alone in the kitchen, a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. A smear of oil on the counter. No one noticing my great accomplishment. How I had traversed the mountain of bad lunch-making, only to reach the summit, and prevailed.

My Everest.

No ovation. No beers and war stories from my fellow lunch-making dudes. No recognition that I had KICKED SOME MOTHER LOVING ASS.

Just the realization that I have to come up with 8 more of these Everests before the end of the school year.

Fuck.

I hate making lunches.

Another Continent

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April 16, 2015

I was talking to Lucy and Edie. Actually, I was pushing a cart in Michael’s, and the two of them were in the belly of the cart – Edie, because her sister was there, and Lucy because she just got a shot in the ass and was moaning that she needed to be carried everywhere and she might never walk again and why, oh why, did I ever let her get that shot?

And I’m explaining again about her mysterious sting, the weird bugs and spiders here in Vegas, and the cellulitis, the red, swollen, itchy arm and how she might have to have her arm amputated if she didn’t get a shot of antibiotics, and in between the moaning, everyone is looking at crafts. They love crafts.

The crafts were healing Lucy’s butt.

And the girls were explaining to me what they would buy for their houses when they were grown-up and how those houses would look, and what kind of furniture, and how high the ceilings were, and their ideas about chandeliers, how many jewels should be on the chandeliers, whether you should have a chandelier in your bathroom, and Lucy talked about her kids, and how she would leave them with her husband and her chandeliers, and her vaulted ceilings, and set about the world traveling.

I mentioned how upset they would be if David and I went off on a big trip and left them at home, and to this Lucy replied she would take them sometimes, but sometimes she wanted to travel the world herself.

I suggested she leave the children with me while she traveled.

And to this she told me that she would, except she would be on another continent, so babysitting wasn’t possible.

“Wait. What?” I stammered.

“You are going to live on another continent?”

“Yes,” she tells me. “Maybe Europe, maybe another continent.”

And I summon all kinds of selflessness and say, “Baby, you can live anywhere you want. You are going to have a beautiful, adventurous life.”

I smile. But I don’t mean that smile.

I still haven’t gotten over it. But I’m trying.

Turning Ten

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February 7, 2015

Lucy is turning ten.

I can already tell ten is something completely different than any other age yet.

There is more spending time alone in her room. She doesn’t think every idea I have is completely genius. She can handle hurting my feelings, if it means taking care of herself. She is moodier, occasionally downright petulant. She has secrets she would never even consider sharing with me, but still wants me to know and understand exactly how she feels.

Ten is in the world – she notices other people, that old guy with the pale skinny legs wearing shorts way too tight for his body, and she has a quiet snarky comment about him. She has a good sense of humor. She can be stunningly right in her observations about people. She is an accurate reporter of information. A year ago, she would never have even noticed him or anyone not directly in her orbit. But ten notices everything, and sees herself in and against everything else.

She still needs time with us, alone and together. Mommy/Lucy time. Daddy/Lucy time. Edie/Lucy time. She wants our love and approval, and she flourishes there in our light and love. When we couldn’t attend a recent performance, she danced with a smile and, her teachers said, tears in her eyes. We still matter. Ten – for all her bravado – still needs a safe place, hugs and cuddles. Sometimes she needs to climb in bed with us, but mostly she is in her head – idea and stories flowing around in there – and in her room, reading at night, or writing in her journal, or sketching characters in a notebook, determining her own bedtime, based on what she needs.

She is clean, appropriately showered, she cares about everything, her clothes, her hair, her friends, their conversations, her schoolwork, her art, her drawing, her time to be creative, her music, her own personal dreams, what she is turning into, whether people like her, whether she’ll have friends, whether she’ll put herself out there and be rejected, whether she’ll matter outside of our family.

She is here and now, but also full of the future, and what she can be.

Mostly I notice the difference in this years’ party. Every year, the party is a tight schedule of activities and games and things to keep the kids from spazzing out and ripping the house apart. No more. Turning ten means restraint and self-created fun. No destruction whatsoever. Ten’s parties have loud music, and applying make-up on each other blind-folded, and everyone arm-in-arm singing Taylor Swift songs like they are anthems for their generation, and karaoke, and jumping on the slack line in the backyard, and just for no reason at all, dancing, and grabbing your girls friends and hugging and laughing out loud.

There’s the usual stuff – eating, drinking, cake, candles, sure – but ten does not want schedules and plans, and parent-guided fun. She wants to hang. She wants you to go in the kitchen and stay there. When I pop out to snap a photo, I feel like a monstrous interloper, so I stop with photos, and David and I make a drink in the kitchen and listen to them, all happy and full of ideas, and jokes and loud bawdy laughter.

We know everything is changing, even though a lot of it is, weirdly, kind of the same.

And we are ecstatic about that – because ten is pure beauty – but also a little part of us thinks all this change sucks. We are gaining a lot, and losing a lot. It is beautiful suckage.

We prepare ourselves. Every birthday will be beautiful suckage from now on.

Serial Killer

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February 3, 2015 

We get the pig from a farm.

I watch Luis kill it. He slams it over the head three times with a crow bar, and the pig slumps into the mud. Luis sticks the pig in the neck. Blood spurts out. The pig is dead by the time it hits the little truck that we ride out to the hog pens.It’s an awful, hard death, but a fast one. I feel a greater urgency that this pig comes out perfectly. It’s our third pig roast, this one for 100 people from the casts of Absinthe/Vegas and Absinthe/Australia. Each of our pig roasts is a testing ground for the next, where we try to make the skin crispier, the meat softer, the cooking time just right — not too long to dry out the meat, not too short to get limp skin.

Perhaps it is all the bludgeoning and whacking with a crow bar, and the bleeding out right before my eyes, but I want this pig to be the one to come out perfectly.

I decide to cook hard. Out of respect and obligation.

I touch the pig on the truck. It is warm and still. I watch Luis pull it by its teeth with a crow bar into a trough with boiling water, where all its hair is scalded off. And then it’s hung, split, entrails pulled out and heaped onto the floor. Luis has done this a lot. He is all sweaty hard arms and rote memory and efficiency. He barely even needs to look at the pig to do this work. I see purple liver, something that might be a spleen, long eel-like ropes of intestine, the colors of which were veiny blue-purple, like one end of a kid’s rainbow.

There is a lot of blood and a lot of washing the blood away with a hose. In fact, Luis is obsessive about washing away the blood —  health code, I’m sure — but also as if he doesn’t want me to see what this killing really entails. He tries to keep it pretty for me, because I am, he thinks, a farm tourist or a delicate female.

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Whenever we get a pig to roast, I always feel like I am a serial killer, and David and I are secretly trying to get rid of the evidence. We heave the pig, this one a 60-pounder, over one of our shoulders, usually David’s, and shove it inelegantly into the fridge. We slam the door, hoping it won’t pop the door open and fall out, revealing our crime. When I am ready, we take the pig out, lay it on a table in the backyard, and mojo the shit out of it. I stick it with needles, inject it with a concoction of pineapple juice, lemongrass, coriander, thai chilies, star anise, garlic, scallions. I rub it down hard with brown sugar and copious amounts of salt.

I have my hands all over this pig. And even though I wash my hands thoroughly, often, when I pick the kids up from school I still smell the porkiness on my fingers, because I have been all over that pig’s body, in and out of the crevasses and ribs, in its head, all my fingers feeling the sinews and the rubbery bands of fat, and the blood that still trickles out, reminding me I killed this thing. Really, I made that decision. I am in this pig’s body. In it. I am the violator. I am both serial killer of pigs and a rapist. It is both soothing and lovely and violent and raw.

After I am done, we shove the carcass back in the fridge, again the criminals hiding the body.

The next morning, we open the fridge and the smell is like some exotic open market, just dreamy and pungent all at the same time. I want to bury my face in the pig. Another fucked-up violation of its body. Then, it’s in the roasting box, split wide open and vulnerable, fully splayed out, dotted with slices of red chilies and the burnt browns of a few cinnamon sticks in its belly.

The coals go on, fat leaks out the bottom of the box in thick drips, the yard is hot with the pig smell. The neighbor dogs all congregate and sniff around. There is smoke, heat, there is excitement. Everyone loves a pig when it is a carcass. Everyone asks about the pig – how we got it, what its death was like, how I seasoned it, how long it cooks — and then the pig brings up some kind of memory or experience, where someone talks about another time they ate from a whole pig and they smile. They always smile.

It’s 6:30 now. People are eating appetizers.  I, and some kitchen helpers, put out fried shoshito peppers, heavily salted and oily, turmeric grilled chicken, chicken satay with a spicy peanut sauce, fried wontons with a mushroom and pea shoot filling, spicy-ass Thai-style chicken wings, agadashi dofu, on-fire corn fritters, and grilled beef salad cradled in romaine leaves. Simple food, lots of it, that is the strategy. Just platters and platters of food going out to satiate the performers and acrobats and crew arriving in crowds.

The pig has been cooking for eleven hours.

The side dishes are re-heating in the oven. I’m scratching off dishes made and served from the master lists taped to my cupboards. This is real MasterChef reality TV shit. The pig goes out on the table. It’s the first time we’ve cooked a near-perfect pig. We are getting good at this. The skin is blackened and crisp as all hell. Maybe too black, but it doesn’t really seem to matter because I pop a piece in my mouth and it tastes like crunchy, salty, fatty, balls-on, wild animal. The meat is soft and wet. David and I start chopping up pig with big knives in front of a crowd of onlookers, like we are putting on some strange theatre of butchery, but I realize after you get through the skin, you don’t need anything that blunt anymore. I start pulling apart the meat with my fingers, and using the knife as a kind of spoon.

The muscle has completely given itself over to the heat. The pig just breaks down into heaps. Total submission. That it did what I wanted it to do is breath-taking. I never get tired of the surprises of cooking.

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I look up and there is a long line waiting to be served, plates out. Someone wants the soft fatty cheek. Someone else wants the crispy ear. This makes me happy, all this longing. I set out the sides, Andy Ricker’s Stir-Fried Brussel Sprouts with Garlic and Chile, and Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp, Tofu and Cashews from”Pok Pok.” There are also two kinds of fried rice, Chinese sausage and no Chinese sausage, a huge wooden board piled high with spicy chopped salad, and a platter of brisket that I soaked in Bird’s Eye chilies, coriander, cumin, garlic, onions, coconut milk, salt, and lime and cooked super-low for 12 hours.

People eat. People eat more. I hear that I remind someone of a Ukrainian mom in the kitchen, and I know this is meant as a serious compliment from young people far away from home. I make myself a “secret tequila,” from a bottle I have hidden in the kitchen, just for the cook and kitchen helpers. The tequila is good and hard-earned. When I go back to the yard, the carcass is a butchered mess, all bones, sucked down clean, scraps of fat that the dogs (yes, people bring dogs to our parties) begged for under the table.

Lucy, my ten-year-old daughter, is the first to remind me of dessert and we set out buckets of ice cream and cones, and people make their own. I am done. The pig is done. All I see in front of me is a little house crammed with people laughing and talking, a fire dancing in our fireplace, the doors swung open so the outside of the house and the inside are indiscernible, my floors slicked with mud and dirt from when it started raining, nice people coming to me and introducing themselves, kids weaving in and out of the legs of friends and strangers alike, laughing and chasing each other, and conversations with the acrobats and performers from the shows, and them telling me how excited they are to get their first or second big break, and how they just appreciate being here, how young and excited they are, how not jaded and cynical.

Young people are lovely. I remind myself to hang around with more people under 25 years old.

For all my obsessing about the food and the pig these last few days, what I realize most, standing there, is that the food is the most important thing, and the least. You can have a great party without great food – I mean, really you can have a great party feeding people nothing but Doritos and Coors Light – but really, good simple food, served to people you care about, says we give a shit about you enough that we want you in our house and we will go to this kind of trouble for you. It’s the meta-message that means everything.

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And this makes killing a living thing have some kind of value that maybe it didn’t before.

Or this is what I tell myself when I feel the ghosts of our guests lingering, long after they’ve left. Them on us, us on them. I pour myself another glass of “secret tequila” now, although it isn’t much of a secret. And I’m already thinking about the next party, the next people we get to see, the next pig to kill.

Dead-Center

photo (1)December 14, 2014

I thought everyone read the New York Times. I did. In the United States anyway. I mean not everyone, obviously, but people who have Internet access, or a Facebook account, or an interest in the news.

And not like the whole New York Times, just maybe the book review, or the magazine, or the arts section, or the cooking section, or something specific like, the Eric Garner verdict, or the “I Can’t Breathe” protests. You know, the stuff that is of interest. But I kinda figured everyone on the Internet, at some point in their day, ran across a New York Times article or two in their sphere of interest.

Apparently this is not true.

Like when I went to a very cool downtown restaurant here in Vegas, and congratulated the front of house on an excellent mention and recommendation from Pete Wells. Pete Fucking Wells.

Blank stare. No idea what I was talking about.

It went like this:

“Hey, congrats on the mention from Pete Wells in the New York Times! Excellent!”

Blank stare.

“Yeah, the New York Times recommended you guys as one of the go-to downtown restaurants in Vegas, you know, like in the New York Times.”

Blank stare.

“He recommended your pork jerky and the short rib fried rice.”

Big smile, but still the blank stare.

“Anyway, that’s amazing to make the list. I mean, you saw what the guy said about Guy Fieri, right? This is good. You’re in the New York Times…in a good way!”

“Uh, thanks.”

Blank stare.

And then I took Edie to violin this week – and asked the violin teacher, the children’s violin teacher, the Suzuki children’s violin teacher – about the New York Times piece about the violin instructor waging war on Suzuki and trying to impugn his name. The New York Times entitled the piece, “Violin World Yowls at Challenge to Fabled Teacher.” Yowls. This is big, right? Violin educators are YOWLING.

So I asked our violin teacher about the controversy, expecting a rant, like “Yes, of course, I saw it! It’s been everywhere. We are simply yowling about it!”

But it was more like this:

“Hey, heard about the big children’s violin controversy in the New York Times…”

Blank stare.

“Yeah, the New York Times did a whole piece on Mark O’Connor and his war on the Suzuki method and Suzuki himself.

Blank stare.

“He called Suzuki a liar, and his method a fraud…”

Blank stare.

“Anyway, it was in the New York Times….”

“Uh, wow, yeah, I should check that out.”

Blank stare. Not even a hint of yowling.

I reported all of this to David.

“Really? Doesn’t everyone who reads the news, reads the New York Times, or at least, some tiny part of it?”

“News flash: New York – not the center of the universe,” he said, looking over his laptop, and then returning to his email.

What? New York – not the center of the universe?

I had no idea. I mean, I lived in New York City for 25 years and I was pretty sure we were the center of the God-damned world.

It’s the tiny little lie us New Yorkers tell ourselves – that living there is worth all the hardship and insanity, and cramped spaces, and windowless kitchens, and cold-ass winters, and un-manageably ridiculous rents, and the madness of subways and buses on the packed-like-sardines commute, and three deadly-depressive months of zero sun, and the hours spent doing nothing but shuffling our cars around for alternate side parking – that all of this is bearable because we have art and museums and shows, and that we aren’t just culture, but there is the fertile ground where culture is created, and all that hardship, that we either experience or we see around us, breeds the most desperate and beautiful kind of art, that the energy, the freneticism of banging off of so many other people makes us better creators. We know more for living there. 

That’s how we justify it all.

But it’s a lie. Don’t get me wrong, NYC will always be dead-center in my head in so many ways. It’s special. It’s intertwined with me. I will always be a New Yorker.

But downtown Vegas reminds me of old NYC. And I want to stay here. I need sun. I need space. I need an herb garden. I need to meet all the downtown artists, writers, cooks and musicians. I need to walk and hear nothing but the sound of my own steps and my own breath when I walk the dogs. I need the kids to take off on their bikes and not know where the hell they are and not care that I don’t know. I need to know every single one of my lovely, slightly off-beat neighbors. I want to feed people, because there are people here who need to be fed. I want peace.

But I’m still going to keep reading the New York Times.

Tween

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December 4, 2014

Last night, Edie was having a meltdown. She was crying about her math test, which she failed, and she couldn’t right herself.

She kept sobbing over the test paper we were supposed to re-do and hand in the next morning. I said the wrong thing – I have that habit – suggesting we get her a tutor, and that sent her head-first into the couch, where she wailed. She accused me of saying she was bad at math.

She was inconsolable.

So, I picked her up, all crushed up and broken, and put her into our bed, and tried to get her to snuggle me, and then eventually go to sleep. It was hard at first. She resisted in every way possible – she wanted the puppy up on the bed, she wanted to watch a show, she wanted to go out into the living room and sort the mail, she didn’t want to lay next to me, she wanted to flop her legs around like a dying frog.

Everything I said sent her into a spiral of more tears. She told me I was mean, even though my words were light and loving. Everything I said was tangled and turned around to scrape her.

Finally, she came in next to me and I settled the blankets in around us. I told her all the things she wanted to hear, but I knew she felt too exposed and bristley to take in – that we are so proud of who she is, that she is out-of-this world, rocketship-to-the-moon smart in all ways, including math, that nothing could stop us from loving her, that we are family and we will always be together, that she makes me happy everyday, that we are so lucky to be her parents.

“Mommy…” she said. She had her nose right up to my nose, and her cheeks were still wet.

“Someday I might want to move away. Will you come with me?”

“You probably won’t want me to come, you know. You’ll be in a relationship, or have kids, and fun friends….”

“I know. But I want you to come anyway, wherever I go, so I won’t be alone.”

“I will follow you wherever you go, okay?” I said, and I smiled, and wished it were true – that she could be an adult and still want us with her in her life – even though of course, I was pretty sure she wouldn’t want her old mother dragging behind her as she traveled the earth, like a pathetic, tethered ghost, looming over her, looking for another life to live.

“I’m afraid I might do drugs when I’m a teenager,” she said next.

And I realized this is what it really means to be a tween, to still be a kid, and like kid things, but to also see that just over the horizon, you are going to want new things, believe new things, see the world completely differently. You are going to be on your own – and you love the idea, but it’s fierce, terrifying reality rattles you to your sinews and joints.

Maybe you’ll be a pop star, but then maybe you’ll be a meth addict. It’s all so unwritten and unknowable.

Being a tween means being here and there simultaneously, without understanding what it all means. Knowing you will change, but still hoping you can hang out a little longer with cartoons, and stuffed animals, and long hugs from your parents that fix everything.

“I don’t know what you’ll do when you’re a teenager,” I told her, “but there’s nothing you can do to make us stop loving you…”

“Or liking me?”

“Nope, we’re always gonna like you.”

“I can sleep now.”

And then she turned over, and closed her eyes, and I held her in my arms long after she fell asleep.