Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bubble Gum Pears: Fall, Chicago

From the bus I can look down into the taxi and see the woman in her crisp business attire, her portfolio open, white sheets with black text splayed out before her. I wonder if she is reviewing a resume, her own or someone else's, wonder if she is off to interview someone or be interviewed, or maybe she's off to make some big corporate presentation. I imagine her facing a boardroom of suited men, possibly silver haired, possibly two times or three times her age. Or, possibly there is one who she is secretly meeting in a hotel room on Wednesdays over the lunch hour, when she tells her officemate she's running to Bloomingdales. 

I wonder this as I look down into her taxi. Then my bus lurches forward and the taxi speeds off. I am left with my own wondering about what I am about to do. Three more stops, before I do this, two more stops before I am there. I could stay on the bus, pass by the familiar cross-streets and let the summer pass and fall come without doing this. One stop. And then I find myself rise, step off the bus.

My mind is a blur of possibilities, who will speak first, what will I say, what will he say, will I even be able to look him in the eye? It doesn't even occur to me until I am nearer that he might not even be there. And as I get nearer, it's obvious. He isn't. I did not expect this. Now what? I walk on, east, toward my office, embarrassment settling over me, the silliness of it all. I feel exposed and naked, like everyone passing me on the sidewalk can see that this (whatever this was suppose to be) will not be happening.

But as the walk signal changes and I start through the intersection I pass by him, recognize his blue sweatshirt, the blonde curls wisping out from under the heavy dark blue hood, and nearly brush his arm with my shoulder. He doesn't recognize me (I mean, how could he, why should he) but I see that it's him and it catches my breath and I have to stop walking, frozen in the middle of the crosswalk, people squeezing to get by.

But today's the day. The last possible day and if I’m going to do this it has to be today. So I turn around and cross back, barely making it before traffic zips behind me, drivers honking at my last minute sprint.

I don't go to where he stands immediately. I am sweaty and can't breathe so I circle the square, my sunglasses shielding my sightlines. I pretend to smell the flowers and check out the organic soaps and sample the cheese from Somewhere, WI. I skip the honey booth with the live bees packed between two sheets of Plexiglas, and I skip all the other booths that sell fruit.

His booth is right on the corner, the white canopy top makes me think of circus tents. I recognize the other employees, the one who uses a dirty knife to cut samples of bubble gum pears for all the girls, and the tallest one who's hands are always shoved into his pockets and he never seems to be helping anyone.

I pick out my pears, unaware of how many I’ve chosen until the plastic bag is bulging and my sweaty palms can barely hold on. I put some back. I decide to keep my sunglasses on because last time I got this close I just stared at his hair, could hardly hand him the $3, certainly couldn't string 3 words together. Just handed him my bag of corn on the cob, trembling. He said something chit-chatty, and I, I, well, I grunted (seriously), thrust the $3 into his hand and bolted. That was last year.

I'm up next in line and just as I step forward, dirty-knife-guy replaces him because some little old lady wants his opinion on the purple eggplants.

"Back for more?" dirty-knife-guy asks.

"Huh?!" I say quickly and suspiciously.

"More pears? Told ya last year you'd love those bubble gum pears."

"Yes, right, yes! I am back for more bubble gum pears!" I laugh a strange shrill laugh that sounds foreign even to my own ears and apparently to his too, because he backs away slightly when he gives me my change.

I start to walk away but I can't. Somehow this thing, this thing, this thing I want to do has become huge, defining, urgent. So when I go to leave, I don't cross to the crosswalk. I come around his table and stand behind him as he finishes bagging the little old lady's purple eggplant.

I step up to him, step in close and before I can think, I extend my hand. He starts to extend his, then seems unsure, can't tell if I’m going to hand him something, or if want one of the purple eggplants. But then he does take my hand, or I take his, and I lean in and whisper.

We are still holding hands when the words hit him, I can actually tell when the vocabulary is decoded in his brain and the text becomes meaning.

"Thank you," he says. "And you too." He is still holding my hand.

I smile and say, "That's all." I let go of his hand and walk away.

When I get to my office I immediately slice up a pear and hit the speed dial button with the heart on it. David picks up and I tell him what I’ve done. I sense him put on his 'best friend hat' as he says, "No way! You rock, you totally did that?!" and we laugh about how it took me all summer to work up the nerve. I tell him how I had to keep my shades on so the farmers market boy wouldn't see my eyes, so I could be brave enough to whisper, but David says, 'Hon, I can totally see your eyes through those shades.'

"Oh, seriously?" I say.


David asks why today, since there is still one more week for the farmers market. And I say that I don't know, that it just had to be today.

"Sure, I get that." he says. There's a pause and I can tell he has something else he wants to say.

"What?" I ask.

"So does this mean this is the last of the bubble gum pears?" he asks.

I can't tell over the phone if he's serious about the pears (because he really does love those pears) or if he's talking about my crush on the farmers market boy.

"Yeah, I think so," I continue, fishing a bit. "Plus, I just ate one, and I’ve had better." I’m curious if his rarely worn 'jealous lover hat' has slipped on and I wait eagerly for his response. When it comes, I laugh, not really disappointed or surprised by his security or his honesty. He says, "Aw, too bad. Man I love those pears."

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Big Deal Day

My husband stares at me across the table. He is concentrating deeply. I see him flip from thought to thought, like thumbing through a library’s card catalog back in the day, pausing, considering, then discarding idea after idea.

“Have you decided?” I ask, my knee jiggling against the tippy cafĂ© table, making ripples in my water glass.

“It’s hard to say,” he replies, astonished at coming up empty.

I have seen this look before. I love this look. I’ve got him.

80’s rock floats in through the open window, I look over and for a minute expect to see some kid walking by with a bulky boom box perched on his shoulder. Instead I see one of those convertible Fiats, clownishly small, crammed with mutantly ripped body builders in wraparound shades.

“Remember when 80’s rock was just rock and we never listened to oldies stations?” I muse. David isn’t listening, he’s puzzling and piecing, looking for perfection.

Already having my answer, I am free to wander through Remembers. The mix-tape I made him after we officially became boyfriend/girlfriend on the Puddle Jumper path, kissing for the first time under the infinite Iowa sky. The mix-CD he made me for Valentine’s Day our first year in Chicago when we were constantly deciding which bill to pay first and banking on the timing of the U.S. Postal Service.

The mix-tape had Eric Clapton and Indigo Girls and Howard Jones.
The mix-CD had Journey and Foreigner and Shakira and Clapton.
The mix tape was labeled KIVID with the #1 and 1991 prudently penned.
The mix-CD had carefully created liner notes slipped inside a plastic purple case.

“I know what it is,” he says, eyes lighting up with discovery. “I know what it is.”

“Okay, what?” I invite. I'm more motivated by the fact that I’m closer to disclosing my answer than true interest in his.

“It would be…” He stops himself and I can tell he doesn’t like his choice, he is back-peddling, discontent.

I groan, “Come. On.”

“No no no, wait wait,” he rubs his palm against his shaved head. I know the prickliness of being on the brink of a major decision. I imagine the prickliness of his scalp against my palm and it softens my impatience at his stalling. I really shouldn’t rush him.

“It’s not like you can win or lose with your answer,” I say trying to ease his angst.

He gives me a look that says he knows what I mean but doesn’t necessarily agree. There is always a better and best to this particular query. And David likes to win. People don’t necessarily know this about him. He’s so laid back, he’s so easy going, he’s so chill, I hear year after year. All true, but he’s also fiercely focused and determined and a persistent pain in the ass when he thinks he needs to be.

“Come. ON.” I say again.

It’s not even one of the cumbersome conversations we’ve had since I married him in my mother’s wedding dress, in my parent’s back yard, under hulking fir trees. It's not about kids or no kids, about renting or buying, about faith or church or politics or environment or in-laws or art.  It’s not like we’re opting between east and west coast after sixteen years in Chicago. It’s not like we’re choosing careers or cars or even a couch.

But like everything he does, David puts his whole heart in and waits until he knows that he Knows.

Finally, he looks up at me and smiles.

It’s our 23rd wedding anniversary and it’s a big deal day. It’s also just another Sunday spent picking out our pirate names.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


...when your neighbors is newly retired and you compliment his landscaping and he asks you if you like succulents and you say yes but that you always manage to kill yours, so he walks you to his backyard, which you've never seen before (even though you've lived across the street almost seven years and he's been there since the 50s) and you find rows and rows of various succulents in different sized pots, scattered all around the backyard and hanging from balcony banisters (next to miniature orange and apple and plum trees) and he grabs a white ceramic pot (the one you would have picked out yourself) from of a pile of different sized pots and begins filling it with the most superb succulent starters, all the while giving you gardening tips and saying he'll teach you because it's the easiest thing (even though it's not easy for you) and you ask, "are you sure?" and he says "of course, i'm so bored" and goes on to tell you you'll learn about orchids next...

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Two Minutes


I'm walking out of Ralph's and the automatic sliding doors are wide open, their sensors being triggered by a train of shopping carts, one tucked into the other. Behind the mass of metal there stands a Ralph's employee, young, with thinning hair and a soft face. He is clad in a glowing orange-yellow vest, the kind they wear while on cart patrol.

He's trying to talk to me over the carts, but he's nervous, distracted, his attention pulled by something I can't see.

"What?" I ask. He starts to point at something, shifting from foot to foot. 

"I don't understand," I say walking closer.

"I'm scared of him," he says, nearly whispering, prying his hands apart and gesturing generally toward the carts. I stop walking and wonder if this guy has just lost his mind and now sees dark demons in broad daylight.

"What?" I ask again. The sliding doors are still open and shoppers come and go around us. I wonder, with two cold cartons of almond milk in my arms (my reusable bag in the car as usual), why me, why not one of them? 

"There." He points passionately, specifically now, so I follow his finger and find a tiny bumble bee resting on one of the carts.

"Oh, it's a bumble bee," I say relieved, as if naming his demon will render it powerless. I half expect him to say, "Oh right, a bumble bee, I'm all good, never mind." I half expect this because I'm not afraid, because bumble bees are one of the only insects I'm not scared of.

I swat at the bee from across the carts, a good effort, and see it lift off, so I start to walk away.  

"He's still there," he yells after me. I turn back and see he is still dancing nervously, kneading his hands. I imagine the sweat between his palms and likely beading on his brow. I imagine the constriction in his chest, perhaps prickling in his cheeks, as his breath shallows and he can't get himself to take in air. I imagine all of the things that happen to me when I'm afraid. 

Not long ago I was walking through this same parking lot and a car rolled up along side me. I assumed it was looking for parking and scooted farther to one side. But as I continued, the car slowed, keeping pace with me. I kept moving, throwing sharp glances through the driver's darkened window in an attempt to say, 'Don't think I'm unaware, I can see you." Which I couldn't. I slowed slightly and so did he. I quickened my step and the car sped up. There were people in the parking lot, I could have called out to someone, but it was hard enough to breathe and walk and figure out when and where to run. Suddenly the driver's window descended and reflexively, I turned and looked. The man behind the wheel stared at me. No words or weapons, just the intrusion and intimidation of his stare. I glared back but by then I was running out of road. The cross street was coming and I'd have to decide which way to turn, so I slowed completely until I stopped, and he slowed until he stopped. 

"WHAT?!" I screamed, completely facing him as he sat in his car. He said nothing, just gave me a sliver of a smile. And then sped off. 

"I can't move these," the Ralph's employee exclaims to me, to everyone, to the universe. How many minutes have passed since he first called for help? Two maybe? How many minutes did that car trail me? Two. Maybe.   

I hurry around to the other side of his shopping carts and shoo the bumble bee away. I keep shooing and keep shooing until I hear him say a quiet thanks and the sound of carts clattering by. The automatic sliding doors finally slide shut as customers come and go.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pine Cone Rock

It is not the most dramatic of peaks for our sixtieth SoCal hike. Mt. Hillyer near Chilao Flats summits rather aimlessly, leaving both David and I with furrowed brows, wondering, is this it? Regardless, it is a lovely day with sunshine and cool breezes singing through the tall pines. 

David and I crawl up what we've decided is the highest peak. On our way, we spot the most massive pine cone that has fallen down between the boulders, a pine cone nearly as big as my head (no joke). I say I want it, so of course, David shimmies down and plucks it out from the crack, careful not to break its scales. He climbs back up, treasure in hand, but the pine cone is seeping syrupy sap so instead, we perch it at the highest point (a cairn to abandoned desires) and leave it standing sturdy against the growing winds. We scramble down and sit, sheltered behind a nearby rock, and eat the snacks we packed, only then hearing the sounds of hikers, the first we've encountered all day, approaching from afar.

"PINE CONE ROCK!" a young voice rips through the rabble. "I want to go to Pine Cone Rock!" We sit silent and unseen as a batch of unruly Boy Scouts race up the rocks. We smile at each other realizing they are talking about our pine cone rock.  "DON'T TOUCH IT!" the tallest boy demands. "Leave it as you found it!" he states authoritatively. I know this phrase, I know respect for the wilderness, I have been taught well. I imagine my David (proud Eagle Scout) as a curly haired boy, wandering through woods, naming birds and plants and trees, steadfast in the ethics of the outdoors, leaning in close to inspect, but never touching. I feel equal twinges of pride and guilt knowing my David (proud Eagle Scout) as a shaved-headed full grown man, will scuttle down stone, to get me the biggest of pine cones.     

"It could be a marker," another boy suggests. "But HOW did it GET here?" David and I stare at each other, eyes wide, trying not to laugh. "A marker for what?" The questions hang for a second in silence, then the first boy explodes, "BUT I WANT IT." 

He wants it, like I want it. I wish I could sneak up there and stuff it in his backpack without his troupe seeing. I want him to have it, to get home and find it (hopefully with the sap fully dried), and stash it under his bed in a shoe box he keeps for secret things (although it's probably too big for a regular shoe box). Or maybe he'll take a chance and boldly display it next to his 4H trophies on the highest shelf in his bedroom. 

"But you can't have it! Nature doesn't belong to just you!" 

Oh. Bless. 

I don't want to know what happens next. I don't want to know if they keep fighting or if it accidentally gets tipped off the highest rock and tumbles down down down. I don't want to hear gasps or whose fault it is or reprimands from their leaders for being too close to the edge. So David and I slip away, leaving the Boy Scouts what-if-ing, and travel fast down the mountain, passing a thousand pine cones on our way. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

this far

...we were lying in savasana and our yoga teacher told us that she was driving to the studio and got totally overwhelmed. she said, "tomorrow is my birthday, and i just felt totally overwhelmed." i expected her next words to be some realization about aging, about how quickly life passes, how she's running out of time or feeling her mortality. but instead, she continued by saying, "i've made it this far. so much has happened, and i'm here, i've made it this far." such a needed reminder to acknowledge all of the journey, the times we've soared and the times we've barely survived. she went on and affirmed not just the distance covered, but the immeasurable road ahead. what will we do with our next breath? in a year that has brought another death to my immediate family, shrinking us from seven to four in just five years, i remind myself that i am alive, so much has happened, and i'm here, i've made it this far. here's to the journey, to surviving and celebrating, and to those lovely spirits who guide us along the way...

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Another Question...

I left my earphones in my other purse and the two women next to me are talking so loudly that I'm not sure if I'm more frustrated with myself or them. I choose them. They chatter on about the villa she stayed in, about the water, the weather, the pastries. One woman is perched eagerly over the other woman's phone. "That's a tall giraffe." "Yeah, we saw a lot of that, it was awesome." They are flipping through photos on the twiggy woman's phone. She wears suede boots up to the knee, a gold zipper from the heel all the way up the back of her calf, like a seam. "We ate at Africa House, it was awesome." She holds her phone in her left hand while running her finger across the phone screen. I see her ring finger wrapped in diamonds, a band of sparkling white, each stone nearly the size of my singular solitaire. Faster and faster she flips through the photos. The perched woman wears black leggings under a black skirt of the same material and can't stop coughing, asking clarifying questions, and interjecting opinions that the other woman swats away with minimal detail and maximum disinterest. "Why are you going so quick? I want to see!" she exclaims, leaning in closer. "It's not all exciting," her friend says as she tries to get through the slideshow. "Everything is exciting," she replies between coughs.

They both wear wigs, the nice ones that you can't tell are fake at first glance, the ones I only notice in this part of town where the men wear black suits and cover their heads and are seen walking to synagogue on Friday nights. "If you said, let's go on safari I'd say let's wait a few years, but now I'd totally go again." They talk about the friend who owns the villa. "Wife?" "She converted." "Huh." "Whatever." She brushes it off and moves on to talk about parachuting and the view from the balcony and more animals and breakfast and the kids the kids the kids. They talk so fast it sounds like someone is playing a tape at a jacked up speed. I keep waiting for the tape to break or for one of them to pause. It makes my chest feel tight and I have to remind myself to breathe. 

"So that was my trip. How was Pesach?" I am pleased that I know Pesach means the same thing as Passover and it makes me smile to think of my first Seder dinner just a couple of weeks ago. "Not as exciting as yours," the cougher replies and laughs and instead of answering says, "Two more questions..." It feels like she's stalling. She asks, and off they go again, same routine, same interjections, same lightening speed. More about the weather, the food, the massages, the villa, the friends who own the villa, how her husband loves to be the center of attention, how you could go if you were single but only if you're a super social person. 

Finally the coughing woman takes her turn. She has the stage and slides back into her seat. She slouches to be eye to eye with her suede-booted friend, who is resting the lid of her Starbucks cup against her suddenly still lips. But as it turns out, she doesn't have much to say. She throws out a few details about Seder and the kids the kids the kids and speaks so quickly her hands can hardly keep up. There is an apology in her body, like she doesn't deserves to be center stage. I find I can't even follow her train of thought. The bigger she becomes the more she fades, until she is invisible, and all I see is her tossing the conversation back to the other woman, another question about the kids the kids the kids. 

Saturday, December 05, 2015

All Three

A girl who can't be more than twelve years old is telling her mom about Donald Trump, the church of Scientology, and how dimming a cellphone's screen saves the battery. Her younger brother sits across from her, nodding and interjecting his agreement. The kids nibble cheesy croissants and sip iced drinks with whipped cream piled high inside the domed plastic lids. It seems like a special occasion. The girl is lanky and freckled and tucks loose strands of hair behind her ear. She tells her mom things her dad says (about Donald Trump), and things her uncle says (about the church of Scientology), and how her best friend is getting her ears pierced and she wants to too but wonders how much it will hurt. The boy pulls apart his cheesy croissant and contently swings his oversized feet beneath his seat. "I don't like it," he says suspiciously, "It's going to hurt."

The mom listens and nods and looks from child to child. She reaches out and touches the boy's perfectly pink cheek, and he leans in like a puppy dog, lapping up her love. He can't sit still, swiveling from croissant to whipped cream drink, and I imagine all the sugar being absorbed by his little body. "It's just craaaaazy," the girl says emphatically, having moved on to a new topic, pushing her hair out of her eyes again. "So craaaaazy," the boy agrees. All three laugh, throwing their heads back, heads with versions of the same dark chocolatey hair, the same texture and weight. 

A stranger walks by and greets the boy, tousling his hair. The boy receives this gesture with disinterested familiarity and the girl tosses him a haphazard 'hey,' the kind kids give most adults who are taller than them. I listen as the stranger introduces himself to their mother and I'm surprised to learn she's actually their aunt. School is out all week for the Thanksgiving holiday and family has come to town. All three seem bored with the stranger's chatter, although they are kid-polite and adult-friendly. I peek around to get a look at the aunt's face and wonder what the mother looks like. 

As soon as the stranger leaves, the girl leans in toward her aunt and brother and says something secret about the stranger. The boy agrees and drapes his arm around the aunt's shoulder. All three giggle, their heads nearly touching, and conspiratorially continue their conversation. They whisper. Heads bobbing, feet swinging.

I picture myself, less than a decade from now, with Hopper and Marty perched on high coffee shop stools like these, with no need for help getting on or off. I wonder what their pre-teen voices will sound like, I wonder if they will even eat cheesy croissants or be fervent vegans because one of their best friends is vegan. I wonder if they will be the same height, or if one will have outgrown the other. 

The girl starts gathering her garbage and the boy and aunt follow her lead. They chatter on as they slide off their seats, almost bundled together, as they scurry out the front door. I watch them leave and wonder if, a decade from now, Hopper will want me to know her secrets, and if Marty will still let me touch his cheek.