Sunday, July 21, 2024

Small Talk

The lady in front of us in line at the grocery store is having a love fest with the cashier. While my husband unpacks our cart, I watch the two of them gushing on each other. I love you, the cashier says. I love YOU, the lady says. They hug each other over the grocery bags. You have a good day! YOU have a good day! When the transaction is complete, they’re still saying I love yous. 

I want in on some of this love, I say, and the cashier immediately lights up. You got it! I love you! She tells us it’s her and her husband’s 38th anniversary today. 

That’s great! I say. Happy anniversary! And then we start talking kids and grandkids as she weighs our grapes, wrangles our toilet paper. I can hear my husband chuckling behind me. We recently had a conversation about social interactions, and I know he’s studying this one. 

What happened is it has occurred to him that he's had very little live human contact with people outside our house (me), since March 2020, when he was sent home to work remotely, and now small interactions feel like big ones. So, for example, he will go to the gym, and a stranger will say, Are you using that machine? And my husband will say, No. 

And even that feels like it's a little too much. 

Meanwhile, I’m out every day at the library talking up a storm with pretty much everyone who walks in the door, and this includes six-month-olds. Okay, I have to tell you about this six-month-old. The mom has been coming in with the three-year-old big sister (Daisy) to story-time, first as pregnant person and then as a person hauling around a baby carrier, until it seemed like one second went by, and Boom! there was a baby in her arms while I chatted it up with Daisy, the usual small talk you have with a three-year-old.

Me: Ooh, I bet you’re a good big sister!

Daisy: Yes.

Me: What’s your little sister’s name?

Daisy: Evelyn.

Me: Hi Evelyn!

Evelyn: _____.

This went on for maybe three months, until one day last week Daisy came up to my desk to get her sticker, followed by Mom holding Evelyn, and I said Hi to Evelyn how I always do, but this time Evelyn said Hi back. I almost fell out of my chair. The mom said that Evelyn just learned how to say it, and now she’s practicing on everyone. And she was. The whole time the family was down in the Youth Department, I’d lock eyes with Evelyn wherever she was in the room, and she’d say, Hi and give me a wave. 

Each chirpy Hi was a little charge zinging directly into my heart muscle. A person. A small connection. And who knows, flash forward fifty years and Evelyn will be holding up the line in the grocery store. 

That was weird, don’t you think, my husband says, as we walk out the door, the cashier calling out, It was so nice to talk to you! and me, laughing, saying, It was so nice to talk to YOU!

Oh, yeah, it was most definitely weird. 

But it's the kind of weird that makes you laugh. The kind that reminds you it’s not too late to jump in and how nice it is that there are still so many reasons to love the crazy world. 

Sunday, July 14, 2024

When I Was Eight

I made up worlds 

because the one I was living in was intolerable, scary, crazy. You could only take so much of it before you’d go crazy yourself. For example, something really bad would happen, and you’d say, Hey, this bad thing happened, and the ones you told would say, No, this did not happen, 


Okay, it happened, but it wasn’t really that bad Why do you always have to make such a big deal out of things just shut up about it. When I was eight

I would not shut up about it. But then, after a while, I would let it go and mostly shut up about it. When I was eight 

I wrote stories about little girls who were broken, run over by cars or dying of exotic diseases and one was even mauled by a bear, but all of the little girls ultimately triumphed by healing. When I was eight 

I escaped into books. The books were all fantasies. Time travel and amazing other worlds and kids solving mysteries and what it’s like to live in a happy family. When I was eight

I played outside, swinging on swings and riding my bike and climbing the crabapple tree in the backyard before it was chopped down. Last night 

I woke up in the darkness, panicking. I was eight again and the world had gone crazy, the people in charge didn't know what they were doing and there was nothing I could do about it. In the morning

I played in the vegetable garden and read some of the book I’m reading, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride. Like all good books that seek to reflect our world, it’s about darkness and it's about love. I took a long, meandering walk with the dog, and we played together in the flower garden. 

And then I wrote some words, the truth, even though it is scary. And strangely, I felt better. Or maybe not so strangely, because ever since I was eight

the world was what it was, is what it is, and I have learned how to live in it. 

When I was eight


Sunday, July 7, 2024

Notes from an Alternate Reality

First, I need to just get this out of the way: I don’t like the version of reality we all seemed to be trapped in, the one where the world is boiling over and the supreme court is off the rails and the presidential race is let’s just say it, cuckoo nuts. I don’t want to write about this. I don’t want to think about this. I suspect you don't want to read about this, at least not from me, so here we both are. 

A much more pleasant reality is the mini vacation I'm on with my husband in Washington DC where our daughter and son-in-law live. So far we have eaten many gourmet meals courtesy of our son-in-law, who is a chef, (a special shout out to his turkey burgers—so good!), taken early morning walks through their neighborhood’s impressive community garden, and played indoor mini golf. (I won! Okay, I tied for first place with my son-in-law. My strategy was "what the heck, just hit the ball and don't worry about it," and that seemed to work for me.)

We also went to a Washington Nationals baseball game. During the three innings we were there (it was 97 degrees with a heat index of 105 and we're lucky we lasted that long) we got to see two homeruns, snarfed down Dippin Dot ice cream before it melted, drank multiple bottles of water, and took many sweaty, red-faced pictures of ourselves. It was fun! 

And then we headed back to the apartment to do what we all really wanted to do, which is watch the Tour de France. I had never watched the Tour de France, and up to this point, knew nothing about it. I still don't really know that much about it, but the gist is every year teams of bikers bike around France for three weeks. Our son-in-law grew up in Paris and is a huge fan and was a big help explaining the finer points.

Like, why there are some bikers wearing different colored shirts. The yellow, for example, is worn by the fastest rider, but that can change throughout the race depending on your time. And white is worn by the best performing younger biker. And then there's a multi-colored polka-dotted shirt for the best sprinter? or is it the best climber? Never mind all that. 

What I like about the race is how mesmerizing it is to watch the group of bikers moving together as one. They look like a flock of birds, diving and soaring, as they swerve around sharp turns through quaint-looking French villages and climb up into the Alps and then it's back into the villages with the teeth-jarring cobblestone streets. 

While we were watching, we got to hear the dubbed backstories, the previous years' harrowing moments when bikers banged into each other or someone's bike broke and they skidded out and caused a pile-up and the time a biker had to have his face rebuilt. It's brutal when it isn't so beautiful.

Which is a good tagline for life these days, don't you think? with the extreme weather and the dismantling of human rights and so much depending on a contest between a bumbling elderly gentleman and a carnival barking wannabe dictator, and meanwhile, over here you have someone carefully tending their cucumber vines in the community garden and perfectly seasoning a gourmet turkey burger.

I know no one asked me, but I want to live in the place with the cucumbers and the burgers, the homeruns and the frothy minigolf waterfalls, the world where everyone I love piles on one enormous couch together and cheers as the bikers roll by.