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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!

 

 

 

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…)

Gothically Beverly: Underbelly of The Hills

29 Aug

 

Gothic Bev THE SIGNGlorious weather, gorgeous youth (real or not), and gargantuan wealth.That’s what most Americans think of 90210, yes?

Mike's wedding fire and pool

Beverly Hills  has all that of course, but I’m continually struck by an elusive something dark  just around the corner of  Sunshiny Happyland. Something not happy or sunshiny or youthful. An element of… not evil (everybody knows that’s here!) exactly, but a strain of the Gothic. Something Mary Shelley would appreciate.

gothic car under wrapsAll the cars under wraps, for starters. A body-bagg-y thing.

And,  the preponderance of spikes:

Gothic Beverly ashy spikesThey’re everywhere.

Gothic Beverly spikesAs if this were not  just the land of the rich and beautiful, but also where the Munsters live.

Gothic Beverly  black spikes

And then the ubiquitous pruning style:

Trees Gothicly

Ed Gorey meets Ed Scissorhands! But despite a heavy-handed human approach, nature here will never be completely managed.

gothic tree roots

These roots speak to me of an underbelly in the Hills, a submerged thirst for the perverse and uncontrolled. It’s in the air too:

Gothically Beverly

And down certain streets:

gothis sidewalkAnd certain alleys:Toilets Gothicly

Ok, maybe I got carried away one day channeling Shelley, Gorey, Ken Russell, and David Lynch (and a little Faulkner). But check out this lawn and tell me you don’t feel the dark, stark, and eerie isolation of  the Hills:

gothic statue of liberty lawn

Told ya! What’s goin’ on in 90210?

IMG_1977

Nothin’ to worry about. The Wives (and the Juice Lady) have it under control. It’s all healthy, wealthy, and wise here…IMG_0472

Most Days.

I bite Nicolle

Come vist, Dear Reader!

Happy Shiny Sunnyland awaits you!

IMG_0030(8) Everything is as it appears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reunion Communion: A Homecoming Go Around, Come Around (Jiggity Jig)

8 Aug

My house and yard

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” That’s what my mom would say when we pulled into the 208 Pennsylvania Avenue driveway–returning from Chicago, or camping in the Indiana Dunes or, more exotically, Mexico and Europe. It was Mom’s way of saying that was so much fun and NOW: back to real life. Landing in the Champaign-Urbana airport, I said the phrase under my breath with a question: Been away from home a long time, what will this be?  Last time I’d been to Central Illinois was five years ago– to attend a high school reunion, which I was doing again. Back in 1999,  I’d driven down from Chicago with Suz, a friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. This time I was flying from LAX alone, and–needless to say–landing in the airport alone.

The last time I was in the Central Illinois airport alone was fifteen years ago. I was flying in to visit my mom, who’d not been feeling well. She said she’d be there to pick me up, but she wasn’t. And that was because, it turned out, she’d died. At home, in the kitchen. I found that out right here, when my mom’s friend Sherry called the airport information desk, trying to reach me:

reunion willard information deskI’m guessing the information desk staff  doesn’t too often have to deliver the kind of information that Sherry had for me, so they didn’t know what to do with me–sobbing and wailing and so forth. I didn’t know what to do with me. A nice woman put me in a back office, watched me shake,  gave me a glass of water. Then Sherry picked me up and explained that that afternoon she’d stopped by 208 Pennsylvania to say hello to my mother Audrey, and found her body; Audrey had had a heart attack. If Sherry hadn’t happened to stop by, I’d have been the one to find my mom. Sherry saved me from that. Fifteen years later I still grieve and feel some disbelief. Without  Goodbye, it’s hard to be convinced someone is really gone.

After landing, I made my way through the tiny deserted airport, trying to not remember. Friends were picking me up; they’d be there soon. But I got a text saying they were delayed. I didn’t want to wait even the half an hour that would bring their arrival. This is not an airport with cabs waiting outside. This is an airport with soybean fields waiting outside, the air sweet with manure and prairie grass, buzzing with locusts.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportI found the number of a cab company and called it; they said they’d  be there in twenty. I didn’t even want to wait that long. My eyes were already hot and brimming. Then another text: HOWIE AND SUE ARE ON THEIR WAY! These were other dear friends  driving down to reunion from Chicago. My original ride friends must have called Howie and Sue to see if they were close to the airport. Next text: KIR, HOLD ON, IT’S HOWIE AND SUE. WE’RE FIVE MINUTES AWAY. And then these dear people pulled up and we sped away. “You saved me!” I exclaimed. To Howie and Sue that might have seemed like overstatement,  but  I’m not known for understatement (Like mother, like daughter).

First stop was Timpone’s, a restaurant that’s been around for two decades at least. Here are some people I’ve known for a long time:

reunion dinner at Timpone'sYep, that’s Natasha, my Beverly Hills neighbor. . .what’s she doing there?! Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Natasha of my blog is Nicolle of my actual life. There’s a shocker.

Next stop, Bunny’s–a Dive bar, where Howie held court with the ladies.

reunion Howard, Laura, Sue, EdithAnd Sue and I held our own court. reunion me pointing finger at SueSue tolerates my dictatorial approach by laughing in my face. Works for both of us. We once spent a weekend at a Restore Yourself kind of spa where we smuggled in Fritos and vodka. But that’s another story.

I spent the night with Nicolle at her brother-in-law’s house. Rusty’s home is beautiful, his backyard is beautiful, and he’s starting a new life, bravely and beautifully. He and Howie and Sue and Nicolle and I had breakfast on his back porch. What’s with the hat, Howie?reunion Sue, Howard, Rusty on porchI felt incredibly peaceful. Later, I walked around town to remind myself where I came from. It didn’t take long. Here’s my photo poem, entitled, “Home Again, Home Again, Ode to Central Illinois”:

reunion silosreunion round barnreunion seaboat mac n cheeseAnd then, the final stanza of the poem, “208 Pennsylvania” where I lived for 18 years:reunion my house porchI walked up the driveway and snapped this shot of the porch. The bannisters were new,  but it looked like the same porch swing that my mom and I had sat on many a night, swinging slowly back and forth, our feet sliding on the planks of wood as we listened to the locusts whirring and considered the good, bad, and ugly in our lives.  A man came out the side door. I had sold him the house; he seemed to remember me. “Hi,” I said, “I’m Audrey’s daughter. Is that her swing?” “Yeah. It’s funny you are here tonight because we are replacing it tomorrow.”

Then I went back to Rusty’s house, and Nicolle and I prepped for the reunion dinner/ dance as if we were 14 again. Oh God, really?!  I’d like to think that the stakes weren’t like they were when we were 14 when we were desperately in need of confirmation that we were desirable and dateable. We’ve learned by now that neither of those categories matter as much  as we had thought. . .nevertheless, we primped. So much so, that we walked in late. We conformed to what one might say about Midwestern girls who move to L.A. and love glamour a little too much. (Oh well!)

The night was filled with nostalgia, hilarity, dancing, warm re-connections.  Best of all, it included my mom’s friend Sherry, who was being honored by our class, as she was also a teacher at Urbana High School for many years. This is me, Sherry, Suz:

reunion me, Sherry, Suz

And then the night got wild and crazy in the way that middle-aged Midwesterners  get crazy. Here’s my photo collage (REO Speedwagon as background):

reunion suz and Jeff at table, Mark and Matt behindreunion Jim, Tyke, Andyreunion Annette and Andysuz and Andy at Houlihan'sYeah, that guy with the lavender tie gets around, but he’s allowed to because he makes the whole reunion happen. Without Andy, there’d be about twenty of us wearing overalls sitting in a cornfield drinking moonshine and singing Kansas songs. Kudos, Andy!!! And Suz–well there’s a woman who has it all because she does it all: a doctor who is internationally known in her field, a great mother, wife, friend. (And she rocks the key lime dress like nobody’s business.) She and I share a birthday…once upon a time we had our 18th together and it went from a 35-person guest list to a turn out of well o ver a hundred. At 208 Pennsylvania. This didn’t go over well with my mom. But that’s another story.

I finally got back to Rusty’s house  at 4 am, feeling like a teenager except that I am SO not. The next day I spent with Sherry, driving around and seeing the sights, including a garden in Busey Woods, where my mom used to birdwatch. There is a bench commemorating her–Audrey Wasson Curley (middle column, about six names down.)

reunion mom's bench placard

Sherry told me that my mom would be proud of me. I don’t  know if that’s right, but it doesn’t matter because I loved hearing it from Sherry, whom I’ve known since I was ten. And back when I was a student in her Senior English class, Sherry said that my journal entries were fun to read. This is a woman I love and respect, and who sits on a couch with the elegance of Dorothy Parker.

reunion Sherry in hotel

Around noon, Sherry dropped me off at the airport, just as she’d once picked me up there. What goes around, comes around. This is a new phase, I thought.

So that, Dear Reader, is my recount of the recent return home. Framed by  a fifteen-year cycle of loss, reunion, and being alone in the airport of my prairie heart.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportJiggity jig.

Beach Day Birthday Or, Dear Reader I Touched Ben’s Knee

30 Jul

The Place: Santa Monica. The Event: my wink-wink 39th birthday. The Objective: Sun, Fun, Friends, and Son.  I got a room at a little place called  Bayside Motel for Natasha and her daughter Katruna. It was 60’s style with white and green tiles and itsy-bitsy decks–though we didn’t get one. We didn’t care, the place reminded Natasha and me of motels where we’d stayed in the Florida Keys around Christmas when we were teenagers and drove down there with my mom.

Birthday 2014 Nic and me in dayAfter checking in, we went to the beach. When Natasha goes to the beach it’s like we are in a four-star restaurant and have to get just the right table. We need the perfect view and appropriate beach neighbors. Usually I tolerate the forty- five minute search for the our beach patch, but because it was my birthday I  just plunked down my stuff any old where and Natasha didn’t say a word. Katruna and I headed for the water and body- surfed, me screaming like a mimi. Then we made dinosaur bone sand sculptures. I’d bought the dinosaur mold in honor of my age, and Katruna was all about making sand sculpture. As you do when you are young and fun like Katruna.

birthday 2014 Katrina in the sand

Or middle-aged and immature like me.

Birthday 2014 Me in glasses

It was my birthday and I’d play in the sand if I wanted to.

Birthday 2014 dinosaur in the sand

As good ol’ Longfellow once wrote, “Lives of great men yadda yadda yadda/Sublime yadda yadda/Footprints on the the sands of time with dinosaur molds/Godzilla, and then it’s time to drink/Tequila.”

Our next stop.

Birthday 2014 Katrina and tequila

Then Natasha and Katruna gave me some beautiful gifts–including a clutch which I mistook for a glittering piece of sequined pizza. (I tried to be polite about a really weird gift.)

birthday 2014 eating purse WE HAD OODLES OF FUN THAT NIGHT. And we confused  more than a few men–a duty that we do not take lightly. At a certain point, Natasha told me to put down the glowstick, we were leaving. Natasha, you see,  is four months older than I. Prudent and wise, that one.

We trooped back to Bayside and slept like wheatgrass.

wheatgrass

In the morning, we walked around and eventually ate breakfast at a place where some guy was singing loudly at the bar about his dog. Then he paid us a compliment and tipped his hat and went back to singing about his dog. It’s like that in Santa Monica. Time to return to Beverly Hills. Thank you, Dear N and K for an amazing Birthday Girls’ Night Out!!!!!

birtHDAY 2014 N, K, ME AT WATER GRILL

After we returned to Beverly Hills, Noah picked me up and drove to Malibu for seafood.

birthday 2014 Noah licking lips in Hungry Catbirthday 2014 Noah attacking seafood stew

That boy likes his seafood. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in California!!!!

The only thing that could make such a night better would be if Johnny Depp showed up.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. But Ben Affleck did. Noah saw him come out of the bathroom, and then Noah sauntered by his table to make sure it was him. Ben seemed to be with his agent. They were both talking with their hands. Ben has bulked up–probably for  whatever new role he has.

I told Noah to go over and get his autograph and he said, “No way.” And then, “But you go, Mom. You love this kind of thing.” I didn’t know what he meant by “this kind of thing,” and I didn’t want to know. I walked straight across the room straight at Ben Affleck, hating and loving myself at the same time. I asked for a photo. Ben Afflck made room for me to sit next to him. Noah had the camera ready. Ben and I leaned together. His head touched mine. I was afraid–very afraid–that I was going to pee in my dress.

birthday 2014 Ben and meInstead I put my hand on his knee. I didn’t mean to but I did. Then Noah and I left.  Squealing like the last little piggy all the way home.

Noah dropped me off.  Alone with balloons, I considered the weekend.

birthday 2014 balloons and legsSun, Fun, Friends, Son. And a Star! Another year, another adventure. NOT complaining!

But, Dear Reader…Johnny?