Sunday, September 26, 2021

The part where the world is beautiful

He called us a few weeks ago to tell us his secret. He had a ring. He’d bought it a year ago and he’d been hiding it all this time, waiting for just the right moment. He was living in Germany. His girlfriend was living in London. Maybe he thought the summer would be the right moment. There were plans when she finished up her school work to travel together. Maybe Paris? But then the pandemic happened and the plans were put on hold. 

I told them later it was like a scary movie. She was locking down in London, alone, afraid. Her father and I couldn’t get to her and how could she make it home? But what if he took the train from Germany and locked down with her? He had to go soon. There were rumors the borders would close any moment. The day he was traveling, she gave us updates. He’s out of the country. He’s crossing into England. He made it into London. He’s here!

She sent us a funny video. First day of Lockdown, the two of them dancing, singing out, Day One!   

He worked from her apartment and she finished her schooling. He braved the grocery stores. They took daily walks in the park. When she did make it home several months later, he followed soon after, quarantining in our basement. She made the place up nice for him. One night he played his guitar and sang to her from the bottom of the basement stairs while she sat at the top of the stairs, teary-eyed. 

We let him out of the basement and he was in our bubble. We walked the dogs and binge-watched TV shows and one day our daughter bought us all matching llama pajamas and none of us protested. Did I tell you he grew up in France? Did I tell you he is a gourmet cook? Oh my God, the meals we ate! 

We risked our lives moving them into their new apartment and we were back to our quiet house and fending for ourselves with the meals and the llama pajamas. 

And then there was the call about the ring. 

Sometimes, okay, a lot of times, I write about how broken the world is. Maybe I slip in some happy moments about giving children stickers. Also, there are always flowers. But the other day I watched them walking up a sunlit street, hand in hand, smiling so widely at each other, and when she saw her father and me, she skipped toward us before breaking into a run. 

The ring on her finger is beautiful. The world, my dear friends, is too. 


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Brunching while pandemic-ing

A few weeks ago friends invited my husband and me out to brunch. This would be outdoor patio dining, of course, they assured us. 

We're all aware that Covid cases are rising so alarmingly in our area that the mayor had to issue another indoor mask mandate. The hospitals are at capacity again, and everyone I know worries they might become one of the vaccinated breakthrough cases, even though this is supposed to be fairly rare. 

Still, we can almost pretend the world is normal when we're brunching on an outdoor patio. An engagement party at one table. At another, they're celebrating someone's birthday. While I sip my mimosa and eat my eggs benedict, I tell the story of the Starbucks at the end of my street and how I want to go on record that there's going to be a Showdown there any moment. 

The place is a freaking powder keg. 

Every day you can hear the car horns honking. An occasional shout from a rolled down window. It's the poorly designed drive-thru lane, how the cars back up onto my street and into the intersection. This was a major topic of conversation on our neighborhood facebook page even before the pandemic. How could they put a Starbucks there??!! Why do people want to buy overpriced coffee anyway??!! Why don't we support our local coffee shops??!! 

But mid-pandemic the irritation has turned into rage. The perfect storm of bad traffic and the fraying of society's last nerve. Add the caffeine addicts who NEED THEIR COFFEE NOW, and I'm surprised there hasn't already been a serious altercation. 

It occurs to me that this Starbucks has been my way of measuring the real time collapse and adaptation of the world over the past year and a half. During the initial lockdown, the drive-thru stayed open, a beacon of normalcy in the first scary days. But then, in winter, at the height of the crisis, the store was closed. Too many workers sick to keep things running. 

Which brings us to now, where it's very much open and popular, and yet... possibly about to capture the moment we all tip over the edge into some new kind of dystopian nightmare? 

I finished drinking my mimosa and ordered a cup of coffee. I have to tell you that this brunch was the best brunch I have ever experienced in my life. Not the food (although it was tasty) and not the company (although it was lovely) but the exquisite ordinary-ness of it, the kind of thing I lived most of my adult life totally taking for granted.  

Home, and I walked the dog past the Starbucks. There was the usual long line, the cars desperately trying to squeeze their way in, the irritated honks. But also something so comforting and beautiful about the people sitting on the sunny patio. A man tapping away on his laptop. A table of laughing teenagers. A mom pushing by with a baby carriage. The chirpy voice of the Starbucks barista in the drive-thru window saying, 

Have a nice day! 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The book I'm writing is going off the rails

There's a lesson in here about Things Not Going in the Direction You Planned, and how That's Okay, because you're Trusting the Process, and in the end, you'll get a Messy Crappy First Draft, but even if it's messy and crappy, You'll Still Have Something To Work With. 

But I'm a big liar when I say these things. 

What I really want when I write a book is to know where it's going right from the start. Write my words each day and watch the story unfold exactly how I planned it. Make it to the end easily, and all that's left to do is a quick spellcheck before sending it off. 

It never happens this way so I don't know why I'm surprised.

I needed this one to work that way though. The words I write each day feel like the only thing I can control, so when they go off in some weirdo direction I didn't see coming, now what am I supposed to do? 

What I did was I went outside and cut the ivy that was climbing up the house and then I went into the backyard and yanked out weeds. It was a gorgeous day in Columbus Ohio and it was September 11, and I couldn't help thinking about twenty years ago and how gorgeous that day had been at the start of it, driving with my four-year-old daughter to her preschool at 8:45 in the morning, and how later, when I picked her up at noon, all of the moms were standing in an awkward circle, no one chatting with each other how we usually did. 

We swayed awkwardly and looked everywhere but into each other's faces. No phones then, or I'm sure we all would've been pressed to them. Not that it would've been good to have phones, but at least there would have been an excuse for the excruciating silence, the stark and terrifying together-but-aloneness feeling we all were feeling. 

What I was thinking while I weeded the garden was, what if I had reached for the hand of the mom next to me and then she had reached for the hand of the person next to her and we stood in our circle, holding hands, instead of swaying there so painfully alone?

Why did it take me twenty years to think of this idea? I went for a walk. 

And that's when it hit me that maybe my book is not as messed up as I thought. I mean, the world in it is relatively stable and still a place I'd like to visit. The people, the kind of people I like knowing. And when someone wonders if she should reach out and hold another person's hand, I truly believe, this time, she will. 

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Dispatches from the Pre Post-Pandemic

The other day I was sitting at the library's information desk with a co-worker and we were talking about: is This the End of the World. 

We had to keep breaking up our conversation to help patrons look for their reserve items and someone who needed to use the fax machine and didn't know how to use the fax machine. Also, the phone kept ringing and every other caller wanted to know if we had free Covid tests. We do, we would say when we answered the phone. But they're at our main library location. And hurry, because we keep running out. 

Maybe every generation thinks it's the end of the world, I was saying to my co-worker. He's twenty years younger than I am and just had his first child and he seemed very resigned to the state of the world and I was trying to make him feel better, but then I would have to stop so I could look up if we had a certain book and he would have to stop so he could help someone who lost their library card. 

But look at how things were in like, 1965, for example, I told him. We had political assassinations and the Vietnam War and battles over Civil Rights and--

a man came in who needed help signing onto a computer and somehow he got to talking about how he was a classically trained French chef but his goal in life was to recreate the perfect Coney dog sauce from his childhood and after twelve years of perfecting his recipe, he realized he had done it and now he wanted to open a Coney dog restaurant in town and could I please help him send an email. 

The phone rang. My co-worker had been in eighth grade on 9/11 and his teacher told the class that the school didn't want them to keep the TVs on in the classroom but he was going to because This Was History happening in real time and all of the students needed to watch it. 

And I understand, my co-worker said, because the teacher was right about history, but at the same time, we were in 8th grade and I still remember those people jumping off the buildings. 

Maybe that's when things went off the rails, I said. 9/11. I was thinking of that night and how I stood for a while in my kids' bedrooms, one after the other, my little boy and my little girl, both sleeping peacefully, their rooms dark, and how my heart still hadn't stopped racing since 9:15 am that morning and what world was this that I had brought them into. What world would they grow up in? 

Someone wanted a book recommendation for her grandchild and someone had just signed up for a new library card and someone wanted to pay a fine. But we don't have fines anymore, so please don't worry about it. 

And what about Kent State, I said to my co-worker. That was awful. I mean, can you imagine kids walking to class and getting shot at by National Guardsmen? So, don't you think every generation thinks they're living in the end of the world, but they're not, and then we just go on?

I can see your point, he said. But what about Climate Change?

Oh, well, yeah, Climate Change, I said. 

And then, there's the Pandemic, he said. He moved to take a sip of his water and lowered his mask and I suddenly remembered that he had a moustache. 

It hit me that I was wearing a mask too and neither one of us had seen each other's faces in a year and a half and even though I knew that I had not made him feel better and I was not feeling any better myself, I started laughing. Maybe I laughed too hard, to be honest.   

Then the phone rang. A harried mom came up to the desk and I checked her books out and gave each of her kids a sticker. I wish you could see how cute they were, those little kids, and how happy they were about their stickers.