I have several things on my mind, and all at once too. A few of them could be categorized under “heat.”

But meh, I have to get to it. I’m stuck on a live John Mayer performance of his song “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” at the 02 Arena in London. The thing about it is, there’s this guy who always stands to Mayer’s left, playing backup guitar and vocals, causing no trouble there in the relative dark, but lucky to have this gig, a world tour with a big-hit sexpot who can play the wits out of himself and his instrument.

The guy to stage right is kind of thick in the middle and he wears a hat, probably to hide his bald head. But here he is in the spotlight, this David Ryan Howard always playing second fiddle, taking a deep breath now and emitting one of the most arrestingly beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. “Baby…..” he starts. Simple enough, but there’s something about the tenor, or the tone, or the pitch or the way the sound gets all the way from his lungs to me, my ears, and resets my brain to euphoria. Soon enough Mayer appears, tip-toeing coolly under the big lights, and goes at it while David Ryan Howard retreats to back-up singer territory, and the dark. When Mayer starts, Howard clicks his own microphone back to second-guy level.

Mayer’s guitar gleams and his hair is careless perfect. He’s doing a new weird tippy-toe thing while he plays the bejesus out of his guitar but he’s still gorgeous and so is everything about the singing and the extended and frequent guitar solos and the fact that his custom-made earphones dangle around his neck instead of protecting his ears. Live for today, tonight, get the whole sound straight to the brain, always, night after night. And as it happens, his old love Katy Perry just declared him her best sex ever. Why do I know this? Here it is: I Google him every morning right after I read my email, and sometimes before.

Slow Dancing in a Burning Room has always been a seductive, sexy-death concept to me. Yeah, the relationship is dying but the house is going down in flames too. In any case, in the meta department it’s all several steps above foaming to death in pink bath water.

Then I came off my irrational sound-and-sex high and realized that my husband and I are slow dancing in a burning room too, but the slow dancing is because we can’t move any faster. The room is burning because the handyman who fixed the grill fan is also the only person I’ve ever heard of who tried to smoke his mom with his weed. For reasons not understood by me, he put his mom’s ashes in the same jar as his weed. Then he thought he could smoke her. He said it wasn’t pleasant and mentioned fragments of bone caught in his throat. It was a disappointing experience all around.

So it’s a good thing that tonight the dogs ate the raw flank steak that was going to be grilled for dinner. The big poodle got it off the counter where it had been left unattended for a few minutes by my husband whose fault it was entirely. At about the same time the Shiba got a used chicken leg out of a trash bag just minutes before the bag’s removal to the trash can outside. Also somehow my husband’s fault although I was the one who put the chicken in the trash and left the bag on the floor.

Looking on the bright side, the dogs shared!

So we had sandwiches. We worked our way through them with the hideous sounds of CNN screeching in the background, my husband huddled in his heavy black-and-red checked shirt because the air conditioning had been set by me and I like it cold. Slow chewing in a freezing room. The mood also changed slightly after the dogs ate our dinner since I’m a sap and my husband believed they should be punished and now they’re getting only kibble for dinner and no treats any other time either.

I don’t know how to end this. I don’t know how to end me. I guess I’d better figure it out.




Lassy Doesn’t Water the Plants

They should have named me lassitude. Lassy, maybe, for short. I can hear the plants dying in the back yard, still in their precious little boxes ready to let their roots sink down into nice moist soil. I can hear them screaming Linda you bitch get the fuck out here and give us some water. Why are they so profane? Ah, a clue. They are like me. And yet. I cannot move. It’s less like lassitude and more like defiance, or terminal fear, or cruelty, or murder.

I keep thinking of a raucous night in New Haven when our son was in college. He took me to a party. We knocked on the host’s door, and a boy in tights and glittery eye make-up and sparkly necklaces answered it. “A sociology grad student,” explained my son. “They’re all like that.” (The next day we saw the kid in a bookstore with a woman who appeared to be his mother. He was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and all the sparkle was gone. Just another Yalie with his mom.) I stood in the kitchen most of the night, drinking vodka from the freezer and talking to a ravishing young grad student who said he was planning to become a psychoanalyst. This was right up my alley, plus he was Puerto Rican or something similarly exotic, and dark, and maybe I already said ravishing.

After that we drove, who knows how or who or in what, to an all-night diner where my son’s girlfriend, reaching for something across the table, knocked over the salt shaker. “All the tragedies in my life,” she then observed, “have been because I was too lazy to go around things.” I wasn’t surprised when after graduation she went to Italy to tutor Francis Ford Coppola in philosophy while he was filming one of the Godfather films.

So anyway. Where was I. See? This is what happens; it’s all journey and no arrival. I am letting the plants die. They’re in the dessert, folding up, withering, and I’m sitting here with two dogs, unable or unwilling or both, to move. I’m not only self-centered, lazy, neurotic and maybe narcissistic but I’m also a murderer. But I had so much fun in New Haven that antic, debauched night.

Do these plants stand for something else in my life? Undoubtedly but I don’t care. Are they me? Who cares? WHO CARES? The helicopters are general all over Washington. Some are police, some are fire, some are news, and some are Federal. The important ones are the ones with the slap-slap-slap rotors and the nice fighting khaki color. I used to imagine Cheney in those, going to Bethesda to die. Now it’s do-we-really-have-to-call-him-president going to watch Mar-a-fucking-Lago sink into the ocean. And maybe glance at Barron on his way to the golf course. Wait, you’re that other one, right, kid?

Can I explain to these plants that I’m really killing myself? A part of myself? And if I explained that to them, what would they say? Cut the psychobabble bullshit fatso get us the freaking water.

I will water them, maybe, as soon as the kid-lock-light on the dishwasher goes off. Why is there a kid light anyway? It’s like the fancy Audi across the street, stolen on a quiet Sunday night in our green neighborhood by a guy with a laptop, who simply programmed his way into the car, started it, and watched his goon friend drive it off. Now the owners of the new new Audi have to keep the “key” in a special wi-fi-proof box inside the house. What was wrong with that metal thing that you stuck in a slot on the steering column, turned, stepped lightly on the gas and thereupon started the car engine? Improvements that are ten steps backwards, or 20 steps towards the final abyss. (As opposed to the transient abyss.)

The world makes no sense and that’s why I’m sitting here with two dogs-in-repose letting my plants die. Nope. That’s not it.

I found a list I’d made on the back side of an (unused!) panty-liner, the kind old ladies use to protect the outside world from their laughter, which often ends in pee. The thing was close and I could write on it. A low point, surely. The list was what you’d call optimistic. It included things like “move furniture out of second bedroom; turn into office,” and “organize linen closet,” “find agility training for F.” F would be the young poodle Franklin who, it is agreed, needs more stimulation than he gets from two elderly cripples and a couple of hideously expensive paid walkers whose particular skill is being able to play games on their iPhones while they walk. (That’s not fair….)

For every sentence there is a competing, and countering sentence. Yes I did. No I didn’t. My husband watered the plants. My husband with congestive heart failure, macular degeneration that requires getting poked in the eyeball with a needle, and a job, watered the plants while I ruminated on the front porch.



To Be

A few decades ago, a friend observed that I seemed to be “playing catch-up ball intellectually.” She was surely right. But the thought that I might try to catch up is just so exhausting – running and running trying to keep up with the Cicero-spouting intellectuals who form a substantial part of my clan – that I’ve decided finally to abandon it.

In the greater scheme of things I know nothing, but there are certain areas in which I excel. Emily Ocker’s circular cast-on, of course, is one. I also know the difference between a blackpoll warbler and a black and white warbler. I know there’s such a thing as a pentatonic scale. I know when somebody is lying to me and I excel at conversation with plumbers and painters and mail deliverers.

I have a fairly substantial vocabulary and I generally know bullshit when I hear it. And that last, knowing bullshit when I hear it, even if it’s coming out of my own mouth, is valuable. I hardly ever bullshit except occasionally to my kids, but only if they’ve bullshitted me first. Okay, sometimes I start it. See there? No bullshit.

Sometimes I start it. I’m not scared when the doctor tells me I’m allergic to my dogs and will have to get rid of them, because I know it’s bullshit. The fact that I started sobbing, and sobbed through the appointment, through the flu shot and the blood-taking and the bill-paying and the elevator to the parking lot, through the gate and all the way home, was not bullshit. It was true, and it was real, and I was right. I’m not allergic to my dogs. And here’s another thing that’s not Cicero but it’s not bullshit either: things eat each other.

There’s a little flycatcher in my trees and when he spots an insect he goes after it and he takes it back to his branch and he eats it. All day. How many dead bugs is that? Why does he have to work so hard all the time? The big mower in the field mows the baby rabbits, and the baby foxes and ducks and newborn deer. The hawk eats the mourning doves, who are slower and dumber. These are things I know!

I know that some people have to keep moving and some people have to take it slow. I know that the beast is slouching toward Bethlehem; I think about him all the time. Of course that’s not intellectual; it’s sub-intellectual or sub-rosa or subconscious or subliminal. It might also be a waste of time.

I suppose I’ve spent my life going inward, and now I might be so far in there I can’t get out. I know the mistakes I’ve made, at least some of them, and while that’s not an intellectual achievement it does involve thinking. Which begs the question: what does it mean to think? Should I be thinking about certain things and not about others? Should I not waste my time with dogs or teeny rock garden plants or Emily Ocker and her cast-on? Truthfully, I’m not that great a knitter. I make mistakes, I go walkabout on the 40th row of the pattern, I put down my knitting and don’t pick it up during the baseball game. Knitting is something for non-intellectuals anyway, unless you’re in it in order to be part of the Brooklyn “makers” class, who are so deeply intellectual they not only dye their own yarn but grow their own dyestuffs in vacant lots.

Oops, but I got off-topic, another reason why I haven’t achieved the intellectual home-run chops of some of my friends. So, what would be intellectual chops? Shakespeare, Chaucer, the history of the Kurds and the Wheys, the connection between the Shetland Islands and Sweden (or is it Norway) during the second World War (or was it the first, or both?). I’m pretty good on the useless stuff; Freud, run-off, Faustian bargains, Fibonacci numbers, the theory of the weed-free lawn (it’s related to immigration policy), the fact that foxes leave their scat in the middle of the road or the top of the rocks, that nuthatches only go down the tree and brown creepers up, that my father shouldn’t have given gin to the dog and my mother should have come out of the basement when I went for my abortion, that John Irving is a classist monster, that deer shot with arrows die by bleeding to death as they run, that every one of us is running as fast as we can, that Hunter Thompson killed himself in the most flagrant, mean way by blowing his brains out while his wife was at the gym and his son was on the way over and that that’s unforgivable, and that some things might really be unforgivable.

But back to Shakespeare. I never took the course. Not in high school and not in college. I’ve tried reading on my own, and I’ve seen a few plays including one in the Shakespeare theatre in London. I’ll be damned if I can remember which one. I got my knitting group to do a few sessions on Hamlet, led by our English professor/knitter. Nada. I did learn that Hamlet was Danish which I found moderately interesting.

I do get that to be or not to be is a good question. But what is “to be”? If I knew that, I would have caught up. My life isn’t over yet, and I suppose it’s never too late to catch up, if only I knew what that meant.

Grandma Can’t Take the Silence

I’m not a cadaver cooling in a pink bloody broth. No, not at all. When members of my family fairly objected to my suicide post I deleted it along with many others, and then made the whole site invisible. I started to think of pink water as the result not of slit wrists but of one of those pink, exploding, scooting Lush bath bombs. Same feeling, different result.

One of the reasons I had fantasies of being in warm, pink water with the life going out of me is that I live with a lot of pain from the weird condition called fibromyalgia that sometimes veers towards chronic fatigue. Pain would just drift away from me in the pink water, and I could relax and feel normal. Part of the pain is that I don’t even believe I have it. Most people probably don’t really believe it. Why do I care who believes it? I shouldn’t have written about the pink water, at least not in public. But the pain is mine, I own it and I feel it and I get to write about it. I don’t want to hurt anybody else but I want to write it.

Among other things.

The Hell with Her Cast-On

I want to discuss the advancing theory that knitting is good for your health, lowing blood pressure and heart rate and generally bringing on bliss.

The latest expert to dig out her knitting needles is Jane Brody, 77-year-old health and food columnist for the New York Times.  She cites her own knitting group and describes herself as a “highly productive crafter.”  I remember (because I too was writing about cooking and food) that a long time ago, kidney beans were Brody’s elixir – they would solve all of life’s problems.  And now this.

She cites her own experience in a knitting group, and quotes from the esteemed Crafts Yarn Council.  She keeps pictures on her phone of all her finished products, and looks at them when she feels blue.  Accompanying her online column is a picture of her holding a large blanket festooned with 64, I counted, little cars.  While she was knitting those little cars, if Jane is like other knitters cited in these new reports, her blood pressure and heart rate went down with every one of them.

Jane, old friend, I have a question for you.  Have you ever tried executing the Twisted German Cast-On?  What about the kitchener stitch?  Or my personal favorite, the one I tried again this morning, Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast-On?  If you’re an artisan and not just a needle-clicker, you know unique techniques for special occasions.  This morning’s attempt at the Emily Ocker etc etc was my fourth.  Like the previous three, it was a failure.

In the case of Emily Ocker’s etc etc, you are going to be making something circular and thus, under ideal circumstances, you want your initial very few stitches to be arranged in a circle too.  Here’s how you make this happen:

With palm facing, make a clockwise loop around the last three fingers of your left hand, with the tail end lying over the ball end at the outside of your hand.  Hold the tail end firmly to your hand with your left thumb (leaving approximately 12″ for the tail);  the tail should be trailing toward you and the ball end away from you.  With a  DPN in your right hand and the the ball end facing you, wrap yarn around needle as if to make a YO, insert needle tip into the loop of yarn on your left hand, (from bottom to top) wind yarn around needle as if to knit and draw this stitch back out through the loop.”  That gets two stitches on the needle.

The preceding is from a Brooklyn Tweed pattern.  Brooklyn Tweed is the perfect child of Jared Flood, a photographer and knitwear designer and scholar of the knit stitch.  He can make anything more beautiful, more intellectual and way way harder.  One of his favorite cast-on methods, now gone from my memory and my pattern stash, took a page and a half to explain.

But here’s why knitting groups are good for the health:  when I told my dozen or so knitting friends that I’d had an epic fail on the Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast-On, they looked mystified and said the perfect thing:  why would you want to torture yourself with stuff like that anyway?  Exactly.

The One-Eyed Mouse

One of the requirements set forth in the contract to sell our house in Vermont is that the place be free of all signs of rodent activity at the time of closing.  This is an existential minefield.

-What exactly is “the time of closing”  When the last person has signed the documents?  When everybody shakes hands and leaves the room?  When the first person signs the documents?  Because in the time it takes for one person to sign the documents, there may very well be more “signs” of rodent activity.

The rodents we’re talking about are field mice.  The house is in a field.  the way I look at it, and them too, is that 200 years ago somebody built a house on their field and therefore it’s their house.  Can hardly blame them if there are yummy apples inside after all the outside apples are rotten.

But the folks who are left, our caretakers, have been scheming to outsmart the rodents. In stalking them, setting traps in odd places, finding their teeny doorways and teenier tracks, they noticed a mouse with one eye.  His face looks slightly smashed and they think he may have been caught in a trap and then escaped, minus one eye.  He stares at them with his one eye.  He is not afraid, an entitled mouse, an experienced mouse, wizened and careful and willing to get it on with a befuddled human or two.  He’s small and fast and with his one eye he understands traps.

I think the mouse may be God.  Or the one-eyed furry ghost of Claudio Arrau, who used to own the house and who used to play the grandest of grand Steinways in the room where the one-eyed mouse now holds power.  His one eye might actually be a third eye, the other two having been removed by the cruel trap.

The third eye sees a new family, young and busy and looking forward to their few minutes in the big house on Arrau Road.  But tomorrow the kids will be grown, have summer jobs, be too engaged elsewhere to get up there from the city.  The new people bought a couch so big it had to be brought in through a window – frame and glass removed entirely – because it was too big to get through the door.  I wonder what color it is.  It’s from Restoration Hardware.  How long will it take the one-eyed mouse to find a few nuts, or seeds, on the floor or in the pantry or on the counters, and gather them all under the new Restoration Hardware cushions, safe and sound for the next time there’s a famine?  How long will it take the one-eyed mouse to adjust to the new people, undoubtedly more careful, cleaner, neater than the last people (us).

The one-eyed mouse isn’t interested in the existential questions;  he’s interested in saving for the famine, which will inevitably come.  And the day will also come when the big new sofa is old and sagging, and offered to the highest bidder.  The kids will be grown, the parents will be old, too old to make the trip with the dog and the coffee beans and the big winter coats.

Four things:  Lucy’s baby snow boots, sent back to us from the house in Vermont.  They’re on the mantle in our bedroom because I don’t know what else to do with them. Memories: Byron’s steady boy-steps on the half-frozen pond, finally breaking through in order to rescue little Tommy the Shiba Inu, who was so greedy for a drink of cold water that he broke through the ice first.  Toddling Isabel, walking on top of the stone wall that surrounds our – well, not ours any more – lavender garden, tip-toeing her way through the cousins’ tradition:  the big ones hold the hands of the little ones while they learn to jump over the spaces and negotiate the uneven stones.  And footprints on the rug, whipped cream and pumpkin, once a pie, that little Clara with her maryjanes had run right through and kept on going.

She’s still going.  And I’m still working, fighting really, to put one step after the other, to keep on walking towards something, not the house in Vermont or the baby grandchildren or my youth or my husband’s youth, but somewhere that’s not right here.  Maybe I need the one-eyed mouse to help me.


A Missing Stitch

I’ve been working on a complicated fair isle hat.  My husband has been in the hospital with congestive heart failure.  My grown children have been here telling me that I can’t handle things and should get rid of the our dog Franklin.  My daughter-in-law says he might be happier somewhere else.

I might be happier somewhere else too.  We’re old, I have no enthusiasm for anything, I’m worried and crazed with it, I have the contents of a big old house in Vermont to remember and decide what to keep without being there.  As if I didn’t have enough trouble with visions and memories and small inscrutable objects.  The red tray, the old pewter, the drawings of the oldest granddaughter, the Christmas ornaments.  Up there in the north we went out and found a tree, brought it back to the house and tried to make it stand up.

That’s over.  We’ll probably never see the place again.  We’d planned to go up there for Thanksgiving but my husband went to the emergency room and stayed for Thanksgiving.  We won’t be able to get there for Christmas either, nor for the closing, nor for the goodbyes which is just as well.  It’s sad as it is.  Things were looking up finally.  We’d sold that house, which was an expensive burden although beloved.  That house, the snowshoes and the Christmases and the all-night ghost stories coincided with the birth and childhood and adolescence of our grandchildren, who ran the halls and told ghost stories and took off their jackets while they slid up and down the hill.

Yes, I whine.  My husband feels much better and survived heart failure before.  But we’re old now and the last morning our daughter was here I saw a list of “home health aides” up on her computer.  I now have to prove that I can be a grownup and take care of a household.  How many years did I do that alone while he hung out with Hunter Thompson and made a name for himself?

I’m not sure I can do it.  I can’t find the missing stitch in the fair isle hat.  I count and count and take out row after row, start over again and again.  The count is right but the one stitch isn’t there.  Where did it go?