Fire, Water

On New Year’s Day, I began construction on the rose window of Notre Dame.  No one had asked me, no one had sought out my expertise, and still I sat on my kitchen floor with circles of various sizes, oatmeal silo, vanilla bottle, lid from a jar of dirt that came from Kurt Vonnegut’s yard.  I cut some twine– what a great material– and tied loops to make a compass, which I wasn’t able to operate well.  I got ahead of myself, didn’t keep the twine tight.

I worked from the rose window I painted at our family reunion in small town Nebraska.  A copy of a copy.  Well, I’d already simplified it.  And stuck out like a sore thumb weirdo by painting a medieval religious treasure, rather than “Welcome” and a jaunty succulent.

With my x-acto knife, I spent quality time cutting each section where glass should go.  Then piece by piece, cutting and setting and gluing cellophane in each panel.

If I say that the cardboard Notre Dame will be in the Mardi Gras parade this year, perhaps I seem less scary.

Friends came over a few days later, and they built the side towers, painted them gray with tempera, did all the structural calculating I’m incapable of, so the thing will stand up.  Advised me how to build the spire, which we will include, as ours is a sort of City of God Notre Dame, not a historical representation.

I cut up a foam boulder that used to say 98.9 The Rock, and made gargoyles, which are stone snowmen, basically.

I fell in love with them.

Once I had the frontage of Notre Dame sitting in front of my hearth, covering it up to the mantle line, I went to sleep.

I dreamt that I had been to Paris, to Notre Dame, with my family, but I couldn’t remember it.  I was upset that I had been “in a fugue state.”  (My precision of language in dreams intrigues me… when I remember Shakespeare quotes, are they real?)

And water.  I dreamt of water that night, and again last night.  Water, water, water.Waves, floods, lakes.  “Overwhelmed, emotional state,” says dream interpreters.

Our Notre Dame will be as flame-resistant as cardboard.

Nothing is stone, apparently, not even stone.

While I was moved by the Notre Dame fire to recreate it, I annually, at least once, build and burn a paper Bastille.  You want to use newsprint.  Cut your towers.  Use scotch tape.  You won’t need much.  I’m sure it’s not great to burn, but you’ll live.  Then cut your outer wall.  Cut all your crenulations (a word I learned from my sister when we went down this road).  The “castle” jig-jag.  Tape outer wall to hold towers together.  You can paint it, but bear in mind you’re just going to burn the thing.

There are objects created just to be burned, more than my Bastilles.  Maybe more in eastern cultures, where they burn the dead, too?  A whole industry of “joss paper,” which is made into money or objects for the dead.  To get them to the dead, you burn them.  I get it.  I don’t have a particularly better method for getting things to the dead.

The idea that dead people would want or need money strikes me as tragic, though.  Perhaps the only good thing I can imagine about death is not wanting or needing money anymore.

“Hell money” has been used since the late 1800s.  Okay, we call it “hell money” because it sounds fun, but it’s really for “underworld court” or “underworld prison.”  It’s a common belief in world religions that “there will be hell to pay” after you die.

You can get hell money featuring JFK, Einstein, or Marilyn Monroe.

I’m just going to leave that right there.

In 2006, the Chinese government banned the burning of paper mistresses and viagra.

I’d also like to leave you this sentence from the Wikipedia article on joss paper: “Another common feature is the signatures of both the Jade Emperor and the lord of the Underworld, both of whom apparently also serve as the Hell bank’s governor and deputy governor….”

The only regularly burned-until-gone Christian item are our palm fronds from Palm Sunday.  They become the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

But I have ceremonially burned my sophomore year geometry notes, and slips of paper listing regrets or sadnesses.

Burning or burial?  Once I took my sadnesses on slips of paper and dug a hole and buried them.  Different.  I wondered if anyone ever found them.  It was out in the country.  Probably not.

Maybe there was enough rain, and the covering dirt was washed away, and someone saw blurred strips of paper with black ink inscriptions, illegible.

Note: all my research on joss paper is just as lazy as it sounds.  So accept or fact check at your own risk.

Image: one of my Bastille burnings.  Only a newsprint Bastille was harmed.

 

Follies

 

 

Every once in a while, I have a flash of a geographic location.  A corner in Manhattan where there was a bakery that was downstairs, behind an iron railing.

I had a dream I was in New York, and women were running up a hill naked, and we were trying to talk to them, make sure they were okay, because they were coming from some wild party, and we were not sure if they were okay.

I tried on a dress I love, and it was snug, and I thought, will this end?  I have accepted being a slightly larger 43-year-old, but come on.  I had a feeling of a string around my throat all evening, and decided I had digestive trouble.  Then I started burping over and over.  I went to the grocery store and bought a baby blue bottle of off-brand Maalox, as the internet suggested.  Then for real I could not read the directions without my one-off pair of reading glasses, from back when I only needed them to read on some subway platforms.

I met friends at an art gallery.  I had felt much weakness of brain, and had gotten some rest, forced myself out of the house, which made me rather anxious, but I persevered.  My two friends were standing looking at a restaurant menu, wearing pants and jackets like people do in winter, two people who showed up to see me.  And had been showing up for a long time.  That made me happy.

I value longevity, almost pathologically.  I’m still trying to prove that unlike my parents, I can maintain a relationship, in spite of them repairing and maintaining their relationship like fifteen years ago.

One must strive, I suppose.

I was feeling very middle-aged, I told my friends.  They didn’t give a shit about that, we’re all the same age, and sometimes we feel old, for reasons legitimate or illegitimate, if there is such a thing as legitimate reasons.

We went into a room of gold painted headpieces, and another room where model ships were hung from the ceiling, making a river without a river, or boats without boatness.  Or something.

I went to see an exhibit about Genghis Khan.  This reminded me of an art show we had at the mansion, Marco Polo themed.  A few friends accidentally came a day early, so we had drinks in the Venice room.  There was a bridge to walk over, and there was blue fabric, with boats set on it.

My family watches this TV show that I think is insane.  It is in HDTV, and it takes place in New York City.  I watch and try to figure out from the too-crisp picture where they are filming.  I can rarely figure it out.

I bought a package of cellophane on Amazon.  I regretted buying it on Amazon.  I took out square sheets and scotch taped them to my windows.  I wanted color in the windows.  It looked like a preschool.  That was okay.

As we went into the place where the Genghis Khan exhibit was, I saw a stack of Sunday New York Timeses.  I have a New York Times fetish.  I bet you want to bring one of those into the car, and then I’ll have to fumigate, my dad said.  I chuckled.

On the way out, I picked up one paper.  There were like three others!  The day was over!  Who would notice!  How dare they leave baby NYTs out in the cold!

I took it home and did not read it.

Genghis Khan was all for religious pluralism.  His wife was a Christian.  The Mongols had a big city, and a huge empire, but now they are footnote people.  Quite ignored.

“I hope you get to hear some jazz while you’re here,” I said to the Mongolian musician.  The white local guy said, “They do want to hear some music.  They want to see a musical.”  I was like, okay, then.  Maybe he was protected by that guy, protected from feeling foolish.  I wanted to talk to the Mongolian musician and his painter wife, but also I wanted to say something that would show how thoughtful and sympathetic to their situation I was, which limited things.  I wanted them (and everyone I ever meet) to say, “She gets it.”

We stood and listened to a Mongolian musician, using a horse hair bow (of course they had horse hair!) and two long instruments  that were between a viola and a cello.  The droning unlocked my parasympathetic nervous system before I knew what had happened.  hanting, organs, bagpipes.  I had felt iffy, anxiety-wise, and then I blamed the darkness of the exhibit on its continuance.  They make the area really dark, and they herd you by spotlights.

Image: an ancestor of Genghis Khan.  Detail of “Tumanba Khan, his wife, and his nine sons,” ca. 1596.  Public domain.

Eat Me

The baby is handed the communion wafer, and looks at it.  When we are very young, we do know how to clutch.  Baby clutches it.  Examines.  Priest takes it back, breaks it (as one does in part of the ritual which precedes this), and offers baby a tiny piece: “You want to try it?  It’s not bad.”  She opens her mouth, he sets it on her tongue.  She chews it, or gums it.

“What do you expect, Dad, it tastes like sawdust,” says the priest’s kid, who is kneeling next to me.

When my Catholic grandmother was dying, a priest tried to put a wafer in her mouth, but she kept spitting it out.  My grandma had never talked about church, or God, or anything.  She went to mass every Sunday.  I don’t really know why.

To me, being raised Protestant, by very religious parents, meant that church stuff was about 50% of our lives.  I was exposed to more evangelical Christians, and learned that they not only talk about Jesus and God, but they talked about their personal relationship with Jesus.  I was like, well, I don’t know how personal it is.  Is Jesus being standoffish with me?  I thought we had an understanding.  I was into him, he was into me.

My dad went through this period (between marriages) when he would force us to eat a vegetable.  We were not allowed to leave the table until we had eaten so many bites of peas or green beans.  “A” for effort, but I figured out I could spit things out in a napkin, or in the bathroom.

Episcopalians give communion to babies.  It’s magic, and because it’s magic, nothing can hurt it or offend it.  I mean, we are reverent with it.  The wafers all get eaten, are never discarded, and the wine is either kept for later, or poured into the earth.  Some churches have a special drain for communion wine that goes not into the sewer, but into the ground.

Those are the absolute best.

I sat next to the priest’s kid and thought about how awful being a preacher’s kid must be.  But I have no idea that this kid feels that way.  I just remember that my dad being a prominent person at church, I felt like telling them to go fuck themselves, or giving them a long list of differences between my dad and God.  Although this is always a tricky thing, most of us, probably, still have an idea of God that is much in line with our idea of our dads.

This priest’s kid sat and drew pictures in the bulletin.  Traditional things kids do in church: practice buttoning and snapping and zipping with a “Quiet Book” made of cloth, scribble on offering envelopes, write notes back and forth, flip through the hymnal, crawl under the pew, pretend to be Sea World trainers (okay, that was just my sisters).  The church I grew up in, kids were there for the whole service, if they were amenable to being kept quiet, or old enough to be expected to be quiet, for an hour.  I think this is a little unusual.  Many places, kids get taken off for some kid thing, so they are not there for the whole service.

Now, I was a kid, but I felt that the church I grew up in, and Lutheran churches in general, are especially good at carrying through Jesus’ interest in kids.  Kids made noise in services, and kids belonged in services.  Jesus was unusually positive about kids and the way they saw things, for a guy of his time.  Kids, back then, were workers, or burdens, or creatures who might make you fall in love with them, and then die.

When someone makes you food, you have to take it.  We can talk anthropology, about distant tribes and eating rituals, but when people make you food, here, now, you must eat it.  It’s terrible if you don’t.  Once a friend made me a special vegetarian thing with broccoli.  I hate broccoli.  But you must eat.  I did.

Images from top left, clockwise: food serving vessel, 12th century BCE, China; food warmer with insert, Vienna, ca. 1730-35; food bottle, possibly German, second half 17th century;  stacked food box with taro plants and chrysanthemums, 1807-1891, Japan.  All from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What to Love

My favorite story from one of my favorite writers is that she bought a chicken at the grocery store, and then on the way home, she threw it in a trash can.

The flat world that we usually see, where we are felt cut-outs on a felt board, being moved around from bed to work to play to bed, the board had turned so I could see the cracks, and how it was put together.

How I’d been told to think of things, how people did, how I didn’t want to not think, my idea of cycles and emotions and events come and go, on their time.  Nothing happens on my time.  Now I know this.

I pushed the cart, a tank of a vehicle.  I needed to lean on it.  Still weak from some tiny particle that got inside my body and tossed the whole place like a thief looking for jewelry.

What was beautiful about taking a box of Quaker Oatmeal Squares and putting it in the cart, from the shelf at Checkers in Lawrence Kansas in October of 2019 wearing my new-to-me black sweater and denim skirt an flip flops?  What beautiful about gazing on the humble but colorful bags of frozen fruit, Best Choice?  Drawings of the fruit before it was frozen.  What beauty in me being alone, and past the mourning of what I wanted, mostly, on the balanced place of (if I’m very lucky) half my life behind, and half ahead.  Beautiful about the bags of frozen fruit, in the hand identifiable pieces, but hard frozen, no longer themselves, exactly.

Beautiful about not having the ghosts of Whitman, Melville, James Baldwin, for comfort, people who had walked the same street and ridden the same subways and looked at the same river, the East River.  My ghost friends who felt the horror and hysteria and very heavy, settled love of New York City and its endless arms.  Manhattan sleepy Sunday off-tourist time downtown, when it’s unseasonably warm, its oldest and narrowest streets, where the new gloss and grubby greed and the African burial ground and the Statue of Liberty all coexist as New Yorkers do: crabby, internally focused and also presenting themselves, hard, always planning: where to get off the train, how long will it take to get, how the Sunday trains will fuck you, at a time they think you should stay home, say, noon.

I had actual living friends in New York, too.  Some of them were writers, and all of them were alive.

No, I was in Lawrence, Kansas, on land taken from the Sac and Fox and Kickapoo and Potawatomi.  I’m at the grocery where they tell all the newbies to go: “it’s the best.”  Best selection of “ethnic” food for people who came from China or Peru, to study or research.  Cheap.  Local.  Big American flag.  Annual meat sale.  The longboats of meat, red, red, red.

Here there aren’t so much ghosts of writers as there are actual writers, people who put down words about what happens, and some of them stick to the insides of others’ minds.  The imposing bulk of The Greats is less a discouragement, but it’s less an encouragement, too.  Could anything good come out of Nazareth?

And the land here, you see lots of land that just belongs to plants here.  Just outside town, there are farms and open lands, with hay roll-ups and dark cows at leisure and many enormous birds, hawks who make the lazy circles they are accused of making in “Oklahoma.”  They do this without pay.

I push the cart: bananas, frozen raspberries in an opaque white bag, box of cereal, fresh spinach in a plastic shell, box of granola bars, wearing plastic coats inside, and a vat of fatty yogurt.  Presealed bag of cherry jelly beans.

The skies are the main difference.  In the Checkers parking lot, the whole sky is like, this is what’s up!  Look at me!  And in New York the sky worked with the buildings (the ones I miss most at the Bloomingdale’s stop, for some reason), and the bridges, and the rivers.  It was a team effort.

Stars here, lit windows there.  Narrow restaurants both places (nothing helps a restaurant like being narrow).  In Lawrence, people regularly stirred by the comings and goings of kids who become almost adults, and buy suits and sit up straighter and get jobs, and in New York, people regularly stirred by rent increases, far away wars, going to a bar in a different neighborhood one night, being willing to chat one day when you’re both so sick of the fucking Sunday trains.

And the Kill Creek exit.  And Key Foods.  And a Metro card.  And a Turnpike ticket.  And a gas pedal.  And a pole to hold.  And the Nostrand stop.  And the uneasy pale faces, and the uneasy dark ones, and the wigs of the orthodox, and the leggings of the college girls, and the limestone of the school on the hill conquering nature, and the brownstones that have never heard of nature, and don’t trust her, that’s for sure .

Taking the train into the city, climbing up, seeing how long the line is, turning around to go straight back to Brooklyn.  Leaving a full grocery cart and walking the whole line of the city limits, where the Mr. Steak used to be, the factory with the white smoke, where the house tracts become field that are the just outside town strip club, and the roads, gravel, wander toward another town.

Images: Flat surface and part of the curved wall of depression for an Aten disk,

Ants

 

 

 

 

 

My friend is having electromagnets shot at her brain for a half hour a day.  When I first heard of this treatment, I thought it was like those magnetic bracelets they want to sell you at the fair.  But no, it’s an FDA approved (trademark) treatment for several mental health problems.

Because this is a five-days-a-week and seven weeks long thing, you get to know others getting treated, and their spouses or siblings or parents who have brought them.  I’ve sat in plenty of therapists’ waiting rooms, and the feeling there is always tense.  You’re always like, is that person REALLY crazy?  Are they more messed up than me?  Don’t make eye contact!

At the magnetic treatment clinic, we frequently chat.  Everyone knows we are there to either have treatment for mental health problems (depression, maybe other things), or supporting someone who’s already run the gambit of every SSRI and all the therapy.

At this clinic, we can all trust each other.  We all get it  How long has your person been getting the treatment?  Has it helped?  Can it work?  Yes, I say.  I think it can.  I think it  has.

I chat with a husband about Hamilton and Jefferson.  I chat with another husband whose wife hadn’t left the house in ten years.

There have been two very young women.  One of them has a helper dog, and the dog’s family have warned everyone not to flirt with or pet the dog while the dog is working.  It’s very difficult.  It’s a very attractive dog.

The clinic has gone from terrifying (first visit) to comforting.  We have a routine, all of us who take my friend.  The techs know us.  The glass jar full of candy.  The off-brand cookies laid out for us.  The felt autumn leaves that have been taped on at some point in our seven weeks.  The Chiefs banner has gone up.

The styrofoam head (the tech told me her name, but I forget), used to show how the little cap the patients wear works.  They shoot magnetic impulses at your head.  Your eye may twitch.  Your teeth may ache.  They may need to move the magnet around a little if you get sore, though nothing is touching your head at all.  The magnets are pulsing hard.

Now we are more worried about how it will feel to stop treatment.

Last week, I was sitting in my usual spot.   I was plowing through another dense abstract text for grad school, gritting my teeth and wishing I had oxen.  I glanced down when I thought I saw a movement.  It was a movement.  It was a big carpenter ant making his way across the floor.

I went back to reading about how nation states and democracy and colonialism affected the spread of secondary education around the world.

“What is it?” the receptionist said.

“It’s just an ant.  If it was something worse, like a roach, I would have said something, but it’s just an ant.”

He walked over and leaned down.  “Is that an ant?  It’s big!”

I currently have the tiniest of ants trying to settle in the corner of my living room, lured by snacks I occasionally eat there.  They are so tiny I haven’t bothered to do anything more than squash them with a piece of paper.  Or even my finger.  Which is gross.

In the house I grew up in, every spring we had the big carpenter ants, like the one in the clinic.  Big black gobs of body.

“I’ll take care of it,” the receptionist said, going to get a kleenex or something.

“No!  I’ll take him outside,” said the other woman in the waiting room.  I hadn’t seen her before.

“Well, okay.  If you want to.”

She picked up a business card from his desk and tried to set it in the ant’s way.  The ant wasn’t having that.  Then it was on the card, and it quickly walked off again.  “I love insects.  I know it’s weird.”

“Here, use this,” I said, offering her the big 8×10 envelope I had put my school paperwork in.

“Thanks,” she said.  She crouched down with the orangey brown envelope, got the ant on this larger life raft, and rushed out of the office to change the ant’s life forever.  For all I know, the ant met his true love this way.  He would never have met her if he had stayed all his life in the magnet clinic waiting room.

Or it ruined his life.  He thought he had achieved enlightenment, turns out there are other worlds of suffering he had never imagined.

One of the songs my dad sang to us was “The Ants Go Marching.”  His other songs were “Summertime,” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” and “Won’t You Come and Climb the Mountain With Me?”

He would get a little scary with the ants marching song.  That was his job, as a dad, to push our fears in front of us, where we could see them.  My mom would scoop us up and cover us with her body until the ant departed.

The ants go marching one by one,

Hurrah/Hurrah

Hurrah/Hurrah

The ants go marching one by one

Hurrah/hurrah

Hurrah/hurrah

The ants go marching two by two,

the little one stops to tie his shoe,

and they all go marching

down (here his voice got scary)

to the Earth (still scary)

to get out of the rain

Bum bum bum.

We had matching red nightgowns with white lace trim, technically Christmas pajamas, because mine came with a cap that made me Mrs. Claus.  We had matching bedspreads, which were pale rainbows.  We had a large population of stuffed animals on shelves hung on the wall.  We had a record player to listen to music, and a tape recorder to make our own radio shows.

I could never live in the south.  The bolder racism and the insects.  Nothing ever dies there.

The young woman came back.  “Here you go,” she said, returning my envelope.

She set the business card, which hadn’t been big enough for the job, put it back on the receptionist’s desk.

“Let’s just throw this away, why don’t we,” he said.

My friend came out, finished.

More about transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Tour d’Emporia

I drove the length of Emporia, Kansas, from the college that my great-grandmother and my grandfather attended, to the river at the other edge.  They have 25,000 people.

My current home which has 96,000.

My great-grandma’s hometown is currently at 383.

The perky downtown has ramen, Mexican, a wine bar, a brewery, and a place called Bourbon Cowboy, which I only notice on Sunday, when it is too late to check it out.

Past downtown, I cross the tracks.  Emporia has more trains than anywhere I’ve been.  I had heard them all night, upstairs in the house built by the founder of Emporia’s bank, Will Wayman, in 1901.

The edge of town is the Cottonwood River and Veterans Memorial Park.  Someone has mounted a Huey, and someone has parked a Sherman tank.  There is also a huge anchor, painted white so it looks like a twisted elephant bone. Our American wars are memorialized.  Emporia was only five years old when the Civil War began.

I walk out on the bridge.  The shape is rainbow, but the color is grey.  A shirtless guy is fishing off the side.  The water is roaring dangerously, making a short but powerful little waterfall.  Bobbing sticks and one sad blue beer can bubble around so vigorously I imagine being pushed underwater and ruined.

A couple with decidedly old-fashioned haircuts and sunglasses are looking, too.  “It’s really raging, huh?” I say.  We chat about rain, about the floodgates of the Missouri River.

At the other end of town, I visit William Allen White’s house.  He is not, I realize, E.B. White, of Charlotte’s Web.

This White was a good friend of Teddy Roosevelt’s.  TR visited White in Emporia.

I check off another Roosevelt box on my Roosevelt pilgrimage score card.

White is most famous as a newspaperman, and I have a newspaper fetish.  I got a copy of the still printing, still showing up Emporia Gazette.  It is owned by descendants of White’s.

News: Mr. G’s Express Car Wash to begin washing cars at 6th Avenue and Prairie Street.  Mr. G’s dream was to own this “friction” car wash, and this makes me wish I had a dream that seemed that approachable.

“The lot was supposed to be the location of Walgreens.” W.A. White would be happy.  He did not like chain stores.

Volunteers needed for Bingo Every Tuesday Night.

There is no Sunday paper, which is an affront to my civic religion.  The museums are all closed, too.  What does one do on Sundays?  When I was wandering Sunday morning, church time, I did have the sensation I was walking among the heathens.

On the campus of Emporia State, I find one building, Plumb Hall, that was there when my great-grandmother was in school there, in 1919.  The institution was transitioning from a get these kids taught model to deeper philosophies and ideas of pedagogy.

Tuition was free because everyone was lazy relied on the government for everything.

The bookstore in town is also named after a Plumb, Plumb’s daughter, who was one of the Teacher’s College.  In the window of the bookstore, a white cloth mannequin with an alien-length neck wears one of Miss Plumb’s dresses.

Also on campus is the memorial to Fallen Educators.  The memorial has a big slab of marble like an open book, and several more, smaller marble pieces that are engraved.  Someone has left a wreath of flowers, and someone else has left a bouquet of white roses.  I find the names of teachers at Columbine, and names of teachers at Sandy Hook.

In a place so peaceful, cheerful, thriving, it is strange to see.

But that weekend, there are two more mass shootings in America, adding to the casualties of our second Wild West period: people die at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, and at a bar in Dayton, Ohio.

Very soon, students will be back at Emporia State University, and all our other public schools, making history we can’t see from here.

I get coffee at a lived-in little place with a whole wall dedicated to Dirty Kanza, which I later realize is an annual bike ride.  Waiting in line, I use my sunglasses to flirt with a kid who is amazed that my eyes can appear and disappear like that.  I chat with his parents, who tell me they can drink coffee as late at night as they please.  The kid asks for coffee, and they tell me they already give him coffee.  He has their genes, so it doesn’t hype him up.

I don’t know whether to be sad or happy for their genetic situation.

We may think of Kansans a hundred years ago as provincial or isolated.

My great-grandmother went to college.

She traveled to San Francisco to visit her daughter, and her husband drank his first glass of wine, as fast as he would drink milk, gulp, gulp, gulp.

She received regular postcards from the son who traveled the world, and then dealt with his divorce and many remarriages.

She saw electricity, indoor plumbing, airplanes, and television come in.  Maybe a hundred years ago there was actually more to see.

 

She Did

She did not cry.

We go into the American Girl Store at the mall.  I am looking after her, as we are in the middle of a medium-sized family crisis, and others need to be at the hospital.  I have never been in this store.  My parents did not love me enough to buy me an outrageously expensive doll that I would no doubt destroy, as I destroy most things, with affection and intensity.

The American Girl store is indeed a wonderland.  Just because the doll is smaller than humans, all the stuff for the doll is incredible, and when it actually works, no one says, “Of course.”  They say, “Wow!” As if small things could never work.

When a gaggle of aliens that size arrives on Earth, they will no doubt be disappointed.  The microwave really opens, but it does not microwave.  There are tiny plants you can pull up, yes, but the plants are not actually edible, as the “Vegetable Garden” sign says. (Well, they could be edible for aliens, what do I know?)

My niece and I marvel at the doll-sized bowling alley, which automatically keeps score and returns your ball.  We ogle the Mars capsule, where a doll has test tubes, a clipboard with a blueprint and a list of steps for an experiment, one of those glove-reach-in safety things you can use to handle plutonium, and silver bags labeled “mac and cheese” and “green beans.” It’s the coolest toy I’ve ever seen.  But then, would I want to play “alone on Mars” with my doll?  There’s only room for one.

Around the corner, there is a room where you and your doll can get your ears pierced. A little girl is in the chair and the mother is trying to soothe.  “It only hurts for a second.”  Does it?  I had my ears pierced 33 years ago. I don’t remember.

“I didn’t cry.  She cried,” my niece says, referring to her sister again.

I understand that older sisters best not have emotions.

The room is pink. The gun fires. The little girl cries.  But it’s over.

Image: Marble grave stele of a little girl, Greek, ca. 450-440 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art.