Saturday, December 31, 2016

Almost All the Books I Read in 2016

Here is a list of almost all the books I read (and finished) in 2016, in approximate order

Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” one of many books my brother recommended.
Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” because his dialog absolutely crackles with energy, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ron Chernow’s ponderous and highly illuminating “Alexander Hamilton”
Raymond Chandler’s “The Lady in the Lake”
James Salter’s exciting novel about fighter pilots, “The Hunters,” also recommended by my brother.
Raymond Chandler’s “Farewell My Lovely”
Matthew Thomas’s extraordinarily sad, “We Are Not Ourselves”
Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” because I was about to see the play

Robert Stone’s terrific Vietnam-era novel, “Dog Soldiers,” also suggested to me by my brother.
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Underground,” because I had read “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 2015 and it had blown my mind.
J. G. Farrell’s “The Siege of Krishnapur”
Sally Denton’s damning portrait of Bechtel’s evil empire, “The Profiteers”
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley’s Game”
C. J. Chivers’s stunning portrait of the AK-47, “The Gun,” a book I highly recommend.
Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”
Andrew Cockburn’s “Kill Chain”
Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings”
Andrew Solomon’s revealing, honest, and oddly undressing “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression”

E.L. Doctorow’s “Homer & Langley”
Mary Norris’s lovely memoir, “Between You & Me,” a gift from The Graduate.
Patricia Highsmith’s “The Boy Who Followed Ripley”
Andrew Solomon’s illuminating collection of essays, “Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change”
Alan Bradley’s “A Red Herring Without Mustard,” third of the series of entertaining Flavia de Luce mystery novels
Edwidge Danticat’s “Brother, I'm Dying”
Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies"
Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts”
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “The Sympathizer: A Novel”

Gloria Emerson’s “Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins From the Vietnam War,” from my brother’s Vietnam War reading list.
Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley Under Water,” the last of the Ripley-ad
Maud Casey’s “The Man Who Walked Away,” because my brother asked me to.
Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a re-read.
Hanya Yanagihara’s hard to read but ultimately redeeming, “A Little Life: A Novel”
Alan Bradley’s, “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows,” another Flavia de Luce novel.
Nell Irvin Painter’s “The History of White People,” which I highly recommend.

Alan Bradley’s 5th Flavia de Luce novel, “Speaking from Among the Bones” 
Elizabeth Kolbert’s disturbing “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History”
Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” less because Oprah said to and more because I read his weird book about schools of elevator maintenance, “The Intuitionist”
Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” also known as “Blade Runner”
Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me”
Tim O'Brien’s “If I Die in a Combat Zone,” part of my brother’s Vietnam War reading list. 

Another of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, “The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches”
Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine,” which made me nostalgic for the days when my husband was designing and building new computer devices.
Anita Brookner’s gently crafted and absolutely amazing, “Fraud”
Jeffrey Toobin’s readable but ungenerous portrait, “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst”
Jeremy P. Bushnell’s hipster adventure, “The Insides”
Maxine Hong Kingston’s admirable “The Woman Warrior,” again on the recommendation of my brother.

Sandra Cisneros’s warm “The House on Mango Street”
Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking, but single-minded and dated “The Feminine Mystique”
Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen”
Laura Olin’s “Form Letters”
Yet another of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books, “As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust”
Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania”
D.G. Compton’s “The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe”
George Plimpton’s “Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback,” which I wish I had read after “Out of my League,” below, and not before.
John le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” probably at my brother’s suggestion

Robert A. Caro’s 1100+ page non-fiction epic, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” which I enjoyed every bit of, and came away finally understanding most (if not all) of the things I hate about New York. Highly recommended.

John le Carré’s “Call for the Dead”
Sady Doyle’s funny modern feminist look at women in pop culture, “Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear, and Why”
John le Carré’s “A Murder of Quality”
Small-town journalist Tom Ryan’s book about hiking with his dog, called, “Following Atticus,” which I was asked to read by my sister in law. Dog books always have sad parts, and funny parts, and this provides the expected. I strongly object to his style of dog-rearing, though, and would like to go on the record as saying that carrying your puppy around all the time for the first month is a certain way to raise a very spoiled dog.  

John le Carré’s “The Looking Glass War”
George Plimpton’s very funny baseball book, “Out of My League” 
Tommy Wieringa’s chilly novel, “These Are the Names”
Paul Beatty’s tart racial satire, “The Sellout: A Novel”
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s grisly and excellent, “His Bloody Project”
Hope Jahren’s intimate and generous, “Lab Girl,” which I’d suggest you read this year.
And, lastly, John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” another George Smiley novel, and probably my favorite of them.  

Total Number of books, 67. 
Total number of authors, 53.
20 of the authors are women, and I think 9 are non-white.

40 are fiction. 27 are non-fiction.

Friday, December 30, 2016

I thought I saw a dog in the dark

What I saw: the other night, I hopped in the car to go get my kids from the train station, and as I pulled out of the garage I thought I saw a small, light-colored dog, cowering under the wheels of our truck.

What I did beforehand: grabbed my spare glasses because I couldn’t find my usual pair.

What I wore: dirty jeans, Birkenstock clogs, parka.

Who went with me: after convincing myself that it wasn't an imaginary dog, I got out of the car and tried to call it; it was too scared. I went back in the house and got some dehydrated liver treats and coaxed it out; it had a collar but no tags. It took the treats from me and retreated behind the truck to eat them. I started to call it "Little White Dog." 

How I will get my next dog: maybe I will get a vizsla puppy in the spring. Maybe I will take in a foster dog. Maybe I will wait until a dog finds me. Maybe my two current dogs are my last two dogs. I used to try to think about things like this, to quell my awake-at-four-in-the-morning thoughts. I'd make contingency plans, based on various disaster scenarios. The year my mom died I learned that impossible things happen, and 2016 has been another year of impossible things. I try not to make contingency plans, believing instead in the ability of my future self to know what to do. 

Why I saw this show: the Graduate was here the weekend before, celebrating the Xmas holiday with us, and he brought along his girlfriend and she brought along her little dog, Snipe. They'd been gone several days when the Little White Dog appeared in the night. The Little White Dog was more stout than Snipe, and had shorter legs, but for one baffling instant I did think that somehow Snipe was still here. Or had come back.

Where I sat: the Bacon Provider went to get the kids at the train station while I tried to lure Little White Dog inside. I wondered if someone had dumped it on our road, the way they'd dumped an old mattress here. 

Things that were sad: I got the dog a dish of water and a bit of kibble and lured it into the garage but when I tried to close the garage door, Little White Dog was startled by the noise and bolted out, into the darkness. 

Things that were not funny: our next-door neighbors have three dogs, a fat foxhound, a rowdy black and white Great Dane, and a small, fluffy white dog. I wasn't sure if this Little White Dog maybe lived next door, though I doubted it. I felt like this Little White Dog was bigger than the one I'd seen next door. I followed the dog into my backyard, still trying to lure it with food. Soon enough the Bacon Provider returned with the kids and we together decided that a car we saw driving slowly by might have been looking for Little White Dog. So we followed Little White Dog down the driveway and down the hill and up the neighbor's driveway. I rang the bell. A teenager answered, with his posse of three excited dogs, and the rowdy Great Dane blasted past, chasing Little White Dog back into the darkness. Some shouting followed. 

Things that were funny: at this point, the slow-driving car returned, and we flagged her down. Inside was an older woman who was looking for the dog. It belonged to her friend, and it had followed her when she drove away. Little White Dog's name was supposed to be "Thumper," though when she called him he seemed as disinclined to join her as he had been to come to me. After some more pointless running around in the woods, I got a hand on him and almost had him when he decided that going back to his owner's friend was better than being chased by me, so she caught him and put him in her car.

Something I ate: too many Christmas cookies. 

What it is: I have owned one dog and two dogs and three dogs and know for certain that three is exactly too many dogs.

Who should see it: you should knock on your neighbor's door and introduce yourself when they move in. I should go knock on my neighbors' doors and introduce myself since they didn't do it first. Maybe next year.

What I saw when I got home: my own dog, Captain, who has such deep feelings.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I saw “Sweet Charity”

What I saw: “Sweet Charity,” at the Pershing Square Signature Center at 480 West 42nd, between 9th and 10th in Manhattan.

What I did beforehand: took the train into the city, checked into the Library Hotel at Madison Avenue and 41st, had tapas with R.

What I wore: gray wool Ibex cowl-neck top, James jeans, navy cardigan, Chinese-made Australian boots, new black parka, pearl earrings, silver bracelets.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

How I got tickets: online, a few weeks ago when I thought spending a night in the city a few days before Christmas would be fun and productive rather than inconvenient.

Why I saw this show: I impulsively subscribed to the New Group for the season. It makes me wonder about the existence of free will and the power of advertising.

Where I sat: Row D, Seat 10.

Things that were sad: this is another play about loneliness (my cousin recently pointed out elsewhere, "All plays are about being lonely."). And not all musicals have tidy, happy endings, even ones from the 1960s. 

Things that were funny: knowing so many of the songs but never knowing where they came from, the charming clumsiness of the main character, and realizing that this is the 5th show I've seen this year featuring people dancing in their underwear. Here are links to the other four.

Things that were not funny: the coincidence of having unintentionally reserved the New Media room at the Library Hotel was only kept from downright creepiness by the gentle absurdity of many of the books being, with predictions about the coming revolution and dominance of interactive television, just old enough to be hilariously inaccurate. The Bacon Provider wrote a book about digital disruption this year, in fact. 

I am happy to recommend the Library Hotel, just about a block from Grand Central Station and the main branch of the New York Public Library, to book-lovers and anyone seeking a small, quiet boutique hotel in mid-town Manhattan.

Something I ate: butternut squash soup, pimientos, and pan con tomate at the tapas place in Gotham West, over in Hell's Kitchen. 

What it is: this musical is from 1966, and has been revived a number of times and was made into a movie in 1968. It manages not to serve a heaping helping of the nostalgic charm of a period piece and also not to be easily updated with modern seasonings. It is, nevertheless, a fine romp.

Who should see it: Fellini fans, students of mid-20th century gender studies, people who like to see actors dancing in their underwear.

What I saw on the way home: I think the pillow on our bed in the hotel room was meant to be fetchingly bookish. It seemed lonely and sad to me.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

I saw "Rancho Viejo"

What I saw: "Rancho Viejo" at the Playwright's Horizons Theater, off-Broadway at 416 W 42nd in Manhattan

What I did beforehand: confronted some regrets, mailed holiday cards ornamented with profanity (and signed with my plea, "Don't start the Revolution without me!"), walked to the train platform in the wake of some dude's dank doobage, heard the conductor say, "Have a wonderful night" to each and every passenger as he punched their tickets.

What I wore: Keen snow boots, very, very dirty jeans, Big Feelings sweater, now dirty parka, knitted hat, two pairs of fingerless mittens , earrings, mascara.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider, who met me there. 

Why I saw this show: I saw a review that said it was funny. Also, "Rancho Viejo" sounds like the kind of made-up place name I might come up with.

How I got tickets: I subscribed to the season, and shopped for tickets to this show when I saw that the Bacon Provider had an office holiday party on the 12th. When I got the email confirmation, I saw that I'd reserved a seat to the show on the 19th and not the 12th. I am fucking up all over the place these days. The night of the 18th rolled around and we were reviewing our next-day schedules and I pointed out I'd be seeing this play. I tried to sell my husband on joining me. I waited to tell him the play was three hours long with two intermissions until after he agreed to come.
"If you really don't want to go, we can eat the ticket."
"Well, do we at least get to sit together?"

Where I sat: I sat in Row C Seat 5, and the Bacon Provider sat on the other end, in Row C Seat 17. Because, no, we did not get to sit together. 

Things that were sad: another play about loneliness. 

Things that were funny: there were two brilliant solo dance scenes in the third act which were weird and thrilling and redeemed how ridiculously long the play was overall. I heard audience members on the way out saying they weren’t sure they liked it, which only reinforced my positive feelings about it.

Things that were not funny: most of the first act, which has lively parts and quiet ones, centers on the exquisite self-consciousness of some reasonably well-off, older white people. The audience did not always seem to know when to laugh. 

Something I ate: pretzels in the lobby beforehand. 

What it is: a new play, lasting three hours with two intermissions. 

Who should see it: people with long attention spans who don't mind watching white people being awkward at parties.

What I saw on the way home: an earnest and wide-eyed woman who staggered through our train-car, asking people for cold water to drink, and the same cheerful conductor, to whom I said,  “You know, you punched my ticket earlier tonight when your shift just started. Are you always so cheerful?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “I love my job.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I went to the barn holiday party

What I saw: barn friends and Hado at the holiday party.

What I did beforehand: overslept, ate cereal and walked the dogs.

What I wore: very dirty jeans and some other clothes I found wadded up on the floor of my closet, Keen pull-on snow boots, enormous purple scarf.

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider.

Why I saw this show: the ascendence of fascism in America has crushed my already limited desire to cheerfully attend social functions. Nevertheless, a party like this is an opportunity to give year-end tips to the hard-working people who take care of my horses. And to see my barn friends.

Where I stood: in the barn aisle.

Things that were sad: last year when I attended this party I didn't realize it was all about, so I didn’t have cards and tips with me. It was awkward.  I did bring bread I made, which everyone made a big deal about. That kind of added to my feeling awkward. The other thing that happened last year is I had to have the same awkward conversation a bunch of times about who I was, and how long I’d been at the barn, and which horses I owned, and where I had my horses before that. The third time through these questions I fully flowered, via awkwardness, into an overgrown, surly hothouse  middle-schooler, providing one-word, conversation-stopping answers: two months, two horses, Dutchess County. “Oh,” they asked. “Where in Duchess County?”
And I’d say, “Pine Box,” which they hadn’t heard of.

Also, last year I met the barn owner at this party, and had a conversation with him about cakes or something but whatever I said it was said without knowing he was the owner. I thought he was just some guy. When I found about a few days later that I had been talking to the owner, and not just some guy, I marveled at myself for being so supremely awkward.

One good thing about going to parties where I barely know anyone is I can get away with just shaking people’s hands. On the west coast, I don’t remember even having to shake hands all that often, but here in New York you shake hands with new people and are engaged in this grotesquely awkward air-kissing gesture with people you already know (and sometimes even with people you don't already know). Some people actually press their cheeks into yours, which feels like a completely unnecessary violation. Others smack you, kiss-wise, on the cheek, which at least resembles something your Aunt Ruthie might have done. Then there’s the two cheek thing, and it’s too, too much.  

So this year, I had to hug my friends and try to dodge the kissing thing, except with the French people, who seem to know what they’re doing and will do all the work so all I have to do is stand there limply, feeling awkward and wait for it to end.

Hado goes for an awkward air-kiss

Things that were funny: I was standing with my friend C. and some other people talking about the bread and someone else walked up to tell me how much they like my bread. Also, I ran into the owner again, and this year I told him how much I love the barn and thanked him. If it was awkward, I didn't even care.

Things that were not funny: two different people asked me if I make my bread using a bread machine. 

Something I ate: there were home-made linzer cookies, and my husband made me try an inch-long piece of the top of his. It was good, though we thought it should have been rolled just a little bit thinner before baking. I also drank a glass of quite decent red wine out of a red plastic cup. Nothing says “PARTY” in America like a red plastic cup.

What it is: keeping horses is an expensive, labor-intensive business, requiring attentive and careful management. It takes a lot of people, and many hours, and good communication. The work is never-ending. I now understand that regular tips are expected and also some kind of Christmas bonus. This summer I was brave enough to ask some of my barn friends what they tip and was enormously relieved to find I wasn’t doing it wrong.

Who should see it: holiday parties might be supremely awkward, being a weird salad event of tossed religious holidays, crumbled gift-giving, and chopped "being busy," over a bed of shifting expectations for getting dressed up, but you should go. No one ever says, "Ugh! I wish that awkward so-and-so didn't show up!"

What I saw on the way home: Canada geese, headed south for the winter. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

I saw the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes™”

What I saw: the mother-fucking Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes™ at the god-damned legendary Radio City Music Hall, at 6th Avenue and West 50th Street, near Rockefeller Center in New York City.

What I did beforehand: riding lesson, baked bread, looked at Twitter, did some cussing, showered, put on a lot of clothes, spent too much time getting my shit together, drove to town, parked, walked to the train station cursing the cold-as-shit afternoon, bought a fucking round trip off-peak ticket, got on train, wandered up and down the cars looking for a seat that faced the right fucking way, got sat on by a guy much bigger than me at White Plains. 

Mostly they looked at their phones

What I wore: gray wool tights (because it was that cold), tan Boden plaid skirt, black Ibex fancy-ass wool top, gray cardigan, gray cable knit hat made for me by my friend R., pearl earrings, brown cashmere scarf with fringe that makes it look just like kelp, long parka, two pairs of mittens. 
Get used to the riot gear, America
Fascism is here!

Who went with me
: the venue appeared full from our vantage point, and has a capacity of about 6,000. Which is a fuck-ton of people. And they do up to six shows a day. That is a shit-load of high kicks. 

How I got tickets: I attended as the guest of a very old friend and her girlfriend, who was aware that I can be a smartass but invited me to partake of this treacly, over-produced Christmastravaganza anyway. Oh, Gee, Gosh, I hope she doesn’t read this!

Get ready to empty your pockets and
show them the inside of your purse

Why I saw this show: in the spirit of every drunken bull’s pizzle who ever said, “Here, hold my beer,” I thought I’d give it a try.

Where I sat: Orchestra Row J, seat 413. 

It is a Spectacular

Things that were sad: after the show, we were shooed out of the theater by the beleaguered broom-wielding schmucks responsible for the impossible task of sweeping up the single layer of popped popcorn distributed in an even layer of crunchy goodness from row AA to W and across all seven sections before such time as the arrival of the next audience, a mere hour hence.

Things that were funny:  the show opened with dueling organists, singing ushers, and a velvety brown Spandex and tiny-suitcoated slutty Reindeer kick line.  My Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer-worshipping inner child was agog. Next came Santa Claus, starring in a 3D infomercial featuring the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a de-populated, traffic-free computer-generated New York City. Dancing bears provided a welcome break from the onslaught of bimbombatons, the embodiment of robotic precision of three dozen perfectly trim, strong, young identical women known as the Rockettes™. But then again, the next number was the Toy Soldiers which might be the only reason some people drag their ass to the city once a year to see this show. After that, the marketing circus resumes on a sightseeing bus where we were able to get accurate counts of the bimbomatons. There are 36.  No mountains of garbage on the streets of this NYC! Just shoppers and sightseers! Next, there are skaters in a cartoon-version Central Park, utterly alone and looking like a surreal pair of Twilight Zone characters, living dolls dropped into an empty diorama with a sheet of genuine plastic ice which moments ago was crowded with stiff-legged, screaming zombie skaters who were swept away with the sweep of a petulant giant child's hand, along with the trash mountains and street people dressed in gowns made of plastic shopping bags.  
The show whisks us next to the terrifying Hellscape of an army of an infinity of jolly dancing Santas.  Then there is a rag doll production number that I mostly remember for the irregularly striped red and white tights on the Rockettes, their menacing orange plastic hair-helmets, and the alphabet blocks which magically spelled “MERRY XMAS” or “MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN” or some fucking thing when they turned them around. I think. After that, terrifying flying transparent beachball snowflake drones were unleashed from the orchestra pit, menacing the audience and reminding me that we are all Prisoners now. Lastly, the Birth of Jesus Merry Fucking Christmas Extremely Religious Nativity Tableau, complete with a floating angel, a Vegas-style neon Star of Rocking Bethlehem and fake people of “The Orient,”  but most of all, three real-as-life fucking camels and a donkey that were unnerving and sad and also the realest damned things in the whole show. I wonder how often they shit on the stage.

The orchestra platform can rise up
to stage height

Things that were not funny: there was a woman behind me who sang along tunelessly to everything she knew. It didn’t matter. The show was still fun, despite my elitist desire to despise it all with every atom of my being.

Something I ate: arctic char and tostones at an excellent Cuban/Chinese place  called Calle Dao we found afterwards on W 39th.

What it is: an institution, since 1933. 

Who should see it: people who know that the true meaning of Christmas is maximizing corporate profits with banal fairytales starring enslaved dwarves and magical white people, stoners, fans of the materialistic clay-brained Christian patriarchal white supremacy, sentimentalists, fat-kidneyed Republican rascals in matching American flag Christmas sweaters, my five-year-old-self, nostalgic bacon-fed knaves, knotty-pated shopped-out fools, and the last three families left in America for whom Santa is not yet corny bunkum. 

Add caption

What I saw on the way home: I had to run and made the train with only a couple of minutes to spare, and realized when I stood up to get off an hour later that I had tweaked my knee. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

I had it wrong

What I saw: it was dark, and my alarm hadn’t gone off yet. The cat stretched out along the length of my body with his two front paws pressed gently on my chin. I was up early to drive the Bacon Provider to the train.

Late fall dawn, Bedhead Hills

What I did beforehand: dreamed about fence-building, and getting knocked over by an eagle.

What I wore: tiger t-shirt ("I just chugged four beers!"), TomboyX flannel jammies pants, insulated waterproof Irish boots, big parka, fingerless mittens.

Who went with me: my husband of thirty years. 

How I got a ticket: the last speeding ticket I got was about ten years ago. I was driving home from a part-time community college teaching job and failed to check my speed down a big hill past a familiar speed trap. Or maybe it was a couple of years after that, on 520 westbound, with the Graduate in the car. That time I was thinking about how bad things were, but also how much worse they could get. About this I was not wrong.

Why I saw this show: every minute I spend driving someone somewhere is another minute I don't spend wondering why I'm here.

Where I sat: behind the wheel, listening to Tommy Wieringa’s “These are the Names.”

Mom & Dad, 1970s Xmas

Things that were funny:
the other day when we got our Xmas tree, I started thinking, as I do every year, about my mother's thing about Christmas. Her name was Sarah, and she would have been 76 today. When I call my brothers on Christmas, they will say, “Sarah Christmas!” to me. My cousins, my mother’s sister Mary’s kids, may text me, “Sarah Christmas,” too.

According to my Aunt Mary, and both of her kids and both of my brothers, the reason we say “Sarah Christmas” is because when Mary was only 3 or 4, she heard people saying “Merry Christmas,” and understood it to mean, “Mary Christmas.” And she felt, in fairness, people should also say, “Sarah Christmas.” I checked with Mary and both of her kids and both of my brothers about this story just the other day. Because, you see, I was writing down why we say, “Sarah Christmas,” and somehow I knew the story differently.

The way I understood it, it was my mother who wanted people to say “Sarah Christmas,” not Mary. It was my mother who wanted it, because she was jealous of her younger sister. 

Now, I have always thought this, as far back as I can remember. And I think I am wrong about this. Mary is still sharp as ever, and she remembers. Both her kids remember. And both of my brothers.

So, why did I remember it wrong? Did I learn it wrong? Or, was it that I was too distracted and impatient to listen to the story when I was little, and I never bothered to get it right? Or, did my mother tell me that in secret? Or, did I invent that version, to fit my outlook on my mother?

Mary on the left, Sarah on the right, with their Daddy

Things that were sad:
I will never really know why I got it wrong. 

Something I ate: a mix of Bob’s Red Mill Honey Oat Granola and Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes with Stonyfield Farm organic 1% milk, with a large spoon.

What it is: something I will not argue I am right about, nor is it something I will revise my thinking about. It is, as they say, what it is.

Who should say it: all of us. We should all say “Sarah Christmas.” 

Things that were not funny: on the way to town, we saw a black car sitting on the shoulder of the road. Sometimes the local police wait for speeders under the nearby bridge, so I thought maybe it was just that. 

What I saw on the way home: I got a better look at it on my way back. The ground was all torn up from the skid, and its front bumper was gone. It had spun and wound up perpendicular to the road. Only the dense brush had held it back from falling backwards into a ravine.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I picked one.

What I saw: the trees that were left.

What I did beforehand: the last few years we lived in the country and found places to cut our own Christmas tree. It was never a matter of looking them up; there would be hand-lettered sandwich boards on the side of the road. 

This year, the Bacon Provider has been traveling so much I was worried we’ wouldn’t find time to get one together. 

I asked Google. It offered Hartsdale, NY and Danbury, CT, both of which stretch the definition of “near.” I revisited the garden center mystery, which I have  tried to solve almost monthly since moving here; where do my neighbors buy plants, I ask. I found one a bit over four miles away, on a road I haven’t driven. I called.

“Do you have Christmas trees?” I asked.
“Yes, we still have some left,” a woman replied. “But all of the 11 foot ones are gone. We only have the 9 foot and 7 foot trees.”
“What kind are they?”
“What are your hours?” 
“9 to 5.”

Something I ate: cereal.

What I wore: jeans. Waterproof boots. My biggest puff coat. 

Why I saw this show: my mother’s love of archly tasteful Christmas decorations and slavish devotion to giving us what we asked for color my every Christmas impulse.  

Who went with me: the Bacon Provider was delighted to go. We took the truck. It seemed grumpy about starting, because of the cold. The steering wheel squeaked familiarly as steered out of the driveway. We talked about when we will get a new truck. 

How I chose: I didn’t know where to park since ours was the only vehicle. We were greeted by a guy in work gloves who seemed relieved to have a customer. He apologized for how few trees they had left.
“We only need one,” I said, though on the way over we had discussed the possibility of getting two.

Things that were funny: the Bacon Provider always wants a perfect tree, and will gladly spend 20 minutes considering every angle of every tree available, including the ones that are clearly too tall. He and the guy who worked there stood trees up for me to look at. After the fifth tree I went back to the first one. 

“This one is the best,” I said. I didn’t mean it. I was bored. All trees are somewhat imperfect. As long as the trunk is reasonably straight, you can find a presentable side.

I opened the tailgate of the truck and went to look at wreaths.  

Things that were sad: another couple arrived, he a tall, dark-haired capitalist in a navy cashmere overcoat, she a gently aging blond trophy in a quilted Barbour jacket. They considered whether the enormous 48” wreath was the right size for what they needed. I tried not to smirk. A very pale, older woman came out and caught the capitalist’s wife’s eye. 
“Oh, hello!” said the capitalist’s wife. “So nice to see you. How are you?”
“Not well,” began the older woman. “I lost my son.” Tears poured from her eyes. 
The capitalist’s wife hugged her. 

I turned to the little live trees and engaged the attention of a third employee. 
“Do you have a matching pair in this size?” I asked. 
“Yes, we do.”
“Do you know how big they will get? If I put them in the ground, I need to know how tall they will be. You, know, eventually.”

Things that were not funny: when we went inside to pay, there was a stack of photos of the dead son. He appeared to have been in his early 40s. The sad, older woman came in. I told her how sorry I was. She told me he had run the business, and had done all the ordering. Then, he had gotten sick, but not very sick. And then, he had died. Just in a matter of days. The whole family had had to come and pitch in. She said everything felt like a dream.

Where I sat: I had driven there. The Bacon Provider drove back. I had to tell him which way to turn. I said that I thought that Christmas would be forever sad and ruined for the family that owned that garden center.

What it is: my mother’s birthday is 9 days before Christmas, and so, though she died in April, for me the holiday season is as much about grieving her as anything else.  

Who should see it: we haven’t started decorating it yet.

Schwartz moves in for his inspection

What I saw on the way home: the Bedhead Hills Office of Gravel and Thoroughfares regraded the dirt road on the way to our house, but I realized that they left many of the potholes intact. They function like speed bumps.