Branson, MO

From my friends at the New York Times, "How to Maintain Sibling Relationships":

The quality of sibling relationships is one of the most important predictors of mental health in old age, according to The American Journal of Psychiatry. Research shows that people who are emotionally close to their siblings have higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depression later in life. In times of stress or trauma, siblings can provide essential emotional and monetary support.

I read that aloud to my brothers while we sat on the porch drinking beer, and then I asked for some money.

+ READ ’EM & WEEP

Off the cuff

Let's see:

1. I went to Chicago on Tuesday to rent an apartment. And when I say "Chicago," I mean the suburbs, as I am done with big cities for a good long while. My increasingly fragile constitution needs a rest.

1.1. My feelings about the suburbs are thus (this is from Richard Ford in The Sportswriter):

[I]n the two years since my divorce I’ve sometimes walked out in these winding, bowery streets after dark on some ruminative errand or other and looked in at these same houses, windows lit with bronzy cheer, dark cars hove to the curbs, the sound of laughing and glasses tinkling and spirited chatter floating out, and thought to myself: what good rooms these are. What complete life is here, audible. And though I myself wasn’t part of it and wouldn’t much like it if I were, I was stirred to think all of us were living steadfast and accountable lives … but it is for just such uses that suburban streets are ideal, and the only way neighbors here can be neighborly.

You don't have to love the suburbs, but I do. We all will survive.

2. I saw Hamilton yesterday. It really did blow me away.

3. I also saw friends who soon will be friends I see often, again. I'm thrilled by the simple fact of that reality.

4. I got to O'Hare at about 5:30 this morning for my flight back to New York. After sailing through security (TSA Pre√) I purchased an iced coffee at Starbucks and carried it to a small grove of those electronically activated resting tables that decorate the corridors of international travel hubs these days, where I intended to rest. I set the coffee on the table, swung my backpack off my shoulder, and knocked the coffee off the table and onto the floor. All of this happened before I even unwrapped the straw from its paper.

4.1 I sat there for a minute, a little stunned, and then I threw the cup away, cleaned what I could off the floor, and walked back to Starbucks to purchase a second iced coffee.

4.2 I purchased a second iced coffee.

4.2.1 I carried that second iced coffee back to the same grove of tables but selected a different table this time, since the floor was still wet where I had spilled the first one and I did not wish to be identified (although I did notify a cleaning person).

4.2.2 I set that second coffee on that table, swung my backpack off my shoulder, and knocked that second goddamn motherfucking coffee off the table, onto the floor.

4.2.3 I sat there for a minute, a little stunned, and wondered if I was having a stroke.

4.2.4 I was not having a stroke.

4.3 I threw the second cup away, cleaned what I could off the floor, and walked to a different Starbucks to purchase a third iced coffee. I drank it standing up, with my backpack on. I didn't notify anybody of anything.

5. The flight back was not quite full, so there was room in the overhead bin for my Eddie Bauer coat (long, black, quilted, faux-fur-trim hood). We landed a little early but taxied for a while, and by the time the captain pulled the parking brake I was ready to bolt. Isn't everybody? Are you dying to spend more time on an airplane? I stood when released and pulled my coat from the overhead bin, and I checked it: Eddie Bauer, long, black, quilted, faux-fur-trim hood. I had no second bag, so I grabbed my backpack and headed for the taxi queue.

5.1 Whilst standing in the rain in the taxi queue, I pulled on this goddamn motherfucking Eddie Bauer coat and thought, hmmm. It seems to have grown. I reached inside one pocket and thought, hmmm. This is not my lip balm. I reached inside the other pocket and thought well, this is not my crumpled Kleenex.

5.1.1 I stood there for a minute, a little stunned, and wondered if I should steal this stranger's coat that I was already standing outside wearing, in the rain.

5.1.2 I did not steal a stranger's coat.

5.1.3 I walked back into the terminal and dropped off the coat at the United baggage claim lost & found. Then I walked back outside, stood in queue in the rain without a coat, and took a taxi home.

At the weekend: in the burbs

People always ask me when I visit "Chicago" if I actually want to go "into Chicago" and I almost always say of course not. I prefer to leave one large city and immerse myself deep in the burbs of another: it reminds me of many happy former and hopefully future days. Sure the burbs (and America!) are filled with chain stores and strip malls and teens, but there are also good people and wide lawns and cool neighborhoods and tasty tacos and pizza and beer. Obviously, hating on the suburbs or thinking there's only one legitimate place to live a fulfilled life says more about the person doing the hating than it does about any geolocation in question, IMHO. OOO. YMMV! Your life is yours, dummies, live it wherever you want.

So I got to do many of my favorite things in the suburbs this weekend:

  1. Stay in a big hotel room overlooking both a shopping mall and a major expressway
  2. Lie on a hotel room bed for hours drinking free room coffee and enjoying hotel wifi while watching Fixer Upper & Friends & Search Party on an enormous flatscreen TV before meeting my actual friends for actual meals
  3. Drive around the suburbs for hours in a rental car with the air conditioning AND the radio cranked up way past the point of logic and comfort
  4. Purchase a lot of goods I probably don't need but probably won't regret, either, although I just read and loved this whole article about how every single thing you buy is future garbage. I spent my money wisely on quality items/future garbage that will see me through many summers and storms, and most of it was on sale. I'm not really a bargain shopper but this is America! and bargains never hurt.
  5. See actual friends!
  6. Eat in restaurants 3x+ a day
  7. Eat tacos
  8. Shop at Target
  9. Drive thru multiple drive-thrus
  10. See Neil Diamond!
 Sorry my feet look so weird but I did move my bra out of the frame

Sorry my feet look so weird but I did move my bra out of the frame

I drove past no fewer than six of my former apartments Saturday morning while listening to XRT and knocking back a tall Starbucks Cold Brew (which isn't half bad!). Then I met CV for tacos at one of my favorite joints, and we each had two carne asada tacos and Diet Coke and shared the medium guacamole, and it was glorious. A family of four came in while we there and one of the little girls ordered her carne asada tacos with just carne asada, no fixin's, which was a bold move for a child who instantly became my hero, and my heartlight faxed hers a silent salute of respect. CV, who is equally bold but in different ways, ordered hers with onion and cilantro/no sour cream and I ordered mine with everything. We all made choices and walked away winners.

Here's a tally of things I've abandoned in hotel rooms over the years, deliberately:

  1. Bridesmaid dresses
  2. Ill-fitting shoes
  3. Useless, too-small luggage
  4. Shirts
  5. Crushed hats

I realize this is shabby behavior, but I can't feel guilty about everything. Sorry I'm not always the world's best person. I did buy a new hat at Nordstrom (America!'s greatest department store) this weekend: it wasn't cheap but it's woven with SPF 50 AND I can wear it with my glasses on (it's harder to find a brim that accommodates both ears and frames than you might think). HOWEVER, even though this hat strenuously advertises itself as packable, my mom is going to have to ship it to me next weekend, and now I'll hear for the next thousand years how expensive it is to mail a box. Sometimes I suspect that I am her albatross, but we both made our choices and walked away winners.

 Packable my ass

Packable my ass

A weekend in Mystic

I came back with a cold, but I won't hold that against Connecticut. It's possible some New York City supergerms have been lying dormant for months, just waiting for me to cross a neutral border (I could also blame Rhode Island, which I entered in search of beachfront property). And if you're ever going to travel for pizza, Mystic is obviously a solid choice. Just maybe not the day after a snowstorm.

Women’s march on Washington

We stood. We cheered. We shouted and stomped and (eventually) marched. I got lost when I wandered off in search of a porta-potty, thinking, Oh, I'm not an idiot, I'll find my way back again, but I never did. I was swallowed up by the Women of Washington and that was that. I met up with my group again seven hours later, back at the hotel.

The mood in the air was angry but not bitter—more bright and proud and insistent, more refusing to be denied—loud but notably polite. It was a family-friendly affair with occasional salty language. Kids gotta learn it somewhere.

On the train back to Falls Church I sat between two silver-haired lesbians who talked about how long they had been with their partners (in both cases, 20+ years), and how it had felt to finally get married, how they had never believed it would happen.

At dinner we sat next to two women who had driven down from Vermont with their teenage daughters so those teenage daughters could know that it mattered. So they could see that people cared enough to show up for each other. 

It was a necessary day that burned off any lingering despair, an outraged and heartening start to the thousands and thousands of steps that come next.

A week in Virginia

From Jamestown* to the farm** to Yorktown***...

*Home to Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and a couple of cannibals

**Polyface Farm, "mecca of sustainable agriculture"

***The battle of Yorktown: 1781
"Take the bullets out your gun
(What?)
The bullets out your gun
(What?)
We move under cover and we move as one
Through the night, we have one shot to live another day
We cannot let a stray gunshot give us away
We will fight up close, seize the moment and stay in it
It’s either that or meet the business end of a bayonet
The code word is ‘Rochambeau,’ dig me?
(Rochambeau)
You have your orders now, go man, go!"

Chicago*

I finally, finally, FINALLY met anniemcq! I had dinner with her and Suttonhoo, and as you can see, we were meant to be.

 photo by Suttonhoo

photo by Suttonhoo

I also had lunch with CV and coffee with CV and a beer with CV and dinner with CV ("You sure ate a lot on this trip!" –CV) and Axe and Groucho and The Old Man. Sometimes I forget what people's real names are.

*When I say "Chicago," I hardly ever mean Chicago. I mean Westmont and Oak Brook and Lombard, where I continued my great tradition of staying in shopping mall parking lot hotels. My room this time looked out over a Target! It was kind of a dream come true.

Jones Beach

Yesterday we crammed our carcasses into a rented Prius and zipped up to Jones Beach, a state park less than an hour out of the city (traffic pending). Spectacular idea! Backs patted, high fives all around.

Weekend in New England

... with stops in Hudson, NY* (stay at the Union Street Guest House and Weston, VT (stay at the Inn at Weston

... and special guest appearances by SarahB and Noah Himmelstein, who directed the new musical Loving Leo at the Weston Playhouse, which occasioned our travels

We enjoyed some stellar meals (e.g., veggie deluxe breakfast at Earth Foods in Hudson and a soupçon of a frittata w/ VT cheddar n' slabs of bacon at the Inn at Weston and experienced life in the slow lane, minus the cell signal and the street garbage and the glorious mating call of endlessly honking goddamn motherfucking horns. I felt that I could live this way forever in some bucolic idyll, and some day doggone it I will.

* All things upwards of Manhattan are New England to me.

Bier, bier, schnitzel

That's the kind of blog post title that'll get me not hired by some web-crawling HR department 10 years in the future.

Two weeks ago today we left for Germany. It was snowing in New York but not for keeps, another Potemkin storm in the midst of a sham winter. In Munich they weren't fooling around; they know what February's about. We took the S-Bahn from the airport to the Marienplatz in the center of town and rose to the streets at 8:30 Sunday morning, staring up at this, weak-kneed and blurry-eyed, and all around us, snow. 

From Newark International to the Dark Ages in under 12 hours. The square was empty but since this was Europe there were plenty of Mercedes(es) around. Eight thousand kg of baggage and four exhausted Mädchens were hefted into two taxis for the trip to the Novotel, and somehow traveling the exact same distance at the exact same time of day cost 6 euros in one car and 10 in the other. I asked no questions since for once I was on the right side of history, even though our cab driver seemed homicidal. It's tough to tell with cab drivers, though, isn't it? The ones who look normal always go 600 km/h while staging a running commentary on Cuban refugees or the cost of pretzels, while the crazy ones obey traffic signals and take the time to extend the handle of your carry-on bag when they deposit you on the curb.

Filling in the blanks

Ad hoc experiment on surviving an overnight transatlantic crossing: you can in fact manipulate a neck pillow in such a way as to make it impossible to drool on yourself, so everyone can stop worrying about that. As with most things there’s a Faustian flipside, which is that even if you do manage to fall asleep, you run the risk of waking up face to face with some German. The choice is yours.

La grippe

It was winter, as I said, and it snowed for three days, and on the second day I succumbed to the acute febrile contagious disease that had been bequeathed unto me by the alchemy of aviation (viruses on planes being one check my body's guaranteed to cash). In addition to the usual phlegm-induced misery and snoring, this really set back my beer drinking.

Munich was beautiful, by the way. Terribly civilized. Fine museums, easy to navigate, good for adults. My recommendation is to visit the Hofbräuhaus when you are already in your cups, or bypass it entirely and head to Tavernetta on Hildegardstrasse instead. Those cats will feed you enormous pizzas. 

An interlude from James Salter

"Kant had four questions that he believed philosophy should answer: What can I know? What may I hope? What ought I to do? What is man? All of these Europe helped to clarify. It was the home of a veteran civilization. Its strengths are vertical, which is to say they are deep."

Also

That ol' winter magic

Mid-week we took a bus tour into the wilds of Bavaria and climbed a hill in a blizzard to see a castle built on a cliff by a swan-and-Wagner-loving yahoo(!) who may or may not have been insane. (I know what you're thinking: when it comes to royal European bloodlines, does that really narrow it down?) At the top of the hill I bowed to atmospheric pressure and thought about God for a while. It seemed important on some existential, moment-defining level, but all I saw was ice and rock and tree. I don't get what God "is" or is supposed to be, although I sometimes like His music, but I stood with my friends in the snow on a hill surrounded by mountains and we held out our arms to a sky that looked like heaven and it seemed no less a miracle for my non-believing. On the way down we shoved fresh, hot doughnuts into our gaping maws and hitched a ride in a horse-drawn carriage that for 3 euros saw us safely back to earth.

Taking the cure

Friday morning we hopped das train to Baden-Baden to see an opera [insert hyperlink here]. From the train station perspective, Baden-Baden looks like the back end of Dubuque and nothing close to what Rick Steves suggests is "the Paris of Germany." Does Rick Steves know what Paris looks like? Why would opera singers come here? Then we found the Olde part of Towne and spent hours in the baths (Bad = Deutsch for "bath")—out of doors, with the hot water bubbling up from our feet and the winter wind in our faces—and the question was, why would anybody leave? It was milder than Munich, closer to end-of-March weather, but it felt grand and illicit, even though everybody kept their clothes on (the naked spa being elsewhere).

Naturally no photographs exist of this experience, but here's something else. Very very Paris, no?

Finis

We also saw the opera, and the opera singer, who on our last day in town invited us to tea. I'm not sure there's much to be gained by placing human beings on pedestals for random genetic traits they happen to possess, and you certainly can't discount the tremendous amount of time and effort and will it takes to sustain them, and yet. Ann Patchett writes, "Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see." Such have I done. I found Renée Fleming and this place and these friends because of Bel Canto, and once upon a time, in a faraway land, I got to sit across the table from her and tell her so.