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Staycation 2012

“He doesn’t want that black one to get anything” observes my husband.

“Probably a racist” I respond, taking a sip of iced coffee. We are sitting on our comfortable porch early in the morning, watching squirrels steal food from an open trash bin across the street. We are wearing the clothes we slept in (the blinds are rolled down) and sitting in sprung chairs; aside from the fact that we have all of our original teeth, we might easily be taken for a contemporary, Midwestern iteration of the Snopes family. This, my friends, is Staycation 2012.

We are not really “poor,” certainly not by today’s standards. We have jobs, we have a house, we have cars and we have enough to eat. Compared to most of the worlds’ citizens we are incredibly wealthy, and compared to those Americans who have lost jobs and homes and hope, we are damned lucky. The thing is, staying afloat has involved a great deal of thrift and a general downshifting of dreams.  Some things I kind of enjoy, like making my own dish and laundry soap and learning to repair and re-make clothing rather than replacing them. I am kind of geeked about the whole Make it Do or Do Without thing my dad has been talking about for fifty years. Just yesterday my husband rigged a fix for the washing machine, and we were both pretty pleased. We rarely eat out or go to the movies, and, these days, our vacations are spent right here at home.

There are other things, too, that keep us at home. My parents are not well, and I am convinced that if I left for more than a night something terrible would happen. To those who doubt, I will say this: we spent ONE NIGHT at a local hotel for my son’s birthday and I had to leave to make a hospital run. So if the hotel had been six hours away, well, you can imagine. We have animals that need to be fed, walked and monitored when we are gone. We have a 15-year-old son who is too old to have a babysitter, but too much an adolescent boy to be left alone in the house for any length of time. Could we work it all out? We could. We could make sure my parents had emergency backup, we could hire a pet sitter, and we could make some kind of arrangement for the tethering and monitoring of The Kid. It would be exhausting, some of it would cost money, and right now it’s making me exhausted just thinking about it.

The fact that we have been travelers in the past makes this summer bittersweet. We know we are lucky, and believe in more travelling years to come, but there are times when jealousy flares as Facebook friends post pictures of their families frolicking on the beach or eating street food in Asia. Mine was a travelling family, and with them I spent summers in Europe and Maine, and saw French cathedrals, Civil War battle fields, Mediterranean beaches and Times Square lit up at night. As a couple, my husband and I have seen places from the wild splendor of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the beaches of Maui, and we share a wealth of memories including the apparently traumatized whole fish served to him at the restaurant in St. Thomas, our toddler son sitting among the vendors outside the Governor’s Palace in Santa Fe, and a magnificent weekend in Cleveland (seriously).  

We would love to go more places. I would like my husband and son to see England, I would like to see India, and Seattle and Portland, and we speak often, and longingly about visiting friends and relatives in San Francisco, where I have never been. There are times when I have such a fierce longing for beach and water that I think I might weep.  The fact that we have gotten away and seen new things makes us lucky indeed, but it also makes it hard to content ourselves with a staycation. When people ask about “summer plans” I know that they mean travel, and I often wish that I could offer them a tantalizing preview of a week on a lake or cheap tickets to London.

For now, for this summer, we will be happy with the cool breeze on our own front porch, the colors of the local farmers’ market, and the outdoor music festivals that pop up like wind flowers at this time of year. We have planted a garden, we’re going to paint the porch, and we experiment with grilling every vegetable known to mankind on a series of sultry evenings.

If we plot and scheme and save we will have at least one overnight to someplace close enough to get home easily, but far enough to refresh and renew. We are about an hour away from a multitude of lakes, and from the struggling phoenix that is Detroit, Motor City. It might happen; I hope that it does. I believe that the day will come when we board a plane again, twitching with the anxious thrill of flying into the unknown, worrying about burners left on, inadequate packing and finding the right trains. For now, we will remind ourselves that we are very fortunate, in the great scheme of things, and that there is much to be said for the appearance of fireflies in a night garden or gang wars among the squirrels. It is a small life, right now, but it’s a beauty.

 

 

Summer Work

Every year at this time, I think of that summer. We were “just friends,” John and I; he had been my First Official Boyfriend more than a year ago, and left me silent and sodden with tears after only six months. He was big and beautiful, his legs were like the trunks of some sturdy tree and his blue eyes framed by fans of lines radiating out after twenty-eight years of smiling. There had been a time, during that sliver of a relationship, when he had liked to lie with his head on my lap and close his eyes. “Play with my face,” he would ask, and I would stroke the smooth, faintly waxy skin, feel the first tiny tips of stubble pushing up around his jaw, and glide a fingertip over those fanned lines.

Things had ended badly, with decreased interest on his end creating increased panic on mine. I entrapped him in pointless and agonizing conversations. He could not say the words necessary to make it all stop, and I could not allow myself to see that he was saying nothing that meant it should continue. I drove past his house at night to see if his car was there, I left notes on his windshield, and eventually he contrived to disappear. He did not answer calls at home or at work, I could never find him anywhere, and eventually I disappeared, too. For a week I stayed in bed sleeping, weeping, and looking out the window at the barren, icy trees. Eventually I had to go back to work or lose my job, and so I did, and I kept getting up every day and crying a little less, laughing a little more, finding small things to anticipate.
More than a year later I ran into him at the grocery store, in the bread aisle. He was still handsome, lightly tan, the embodiment to me of romance and True Love. I remembered that he was an idiot, that he believed himself to be a “writer” and cranked out thousand-page manuscripts which he sent out in paper boxes to be rejected without comment. He talked too much, his voice was kind of high-pitched and whiny, and he had made me a tape of a Brahms concerto with the movements out of order because he knew no better. I didn’t care. I followed him to his new place, a room in a student rental near campus, and we laughed about how we could “just be friends” now that so much time had gone by. After a long conversation, and being in receipt of the latest manuscript to “look over” when I had time, I went home alone. I wanted him back, sticky with summer sweat, saccharine thoughts, and some song about “have you ever really loved a woman” on the car radio.
Almost every night I ended up on the front porch of his dilapidated white four-square house with the green shutters. At the end of the street was a giant hole surrounded by flexible orange fencing and gigantic dinosaurs that moved earth all day long. They were building a hotel, and every so often a drunk undergraduate would manage to breach the fence and make loud and exhilarated noise at having beaten The Man. We sat on the porch with one of his roommates, and I spoke animatedly with the roommate in the hopes of making John jealous. The roommate, Joe, I think, played me Pat Metheny tapes and I went into faux raptures over the vague, watery jazz. He also played the guitar and sang. He was a fairly good foil for an hour or so, and then I became desperate for him to leave us alone so that I could shine. I was leaving soon, moving to Boston to start law school, and I was sure that I would be less terrified about the whole thing if I knew someone loved me, wanted me, missed me. I envisioned tearful phone calls, cross-country drives, and telling new classmates about “my boyfriend, back home.”
He was an idiot. He was still an idiot, his book was terrible, and he was starting another one. He told me, earnestly, that anyone could be a writer, could write a best seller if they figured out what people liked and wrote it. He discovered Rod McKuen. One night, as we sat watching “Brazil” and eating a cheap, cardboard pizza, he reached over and began to play with a ring on my right index finger, turning it around and around. Startled, I asked him what he was doing. Despite my yearning, my focused, palpable desire, he had not touched me once in the three months we had been sitting on the porch in the hot, enclosed swelter of a Michigan summer.
“I’m seducing you,” he said, looking at me with those pale, blue eyes framed by the beloved crinkles. I did not yet understand that if a man has to tell you that he is seducing you, he isn’t.
He’s long gone, my blue-eyed boy, He’s married,  an air-traffic controller somewhere in the Midwest, a convert to orthodox Judaism. The hotel is long since built. He never published anything. He was not The One, not even close, and when I think about the hours of editing his tormented prose, the nights of listening to music that I hated and willing him to want me again, I feel foolish. I feel foolish, and human, and glad that I now have my own white house with a big porch on which I can sit on a summer night and think my own thoughts. It’s the same town, the same heat, the same intimation of rain in the air, but I am in a different universe now, casting about for nothing that is not already mine.

Summer Love

Every year at this time, I think of that summer. We were “just friends,” John and I; he had been my First Official Boyfriend more than a year ago, and left me silent and sodden with tears after only six months. He was big and beautiful, his legs were like the trunks of some sturdy tree and his blue eyes framed by fans of lines radiating out after twenty-eight years of smiling. There had been a time, during that sliver of a relationship, when he had liked to lie with his head on my lap and close his eyes. “Play with my face,” he would ask, and I would stroke the smooth, faintly waxy skin, feel the first tiny tips of stubble pushing up around his jaw, and glide a fingertip over those fanned lines.

Things had ended badly, with decreased interest on his end creating increased panic on mine. I entrapped him in pointless and agonizing conversations. He could not say the words necessary to make it all stop, and I could not allow myself to see that he was saying nothing that meant it should continue. I drove past his house at night to see if his car was there, I left notes on his windshield, and eventually he contrived to disappear. He did not answer calls at home or at work, I could never find him anywhere, and eventually I disappeared, too. For a week I stayed in bed sleeping, weeping, and looking out the window at the barren, icy trees. Eventually I had to go back to work or lose my job, and so I did, and I kept getting up every day and crying a little less, laughing a little more, finding small things to anticipate.
More than a year later I ran into him at the grocery store, in the bread aisle. He was still handsome, lightly tan, the embodiment to me of romance and True Love. I remembered that he was an idiot, that he believed himself to be a “writer” and cranked out thousand-page manuscripts which he sent out in paper boxes to be rejected without comment. He talked too much, his voice was kind of high-pitched and whiny, and he had made me a tape of a Brahms concerto with the movements out of order because he knew no better. I didn’t care. I followed him to his new place, a room in a student rental near campus, and we laughed about how we could “just be friends” now that so much time had gone by. After a long conversation, and being in receipt of the latest manuscript to “look over” when I had time, I went home alone. I wanted him back, sticky with summer sweat, saccharine thoughts, and some song about “have you ever really loved a woman” on the car radio.
Almost every night I ended up on the front porch of his dilapidated white four-square house with the green shutters. At the end of the street was a giant hole surrounded by flexible orange fencing and gigantic dinosaurs that moved earth all day long. They were building a hotel, and every so often a drunk undergraduate would manage to breach the fence and make loud and exhilarated noise at having beaten The Man. We sat on the porch with one of his roommates, and I spoke animatedly with the roommate in the hopes of making John jealous. The roommate, Joe, I think, played me Pat Metheny tapes and I went into faux raptures over the vague, watery jazz. He also played the guitar and sang. He was a fairly good foil for an hour or so, and then I became desperate for him to leave us alone so that I could shine. I was leaving soon, moving to Boston to start law school, and I was sure that I would be less terrified about the whole thing if I knew someone loved me, wanted me, missed me. I envisioned tearful phone calls, cross-country drives, and telling new classmates about “my boyfriend, back home.”
He was an idiot. He was still an idiot, his book was terrible, and he was starting another one. He told me, earnestly, that anyone could be a writer, could write a best seller if they figured out what people liked and wrote it. He discovered Rod McKuen. One night, as we sat watching “Brazil” and eating a cheap, cardboard pizza, he reached over and began to play with a ring on my right index finger, turning it around and around. Startled, I asked him what he was doing. Despite my yearning, my focused, palpable desire, he had not touched me once in the three months we had been sitting on the porch in the hot, enclosed swelter of a Michigan summer.
“I’m seducing you,” he said, looking at me with those pale, blue eyes framed by the beloved crinkles. I did not yet understand that if a man has to tell you that he is seducing you, he isn’t.
He’s long gone, my blue-eyed boy, He’s married,  an air-traffic controller somewhere in the Midwest, a convert to orthodox Judaism. The hotel is long since built. He never published anything. He was not The One, not even close, and when I think about the hours of editing his tormented prose, the nights of listening to music that I hated and willing him to want me again, I feel foolish. I feel foolish, and human, and glad that I now have my own white house with a big porch on which I can sit on a summer night and think my own thoughts. It’s the same town, the same heat, the same intimation of rain in the air, but I am in a different universe now, casting about for nothing that is not already mine.

Vegetable Love

“My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow.”

-Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

There is nothing, absolutely nothing that makes me happpier than stopping by the Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. We have some serious winters here, and a pavilion that smells like ripe melons, bundles of herbs, onions, cut flowers and ropes of fresh garlic is really heaven on earth after months of a natural world set on “mute.” I do my best cooking during market season; it’s possible to find something new to experiment with almost every time I go (tiny Thai peppers, little white eggplants, bitter melons, 10 different kinds of garlic) and there are recipes I save all year until the necessary ingredients are available in a fresh and local incarnation. I’m not saying I never buy green pepper or carrots at the grocery store during the winter, sighing over my giant carbon footprint and the fact that I am buying foods bred to be portable rather than flavorful. I do. It’s different, though, to make chile verde using peppers that a farmer grew and picked less than 20 miles from my house. It makes me feel all authentic and organic…and it tastes better.

farners market herbs

Every year I decide that, in addition to shopping the market, I am going to grow some things of my own, and that I am going to “put up” some things for winter. I have an irrational fear of the canning process, but I just read an article explaining that it’s really not all that complicated…one only needs the ingredients and a recipe, jars, lids, seals, stockpots and tongs. It seems likely that if I can make croissants from scratch, I should be able to can things. So I am dreaming again, dreaming about preserves made of peaches, plums, berries, and combinations thereof. I am fantasizing about chutneys, pickled watermelon rinds like the ones Mrs. Wolf used to make, corn relish, apple butter, and pickles. Well, I’d like to make pickled everything – pickled green beans, pickled peppers, and carrots and onions like we get at the Taco Truck. I’d like to cook and can tomato sauce when the tomatoes are at their freshest, and onion marmalade and garlic confit. I picture rows of gleaming jars in my basement, a veritable fleet of goodness captured to nourish my family during the months of whiteness and dormancy. I believe can do that stuff, because it’s cooking. There may be some planning and discipline involved, but I know that (although I may not put up everything I have listed because I am not actually Ma Walton) I can preserve some of what is best and freshest.

farmers market scallions

Gardening, however, is another matter. When we moved into this house, there was a sort of shade garden, complete with a stone path and decorative trees; within months I had pulled it all up, because I was going to have a garden My Way. My preferences included some marginally thought out combination of English cottage garden flowers like Hollyhocks, Morning Glories and climbing roses. There would also be a tidy plot of herbs and vegetables, strawberries growing in those cute strawberry pots with little holes in them, and a tee pee of sticks covered with sweet peas and runner beans, that Sam and his friends could play in. Mornings, I would head out with my clippers and trug and cut flowers for the house as if I were living at Manderly, and in late afternoon I would harvest herbs, salad greens and side dish vegetables.

DSCF0583

Ten years later, Sam is taller than the tee pee would have been (and would be mortified at the notion that he and his friends might play in a tent made of beans), and things are pretty much as I left them after tearing everything up. It turns out that the garden I destroyed was carefully planted because there is no sun on this lot, anywhere, ever. Well, more accurately, there is a solitary rectangle of sun about the size of a twin bed that moves around the house from East to West as the day progresses, providing enough sun to please the sorts of things that I pulled up – fuschias, ferns, and some other thing I just didn’t like. I left a Peony, because I loved it, and the Rhododendrons, and the Lilies of the Valley, but this flora is scattered all over hell and gone and is not so much a “garden.” One year I actually tilled a patch and planted vegetables and herbs. The vegetables all sprouted and died (although the green peppers made a valiant effort) because the soil was still too hard and heavy, and there wasn’t enough sun. Most of the herbs still return each spring, which is great if I can find them – I am frequently seen on a July evening on my hands and knees in the “garden” pulling at green things, sniffing them, nibbling them, and deciding whether they are Oregano or Ragweed.

farmers market colander

This year, I am going to try a moderate approach based on the fact that there is no sun, and that I clearly don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I am going to grow a small selection of things in large pots – green peppers, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, herbs, things like that. I am going to plant them in the proper kind of soil in their pots, and I am going to move them during the day so that they get enough sun. It’s really no harder than walking the dogs, and if I’m careful not to put too much soil in a pot I should be able to move them as needed without having to buy some sort of decorative garden hand truck. This plan, of course, forecloses the possibility of root vegetables, which would have to be planted in pots the size of trash cans, or my tee pee of beans…although I could maybe have a little one of those, I guess. If I can do this, and end the season with something appealing and edible, then maybe next year I’ll be ready to make a real garden again…probably no Hollyhocks or heirloom roses, but something pretty, and home-y to keep my herbs and vegetables company. Then maybe I can get some chickens and a goat, and have fresh eggs and goat’s milk, and make yogurt and cheese…..

Spring Salad 3

August

It is August. I am lying on my Marimekko bedspread in my room at home and the house is filled with the smell of ratatouille. My mother makes a huge batch every year at this time, and my parents eat it with everything and serve it at dinner parties until the well runs dry and the last scrap of eggplant has been devoured with a forkful of rice. She makes it on a Saturday, listening to the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcast while my father sits in his office finishing the syllabus for Humanities 105 amid a pile of books about Renaissance art. I passionately hate the opera, which is why my door is closed and I have headphones clamped over my ears. She will store the stuff in a huge pottery bowl, a bumpy, nubbly thing in ombre creams and browns. I find it a little déclassé, that bowl, just as I am occasionally troubled by the fact that we do not live in a house with both a living room and a family room. It is, I understand in some vague way, part and parcel of having parents who spend money on trips to Europe and Maine and drive used Ford station wagons, who listen to Pete Seeger and Joan Baez and take me to McGovern rallies.

I will not eat the ratatouille, having taken my requisite “no thank you bite” some time in kindergarten. I think it is gross, slimy, dark and clumpy. I do not eat eggplant except when my mother makes her famous Eggplant Soufflé which converts many eggplant haters over the years. She is good at that, cooking things people usually hate and making them into something disarming and sublime.  I will gladly eat the eggplant soufflé, and the garlicky grilled lamb in pita bread, but I can’t bring myself to eat her ratatouille.

The smell, though, the slowly cooking zucchini, tomato, eggplant, onion and garlic, is a fragrant index finger pointing me towards fall, school, cooler air, bags of apples, and new clothes in hunter green and deep burgundy.  Lying on my bed I am surrounded by the Back-to-School issues of “Seventeen,” “Glamour” and “Mademoiselle.” They came out in July, while we were still in Maine, living in a cottage on Boyden Lake. I bought them at the Rexall when we went into Eastport to do laundry, buy groceries and get books out of The Peavey Memorial Library where I checked out and read all of the Nancy Drew mysteries every single summer until I started college. I had sat at the dilapidated table in the cottage paging earnestly through the extra-thick, glossy grails of fashion over and over again, asking my mother to look at the bell bottoms I liked, or the sweater with the little belt at the waist.

We could not shop until we went home again, but I could plan, bend back corners, change my mind, and imagine myself strolling magnificently into orchestra or algebra in my Levi’s cords, Famolare shoes and cute sweater. I am not particularly cute, but I feel my annual surge of hope as I look at ads for Love’s Fresh Lemon, Twice As Nice shampoo, and Clearasil. I have been swimming in the lake all summer, and walking the mile to get fresh water from the Artesian well at the main house, my hair is lighter from the sun and my skin looks better with a light tan. Lying on my back, pushing aside the spine of a magazine, I check my stomach – it feels flat. It’s a good start, and with the right stuff I will make my curly hair into golden Farrah feathers, my spotted skin into the rosy, glowing face I see in the Bonne Bell ads and my hearty peasant body into something long, lithe and covetable in a leather jacket and a little dab of musk.

We will have shopping trips, my mother and I; we will go to the Jacobson’s Miss J Shop for sweaters, upstairs to buy shoes, and then to the Levi store for bell-bottomed cords in colors reminiscent of the hated ratatouille. I will get my hair cut at Staci’s Swinging Coiffures, where Sally will purse her glossy pink lips and remind me that “curly haired gals” need to be sure to blow dry all the moisture out if we want our hair to stop frizzing by lunchtime. Despite her earthy, lefty habits, my mother is the daughter of a Hungarian Princess, and she understands the transformative power of having shiny hair, beautiful clothes and a dresser covered with perfume bottles.

I will call my cello teacher and set up my lesson time for the school year, and I will start practicing again in earnest, after months of sitting on the deck at the cottage and playing Bach suites because I like the way the notes seem to float out across the woods and over the lake, reaching the loons, and unseen people rowing out to see if they can catch some fish for dinner. I will begin calling my friends, riding my bike to their houses to make sure that the delicate filaments of adolescent fellowship are still strong enough to bear the weight of a new school year of crushes, algebra tests and the lunchroom jungle. I will buy new notebooks and write my schedule on the back of one with dashes for each unexplained absence I am permitted. I need to be able to mark them off as I go, and to use my entire allotment of absences in math, science and social studies; I will never miss a day of orchestra or English.

I do not know then, cannot imagine this life where I am the mother, the cook, and the arbiter of school shopping. I have become a lover of opera, of eggplants, of Bohemian living far from the showy, unused “living rooms” of the suburbia I once envied. I am planning to make ratatouille this weekend, using my mother’s recipe. I feel that change in the air, the pulse of summer lassitude quickening to autumn’s insistent rhythm. My own child will not eat ratatouille, and he will flee to his room when I plug in my iPhone and blast “Tosca” through the kitchen speakers. He will not be looking at magazines, though – he is not a reader, not a musician, not tormented by dark doubts about his looks or his place in the world. He will be playing Xbox Live and texting, and scheming to buy new bearings for his longboard. It is different, and it is the same, the years of my life bound together by the smell of roasting vegetables, the silky ascent of a soprano voice, and the change in seasons.

I wonder if she still has that bowl.

Not Hot Blooded

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“Man it’s hot. It’s like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.” -Neil Simon, Biloxi Blues

People like me are not supposed to live anyplace where it gets to be 90 degrees. I know people, lots of them, who are thrilled when they can live in tank tops and shorts, spend days at the pool and “soak up the sun.” I am getting better about summer, really I am; I am enamored with the abundance of produce, the lightweight clothes, the longer days, the profuse foliage and the relaxation of schedules. When the mercury pushes above 85ish, however, I feel like someone has drained my blood in my sleep. I feel the lethargy of moving through deep, heavy water that slows my body and fills my brain, and my skin seems to be made up entirely of sweat and mosquito bites. I would rather, frankly, be shivering in a parka near the Arctic Circle.

I have decided that this difficulty with the “Lazy, hazy days of summer” is probably mine by birthright. On one side I come from a solid Scot/Irish bloodline, and the other is Hungarian and Russian. No one who contributed to my DNA lived anywhere where it was 90 degrees at any time of year, at least not until they were driven away by the absence of potatoes or the presence of pogroms. I am, therefore, programmed for the cool, the foggy and the snowbound life, a creature meant by nature to eat Yorkshire Pudding and Pierogen in a sweater somewhere near a roaring fire. Years ago, based on this uninformed but sincere anthropological analysis, I made a plan. On the hottest days, the days like today when I wake up and it is already 80, I simply adopt a different set of cultural influences. I choose places where the natives deal particularly well with extreme heat, and transform my frizzy, pasty self into a hot-blooded creature, a Frida Kahlo lizard with bright azure toenails sitting in the brightest patch of sunlight. I have, for purposes of my fantasy, created a kind of composite nationality that is about half Italian and half Indian .(In case you are rolling your eyes about the influence of “Eat, Pray, Love,” I hasten to assure you that this particular cultural Frankenstein was created long before Elizabeth Gilbert ever started her pasta tour of Rome. It is all mine, all mine, and Julia Roberts is not interested in playing me in the movie version).

The way this thing works, and it does work, is that I slow everything down and become languid and graceful. Rushing around is the cause of sweat and frizz. Gliding slowly I can imagine myself in a sari, walking through a crowded, cardamom-scented open air market choosing the best cauliflower for my Aloo Gobi. I cook spicy things when it’s terribly hot, and while I am cooking them I play ragas and Satayajit Ray soundtracks in the kitchen. I put a tiny bit of Nag Champa oil in my hair, clip it up, off my neck, and wear dangly earrings. It is still hot, really too hot for me, but I find great succor in a gauzy blouse, a fresh mango and a fan that turns my earrings into wind chimes.

My Fauxtalian ancestry is more informed by actual fact; I have never set foot in India, but I have spent time in Italy during the summer. I am interested not in the high-heeled, sunny, horn-honking blitz of a busy day in Rome, but in the practice of shutting everything down for a couple of hours after lunch in order to take a nap. It makes perfect sense, particularly when it is really too hot to stay awake, to close the shutters, turn on the ceiling fan and put a “chiuso” sign in the window until the sun pulls in its claws. One misses the killing mid-day heat, and works into the early evening, trading the hottest hours of the day for those that are cooler, quieter, and possibly aligned with Campari on ice. There is also, of course, the cooking – there is nothing better than a Caprese salad when the tomatoes are fresh, or a quick Pasta Pomodoro.

Today it is supposedly going to be 96 degrees, when all is said and done. I am off to work in my hot, hot kitchen with the fluidity of a Bollywood heroine and the philosophical acceptance of a Buddhist. At noon I will eat fruit and cheese and lie down on crisp, white linens until it’s time to head back to work. Call me Arundhati Funicello.

Flip-Flops

While other, better, people are looking for signs of spring like crocuses and returning birds, my mind is focused on my feet. The very second that the hideous mounds of dingy snow have melted, and the ambient temperature rises above 40, I will be able to wear flip-flops again. I wear them all spring, all summer, and as far into Michigan fall as I can possibly go without risking frostbite. In the summer I usually wear a floaty skirt, a T-shirt and coordinating flip-flops which range in fanciness from the kind you buy at Target for two bucks, to a vertiginous pair of platforms that I wear for more formal occasions. I also own a pair of “Fit Flops” which I bought because they promised to give me legs like Cyd Charisse; so far I still have the legs of a Victorian dining table, but they are supremely comfortable shoes.

Although I am usually highly susceptible to the disapproval of others, the flip-flops are an area in which I am proud to say I have stood firm. (No pun intended). I have been told countless times that they are bad for my feet, they offer no support, they are “an accident waiting to happen.” I have, in fact, wiped out walking a gravel path in a pair of platform flip-flops, turning my ankle and embarrassing myself. After a day of ice and elevation, I was back in the shoes that threw me. I also broke a toe last summer after accidentally kicking a metal shopping cart. Although the flip-flops were, arguably, the cause of the injury (because, what, I would have been wearing steel-toed boots at the grocery store?) the bonus was that the aggrieved toe, swollen to the size of a plum, would not fit into any shoes in my possession, other than…flip-flops. Had the Queen of England visited Michigan and invited me to share clotted cream scones with her, I would necessarily have worn flip-flops with my elegant dress, or gone barefoot.  Despite this evidence, which I largely choose to disregard, I find it hard to believe that flip-flops are any more dangerous than stilettos, which many women wear on a daily basis. I tell myself that the lack of support and frequent injury during three or four months of the year is balanced by the fact that I spend the rest of the year in an orthopedically wholesome assortment of Asics, Danskos and Uggs.

Other nay-sayers come from the fashion world. I am a reader of fashion magazines, and a frequent visitor to various fashion-related websites; flip flops are roundly dismissed as unattractive, juvenile, and not much better than Crocs or Birkenstocks. They make legs look stumpy. They say to the world “I don’t care what I look like.” They are a “Don’t” of unrivalled significance. (Well, aside from Crocs, wife beaters and Christmas sweaters). My defense to this assault is that I think they are damned cute. I think they say “beach,” and “freedom,” and “woohoo!” I think they speak of fun, watermelon, popsicles, fireworks, endless days, sun-warmed tomatoes, grilling, and porch-sitting.  There is nothing like them for showing off a pedicure and a toe ring. They take the seriousness out of a skirt, and a cute pair with a patterned strap or a flower on top makes people smile. My legs are stumpy anyway; why not have stumpy legs and cute, summery feet instead of broadcasting my need for fashion sleight-of-hand by wearing kitten heels to the farmer’s market?

Speaking of kitten heels, I do have other, dressier summer shoes. For the theater, a wedding, or a luncheon with my mother at “The Club,” I have a pair of kitten heeled slides, a pair of neutral pumps, and a pair of sky-high wedge slides in a neutral tone for that leg-lengthening effect. They are pretty, and I know where the line is between flip-flop occasions (brunch by somebody’s pool) and Real Shoe occasions (cocktail parties). When I cater, I still wear my Danskos because there is nothing quite like dropping an 8-inch Chef’s knife on your bare foot to put paid to a day of slicing and dicing. I also wear my Chuck Taylor’s and my Tom’s when I feel like it, most often on occasions where I am likely to be walking through dirt or mud. I had only to sink into the muddy field in flip-flops during one soccer game to figure that out.

I have also tried Crocs, which are very comfortable, but which I find so distractingly hideous that I couldn’t stick it out. They remind me of clown shoes, and I am pathologically terrified of clowns. They cannot, unless one is a 16-year-old model, be worn with a skirt. They make a funny squishing sound when you walk.  Birkenstocks have also been rejected, although I really loved the pair I owned, and found them extraordinarily comfortable. I do not like them with shirts, however, and they project a kind of earnestness which, frankly, I project merely by showing up. I do not need to enhance the impression that I am a Lefty Tofu-Eating Whale Saver with a copy of “Mother Jones” in my hemp carryall. Quite honestly, I would rather have people think things like “she looks kind of serious, but hey, she has cute flip-flops and fanciful, multicolored toenails!” Because I know that’s what they’re thinking.

I am chomping at the bit for the opening of Flip Flop Season. I have gotten them all out already (and there are lots of them) inspected them for wear, and made plans to replace any that blew out last season, like the pair I was wearing when I fell halfway down the basement stairs. I guess that would count as another flip flop-related injury. At any rate, as part of the Checking of the Flops ritual, I have painted my toenails in colors inspired by the picture in this post. Here’s to a season of fresh air on my toes, that lovely sound of shoe slapping against foot, and relatively few injuries!

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