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Vermont: Heart, Soul, Past, Present, Future: The Collapsing Barn.

8 Jun

gulls on surfboard

Vermont green fieldFrom Sandy Southern California to Lush Green Vermont,

from My New Home of Play and Pay to My Old Home of Rest and Pray

from the City of Angels to No City of Any Kind…this land is the land of Me and Me. 

 Sandalled feet in BH

Like most people, I’ve got various homes–places where I feel as if “I belong.” How many do you have, Dear Reader?  Probably I have  too many: since I haven’t settled on one, it may be a sign that I do not  belong anywhere.

I feel at home in Santa Monica: 90 degrees, surrounded by the siren song of waves crashing, palm trees rustling, and skateboards rolling, but I am equally at home in tiny Fairlee, Vermont, where there isn’t a car or human in sight, where when they say “God’s Country,” they mean he’s right there–in the deep green grass, or spread throughout the wide-open milky  sky, or sunk in the dark eyes of the cow staring at you.

My stepmother Cleo lives in Fairlee,  and I’ve had the pleasure of spending countless summer days there since I was a teenager. Last week I went to Fairlee because my stepmother (what a misnomer–she’s been a mother, sister, and spiritual guide) was in the hospital.CLEO

It wasn’t “serious,” as in one of THOSE things that usually kill people, but it was serious. So I visited her at the Dartmouth hospital, 45 minutes away from Fairlee–and by all accounts, a MAGNIFICENT hospital. (I’d been there once before when at 18 months Noah had the croup, and Noah’s dad and I drove to the ER in the middle of the night.)  But, generally I hate hospitals, and I was upset to see Cleo not feeling herself. She was getting good care, aside from the fact that the doctors who were forty years younger than she were talking to her like she was a kindergartner (Don’t get me started).

When I wasn’t at the hospital, I drove and walked around Fairlee, and encountered the landscape in that blank, lost way you look at a place when you’re alone and thinking about the past, present, future.

Vermont barn with cows

Vermont Golden hillThere was beautiful (California-like) weather that week, and after being in the hospital a few hours each day, I’d return to walk the dog, and make a little food. But I couldn’t stay in the house alone. It was too quiet without Cleo.

Vermont Cleo's house

So I wandered. I was surprised to find that, just as in Beverly Hills, parking is an issue:

Vermont, no parking

It cheered me to see that a black cat still maintains her reign of the counter at tiny and wondrous Chapman’s Store–a place that has been around since the 1950’s, and that makes a sacrament of the word “sundries”: old-fashioned children’s games, homemade chocolate,  cards,  soap,and jewelry…the cat sleeps, and rules.

Vermont Affair CAT.jp

It cheered me when Cleo’s sister Deecie returned from her West Coast home, and I spent a night at her house with its beautiful land and pond.

Vermont Deecie's pond

Most of all, it cheered me when Cleo got out of the hospital; that night  she ate a little salmon I cooked, and then we watched three episodes of West Wing–which strangely and embarrassingly, I’d never seen. In the morning the beautiful, ghostly Fairlee Church (where once I was married) was glowing in a blue/white light.

Vermont church

(Like I said, it’s God’s country, and he doesn’t mince words.)

Cleo was on her feet, and I had to return to Los Angeles, another coast and realm of expectation that couldn’t be more dissimilar from Fairlee. On the way out, I took a picture of a barn in a state of collapse.

Vermont collapsing barn

Hardly even a structure anymore, it had become a new thing, something fluid, melting into nature.

“How long has it been like that?” I asked Cleo, clicking shots of the barn on my phone.

“I’ve watched it for years,” she said, not answering the question.

I got back into the car, and we wound our way down the empty road, through slow, silent green. Time was all around us, and though it was slow, I knew we had to rush to get to the airport in New Hampshire–two hours away.

I wanted to stay. And I wanted to leave. We got to the airport on time, and I got back to my life in L.A. on time, and Cleo got back home to Fairlee safe and sound. It’s been a few days, and I keep thinking about the barn. Half-up, half-down. Half in-half out.

Keep watching.

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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.

Silent Night, Holy Mulholland

3 Jan

Happy 2015!

holiday door

If you have given me the honor of being a regular reader, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a long time. I kept trying to do so, coming up with cute, funny, or ironic phrases and ideas about how I was feeling, and what I was doing. But it didn’t work; I kept going to bed early, sleeping late, cancelling fun activities with friends. A yearly occurrence: worsening depression.

Bow on sidewalk

One wouldn’t be able to see it necessarily; because I’ve experienced clinical depression for so many decades I know how to cover it. (Close friends see it, damn them.)

Me with tree on head My depression isn’t so serious that anyone worries about me hurting myself, but I do take meds, and I do see a (GREAT) therapist once a week. Twice during the months of November and December.

The (GREAT) “holiday season” and I are not on good terms.

devil santa

‘Tis the anniversary of my parents’ deaths, and a time I feel particularly alone. Goody for me, I know: A LOT of people find Christmastime depressing–because it’s a consumerist GOB STOPPER, and because of intense pressure to have fun, love your family, and celebrate with grand gifts,  delicious food, festive parties.

The Christmas cards start piling up: everyone seems to be healthy and successful and wearing matching pajamas. As for me, I am feeling bad about 1) my book manuscript being rejected without so much as a word of explanation, 2) my professional identity being uncertain (no word of explanation there either),  and 3) my love life having fallen into a chasm of nothing, weirdness, and more nothing (would you believe no word of explanation?!). There’s also a 4), 5), and 6), but I’m even more tired of my woes than the dear ones who listen to me talk about them.

Manageable, of course, my troubles: I have food, a roof, and great friends. And yet the depression this year was bad.

Estes Park

A lot of days I accomplished nothing but showering, and even that task was arduous. If you have depression or love someone who does, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, please understand that depression is not being sad. It’s losing a sense of self.
shadow self

On the days when I could get out of my apartment, I saw some things that cheered me up. L.A. has a refreshing “take” on  December:

X-Mas colors:
palms with stockings

Honoring the historical Jesus:

Me with tree on head

Stockings on the mantle:

palms with stockings

Other times I saw displays that made me feel like crawling down Rodeo Drive on my hands and knees.

Christmas happpiness on Rodeo

The day I saw a homeless guy actually crawling down Rodeo I gave him a dollar and chastised myself for being a big fat whiner.

When depression hits, I feel like an alien watching the humans. (Not like Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin”;  she is, after all, getting her needs met. GO SJ!) When not feeling alien, I imagine myself  a snake that cannot slither out of a suffocating skin. Or a small animal trying to claw its way out of a sink hole. To no avail.

This year, my brilliant new shrink, and my brilliant old friends– dragging me out of the apartment–provided solace and some relief. So did…Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland with Fence

I can’t explain this exactly, but every time I set out on Mulholland Drive for my tutoring jobs in Studio City and Bel Air, I felt as if I were almost able to wriggle out of the tight scaly skin around my soul, as if someone had offered a hand that might pull my rodent self out of the sink hole.

Mulholland with light and road sign

A road. Curve after curve. On High.

Mulholland love 2Driving Mulholland, I feel airy, light, an eligible flyer.

The view is surreal: waves of soft hilly terrain, enormous ocean of sky, congregations of cacti.

mulholland drive cacti view

On Mulholland, being an alien seems OK; in that lofty and arid setting, what a human is “supposed to be” seems as distant as the mansions embedded in the landscape. (Does anyone really live there?)

Now that the holidays–with their happy shiny expectations–are no longer being piped through airwaves and media narratives, I’m feeling better. I hope, Dear Reader, that  you enjoyed November and December 2014 as much as possible, and have fun stuff to look forward to in 2015.

I also hope you have  a spot where you are surrounded by light, a place on earth that reminds you that we are tiny beings in a grand design, a location where you see yourself moving forward,  even when feeling  stuck, or lost.

shoes, sad

Or absent.

Mulholland love 3

A path. Ahead.

Las Vegas # 3 feet on the way home

For everything there is a season.

Orange County Musings Or, The Road My Son Travels

4 Nov

About a week ago I drove to Orange County–a place I didn’t know anything about (and still don’t): a part of California that isn’t LA or “The Valley”(I still haven’t figured out what “The Valley” is.)  Or San Francisco. My parochialism runs deep. BUT, I could tell you where in Redondo Beach to get the best dried kelp, where in Long Beach to find Chinese Herbs for depression, and where in Westwood to get a great Dead Sea facial mask. (Strangely indistinguishable, these various sundries.)

So, there I was, heading to the outback of Orange County for the “Tour de Cure,” a 25-mile bike ride to benefit diabetes research. My son Noah has Type 1; He was diagnosed at 10.

Noah at 10 with Howie's MaxThat’s Noah with cousin Max, a few months  before diagnosis.

I took my son to the doctor because Noah had some hives on his shin and abdomen.  When the doctor asked if Noah  had been eating or drinking anything unusual, we both said that he’d been drinking lots and lots of water, juice, soda, and peeing a lot.  The doctor’s expression changed, and then he took a little blood from Noah. When we asked why, Doctor Lambert–who’d known Noah since he was 6 months old–said,

“Just a check. He might have diabetes. Thirst and heavy urination are typical signs.”

Dr. Lambert left the room and Noah and I looked at each other; I wanted nothing more in the world than to run out of the office with my boy and go far far away. Because what the doctor had said seemed true. And how could I not have known?! Of course those were signs of diabetes.

It’s not quite true that all I wanted to do was run away; sobbing and  curling up in the corner was super-appealing. But that is not what moms do; moms are fearless and nurturing and always have a solution. At least they provide cookies. No cookies this time.

So, last month I headed to Orange County to bike  the “tour de cure.” Friends and acquaintances had given very, very generously toward my ride (THANK YOU!)  At  22, my son has  had diabetes  for  12 years. I believe there will be a cure in his lifetime.

I arrived in this little Orange County desert town–built ten years ago at the most?–and checked into my hotel. When I opened my suitcase, I found a test strip–which Noah uses about twelve times a day to determine his blood sugar level. Whenever he borrows my suitcase or car, the test strips turn up, signs  of Noah’s life, diabetes bread crumbs. Finding these little markers of his condition, I am unable to throw them away.

Tour de Cure test strip

In my hotel, I watched stupid TV until it rocked me to sleep. In the morning, for good luck I put on the Hamsa  earrings that a few years ago Noah brought me from Israel.

Tour de Cure earring

Then I drove to the Tour de Cure starting point. The sky was beautiful.

Tour de Cure Morning sky

The first five miles went by like a breeze, and then there was, almost too early, a rest stop: water, energy bar consumed, and I was on my way.  In the line of cyclists I was pretty far back, and that was fine. But I was disappointed that almost everyone was in groups or couples. The only people I saw who were also cycling solo were those rail-thin bike guys in their 50’s who do this sort of thing every weekend with a facial expression that suggests: Tour de France!

About mid-way through the ride, one of them said to me, “Only fifteen more miles!” I laughed; we were at mile 16 at least. I was feeling pretty lonely, and the biking was harder than I’d expected: a lot of hills.

On the day that Dr. Lambert tested Noah’s blood sugar for diabetes, my son went straight to the clinic restroom after the doctor told us his guess about Noah’s symptoms. He had just started Hebrew lessons for his Bar Mitzvah–several  years down the road–and his newly learned prayers breathed through the door that I was leaning on.  Noah’s  voice was thin but determined, speaking Hebrew, a foreign tongue to me–the non-Jewish parent.

The blood test was positive. I felt that this was impossible and yet it wasn’t. We got into the cold car, and Noah asked, “Will I still be able to have a baby someday?”

“Of course you will. As many babies as you want,” I replied, having no idea if diabetes affected fertility. Then we both cried, pulling out of the parking lot with the car wheels crunching over dry, heavily salted snow.

During the diabetes bike ride, I got lost. As a lone rider,  I had to navigate the way myself and  I guess I wasn’t  very good at reading the map or the signs.   Twice, I  waited for quite a while for other cyclists to come by so I could ask, “which way?” And then I found out that that Tour de France guy wasn’t joking. When I thought we had about three or four  miles left, I found out we had ten more to go.

Tour de Cure dry mountain scene

Noah must sometimes feel lost,  as if  “the signs”–carbohydrate counting, insulin to exercise ratio figuring–are of no use. And of course, the road of diabetes is lonely. No matter how expert the endocrinologist,  how supportive the family and friends, the diabetic is mostly alone with the disease: trying to figure out why, although he/she counted the carbs exactly and took precisely the right amount of insulin, she/he is still nauseous and angry and with a pounding head: hyperglycemia. Or he/she feels dizzy, faint, and is unable to form words: hypoglycemia. This can happen a couple of times a week.

A few years after he was diagnosed, Noah  went on a hundred-mile bike ride to raise money for AIDS. At thirteen, he was one the  youngest riders. I was terrified, and followed him in my car for part of the ride. He didn’t love that. Here’s Noah in the last two miles:

Noah on Aids Ride

I thought a lot about Noah during my unexpectedly long last lap of  the Ture de Cure, and I texted him “OMG, 6 more miles!” He texted back “Go MOM!” I kept pedaling. Along the way there was some lovely scenery:

Tour de Cure nurseryA nursery with huge patches of flowers. And these crazy cacti!  (Thank God for that fence):

Tour de Cure Crazy cacti

And then,  when I was pedaling hard on the outside and crying on the inside, this:

Tour de Cure Still NightDo not go gently into that (I know,  in Dylan Thomas’ poem, it’s that  “good night,” but I thought  of  the line anyway. Who names a street “Still Night”? Where was I?)

Just as I became delirious with despair I was hurdling through the finish line!  (And then consuming vast amounts of bland chicken cutlets and lemonade.)

The ride had been harder than I’d expected. I texted Noah, “Done!” He texted back, “Proud of you!” “Backatcha,” I wrote.

Noah’s road is harder than I wish,  and he travels it alone. Every day.

Noah Head shot November 2014Congratulations Noah, on the road you ride with  vigilance, perseverance, even humor.  I’ve learned a lot from you about loving  life–about demanding everything  that it has to offer, and about offering to life all that you have to give. So much.

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.