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Curbside Pickup

Is it lame that I watch The Julie & Julia Project for inspiration?  You know, whenever I’m feeling like a completely spent wannabe writer.  Which is pretty often.

Which is probably why I know exactly what types of Fiestaware are featured in particular food shots, and where the slight cinematic editing hiccups fall in the storyline — the ones only crazy repetitious watchers catch — and why I’m always craving booze the minute Powell starts cooking and writing her way to, uh, writerdom.

But where movie respites fall short, fresh air takes over.  Which is why I thought it’d be fun to go on a walk through some neighborhoods we hadn’t visited before.  Mostly because I needed a little time away from Toby.  Because he’s been practicing his selective hearing, and has been sort of a dick lately, and just odd.  (Is that awful to say?  I’m the worst pet parent ever!)  Like when we were at the dog park today and this Pharaoh Hound dematerialized out of the ether (sidenote: these creatures look like the Landstriders of the dog world, and I’m pretty certain they have the power to look inside you and implode your mind).  And we assumed Toby would freeze and run away like he always does.  But then he just goes right up behind it and licks the Pharoh’s junk and we were horrified and I was like, “Hey, you can’t lick another dog’s penis.  Even if he’s royalty.”

So, yes, we needed some air.  Especially since it got knocked out of us both by an overly rambunctious, head-butting lab puppy, whose owner Andy politely called for.

“WHOSE FUCKING DOG IS THIS?!”

So after we dusted what was probably dried dog shit off our pants, we set out on our little jaunt.  But we didn’t even get to the end of our block before Andy spotted something sitting atop a broken-down particleboardpieceofcrap bookshelf on the curb.

Bowled over...

I just don’t get people.  I mean, if you can’t use something, thrift it away.  Or give it to someone.  I mean, some of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten are things friends have given me from their equally antique-hoardy homes.  (Or that I’ve just taken.  Kidding!  Or am I?  HA.  Made you look for that kitschy little figurine, didn’t I?)

But I also love puttering around neighborhoods that’re probably private and being all like, “Hey, I like your house. It looks expensive.”  And Instagraming, and taking things out of people’s garbage because they throw away stuff like a perfectly usable 60’s mixing bowl.

Or like one of my Best Curbside Finds EVAH.  (It deserves all caps and an “H,” mmkay?)

The Triple D: Delightful Deco Discovery!

Behold, The Triple D: Delightful Deco Discovery!  Some imbecile had chucked this cabinet on the side of the road, and I saw it sadly listing on the curb while I sat stupefied on my bus ride to campus.  I was so shocked that I’d smacked my massive forehead into the window, my mouth agape like some less fabulous Homo sapien sapien. 

I was sure that it’d be snapped up by the time I returned from teaching.  But much to my horror and delight, no one else recognized it as something desirable.  All because it was missing a shelf (which makes a great nook for books).

Crazies, all of them.

So I all but flung myself off the bus, dumped my stuff on the front porch, jumped in my sedan, and muscled that thing partly into the trunk.  And now it’s been across the country.

***

Now, I swear this post has a point.  And the point is that I have a hard time letting things go — casting them out, so to speak.  Especially when I know they’re the last material things tying me to something or someone.

A little while back, I was face-first in a Reese’s cup the size of my head.  And between the sugar rushing through my veins and the chocolate smearing across my face, a little blip of a memory stopped me cold.

I walked into our living room, opened a cabinet, rifled through a few boxes, and came upon what I’d been looking for: a paisley box.  I opened it and gingerly removed its contents, spreading them across the kitchen table.

Millie's memories.

I know what you’re thinking.  (And no, I didn’t kill someone and take their possessions.)

I’ve carted this box around for years, through multiple states, and rescued it from the garbage more times than I can count.  But why?  Because, to me, this is what a life deconstructed looks like: fragmented, tattered memories.  Time had slowly stripped away the material evidence of a life lived — Millie’s life.

Keys to what?

Except for this stuff: a prayer card; the top of a jewelry box; a picture of her mother and her dog Tin; her husband’s things, including a massive wad of work keys and Army paperwork.  And cards — one, probably from the fifties, simply signed “Mom”; and the other, scrawled with a loving message from her husband George.

Always love.

So many times I’ve thought about throwing the whole lot away.  But each time, I can’t do it. It’d be like betraying her, somehow de-legitimizing the importance of these things — pieces of her life that she’d kept boxed, and toted with her until she passed away in her nursing home room.

Instead, I just keep repackaging them in nicer boxes.  And carrying them with me.

But I know my memories of Millie aren’t limited by these things.  They’re rich with cigarette smoke and the crinkling of Reese’s cup wrappers — the chocolate-peanut butter goodness freed of its annoying packaging — falling along her pleated dress line and haphazardly worn floral cardigan before settling on the floor.

And I guess that’s what all stuff is, really: wrapping.

There’s a box full of people —

People I don’t know.

And they’re just there,

Collecting dust

In stale darkness.

Remembered by what remains —

The fragments of a life.

Of lives lived;

A life fulfilled;

A mysterious life;

A life full of sweets and cigarettes,

And uncertainty;

A life that keeps going,

Beyond the four corners of what remains.

Changing and adapting;

Influencing and engaging;

Living on through new life,

New laughs,

New love,

Big chances,

And scary first steps;

Beyond the tangible.

Through good humor and bad jokes;

Through silence,

Quiet smiles, and backward glances.

It’s still there:

Remembered and cherished —

A promise of always.

Wrapping that conceals bits and pieces of us all — revelations lying in wait.

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A Mo-dest Proposal

My flip flops clap clap clap along the pavement, echoing off the mid-century apartment buildings lining our block.  Keys jingle in my pocket, and the slight wind cuts through my pajama bottoms.

Clap clap clap.  I’m almost there.

I unlock the car, throw open the glove compartment, and rifle through blindly — knowing it’s there.  But the only things I pull back are old insurance cards and Vaseline that’s bubbled out of its well-worn travel container.

Come to think of it, my lips are chapped.

I smear a bit on my lips, then shove my hand through the pile of papers until I hit the cold metallic edges.  The knife; I hadn’t lost it.  With my nubby nails, I pry open the scissor attachment.  Then turn and run to the corner, just out of the cone of light cascading down from the street lamp.  The air is heavy and potent — the roses dripping over the stained, white iron gate always in bloom.

Phantom roses.

I look left, then right.  Someone’s talking from an open window, but where?  No time to waste.

Snip. 

A single rose falls into my palm, and I gingerly place it into my pocket before melting into the surrounding darkness.

Clap clap clap.

***

The locks click over.  Silence.  He’s still in the tub where I left him.  I shuffle past the closed bathroom door.

“I’m back.”

“Okay.”

Then I set to work — grabbing Deco picture frames from off the vanities and arranging them haphazardly across piled books at the foot of the bed.  A wooden box from Haifa becomes an ad hoc ring box.

Lifting the glass dome covering an assortment of dried roses from our first date, I pull one out and nestle it into the box.  Then pull out the fresh rose — the stemmy juices wetting the inside of the jacket pocket.  I nudge it next to its dried counterpart.

Proposal props.

I change, and throw on a sequined bow tie.

Rehearse the lines a few times over — our past, our future, all the while looking at the two symbolic roses.

And wait on bended knee, with Toby snoring on the other side of the room.

***

Weeks and months before, we’d been talking intensively about getting engaged — the who, what, when, where of it all.

Earlier in the day, we’d been texting back and forth about eloping, because we’d found just thinking about all of the logistical planning — flowers and flights and hotels and venues and this and that and Toby’s tux — just plain exhausting.

But we knew that if we did elope, both of our mothers would find us, no matter where we fled.  Sort of like the girl from The Ring.  Except New York and Alabama versions.

*Shudders*

So we figured chatting about things over wine and cheese and 30 Rock would help calm our nerves, let us focus on what’s really important.

You know, like wine, and cheese, and 30 Rock.

The good stuff.

A couple of episodes and a half bottle in, and I quickly start to realize the proposal plans I’ve already made — to be implemented a few weeks from now — need to be bumped up a bit.  Like to tonight.  Everything just feels right.

Except for the fact that I have none of the props I’d intended to have.  Little things, like flowers and music and nice clothes.

And a ring.

But then I exhale, and take heart in the fact that one of the constants in all of our plans has been choosing our own rings together.  Usually underscored by Andy with something to the effect of, “Don’t you dare get a ring without my approval!”

(Kidding!  [Not really.])

So I start putting into motion a bastardized version of my plan — recommending he decompress with a good book and a good soak in the tub.  Which he does.  Which is my cue to run.

***

With my knee pressing into the floor, irrational thoughts race through my head.

What if he never comes out of the bathroom?

What if he turns right instead of left and doesn’t see me?

What if I can’t get back up and I’m stuck in this uncomfortable position for the rest of my life?

But then I hear the tub empty and the medicine cabinet open and close.  And then, the door opens.

He turns and stares down at me.

And smiles nervously.

“What’re you doing?”

“Put your book down.”

The Commitment smacks on the floor.

“Give me your hand.”

And then I actually remember everything I’ve rehearsed.

And he says the magic word.

We hug.  I cry.  Toby farts somewhere in the corner.

***

Two days later, I watch as Andy peruses cases of engagement rings, and smile — partly because he has no idea he’s standing right next to Christopher Plummer.  The light is dim, but outside along Rodeo it’s piercingly bright — giving the space a bizarre glow around the edges.

The sales associate reemerges, carrying in one hand a tiny black bag — the creases hardened, the silvered lettering shimmering from the alien light filtering in, like the scales of a fish swimming through a clear, dark pond.

In the other hand, he reveals a black box and pops it open — presenting its silver ring for inspection, like a plate of grapes for some Grecian king.  And then, it’s my turn to look.  Another black bag and box later, and we’re heading out with our spoils.

Engagement ring fun!

***

A purplish glow from our “bordello lamp” envelopes the living room, and Toby snores at Andy’s feet.  The ring on my finger feels heavy, like a new appendage my body is accepting.

An hour or so later,  I jump.  I don’t feel it.  But it’s there; like it’s always been a part of me.

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Shifting Skins

The kippot-sporting teen lopes across the street in front of me, slightly hunching into a quintessentially post-pubescent slump-walk gait — a newly tall creature still trying to conform to its smaller self of summers past.  His physicality now a bizarre competition of what was and what his bones have cracked him into being.  He clutches his tall Starbucks container like a small bird, and I can only surmise that the caffeine-rich container belies its cocoa contents.

Regardless, it appears more like his prop than fuel — like a youthful cane supporting him as he continues his short trek across the faded crosswalk, which holds the sputtering cars at bay like some sort of force field.

Sunlight beams down through the fog, illuminating the quartz flecks embedded in the pavement, making it appear as though the crosswalk is lighting in sync with the teen’s stride.  Tom Hanks in Big pops into my mind, and I smile a little as I think how all of us wish for and savor those moments of being a kid, while retaining the experiential arsenal of an adult — a most cherished liminal state.

The teen reaches the other side of the road like some punchline of a joke, and I glance into the rear view mirror, and catch the line of drivers behind me — like a visual echo, each face tracking and morphing the further back I scan.  And I think of the particular tiers of anxiety and stress they’re steeling themselves for as the teen adjusts his backpack, likely mentally rehearsing the litany of textbooks he’s supposed to have for the day, before turning to the line of cars momentarily, then cutting around the corner into the school yard.

His moment of acknowledging those metallic beasts hovering around him makes me remember how I would stare out to the lines of cars speeding past the school each morning, thinking how lucky they were not to be heading to Precalculus.  How the drivers were probably much happier than I.

And I’m sure more than one of them would look at the school with a hint of nostalgia, thinking to themselves how lucky those damn kids were to be so carefree and unburdened by the real world.

But unbeknownst to us, we’re all the same — impostors in unfamiliar, shifting skins.

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Under Locks and Key Lime Pie

Curls are rolling down my bib-like salon cape, spiraling into a pile that I expect to animate at any moment, don glasses and a hat, and mutter in a high-pitched, incoherent voice before moving ghost-like out the front door and spilling onto the sidewalks of Beverly Hills.

“So, that’s what your ears look like. They’re so little!”

Andy is genuinely amazed.

“Wait. You’ve never seen my ears?”

What a bizarrely jarring revelation. Having been together this long, I’d have thought he’d have a pretty good understanding of my physical self by now. But, lo!

“And your head is a nice shape.”

“Seriously? You’ve seen my head before!”

It’s starting to sound like we’re running lines from a gay sequel to At First Sight. Rain starts drizzling outside, and I stare ahead into the mirror at my ears — naked and exposed from ye olde ringlets of years past, ready to absorb the direct California sun.

The context, the do, my reflection — all coalescing into something new that takes me by surprise.

Jesus. I do have tiny ears.

***

A year ago, Andy and I were pulling everything out of cabinets in our Raleigh apartment after returning from our gay, man-infested destiny — the only things fueling us being the residual Starbucks lattes in the car, and the adrenaline from making this life-changing decision somewhere in the Midwest.  Weeks later, our walls had been stripped bare and furniture piled up and for sale.

We were committed.

We were pumped.

We were ready for anything.

Then, we hit a wall.

Worried a lot.

Hit another wall.

Patched and repaired our sinking ship of a plan.

And held fast to our convictions that, somehow, things would work out.

And this morning — the first day of 2014 — as I woke up at 2:00 AM to the sound and immediate, face-scrunching smell of Toby’s explosive diarrhea, I was reminded that, yes, things actually have worked out.

Even if it’s taken buckets of blood, sweat, and tears. Some Clorox wipes. And room deodorizer.

***

About a month ago, Andy and I sat down to a nice dinner at a restaurant a block away from our apartment. It became a moment etched into my mind — a time to reflect and remember where we were now and how we got here.

And then I devoured a piece of key lime pie.

Now, here’s the thing: I actually don’t like key lime pie. Or I thought I didn’t. But I gave it a go. Because, hey, why not? And it worked out. It was delicious. I was fortified and satisfied.

Much like I am with our new life out here, in a place that’s become much less alien than that first time we set foot here.

And with a new year ahead of us — a blank slate ready to be filled — I’m ready to make the best of it. There’re so many things I want to accomplish, and it already seems like time is flying past. But with a little imagination, a lot of gumption, and plenty of tenacity, I’ll fill that empty frame with something great.

A New Year -- an empty frame.

(Which is why I keep an actual empty frame above the computer — to remind me of the possibilities.)

Because plenty of fantastic fantasies — fairy tales and story lines — have been translated to reality.

Real life fairy tales.

So why shouldn’t mine ours?