It’s Valentine’s Day, otherwise known as the one day each year when couples over-spend in order to prove the depth of their love for each other.
After 25 years of marriage, I might be a little jaded, but my cynicism is practical. My husband and I haven’t stopped celebrating Valentine’s Day. We just move it forward by a few days. The date we celebrate depends on when Walgreen’s reduces the price of their Valentine’s candy by 75%.
I’m not crazy. Why would I settle for one small heart of chocolate that costs $20 when I can have a shopping-cart full of giant hearts for the same $20 a few days later?
I learned the hard way. In our first year of dating, my husband and I were on the way to dinner when he handed me a box of beautiful handmade chocolates (that his friend’s sister made and forcefully sold to all of his friends). I was touched. They were almost too pretty to eat. The candy set the tone for the evening. I was giddy with romance and anticipating our romantic dinner.
When we got to the restaurant, my husband gallantly came around the car to open my door. I stepped out of the car and the expensive candy which was on my lap fell onto the ground and scattered all over the parking lot. That was embarrassing. And expensive for my husband.
Now I get truckloads of marked-down candy that tastes as sweet as it would have on Valentine’s Day, and if I drop it in the street, it’s really no big loss.
In the movies, the husband wakes up, rolls over, takes one look at his wife (who slept in full makeup), and makes mad passionate love to her, morning breath notwithstanding.
In real life, I roll over, my husband takes one look at me and says, “Oh my God! Do not go out in public today. People will think that I punched you.”
In all fairness, this is what my eyes looked like this morning, and still look like.
On Friday, I undertook a spring cleanup in our yard. When I came into the house and passed a mirror, I noticed that there was swelling in the corner of my left eye. I figured it would go away, but the swelling got worse and now there is a big, swollen, red circle around my eye that leaks. The center of the circle is white. I self-diagnosed as having been bitten by a tick. I’ll probably go to the doctor tomorrow to see if I have Lyme Disease. I live in Connecticut, so the odds are good.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep my husband out of prison by hiding indoors. I’ll also wear sunglasses round-the-clock to spare my family’s sensibilities.
I walked into my kitchen and my husband was sitting at the table, drinking coffee, and complaining about me to former-president Bill Clinton. Bill was empathizing with my husband, and adding his own complaints about his wife.
“This has to be a dream,” I thought. “This can’t be happening.” But I wasn’t sure, because my dream life is often remarkably similar to my awake life.
Either way, something had to be done, so I put in a call to Hillary and told her what was going on. She was not pleased.
She and I are getting together next week to complain about our husbands. It did turn out to be a dream, after all, so scheduling our meeting is going to be a little tricky, but nothing a former-Secretary of State’s assistant can’t handle.
Last night, my husband and I saw Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and we really enjoyed it. Anyone who has seen this movie, or The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom, will know that Anderson’s movies do not follow any accepted Hollywood comedy format, and are funny (when they’re not disturbing) in totally unexpected ways.
I thought about the movie long after we left the theater, and I’m certain that it influenced the dream I had last night. My dream was so odd that I wrote a transcript, which I’m thinking of sending to Anderson. I doubt he’ll read it but, because I went to the trouble of writing it, I’m sharing it here. Dreams are usually boring to hear about, but I’m betting that some of you might find this strange enough to enjoy.
My Wes-Anderson-Inspired Dream
On a visit to Ohio, I learned that my high-school boyfriend, Reggie Moore*, had died. I had been engaged for several years to Reggie (in my dream, not in real life) until the relationship ended when I eventually noticed that he wasn’t calling or seeing me anymore, so I returned the solitare diamond ring he gave me.
I called Information to get his mother’s phone number, to offer my condolences. The operator said, “Oh, that’s so sad about Reggie’s dying, but his mother was actually happy that he died because she had learned to not like him; she only pretended to, for appearances. He turned into a long-haired, blond slacker who gave organic food to drug addicts.” (I had a vision of a white-blond, long-curly-haired Reggie [looking like Peter Frampton in the 1970s], standing over a pie chart that had been painted on the sidewalk. On each section of the chart was a colorful triangle that indicated an organic food.) I told the operator that Reggie had two other brothers and asked if she was sure that Reggie’s mother didn’t like him. She said that there was no doubt that it was Reggie who was disliked.
I decided to drive to Reggie’s mother’s house, but I couldn’t remember how to get there; I hadn’t been there in more than 35 years. Somehow, I got there, but first it involved finding the rental car that I had parked in a location that I had forgotten. When I finally saw Reggie’s mother, I told her that the telephone operator was giving out too much personal information about her, like the telephone operator in “The Andy Griffith Show.” I added that I thought the operator’s name in the show was Sarah.
I was on a crowded bus with people I knew, including my best friend, Kelly English*. She was several seats ahead of me. I went up to talk to her and she said, “Larry* [her husband] is sleeping on the couch now.” “Why?” I asked. She shook her head, indicating that she wasn’t going to say anything else.
Later, she came to sit next to me. She said that she was the cause of Larry’s sleeping on the couch. When I asked why, she said, “Why else?” I said, “You had an affair?” She said that she had, with her boss, Russell. She was his secretary (which bothered me because, even in my dream-state, I knew that she was a physical therapist and not a secretary).
That evening, at home (which wasn’t actually Frank’s** and my home, but my parents’ home in Ohio), I baked a lot of flat yellow cakes with cream between the layers and fruit on top, and coconut macaroons. Frank and our son, Luke**, were in the family room downstairs watching a game.
The doorbell rang. I opened the door to see a seven-foot (at least), handsome (part Caucasian, part Hawaiian, with jet-black hair), basketball player wearing a white, sleeveless team jersey (I think it was a Knicks jersey), standing on our doorstep. He announced, in a booming voice, “Hello, I’m Russell, and at 7 p.m., on April 23, 2014, I slept with Kelly English.” (I can’t remember the exact time or date [which is unfortunate, because they probably held the key to today’s lottery numbers], so I substituted another time and date.) I told him to come in and explain himself.
Here it becomes a little vague. I remember that he started out by saying that it was Kelly’s fault that his marriage was in trouble, but by the end of the conversation, he was willing to continue the affair. Then Frank came up from the family room and invited Russell to watch the game with him and Luke, and talk about the affair. When I asked Frank how he knew about Russell and Kelly, he said that he had heard Russell’s loud announcement when he arrived.
So, Russell went downstairs with Frank, and Frank told me to put on a shirt. It appeared that I was only wearing blue silk pajama bottoms and nothing on top, which had escaped my notice when I was talking to Russell. As I turned to go upstairs, a female voice behind me said, “You could have made these bigger, but they’re very good.” Without turning around, I knew instinctively that she was talking about the coconut macaroons.
When I did turn around, Kelly was standing there, eating a macaroon and holding a plate filled with slices of flat yellow cakes. By this time I was magically wearing a top, so we sat down at the counter. I asked her why she had jeopardized her marriage by sleeping with Russell. She admitted that she was ashamed of herself. I asked her if she was going to apologize to Larry and try to make it up to him. She said that, while she hated to end her marriage after 25 years, and while Larry was a wonderful husband, she had to continue the affair. “Why?” I asked. “Did you see Russell?” she answered. “Vroom, vroom!”
After she and Russell left, I watched them through the window at the top of the front door. Whenever they looked at the door to see if I was spying, I quickly dropped the curtain on the window so that they couldn’t see me.
Act Something or Other (I’m not sure when this occurred in my dream):
I stayed up all night reading The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, on my Kindle. While I was reading, my heart raced when I remembered that I had a paper due that day, on Mexicans and pineapples, and I had barely started it.
* Name changed to avoid prosecution.
** Name not changed because even if I am prosecuted, the money I will have to pay to the injured parties will come from our household budget, so it will all even out in the end.
Here my dream ends. No matter your thoughts, you must agree that Wes Anderson movies are movies that keep on giving. Now, please take my poll:
“You can’t see the trees for the forest,” he said.
“Well, you can’t see the forest for the trees,” she said.
I used to be a tree person but, at some point in the last decade, I became a forest person. Previously, I compulsively focused on details, which made me a great assistant to people who couldn’t be bothered — those who came up with big ideas and delegated to underlings the tasks that were critical to the realization of their dreams.
Then, one day, I woke up in the forest, figuratively speaking. (I’ll save the stories of my literal awakenings in forests for another time.) The things that controlled my life didn’t matter as much anymore. Whereas I used to be obsessive-compulsive about locking my front door — it took me ten minutes standing outside it to persuade myself that it was really locked — now, I locked it once and left. Sometimes I didn’t lock it at all. That way, I didn’t have to worry about its being locked; I knew it wasn’t.
Forest people create masterpieces. The scale of their masterpieces vary from the pyramids to a spectacularly successful Super Bowl commercial, depending on the field of the big thinker, but one thing remains constant: forest people rely on tree people to get the work done. Forest people may supervise, but they don’t haul bricks or set up the lights.
I realized that I had become a forest person when my mother-in-law came to visit and asked my son who had cleaned our house. Until recently, she had always proudly announced to her friends that I was a wonderful housekeeper. And I was. Until I wasn’t.
I now keep the house clean enough for our family to live in without (much) fear of getting a staph infection, but if the dog sheds on the rug, I don’t run for the vacuum cleaner like I used to do. And, if my husband and I have to navigate an obstacle course of laundry baskets before getting into bed, well, so what? Anybody who lives here is welcome to tidy up if it bothers him or her.
Anyway, when my mother-in-law asked my son who had cleaned the house, he said that he had. This wasn’t close to the truth — we had hired a housekeeper— but he later told me that he did it to save me from being judged for wasting money on something that I could have done myself. In all honesty, as long as my son had told her that I, and not my husband, had hired the housekeeper, she would have given me a pass. She lets a lot slide with me, which I love her for.
While I could go on and on with examples to prove that I’m now a forest person, I’ll end with this one: long ago, I used to get up at 6 a.m., or even earlier, and make breakfast, lunches, toss in a load of laundry, and get my family off for the day before I went to work. Now that my husband leaves for work at 5 a.m. and my son is self-sufficient, I only wake up when it’s absolutely necessary, like when I have to go into the office.
Yesterday, I went to bed at 3:30 a.m., after reading all night. When I awoke, fully rested, at 5:30, it was still dark, which meant that I had only slept two hours. So, why wasn’t I tired? Because it was 5:30 p.m. and I had missed the daylight hours, that’s why.
At first, I panicked. Then, when I realized that it was the weekend, I calmed down. All that mattered was that I was awake, right? Things would get done, or not. And if not, I could always hire a housekeeper. Meanwhile, it was time for some coffee. I asked my son to make it.
My son is nuts … and I am so proud. He’s a great young man, mostly due to my husband’s role modeling, but I can see my influence, on the odd occasion.
Most people would say that he is quiet and introverted. And he is, in public. But, once in a while, he publicly does something so outrageous, just to amuse himself, that outsiders are flabbergasted. I absolutely love this quality in him. And, I’m fairly sure he got it from me.
The other day, he went into Manhattan alone to attend a Fan Fest for a sports team. When he returned, he told me that it was a fun event. He added that he had especially enjoyed the trip itself.
“Why?” I asked.
“When I was at Grand Central, I photo bombed a bride and groom,” he said. He looked a little sheepish, but mostly gleeful.
“What did you do?” I asked, amazed.
“I was walking to my train, and in the center of the station were a bride and groom posing for photographs. I ran up behind them, jumped up in the air and waved my arms.”
“Were they furious?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he laughed. “I got out of there, fast.”
And that’s, fortunately, where my son and I differ. I would have gotten caught.
“What are you making?” my husband asked hopefully from the family room. I was in the kitchen and he and our son were sprawled on sofas watching football on TV.
“I’m not making anything,” I responded. “I’m filling our new canisters with flour and sugar. I’ve finally found canisters that are the same size. For some inexplicable reason, when you buy a set of four canisters, there’s only one big one and you have to decide whether to use it for the flour or the sugar. Then you have a half bag of flour or sugar left over and nowhere to put it. This is so exciting!”
“Wow,” said my husband. “It doesn’t take much to make you happy.”
“It’s not just that I can fit all of the sugar and flour into them. They’re also the coolest canisters I’ve ever seen.”
“Uh huh,” my husband responded, clearly losing interest.
I lifted the filled containers and carried them into the family room.
My husband looked up. “Wow, they are cool.”
“And you laughed at me when I called them that,” I said.
“I was picturing something else. But, you’re right; they’re great. How can you tell which is the sugar and which is the flour, though?”
“Well, I’m going to look through the glass. But you can feel free to label them,” I said. I didn’t get a response. My husband was back to watching football.
I thought about his question as I returned to the kitchen. Maybe labeling them was a good idea. Flour and sugar do look a lot alike at first glance.
I opened the junk drawer to find a Sharpie. I don’t want flour in my cereal tomorrow.
A few weeks ago, my husband, Frank, took a week’s vacation from work. He didn’t go anywhere, so it was a staycation, but he christened it a Frankation. I’m not exactly sure what he did on his vacation, but I’m pretty sure bathing wasn’t high on the list. (As soon as he reads this, I’m going to have to take it down, so read fast).
Maybe he did bathe. He actually smelled fine, but he always seemed to be wearing the same two shirts. On the first day of his Frankation, he went to Walmart and bought a neon yellow sleeveless T-shirt and a neon orange one. I was extremely envious. I love neon clothes in the summer. To me, they signify summer, or Department of Transportation uniforms.
Anyway, I didn’t see much of him during his Frankation, since I had to work. Two nights before he had to go back to work, he seemed depressed. When I asked him why, he said that his Frankation was coming to an end. At 10:55 p.m., while I was upstairs playing Word Whomp on the computer, I heard him at the bottom of the stairs.
“Hey,” he called. “Doesn’t an ice cream run sound like a good idea?”
I walked to the top of the stairs and looked down at him. He was wearing pajama pants and the ever-present neon shirt. He was also barefoot. I, too, was dressed in total neon from head to foot, but I was wearing shoes. It was immediately apparent who was going to make the ice cream run at 11 p.m.
The funny thing is, I didn’t mind at all. That’s what’s cool about our family. We’re all nuts. So, I got in the car and went to the 24-hour Walgreen’s for ice cream. I picked up several varieties so that I wouldn’t have to make a return trip. Our son, Luke, was also psyched about my ice cream trip, so I didn’t want to let anyone down. I have to admit, I was very surprised at the number of people at the pharmacy at that hour. Frank thinks they were all watching the hockey playoffs, like he and my son were, and needed refreshments.
Anyway, when I got home, I distributed the ice cream and got out the vacuum. As long as everyone was up, it seemed like a good time to get some cleaning done. The dog wasn’t thrilled, though, until I put some vanilla ice cream in his bowl. Once he saw the ice cream, I could have vacuumed him without his noticing.
My mother’s generation was big on serving organs for dinner. My mother said that her mother made the best kidney stew she ever tasted. My grandmother’s secret was to boil the kidneys, rinse them, drain them, and then repeat the process several times. This ensured that all traces of urine were removed. My mother never cooked kidneys, and nobody asked her to, after hearing that story.
However, we didn’t get off scot-free. Liver was a favorite of my mother’s. We had it often enough that I recall dreading dinners when it was on the menu. It was cooked with onions and eaten with relish by my parents. The rest of us ate it with ketchup—lots and lots of ketchup.
Every Thanksgiving, the gravy was made with giblets—those slimy organs that are found inside the turkey in a tea bag. My mother always removed the giblets once the gravy was made, but many of my friends’ mothers chopped them up and served them in the gravy. We all loved giblet gravy, until we found out how it was made.
I’m fine with organ meats, as long as I don’t know what I’m eating. I used to love liverwurst sandwiches. I brought them to school all of the time, and my friends were always jealous—except for the ones who had brought tongue sandwiches. Tongue was considered a delicacy in my neighborhood. I was always grateful that my parents weren’t familiar with it. Every time I saw a big slab of tongue with visible taste buds between two slabs of rye bread, I shivered. I truly would have rather starved than eat a cow’s tongue.
But back to liverwurst: my father was of German descent and he loved sausages and wursts of all kinds. (He even tried to pass off fried bologna as “flatwurst.”) Liverwurst was my all-time favorite until my paternal grandfather, Popeye, told me that it was made from liver. From that day forward, I could not eat liverwurst.
My husband’s Italian mother made blood sausages, but he wouldn’t eat them. Black pudding is popular in England, probably because “black” is substituted for “blood.” If my mother-in-law had called them black sausages, my husband probably would have eaten them—just like generations of children were tricked into eating brains because they were called sweetbreads.
Not long ago, I attended a birthday party for a native Russian. The food was wonderful and wildly varied, but caviar was the star. I grew up with a mother who loved shad roe (the eggs of shads, or river herrings), so it was natural for me to eat fish eggs. I eat regular eggs, so I have no problem with fish eggs. In fact, I like caviar; it’s a good thing, too, because it was served on everything—on sturgeon, tuna, blini, toast, and ice cream. Okay, not on ice cream.
When the escargot was served, one of the diners urged me to try it, saying that it was “garlicky and yummy.” I took a tiny bite, but I just couldn’t swallow it. It was chewy, and all I could think of were the slugs in my garden, and the giant slugs that would come out at night and crawl all over the steps at my mother’s house at the Jersey shore.
My sister, the wife of the Russian birthday boy, showed me the secret to eating and enjoying escargot. She handed me a shot glass filled with vodka, and assured me that I would love eating slugs after a few shots.
It turns out that you can enjoy anything after a few shots of vodka. Maybe I’ll try liverwurst again.