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My Third Birthday in California Or, I Went to Chicago?!

7 Aug

My first birthday in California I spent in Malibu. It was kind of romantic. I was in love with California if not the person I spent it with.  I’m still in love with California.  Last year I celebrated my birthday in Santa Monica with Nicolle and her daughter Katrina:

birtHDAY 2014 N, K, ME AT WATER GRILL

And a few days  later with–of course,  my son Noah. And with–of course, Ben Affleck. Noah spotted Ben across the room at The Hungry Cat Restaurant. When I told Noah (aspiring actor) to  “go over there and strike up a conversation with Ben,” Noah said “That’s more your kind of move than mine, Mom.” So I made my move. Ben’s agent tolerated it. And Noah took a picture.

birthday 2014 Noah licking lips in Hungry Catbirthday 2014 Ben and me(Please understand, Dear Reader, that I didn’t realize when I coerced Ben into this photo that he was cheating on Jennifer with the nanny.)

ANYWAY, after last year’s celebration, this year looked like it might not stand a chance of being so interesting.  So, I booked a ticket to Chicago to see my dearest, oldest friends. Given how kind they have been to  me through thick and thin, I’d have say they are more family than friends.  (And there’s the fact that except for Noah, I have no family, so I gotta call somebody family!) After a day of teaching English as a Second Language, I got on a plane and landed in O’Hare late at night, and found the Blue Line:

birthday 2015 arrival blue line

Loving the culture shock of taking REAL public transportation, I called Susanna, whom I’ve known since I was 5–and whose birthday we were also celebrating–and told her I’d be at Logan Square in about 30 minutes.

birthday 2015 arrival at Suz's stop

I got off  the train, and the air was humid and there were guys playing chess and flirtatiously calling to women walking by. It was urban in a way that is only Chicago. I LOVE CHICAGO, I thought. I used to think about moving there.

birthday 2015 suz and rise and cocktailsSusanna, or “Suz” as I’ve always called her, and her husband Russ picked me up, took me to their house on Montana Street–where I’ve probably slept 15 times,  and Suz made a killer cocktail and we toasted and laughed at nothing and then all fell asleep within minutes. It so felt like family.  In the morning I was happy to see Max, one of their sons, who is just a year or two younger than Noah.  I’ve known Max since he was in diapers. He was reading Updike.

Birthday 2015 Max readingThen Max and Suz and I took a walk. Their street is pure Chicago.

birthday 2015 Montana streetI felt a strange homecoming.  Chicago is not my hometown, but I’ve spent so much time there, growing up in Champaign-Urbana (two and a half hours away.)  I grew up the daughter of Audrey–my single mother who loved the Art Institute and Oak Street Beach and the Chicago Symphony. We drove up often. And I’ve visited my friends there countless times. Suz and Max and I kept walking, and ended up at a Farmer’s Market, almost next to the Lake.

birthday 2015 me in front of old lamp postbirthday 2015 farmer's marketI realized I’d been missing the MidWest, where there is green grass,  people buying jam, and those big-shouldered buildings overseeing the lake.

birthday 2015 lake and skyline

And then I went paddle-boarding with Suz.

Birthday 2015 paddle board with suzI remembered being in camp with her in Wisconsin one summer. We both loved the lake. She was better with the cold. She was better with the horses. And better with the spiders. Maybe that’s why she’s a world- renowned  doctor?

And then it was time to meet Nicolle, and Howie and Sue, my other great Urbana friends! We met at a beautiful hotel restaurant, and the food was subtle, and it was like old times but better– because we’re older and more subtle.

Birthday 2015 suz and howie

That’s Suz and Howie.reunion me pointing finger at Sue

That’s Howie’s wife Sue and me. Howie’s like my brother. Sue is my sister.

Birthday 2015 girls in the dark

And there’s Nicolle–my California and Chicago sistah, me, Sue, and Suz.

The next morning I flew home. A few days later,  got to celebrate with Noah. And that was so so sweet.Birthday 2015 Noah and mom at Boiling Crab

And then I had dinner with another Urbana sister (once upon a time babysitter!) Peggy, and newer sister, Carol.

Birthday 2015 Carol and Peggy

Peggy and I used to eat Popcorn on Pennsylvania Avenue. And to celebrate my birthday we did again.

birthday 2015 Peggy and me popcorn better

Though there was no Ben Affleck, there was a mysterious stranger.

Birthday 2015 Kirsten and Rex

Well, actually  more like new friend.

My third birthday in and out of California. Still not quite here, Dear Reader. But Close. And I’m glad I went home for the day I was born.

birthday photo with momThank you, Audrey, for this life!

 

 

 

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My Year of Living Dangerously Or, Lessons Learned From Celibacy

14 Jan

Me, Sad Bunny Close Up

Several Dear Readers contacted me to say that admitting to having clinical depression was brave.  THANK YOU! Admitting to depression is  acknowledging: 1) mental illness, 2)  (some people would say) weakness, and 3) the real killer (given my value system):  being a party pooper. I may or may not be brave. Let’s face it: I am an  exhibitionist, albeit sometimes a depressed one.

It might be more impressive to admit that for quite some time (a year is an underestimation), I’ve been unintentionally celibate. I crave intimacy, enjoy the finer physical things in life, but…

Grover and me

I am lonely. Currently I am sleeping with a blanket that my babysitter gave me. Yup. I am the Linus of the Fifty-Something crowd.

My  friend Peggy–babysitter of several decades ago–now Professor of French Literature at Claremont College, lent me a blanket when I arrived here sans le Blanky-ette. Dear Peggy: Merci! ( I’m NOT giving it back.)

Peggy birthday glasses profile

As you can see, Peggy should have been named Parisienne Patrice Par Perfection, but we grew up in Urbana, Illinois, and our true identities were unappreciated for many years.

Peggy on her birthdayI’m hoping that since PPPP knew me back in the day she’ll forgive me, understanding that I need le blanky-ette now and forever: it  smells familiar, is soft to the touch, and when crumpled has a certain je ne sais quoi sex appeal.

Other than learning to appreciate the joys of a gray, fuzz-balled virtual lover, what have I come to understand  from unwanted celibacy? I’ve learned that I miss that loved-in-some-elemental-overwhelming-yet safe-surrender thing. me in seaIn my sexless state, I’ve come to appreciate the erotic in unlikely places.

belt sticking out of sand

Belt in the sand. Uh huh.

I’ve learned that you can get  intimate joy even when there’s nothing heterosexual goin’ on.  Here I am with Mike– who makes me feel important and desirable. We are at a gay strip club:

Mike and me at strip clubI met Mike in the first 5 weeks after I moved here. Working at the Juice Bar for minimum wage, I was just a woman ringing up cucumber/celery/ beet thingies for the rich. But Customer Mike made eye contact and said, “Come see my office!” I knew he was gay and I knew I would fall in love with him. Mike is from the Midwest! A lawyer! Married To A Wonderful Man! Thank God for Mike. And for that gyrating hot body behind us.

A few months ago, I had a promise of relationship happiness with a man who happened to not be gay…someone I knew a long time ago,  He invited me to Las Vegas. SO: Three days there… spent them mostly on my own. Mr. Sinatra with flowers just wasn’t there. So I learned that I LOVE the pool at Caesar’s Palace–when it’s too cold for everyone but me.

Las Vegas # 3 Caesar's pool Sexy, in a solitaire kind of way. At the end of the trip, I needed a cab at 8AM in the morning, I learned that getting a cab at 8 AM in Vegas is like  finding karma in slot machines. I had to beg–in the land of  somnambulists–for an exit; somehow I got back to LA, and was happy, so happy when  Natasha picked me up at LAX.

Nic and Kir at Bouchon on a very noisy night

I don’t want to sleep with her, but…(Yeah, Dear Reader, I’m aware that you DO.)

SO:  there have been dates over the last year. And dates. And dates. I’ve learned that I’m only interested in someone who is really there. Haven’t met him yet. Or, I met him but he hadn’t yet reached puberty.

ciclavie Bradley

Here’s a round-up of my education:

1) Though I miss sex, I am glad I haven’t settled.

2)  Intimacy comes in all forms–and since the body does fail eventually, it’s important to know the spiritual. I went to church  with a  friend, her husband and two little kids. (The actor who played the bartender/shape-shifter in “True Blood” was there! Looking sad!) We prayed a bit, talked a lot, and when those two children hugged me I felt known. And, DEAR READER: Four-year old Kendrick with the almond-eyed wink asked me questions and tickled my neck…Forget I said that.

3) It’s not the sex, exactly.  It’s the togetherness.

little kids at beach Well, that’s the end of my saying anything that could be considered “what I learned.” I was, after all,  never someone who thought sex was all that important. . .

sin city bedroomBut. Having it once a year in a really nice bed would be fine!  In the meantime, the banana palm in my front yard

palm fruit outside my apartmentspeaks to me. Oh, I know it’s  a tree; a man would be better. But I love the one I’m with…IMG_1795which is myself, I guess. I got here on my own mojo after all.

As you may know, Dear Reader, Mulholland Drive is my go-to for solace: snaky road, expansive sky. A few days ago, while driving on the snaky strip, I pulled the Prius over to one of Mulholland’s Look Outs. To LOOK OUT.

Mulholland look out sign

For some reason, I LOOKED DOWN.

condom package at Mulholland

God Bless You Two, whoever you are: Safe Sex looking out over Los Angeles.

City of angels, sin city, city of  mid-life crisis and joy, a kind of lover. City of my surrender.

Sin City Hours With Henry James Or, Ambassadors Without Cause

19 Sep

It was after Natasha and I landed in Las Vegas and we were in the opulent lobby of the Wynn Hotel that I felt Henry James’ presence. He wasn’t there voluntarily. I’d channelled him. Sin City side of Encore building and skyThe Wynn is one of the more luxurious of Vegas resorts. Why did I channel James then and there? Because he was a PERFECT date for the occasion. An amused and wise observer of people who behave badly/stupidly/weakly in the face of wealth and power, a perfect gentleman himself  (never married, in the closet), and one of my favorite writers. A good dresser who never drank too much.

“Kirsten Wasson, why have you channelled me?”

“Henry. I’ve always loved you. And you need to see Vegas.”

“What is Vegas?”

“It’s a country where  Christopher Newman would naively feel at home,  Daisy Miller would love and  die,  Maggie Verver would see the terrible meaning of the beautiful, over-priced  golden bowl, and Lambert Strether would go along for the ride. (Sort of.)”

Henry looked a little tattered and worse for wear. He was pale, his collar was askew, and eyebrows excessively bushy. “I already wrote about all that.”

Henry_James_by_Sargent_1913

“But Henry,” I smoothed his lapel, “This is  Sin City!!  There’s a fake Paris, fake Venice! You’ve just gotta see it. AND you will find the particular narrative–one which involves subtle pretense, blurred moral lines, and a kind of threesome–to be just your cup of tea. Or in this case, your Blackberry Cosmopolitan.”

Henry sighed and gazed out the window at the six different swimming pools in one direction, at the gold phallic Trump tower in the other.

 

Sin City trump tower

“Look, HJ,” I was getting testy.”You OWE me. Do you have ANY idea how many times I taught The American to Freshman?”

“It didn’t pass muster with your students?”

“Let’s just say that not every eighteen-year old gets your irony, your devotion to ambivalence and ambiguity, your fascination with class bias, not to mention the obsessive attention to interior design details.”

Henry James glared at me; I shouldn’t have said that. “I mean… they did like it eventually, that’s my point. Without me there would be hundreds of young people who didn’t come to grasp what happens to Newman in Paris, not to mention why, years after you published The American,  you changed the last few lines–which revises drastically how we see Newman and his fate.”

“Oh.  Well, alright then. Sounds like you did some good. Where’s our room?”

SUCCESS OF MY LIFE, DEAR READER!

We followed Natasha who, although she has not read James,  knows how to behave like one  of his beautiful, forthright heroines with a secret– in any set of circumstances.

Sin City with Henry James NIcolle walking

“HJ,” I said, “Here’s the lowdown. This is clandestine trip. We have to be discreet.”

I then realized I was talking to the person whose face appears in the dictionary under discreet.

“You didn’t channel Oscar Wilde.” He rolled his eyes and then noticed the casino.

Sin City casino

“What on earth?” He adjusted his monocle.
“Those are slot machines, and then there’s poker and craps further back. Gambling.”

“I know what gambling is, Madame K. My grandfather was a drinker and gambler and it almost ruined my father’s life.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot.”

We were both embarrassed when we got to the room (which happened to be paid for by a man we’ll call Sergei):

 

sin city bedroom

 

I’d asked for twin beds. Henry excused himself to the bathroom, and I called the front desk and asked for another room. Then we went to the pool.

Sin City with Henry James my knees at pool

There is nothing I love more than a blazing hot day and an almost empty pool and beach chair. Not something HJ enjoys.

But he does like a cabana.

Sin City 208 Cabana

I got this particular one for him because of 208. That was my address on Pennsylvania Avenue for 18 years. Henry hid inside happily, observing, writing. He was thrilled there were crows in Vegas.

Sin City With crow in bush

Later we walked around and found St. Mark’s place:

sin city  St Mark's placeIt wasn’t exactly the place he’d written about:sin city art of shavingI quoted HJ to HJ  (Italian Hours): “Piazza San Marco is the most ornamented corner…as you sit in your gondola, the footways that in certain parts edge the canals assume to the eye of importance of a stage, and the Venetian figures strike you as members of an endless dramatic troupe.” Exactly. Especially in Vegas Piazza San Marco, where it’s all a facade, and the water is chlorinated and two feet deep.

Sin City GondolaHe and I did not rent a gondola; we went shopping.

sin city Barneys and Michael KorsIt was I who noticed first that  “Just” looked like “Lust,” but Henry was only a beat behind. While we shopped, I explained that I was a paid companion on this trip. Natasha’s friend Sergei, desiring the pleasure of her company but being occupied by by certain familial obligations  concerning his son Chad had offered me the beautiful position of accompanying Natasha, providing a dining companion during Sergei’s paternal occupations and assuring that there was a buffering presence between son, lover, and the man himself.

“That sentence is a little convoluted, Kirsten.”

“Pot. Calling. Kettle. Black. DUDE!”

I don’t need to tell you that HJ did not respond to my pointed remark. Or to being called “Dude.” Time to buy our hero a cocktail.

sin city cocktails

After a few sips of the sweet and sour concoction, my author seemed to relax, and from his bar stool he looked around us. Out one window was a topological view, a slice of Sin City.
Sin City view of pool from above

And out the other, this, whatever this is: sin city outdoors flower light “May I have have another cocktail?” asked Henry. He’d sucked his first down in seconds flat. Natasha and Sergei were having dinner together that evening, so the night was ours!

Henry James is a master of the unsaid. So I guessed what he was thinking and it had to do with:  vulgarity, the spoils of American new money, the degradation of human ethics, and probably Gilbert Osmand–the nefarious character in Portrait of A Lady (played by John Malkovich in the film.)

“I rather like Vegas,” he smiled slyly. “But really, Madame K, what are you doing here?”

“I told you, I’m Natasha’s paid companion. So she has someone to chill with, when not with Sergai. When Sergai is busy with his son.”

His eyes closed. “You said a threesome, but it’s really a couple and an extra. As in Wings of the Dove, or Portrait of A Lady, The Ambassadors, Daisy Miller, even Turn of the Screw in a sense–those twisted little children and the twisted little governess–outside, looking in.”

“Henry James, are you calling me a twisted little governess?” (I have to admit I wished he were. That would be the second SUCCESS OF MY LIFE.)

A few cocktails later….

Sin City drinks at Andrea'sThe sun had set and the fake waterfall was glowing.

SIn City water fall at nightAnd then Henry said, “You’re not the governess. You’re Maisie. You were from the beginning. Observing the adults. The watchful child.”

He was referring to What Maisie Knew, his novel about a little girl observing her parents marriage crack into a thousand shards of passion and mistake.

“I’d rather be the twisted governess.”

“I know,” said Henry fingering his cravat. “But you’re not. You tend to be in the middle of  things, but only barely involved,  teetering on a chimera of balance, until said  balance loses its ballast.”

This was not a Vegas  conversation.

“So…what are you, Henry? Freud before Freud?” It was time for this conversation to end.

“Well I’m not Christopher Newman, Madame K. I’ve been around the block a few times.”

“Oh Henry, put me to bed.”

He led me to my room, made me brush my teeth, helped me into my pjs, and kissed me on the forehead.

“Good Night Kirsten Wasson.”  He walked to the door. “There is nothing wrong with being an observer or outsider. Just take good notes.” And then he was gone.

I slept like the dead. In the morning I got up early to go find Henry James–at the cabana. But it was empty. I went to the front desk and asked if he’d checked out. There was no record of a Mr. James having stayed at in the Wynn.  I went back to the pool. Empty, so early in the day.

Sin City Empty pool closed umbrellas

I knew he’d been there, with me. We had been ambassadors together, both knowing on not knowing the subtext, both gleaning  and not the meaning of the confusing maze that is human passion, mistake, resignation, and moral/emotional/spiritual balance. At the end of The Ambassadors, Maria Gostrey speaks to the outsider/ambassador Lambert Strether, admitting that certain of his perceptions are accurate.  “It isn’t so much your being ‘right’–it’s your your horrible sharp eye that makes you so.” I lay down on a damp, chilly chaise.  Ah, the “horrible sharp” eye. Taking it all in, taking notes.

Sin City Crow on beach chairAlone at the pool, just a few crows flapping and cawing like some inarticulate moral compass. This was delicious, the way it is delicious to ready about an alienated character in a Henry James novel.

(Thank you, Dear Sergei, for a wonderful trip to the land of Vegas. And thank you, Dear HJ, for the company, insight, and for tucking me into bed. What happens in Vegas…)

Miss LonelyHearts’ Guide to Match.Com Or, “Like You, He’s Desperate!”

15 Jan

Miss LonelyHeartsIn case you haven’t had the pleasure of joining Match.Com, I am here to tell you how it works. And how it doesn’t.

The online dating service connects you to other people’s “profiles”  according to key shared characteristics. Like this: “You’re both dog lovers and non-smokers!” Or, “You both (claim) to exercise five times a week!”

Every  day one gets a message alerting one to a possible match, based on profound similarities: “You share a birthday month!” After years of trying to make relationships work on the basis of similar values, perspectives, lived experience, and physical chemistry,  Match teaches me to lighten up and go with the essential things:”Like you, he eats, sleeps, and defecates!”

dragonAt least *this* profile includes a photo. Imagine reaching out to someone for a date when you don’t know what they look like. BUT, then again, “Like you, he digs dining out!”

I’m something of an old-hand at Match.  Have I no shame, Dear Reader? First I admitted to getting injections in my face to look younger. . .and now to regularly having used an on-line dating service. (Not to mention defecating.)

Back in upstate New York, a good number of MatchMen profiles provide a standard shot:  Shirtless On Porch.  In L.A.,  standard shot:  Suit By Porsche. Here’s what both upstate New York and L.A. MatchMen share: whether they exercise once or seven times a week, whether they be Buddhist, Atheist, Spiritual But Not Religious,  Religious But Not Spiritual, or Other, no matter which income bracket they purport to be in, no matter whether Divorced, Separated, Never Married, Master Of Harem Looking For Fresh Subservience, or Other, they all: “don’t want drama” and “have no baggage.”

No baggage? To paraphrase Jake in The Sun Also Rises, “I distrust all good and simple people whose stories hold together.”  I choose guys who admit to a little baggage.  And mostly, my dates have been nice, smart, interesting men. One eventually turned out to be weird. . .but this is a family show so I can’t go into details. (Suffice to say, a man who references the Donner Party’s diet repeatedly during particular circumstances has missed out on certain rules of decorum.)

So, being on Match can be exhilarating–wow, in his profile this guy seems witty, smart, handsome, and employed!

It is also tricky–the morning after my date with Witty Smart Handsome Employed, I see he’s on Match. We had a great date and twelve hours later he’s  looking at other profiles. Ouch. Wait, why am *I* on Match after our date. . .? And does he see that I’m online?.  Will he think that I didn’t  like him, or that I am generally fickle, or that I am checking to see whether he’s on Match again? Am I?

But I shouldn’t worry–after all, we both “enjoy networking!”

I’m close to quitting, but keep thinking:  just one more day, one more profile. Before I join a Twelve-Step Match Recovery Group, I want to offer a few biased suggestions to MatchMen:

1) Reconsider “Spankyooo” as your profile name.

2) Don’t begin your self-description with “There is nothing I cannot do.”

3) The words “naughty,” and “hygiene,” especially in the same sentence, probably are to be avoided; this is the language of  psycho-killers.

4) Try not to quote Richard Nixon.

5) If you are going to identify the scent of a woman as one of your “favorite things,” spell “scent” with a “c,”  not: “sent.”  Of course, the “sent” of a woman is an incredibly cool notion, and if it really is one of your favorite things, you must have read a bunch of Heidegger and Irigaray. Like you, I dig Theory!

Halloween couple

I have concluded that looking for an appropriate man on Match is like trying to find a needle in a haystack…while seeing the forest for the trees. Wearing oven mitts, blinders on. (Like a lot of folks, I “enjoy mixing metaphors!”) Important for me to appreciate how rich is my life without a romantic partner:

I bite Nicolle

Day of the Dead Noah and me

me writing

And then there’s always the loyal presence of my secret friend. . .Let’s call him Diedrick.

Duncan and me Like me, D enjoys some laziness, a little leash, a lot of lap. He never uses “naughty,” and “hygiene” in the same sentence, although both are concerns of his. And he “digs theory” (in theory).

Signing off, Dear Reader–I’ve got profiles to check! Please share with me a funny thing you did to meet the man/woman of your dreams–without quoting Richard Nixon.