Last weekend while in the, ahem, Hamptons (they’re so tony I can scarcely type their name), I went to a bevy of amazing yardsales. Most prized among my booty was an antique wood rocking chair made by the grandfather of the man who sold it to me; when I accurately described the grandfather (who was right around us as far as I was concerned), the man—a year-rounder who worked construction—gave it to me for $10 and a hug. Such a cute person. After money changed paws, he helped me attach the chair to Sadie, my forever-on-the-blink Hyundai. I lugged it up to my third-floor Brooklyn walkup with much huffing and puffing and more than a few reservations: Ever since my apartment rehab, I’ve considered the near-emptiness of my living room to be the height of glamour. But the chair has turned out to be a great writing ally–this man’s grandpa may have harbored literary fancies of his own–and as I type in it, permakitten Gracie nestles beneath, purring to herself and squeaking in happy fright whenever I rock unexpectedly. I suspect this Grandpa ghost is blocking whatever other energy was giving her agita, and I’m glad for him, as well as for her. My Summer of Reckoning sure has produced some treasures.
The older I get, the less interested I am in spending time with people who haven’t weathered serious failure or loss or opposition yet. Choosing to navigate hardship with certitude, with grace, with open eyes and open heart is not only what introduces us to true adulthood but to our best selves. And selfish as I am, people’s best selves are the ones I want to know. As Benjamin Franklin, of whom I’m ridiculously fond, said: “You will know failure. Continue to reach out.” As an unnamed beau, of whom I was once ridiculously fond, said: “It’s all part of growing up.”
Yesterday, my friend B and I were having a long talk at Chelsea’s Cafe Grumpy. Because it had just rained, we had the backyard to ourselves and were using that rare private outdoor space to discuss topics that basic NYC etiquette prevented us from inflicting upon others: healthy grieving, ethical dating, spiritually conscious fucking, the heteronormative construct known as marriage, the queasy fundamentalism known as atheism. We were going off. If you saw us through a window, you might have concluded we were on a date, and a good one at that. A man and a woman of roughly the same age, talking animatedly, not touching but paying close attention to each other. She in a sheath dress; he in a tweed jacket.
In the middle of our second coffee, a man poked his head into what by then felt like our turf. “Helen?” he called out tentatively and looked at me. Rather than shaking my head, I grinned, and he raised his eyebrows, mistaking my glee at not being Helen for interest. After a beat B began talking again, and the man—who was peaked but not bad-looking, with a lanky frame and a long, pale face that bore the scars of a rough adolescence—disappeared. A bit later, while standing on the bathroom line, I noticed him again, this time looming over a woman placing an order. She was wearing a brown shirt and what we used to call slacks when we were mocking our parents in the ’70s. The outfit was so drab that it took a minute to register her bright face and surprisingly good figure. “You have nothing that is dairy-free that also does not have nuts?” she was saying with a grave, almost scholarly precision as the barrista searched the pastry case. Continue Reading →