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I moved into one-fourth of an 1880 house, giving me my own leaded glass window, a glamorous fireplace, and so much space I feel like a refugee family should move in with me immediately.
Many family and friends came to help me move, and brought food, and we ate pizza and I forced them to drink beer though it was only 11:30 AM, and we listened to side B of “The Sound of Music” on the record player I stole from the high school where I used to teach.
I now live four blocks from one of my favorite coffeehouses and bars in the universe, a block and a half from a place where I can get eggs and toast and coffee and the local history museum and city hall.
Also my anxiety zoomed up, as any reasonable person would expect, but I am not necessarily reasonable.
I am aesthetically obsessed with my new place, perhaps more than usual since I haven’t lived with my own stuff for five years. It’s been in boxes and basements.
A good deal of the time after I moved in was me wandering the apartment, putting up pictures, taking them down, putting up drapes, taking them down, moving furniture slightly, changing the spot for the vase from this spot to that.
And then trying to work, both at my graduate school prep, and my freelance work.
I made the realization, at about eleven last night, that the wall above the mantle must be dark gray. I can’t paint without permission, so I hung a big dark gray drape up there, at twelve feet. I bet it’s quite exciting I bet to see me climb a ladder, or a chair and then a piece of furniture I assume is sturdy enough to support me, to hang things near the 12-foot ceilings in this place.
However, the cat does not care. She’s having a bit of trouble smelling, because she is allergic to dust in her old age. And who knows if she can see?
The fireplace looks amazing with the dark gray up there, though. Suddenly you can see it, it’s black inlaid with something, and an intricate iron grate in front. The grate is broken in half, but you balance it right, and no one can tell.
“Do you want me to glue that for you?” my dad said.
“You have glue that glues iron?”
“I think so,” he said.
“No, you don’t. It’s called fire,” I said.
When I walk to coffee (which I actually have to do, as I no longer own a coffeemaker, silverware, a toaster, dish towels, or a colander), I walk down a street of Victorian and their staider, older homes, all of which I love the pants off of.
One is lavender and looks like a cat lady threw up all over it in a very neat way, another looks straight out of New Orleans, the trim, the squareness, the stateliness, and there is a historic plaque house which has a door with a doorknob at a level for British people or elves, and those square windows that go around windows that make me hot.
My great-grandparents had only one architecturally nice thing in their crackerbox house, a door with square stained-glass panels.
Seriously, I think the house was made from a box of crackers. A cardboard box. Not a tin.
The story was that someone pulled the house up out of a creek with a team of horses.
My apartment is also “flooded with light,” as they say, but seriously, it is. I am swimming in light. And not direct light, but eastern soft light and northern light and a touch of southern, really incredible light. At night, I can watch a stoplight change (I like the red, as well as the don’t walk), and the name of the street on green (Tennessee, which is a great word), and at some angles, just trees, as if I am way out in the country.
It’s basically the complete opposite of a New York City apartment.
I cross the street when cars aren’t coming, while everyone else in this college town stands on the sidewalk patiently like God is watching.
Also I walk too fast here, I can really look like an asshole, but then, I walked too fast in Manhattan, which is one of the saddest realizations I ever came to, that even in Manhattan, one could be walking too fast.
I show less interest in wearing any shoes but flip-flops, and I think my bruised-from-moving and spider-veined legs are sexy, here. Not because I’m young, because I’m recalling that men who like me usually like women like me.
And this is a hippie town. I’m like, why am I even combing my hair?
It took me eight hours to get my internet installed, between the guy being late, and then having a dickens of a time drilling a hole in my wall, climbing out my window onto the roof. He was very tall, speaking of tall people, and also polite and sweet, and thus I did not go in and scream at him, “What the fuck is taking so long?” although at the end I was thinking that. “I would just like to be able to answer a question like, what time does Target close? Or, how can you help your congested cat? without worrying I’ll get another text from Verizon about my data, and I’d like to work and make some fucking money since I am spending money like a bleeding-out patient in an operating theater.
At like 7 pm he finally had the stuff installed, and I ordered food delivered to me like money was no object, and put myself to bed.
I listened to Dax Shepard interviewing Vincent D’Onofrio this morning. Vincent D’Onofrio is not only incredibly sexy, he is also pretty insane. (Probably these things are related, sure.) The guys were talking about having mental health issues, addiction for Shepard and whatever D’Onofrio’s problem is, and about how when you are rich, famous, in love, doing what you love, you can identify your issues because IT’S NONE OF THOSE THINGS.
This caused me, in the shower, to recall that I had every reason to expect my move would cause me to need daily anti-anxiety meds on top of my normal meds, because THIS HAPPENS EVERY TIME I DO SOMETHING REALLY STRESSFUL.
On my way to coffee this morning, I walked straight into a gaggle of police officers. They were all standing on the corner in front of the t-shirt place chatting.
Ten or twenty people had on these t-shirts that said something about art. There was an argument out here about a piece of art that was a flag, and there was some threat that the people mad about the art were going to show up and cause a ruckus, or else a bunch of pro-gun white supremacists were going to show up, particularly on this, the anniversary of that shocking and disgusting display in Charlottesville. Apparently this did happen here about a year ago, people showed up with guns.
I learned this chatting with a woman at coffee.
“I’m sorry, I’ve only lived here for a few days,” I told her. “Maybe next time I can hang out with you guys.”
Image: Design for a Fireplace, Anonymous, British, 19th Century, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with DT being in town. One great benefit of being in Kansas City is that one never has to see “Trump” on anything, except that one chiropractor on 93rd Street, which I am sure is no affiliation. The provinces, as I think of out here, in the provinces we are a little protected.
But then I turned on the TV for background noise (this is one way I seduce myself into working from home), and “The Price Is Right” was on, which was perfect background noise.
The local news interrupted the showcase showdown. This is the airport! He is here.
My body filled with adrenaline, feet to crown of head, I got up, threw on clothes, deodorant, sneakers, texted my friend who was already at the protest.
I made myself drink a glass of water. I stopped and bought three mylar balloons because I wanted to write three things on them. Then I drove downtown.
My friend had suggested parking far from the action, and I did park far off, and started walking. The sign I took is a little ambiguous, well, it shouldn’t be, but is: Celebrate Immigration, Cherish Journalism, Love Truth. In our current situation, all even the last proposition is controversial.
So as I walked, and walked past some old ladies with badges who looked like they might be part of the event, and a table of Trump t-shirts and buttons, and a table of Fuck Trump t-shirts and badges. A guy yelled after me, “We love immigrants, too!” which from his tone I could tell we had different ideas of what “love” meant.
And I’ve always been instructed, as a protestor, not to respond to hecklers, to respond to any feedback with a thumbs up, a smile, a wave. If they’re for you, this looks kind, and if they’re against you, it makes them look like assholes. (Thank you to Julie O’Conner and the animal rights kids who mentored me through my first protests.)
My balloons were bouncing along behind me. One said, FREE PRESS, one said LOVE IMMIGRANTS, and one said TRUTH. The helium seemed to have little effect, compared to the wind. I felt like I had brought three inflatable puppies.
I passed a few other folks who looked at my sign and tried to decipher it. And a few who gave me a thumbs up. And two who gave me a high five, also. And a lot of people squatting and smoking outside their office buildings, on break. Wearing uniforms. And people wearing their work badges, walking in twos to get lunch, or to get some air that was actually relatively fresh that day. In the shade, it was comfortable.
I turned right and furiously climbed the hill across downtown. I was a little sweaty and my calves strained a little. It was a lot of Kansas City walking, not a lot of New York walking. Seventeenth to 10th, and Baltimore to Broadway. I got to Grand before I realized that I was going the wrong way.
A man came out of the building where I was standing in the shade realizing I had gone the wrong way in my own city, well, the city I’ve lived in the longest, by far. “My friend is at 10th and Broadway,” I told this office guy.
“Yeah, that’s down there,” he said, as if I were straight off the turnip truck.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. You see, I really do have no sense of direction.
I went back down the hill. I might have realized my mistake because my church is on Broadway, but no. I made it to Broadway and my fellow protestors. Four corners of 10th and Broadway had people with their signs. The kids with bullhorns, and hippie lady with facial hair, the older veterans, quiet with flags, the gay dudes, one of whom held an American flag upside down. The people who just stood, they didn’t have a sign. Some familiar faces, now that I have been to a few protests here. The Poor People’s Campaign people. The Black Lives Matter. The moms against guns. The immigration people. We get together now.
And we chanted, as we do. I learned some new ones. We struggled over: “The people/united/shall never be….” Some thought defeated, some thought divided. Rhyme is so important in English. I can’t emphasize that enough.
My balloons were in the way, refusing to float up over our heads, ready to bop someone in the face. So I turned and tied their ribbon strings to the street barricade behind us. And next time I looked back, Truth, Immigrants, and the Free Press had disappeared.
When the presidential motorcade zoomed around the corner, a couple of blocks behind us, people started shouting, “Fuck Trump! Fuck you!” Which I did not enjoy. I mean, when I listen to NPR in my car, which is too often, I frequently say, “Or, you could go fuck yourself,” but that is me alone expressing myself. I don’t want rage in public. In public I want to get together, and be brokenhearted, and be angry, but not raging. Rage burns down everything.
I hope someone found the balloons. I hope they didn’t choke birds, or whatever other bad things loose balloons do. “Hey, truth! Here it is!” someone said.
- Four little pigs went out on Halloween. Their mother did not know how to count. Every time, she was with the: one, two… wait…. And the four children waited because what else could they do?
She pushed them in a stroller-for-four, up and down the apartment hall, and each neighbor was curious. One, two, three, four?
“They’re not kosher,” one neighbor whispered.
“And who is the big bad wolf?”
“And why aren’t they blind?”
“And where is the grandma?” other neighbors said.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” the mom said.
Mom had three more children and she dressed them as the Beatles minus John.
2. The owner of the building didn’t even know what he owned. He was on life support at Mary and Associates General. A machine breathed for him, like Frankenstein, he breathed, but without Frankenstein’s innovative thrill at being able to breathe. The owner of the building and the body was not working
His wife came to visit twice a week, and his son once a month, and his daughter every other week, and his lawyer, once a week. He owned 40 buildings in the area, and it was going to be a bitch-mess untangling of assets when he died. He resisted will-making because he didn’t like death.
A man named Harum trimmed his fingernails, and toenails. A woman named Isolde bathed him, as much as he could be bathed. The dirty water never looked very dirty.
He lived a long time.
3. The plantains were not bananas, she realized as she unpacked the toys for her new day care. It was in the first floor of the building. It was called “Little Angels,” and like all places with “angels” in the name, it was to be terrible.
When inspected, dead bandaids would be found stuck to the floor and the toys, and a piece of broken glass would be found amongst the Duplos. And the soap dispenser was empty. This owner, though, was Excited to Serve the Community By Making Money. She had just been diagnosed with MS, and needed a desk job, like applying for grants for day cares.
“Are we supposed to have weird food? Should I get the plastic sushi?” she said to no one, as she hobbled over to the trash with the play food plastic shell packaging. She was hobbling from stubbing her toe earlier, the MS had not caught her that tightly yet. “I don’t know,” she said to herself.
I went to a reunion of the school where I used to teach. I hugged people, and then we asked how we were. I asked what they were up to, and I worried that unless the answer was, “I have conquered the world with my college degree!” or had a baby to show me, they would say, “Not much.”
We pushed college so hard.
One of my kids (who isn’t exactly a kid anymore) said, “I’m driving a school bus.”
“That’s an important job!” I said. “I’ve been subbing and I’ve seen how important those bus drivers are, making sure the kids get on the right bus and behave and are safe.”
“It’s not what I thought I would do.” And looked wistful.
“Most of my life has not been what I thought I would do,” I said.
So, Dear Former Students,
Life is much harder than we told you. We told you GO TO COLLEGE, and if you went, that didn’t solve everything, did it?
It was hard to stay in, once you were in, wasn’t it? It was for me, too.
I know it didn’t solve this violent city, or whatever family shit you have, everyone has some, and some people have a lot.
It didn’t make you taller, or make you feel like you could handle things.
(And I know, I’m 30 grand in debt. I hope you kept all your scholarships.)
I went to my ten-year reunion because I was going back to school to be a teacher, and this was a good story to tell people. When you go to parties, you always have to have a story of what’s going on with you, and it’s best if it’s not, “I don’t have a fucking clue,” at least not until after midnight and several drinks.
One time at a party, a guy told me he had been molested by a priest.
Another time, someone told me he was on a payment plan for his incredibly huge credit card debt.
But these were anomalies.
My twenty-year I did not go to because I was in New York, which was something, but I was also broke as hell, and I didn’t particularly want to discuss that with any of my former classmates from one of the fanciest public schools on earth.
Yesterday I dropped by a thrift store my stepmom had recommended. Found a pair of pants and a skirt that fit me, and a dress, too, what a deal!
The guy who runs the place is Australian, or speaks with an incredible fake Australian accent, one of those two things. A lady who was a nun, in habit, was in line when I walked in. Most of the rest of the shoppers were speaking Spanish. I was out in Johnson County, which for my east coast friends, is like Westchester. Or it used to be. Perhaps parts of it are now Yonkers. (I am housesitting in the Park Slope of Kansas City, pretty swank, without the famous people.)
I lined up to pay, and a couple next to me had a shopping cart full of shoes and clothes. The man was looking at a list and reading things off, as if they had made a list for a whole lot of people.
“I’ll get you first,” the cashier said. I paid for my pants, skirt, dress, and the Nancy Cunard bangle I had found, last minute (50 cents). “You helped three people eat today!” she proclaimed.
That was nice. They feed people for $3. Apparently.
It was nicer to be among recent immigrants so close to the 4th. And see a few of ’em cleaning up at the thrift store. They had a lot of good shit there. And help the Australian guy hold the door open for another dude who was buying a table.
Driving a bus is important. You’re being a good citizen. That’s all we wanted from you. That’s all we want for you. We’re proud of you.
I went to see the Mr. Rogers documentary last night, and that is one of the things I have taken from him: how powerful it is to tell someone you are proud of them. That’s one of the things I miss doing, as a teacher. People can hardly handle hearing that. It blows their damn minds.
I’m proud of you, women arrested for protesting immigration insanity. I’m proud of you, union fighters who try to get us treated fairly, even though, lately, over and over again, you are shut down and turned back. I’m proud of myself for writing to my congresspeoples even though sometimes I feel like I don’t care anymore and it doesn’t matter. I’m proud of everyone who came to the March for Our Lives.
I’m proud of the times I asked questions instead of snapping. I’m proud of asking for help. I’m proud of you for reading something someone else wrote. You can bet I look at the page views occasionally, and when there’s some numbers there, it feels good.
I’m proud of the community our former students have, how they still take care of each other and show up for each other and care about things bigger than money or power, because that was the main thing we were really trying to model.
Things I do not know:
- What do to about Donald Trump.
- What not to do about Donald Trump.
- How to get people to stop shooting guns.
- How I feel about going to graduate school.
- If I’d rather fail at things, or succeed.
- If I’d rather never fall in love again, or not.
- If I will have a child.
- How I feel about leaving New York.
- How I feel about being in Kansas City.
- Why I keep moving around if I want to have a home.
- How I ended up so fucking broke at 41.
- Why my friend got laid off.
- Why playing with a little kid’s hair is so soothing.
- That I don’t know what I want to write about.
- Whether I don’t want to write because I don’t know what to say, or I think I have nothing to say.
- How to stay connected with, or let go, my former students.
- Why money doesn’t make people feel safe.
- When I want to do my freelance work, though I have the choice of doing it during any of the 24 hours in the world.
- Where I will ever, ever again find pants that make me feel good about wearing them.
- Or a summer skirt.
- How much of my bad mood is my normal moodiness, and how much is hearing that people got shot on the news, and that our democracy is crumbling.
- Why my 20-year-old cat is still alive and a glorious grouchy bitch who loves being alive.
- Why I have so much trouble transitioning that I can’t leave the house, or get anywhere on time, or, sometimes, take a damn shower.
- Why my writing has not been more successful.
- Why God doesn’t “fix” things, in any sense of fixing, I would be fine with.
- Whether I should designate one desk in the lovely little house for “creative” writing, and the other for work, or not.
- What might make me “happy.”
- If I would have loved Sartre, and wanted to sleep with him, or if, like many charismatic smart men, I would have been too suspicious of his charisma and been like, nah, he’d never talk to me.
- If the clothes I outgrew will fit again if I get more exercise.
- Why some friendships flourish, and some crap out.
- What kind of furniture I would buy if I ever actually had money to pick out and buy furniture.
- What car I would buy if, the same, because the Toyota Avalon only comes in an automatic.
- If I can buy or order a glass of rose, without the presumption of “it’s for other people.”
- If my friends will ever convince me to use hallucinogens.
- If I will ever again meet a man who is not married and gorgeous and I think, I want to talk and talk and talk with him.
- What my nieces and nephews will grow up to be, as humans beings.
- If I will ever remember to re-watch “The Gods Must Be Crazy.”
- If I will ever be pleased with how flexible my hamstrings are.
- If, at my funeral, anyone will talk about how I was a good tipper.
- How to sew my own skirts so they fucking fit me.
- Where I’d like to travel to next, and how on earth I will ever have the money to go there.
- To throw a dinner party.
- To do anything with makeup beyond putting on black mascara and eyeliner.
- If I want to kiss someone.
- How much interacting with the manicurist makes her feel like a person.
- How to sell myself.
Things I Do Know
- What I would like to drink, in any bar.
- The coffee I would like, and how.
- To throw a cocktail party.
- To parallel park.
- To write to my senators and representatives.
- At least three people to call if I feel the worst I have ever felt.
- If I want to hug someone.
- How to write an essay, a book, a poem.
- How to get kids to settle the fuck down.
- How to get most kids to read something or write something.
- How to sort out a family fight (eventually).
- How to get a drink, or dinner, or to travel, alone.
- The right pens to use.
- How to read standardized test directions in a fun and obnoxious way.
- How to get kids to pace themselves.
- How to set up a tent.
- How to get your car inspected by someone who will give you the sticker regardless.
- How to bake bread.
- How to not freak out when I can’t sleep.
- How to read and write.
- Several places in the world I feel inexplicably joyful and at home.
- How to not be too pushy.
- How to accept people.
- How to administer holy communion.
- How to behave in a religious service of really any kind.
- How to use public transit.
- How to go to any neighborhood.
- How to use chopsticks.
- The museums of New York City.
- The life of FDR.
- How to climb things.
- How to put on high heels when you feel terrible.
- How to drive with an open container.
- How to grade an essay.
- How to write curriculum.
- Yer basic English literature canon, dead white men edition.
- How to hold a baby.
- How to take ativan and get on an airplane without becoming lost forever.
- To stay still in the heat.
- To watch comedies regularly.
- How to go on a first date.
- How to swim.
- How to play the guitar (on a very basic level)
- I will live somewhere else in six weeks.
- How to buy fancy cheese, even though I don’t really eat it.
- Where to buy fancy chocolate.
I… am… your air conditioner.
I… am doing what I can.
This is my week.
This is my moment.
My lungs are as full as they are, and then they are as empty as they’ll ever be.
I’m trying; I’m trying.
This house, its rooms, all empty, and yet you ask me, all day, to make them 72 degrees.
And I try, but where are you?
You are in another 72-degree-place, drinking coffee that is 100 degrees. Give or take.
You see the men outside today, pouring the concrete and guiding the lawnmowers? They are my yang.
I am yin. I am air conditioner.
Is it just the cool you want?
You ask dehumidification. I don’t even know how that works.
Something happens inside me. I take the moisture, I take it away.
Do you ask where it goes?
(Some of you watch TV shows on “the way things work.” Some of you actually work for HVAC companies. Or install HVAC yourself. Apologies, comrade.)
You do not ask.
Any time, anyone, could open the door, and she could breathe.
As God intended?
I am your air conditioner.
I am your window unit.
I am sucking and blowing as fast as I can.
I know I am loud, but that is what it takes. It takes the energy of a big, fat plug. A special electrical connection. That’s what I take.
Sit before me. Feel better.
Or are you in a car, using yet another air conditioner?
I am a fan. Come and pick me up at a particular address. Haul me home on the bus. I can help you blow the hot air around so it feels not at all better, but different.
I am your power grid. I gotta go.