Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Way It Was

I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces, all day through*
 
 I received an email from my best friend yesterday. Attached was this picture and enclosed were the words “Bye Bye Barefoot”. At first I didn’t recognize the place, but when I read those words, my memories colored in the empty spaces of the building.
 

The side of the restaurant that is partitioned off held a small wooden patio, big enough for about twelve small tables. The French doors between the patio and the bar portion of the restaurant were always open, the noises of the bar spilling out onto the warmth and the hum of the patio. Pink bouganvilla climbed the walls and encircled the faded white welcoming letters that spelled out “BAREFOOT”.

I lived on this patio. For almost 10 years it was a gathering spot for me and my best friends. Like homing pigeons, no matter where we were in our lives (employed, not employed, dating, dumped, looking, happy, miserable) no matter where we lived (Brentwood, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Malibu, New York, Austin, London), we returned home to this patio. This patio is where we caught up on each other’s lives. This patio is where we shared bottle after bottle after bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio (something I rarely order since, and cannot drink without thinking of those lost days). We celebrated our college graduation together, up in that glass room. For awhile we lived right around the corner and went there weekly for dinner. We went there when we couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. We went there because it had a great patio, or great salads, or because it was half-way in between our respective apartments. We went there because we had always gone there.

I’m not sure it was the best restaurant. I only remember the wine, and the patio, and the talks.  We rehashed break-ups and make-ups, we celebrated birthdays and promotions and new acting roles, we plotted and planned and dreamed. We went there because we were happy and the night was beautiful. We went there because we were unhappy or bored or lonely. We went there because the possibilities of life were spilling out of us and we needed somewhere to discuss and contemplate what they meant. We went there because we were defeated and sure that life had gotten away from us. We went there to be reminded that we were young, and beautiful, and could waste an entire moon-lit evening on a patio with our best friends, just because.

Place is a funny thing. This is just a restaurant, a building, with walls and pipes and concrete. Take away the sign and the patio and the flowers, the menus and the food and the chairs, and it’s just an empty shell. It just is, until it will become something else. We haven’t been to Barefoot in years. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I spent an evening there. But in my mind, it is always there, waiting for us, the four of us, to pull up a chair, and order a bottle of wine, to start a story with “So, listen to this”. In my mind, we aren’t that far removed from those girls. We could still pull out our jeans and stilettos and flimsy gossamer tank tops and put on our lip gloss and so easily slide back onto that patio, into who we once were.

The reality is that was probably 10 years ago. I never wear lip gloss anymore (too sticky with a baby). The tank tops are buried in the back of our closets. When I do visit my friends, our talk is of babies and balancing career and life, of next steps and what is worth it. We still drink bottles of wine together, but now we are much more content to do it in a cozy living room, in our sweat pants, with our sleeping babies in the next room. The point isn’t that we even want to go back to Barefoot. But I always assumed we still could.

There is another place that is filled with memories for us, a zany bar/restaurant, tucked away on a cobblestone street near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. We spent a few hilariously drunken nights there while students in Paris, the kind of nights that happen spontaneously. Before you know it, you are drinking something called “Scorpion’s Top Secret” out of a steaming punch bowl that is filled with candy-colored twisting straws. Drinking out of punch bowls leads to befriending other drunk tourists and somehow falling down some steps and finding a basement room of French karaoke. (Note, the French take their karoke very seriously.) The nights we spent in this pub were legendary, and it became the code word that encapsulated our entire experience in France together.

Exactly ten years after our brief sojourn in Paris, my best friends and I found ourselves back in Paris together for a weekend. I was in law school, A was living in New York City, M still in California, and we would all be married within the next two years. But there we were, in Paris again. We wandered the streets and tried to remember what it felt like to be those girls again, young and raw, with bad haircuts and chubby faces. On the last night, we decided to find the pub for one last “Scorpion’s Top Secret”. We got off at the metro stop and instinctively wound our way through the back streets, silently following, one behind the other. M got there first and stopped. She said nothing and just pointed. We looked up, and in my memory the building that housed the pub was literally falling down. The front walls had been removed and the floors were collapsing on top of each other. It was being torn down and nothing familiar remained. Though we were disappointed, I think we all felt some relief. We couldn’t recreate our 20 year old selves, and no night would ever live up to those in our memory. It seemed appropriate, that the past should stay wrapped up in our pink hazy memory.

But the closing of Barefoot seems different. It feels like a flashing sign in front of my face telling me the obvious: You can’t go back. That old life isn’t just on pause, waiting for you to come back and press play and fall back into that world for an evening. Everyone has moved on. Everyone is married and becoming successful and having babies and living the next part of their lives. As am I. And I love this new part of my life, love the grown up I have become. But I still feel like that California girl and I suspect I always will.

Still, I can’t help but be sad at this physical reminder that a life I once had has been shut down and dismantled. I’ve put a lot of work into this new life, but I am nostalgic for that old one. It didn’t fit quite as well as this one, but it was the life that bears the scars of my growing up. Like your childhood bedroom, the one that is too small and too turquoise and filled with things that you no longer need, you still want it to remain the way it was, just in case you need to go home again.

What I am ever so grateful for, and am reminded of in writing this post, is that, of course, nothing has been lost. What made Barefoot so memorable in my mind is that it was a place that bore witness to the greatest friendships of my life. The things I remember so wistfully, are in fact things that I can pick up the phone and remember with the ones that were there with me. The memories and the friendships aren’t beholden to something as limiting as a building. They live within us, and can never be torn down or demolished.

*Soundtrack: I’ll Be Seeing You, Music by Sammy Fain, Lyrics by Irving Kahal, as sung by Billie Holiday

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4 Years, 4 Things

June 9, 2007. Austin, Texas. Sunset. On the lawn outside the Four Seasons Hotel, in front of a lake. Behind us, the family and friends that love us most. Before us, an enormous oak tree, sprinkled with twirling flowers and candles. Being led by a very nervous pastor with shaking hands, but a clear and steady voice. In front of us, our future. In front of us, the last four years.

To my partner, my husband, my best friend, on our anniversary. It’s about to get sappy in here.

For 4 years of marriage, here are 4 random things I love about you.

1. I love the way you hold my hand, wherever we go, even when you are annoyed with me.

2. I love the way we separate at parties and dinners. I get to watch you from afar, watch you laughing and telling stories, marvel at how easily you get people to like you.  I love smiling at you from across the room, as if we share a secret, and knowing that I get to go home with you.  I love the after-party discussions, where we share our stories of the evening.

3. I love that you watch So You Think You Can Dance with me, and that contemporary is your favorite type of dance.

4. I love that you read as much as I do, that you read physics books for fun and that you read things I have never heard of. And I love that you try to get me to read the things you love.

And one more, for good luck:

5. I love that I can count on you, that if there was a natural disaster and we had to go live “off-grid”, you are the one person I would want to have with me. I love that I trust you completely. If we were truly “LOST” on an island, you are the one person I would most want to crash with.

Marrying you is still the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

It’s been a happy, laugh-saturated, wondrous four years. Looking forward to the rest of our lives together.

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Confessions of A Book Flirt

I’ve been on a budget lately, or at least trying to be. That’s what happens when you quit your job and have no money coming in; you start only buying essentials. Books are essentials, of course. But I have a book problem: I can’t walk into a bookstore without buying at least $100 worth of books. I’ve tried to make lists and only buy one book at a time. I’ve made a decision not to buy hard covers anymore. I have a Kindle, but I have this thing about owning books. I want to touch them, stack them up, possess them. I want all of the books on my list Right Now. I don’t want to wait till I need a new book.

I’m a bit of a book flirt. I go on lots of first dates with books. I read many books at once, refusing to commit until I’m sure I want to go down that road. I don’t promise them anything, just that I will give them a chance. I don’t discriminate. I read all kinds of books: lit fiction to chick lit, mysteries to fantasy, short stories to poetry. If I like the way your cover looks, I’ll buy you. If a friend confides that you’re really really good, I’ll give it a go. If Oprah likes you, I’ll at least put you on my list. If I read your author’s blog, or a good review, or someone leaves you behind in a vacation cabin, I’ll probably pick you up.

Eleanor Brown wrote about this on her blog, about whether you are a book quitter or finisher. I’m a quitter; my husband is a finisher. My general theory is that you can’t force yourself to love a book. If I’m not loving it, I put it down. Usually I’ll come back to it and see if the spark is there yet. One of my all-time favorites is The Sun Also Rises. I tried to read it at least 5 times over 10 years and was bored. Then, the 6th time, picked it up and magic! Couldn’t put it down. If I had forced myself to read it, I would have missed out on one of my favorites. Hence, I’ve always got a few books going at once, waiting to see which one is going to be tucking in with me at night.

Last night I decided to make a list of all of the books that I own, but haven’t read yet. I’ve decided to make it a goal to read each and every one of these books. I got as far as my BEDSIDE TABLE. On/in my bedside table, I keep the books I am wanting to read soon. On the bookshelves is where I keep the other books, the ones I want to re-read or get to someday or the books that never quite kept my attention. The list of books below is only those on my bedside table. (Note that I did no editing for embarrassment.)

1. The Ice Queen- Alice Hoffman
2. Housekeeping- Marilynne Robinson
3. Freddy and Fredericka- Mark Helprin
4. Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte
5. Lisey’s Story- Stephen King
6. The Widower’s Tale- Julia Glass
7. Amazing Grace (A Vocabulary of Faith)- Kathleen Norris
8. How To Be Single- Liz Tuccillo
9. Goldengrove- Francine Prose
10. The Imperfectionists- Tom Rachman
11. I Feel Bad About My Neck- Nora Ephron
12. Ape House- Sara Gruen
13. Home Game- Michael Lewis
14. House Rules- Jodi Picoult
15. Empire Falls- Richard Russo
16. NurtureShock- Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman*
17. By George- Wesley Stace
18. The Postmistress- Sarah Blake
19. The Three Weissmanns of Westport- Cathleen Schine
20. The French Gardener- Santa Monefiore
21. Dear Husband- Joyce Carol Oates
22. The Last Bridge- Teri Coyne
23. A Reliable Wife- Robert Goolrick
24. Summer At Tiffany- Marjorie Hart
25. Shanghai Girls- Lisa See
26. Her Fearful Symmetry- Audrey Niffenegger
27. East of Eden- John Steinbeck
28. Momma Zen- Karen Maezen Miller
29. Diamond Age- Neal Stephenson
30. The Tourist- Olen Steinhauer
31. While You Are Engulfed In Flames- David Sedaris
32. Mystic River- Dennis Lehane
33. Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It- Maile Meloy
34. Let The Great World Spin- Colum McCann
35. Operating Instructions- Anne Lamott
36. Female Trouble- Antonya Nelson
37. In A Perfect World- Laura Kasischke
38. Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens
39. The Gargoyle- Andrew Davidson
40. Red Hook Road- Ayelet Waldman*
41. Too Much Happiness- Alice Munro
42. A Game of Thrones- George R.R. Martin*
43. The Night Watch- Sara Waters
44. The Disappearance At Pere LaChaise- Claude Izner
45. Self Portrait With Crayon- Allison Benis White
46. Blink- Malcolm Gladwell
47. The Truth-Teller’s Lie- Sophie Hannah
48. If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This- Robin Black*
49. A Visit From The Goon Squad- Jennifer Egan*
50. The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
51. Think Twice- Lisa Scottoline
*Denotes books I am actively reading

51 books! On just my bedside table. Which isn’t really that large to begin with (see picture above). This is just downright embarrassing. Looking at all of these books I’ve picked up, flirted with, and left sitting there, waiting their turn, I feel a bit wanton and blowsy. Faced with this evidence, I must face the fact that perhaps I’m not a harmless book flirt, but a full-blown book slut.

So. I’m going to add a reading tab on my blog (once I figure out how to do so). I WILL read these books. I will try my very hardest not to buy anymore books until I finish all of these books. Well, maybe at least a good portion, say 20%. I can’t promise anything, I mean, I still need to read Bossypants, and I heard about this fabulous new book on NPR yesterday that I’m dying to read, and I can’t leave out Dani Shapiro’s Devotion, which was just recommended to me. See my problem? Ok, how about this: I’ll also start a list of all of the books I am coveting, and will try to refrain from purchasing anymore until I’ve crossed one off the list. You know, a one-in, one-out policy. If you’ve read anything on either list, let me know if you liked it.

Fess up people. Are you a book flirt or a book slut? What’s on your bedside table RIGHT NOW?

P.S. Forgot about my Kindle. Darn it. Ok, here’s what’s on my Kindle:

52. The Weird Sisters- Eleanor Brown*
53. This Is Where We Live- Janelle Brown
54. A Drink Before The War- Dennis Lehane

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What’s Your “Almost” Name?

A close friend just had her big baby boy (over 9 lbs!) last night. I am so excited, of course, for her and her family. But I’m also dying to know The Name. I love when friends either don’t know or don’t share a name, because of the anticipation and then the joyous announcement. Our son didn’t have a name until they forced us to pick one when they kicked us out of the hospital. We had a few top choices, but I wanted to see him and pick the name that “fit” him. Well, he looked like a grumpy old man. Luckily, we decided to give him a name that we loved, a name that symbolized who I wanted him to be, rather than naming him a name that would fit a grumpy old man.

The name game is a huge part of any pregnancy. Hell, it’s a huge part of any girl’s life. Very few of us girls didn’t spend time playing dress up and trying on different personas and names, or naming our dolls, or later, naming our children with our first boyfriends. (For the record, I was always Brittany Maddox, my Barbies were always Lindsay or Charlotte or Samantha, my Cabbage Patch kid was Franny Kay, and my children were going to be named Skye Paige and Jordan Michael). But once you get pregnant, the name game takes on a heightened urgency. Now’s your chance, to get out those lists and name books and bestow upon your child the perfect name, the name you always wanted, the name that will complete this picture of this child you’ve been imagining for ten months.

But then. The impending importance dampens the fun somewhat. I can’t really name my child West or Wilder, can I? What kind of a child am I creating here, a poet or a baseball player or a future Supreme Court Justice? We want a name that isn’t ugly or trendy, that isn’t too popular nor too “out there,” a name that people hear and think, now that’s a perfect name. We read Nameberry and pore over the social security lists and family trees and think of our favorite books and musicians and Things That Mean Something To Us.

I have a friend, let’s call her Stephanie, that tells the story of how she named her daughter. Stephanie was down to two names, Celine and Sophie. Her friend said, “Call her to the phone. I need to hear them out loud.” So Stephanie says, “Soooophie, phone!” The friend said, “Could be fat. Next?” Stephanie then called, “Celiiine, phone!” Her friend: “Most popular girl in school. Done.” Even though we know this is silly (and that Sophies are far from fat!), it’s what we do. And yes, she named her daughter Celine.

But really, in the end, does it matter? The difference between a Brooks and a Jake, or a Caden or an Aiden is negligible. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow has an unwieldy and dorky name and look at her. It didn’t hold her back or turn her into a sickly child that is relegated to her bed, sadly staring out the window at the other children playing outside, her long once-blonde hair wrapped in a braid round and round the crown of her head. (For some reason, this is what I think of when I hear the name “Gwyneth.”) According to the smart guys that wrote Freakonomics, names don’t matter all that much or dictate how successful you might become.

Still. I’m reminded of a hysterical conversation a close friend and I had once. By hysterical I mean that we had too much wine, and therefore we found this conversation hysterical. I’m pretty sure if you’d been sitting next to us, you would have been rolling your eyes at us, the giggling drunk girls in the corner. No matter. This girl and I are kindred spirits. Both lawyers, both avid readers, both writers. We share a love for the written word, sarcasm, fantastic shoes, and happy hours. We have the ability to watch someone enter a room, look at each other, and come to the exact same conclusion without saying a word. Needless to say, we found each other in law school pretty quickly, two girls who desperately needed someone else that understood the importance of the latest episode of Friends  and The O.C. (yes, both were still on, thank you very much), read Vogue and The New Yorker regularly, knew the difference between a Choo and a Louboutin, and still wanted to read books by Atwood and Roth and Eugenides. Have you met many law students? The fact that even one existed was a huge miracle.

So you’d think, no matter our names, we’d be friends, right? Hmmm. I’m not so sure. So the silly conversation centered on our “almost” names. You know, the names that your parents considered bestowing on you but decided not to. Mine was Julie. Hers was Miranda. We shared these names, and in the exact same instant said, “Oh, Julie would NEVER be friends with Miranda. And Miranda would HATE Julie!”

We knew instantly that Julie would have been a superficial, narrow-minded cheerleader, a girl that never wanted to leave Texas and wouldn’t read anything BUT US Weekly. (We read US Weekly, yes, but we also read the newspapers. It’s a balance thing). Julie would tolerate Miranda, but would find her too serious and boring.

Miranda would have despised Julie for her popularity and easy way in life, for the way she didn’t question anything and could be friends with people that said stupid things. Miranda would never read US Weekly and would probably only read novels by dead French or Russian men. Miranda would get out of Texas the first chance she got and would never ever twirl her hair for a boy.

Of course, this is silly and we are who we are. But I think we touched on something. Those versions of Julie and Miranda are facets of who we actually are, a version of ourselves that could have been. There are elements of Julie and Miranda in me, as in my friend. What we sussed out were those extreme elements, those parts of us that we are afraid might have taken over our lives.

Whether or not actually naming me Julie and her Miranda would have led us in different directions, of course who knows. But I’m glad I’m not Julie. I’m glad she’s not Miranda. I’m glad that we have both of us in there, that we can understand the fun of a little low brow culture, and also recognize the importance of  expanding your mind and having different experiences. I’m glad I found her in law school, that she and I got kicked out of a Bible study for asking if we could bring wine, and that we also started the best book club I’ve ever been part of.

What is in a name? Who knows? But have you ever wondered if you’d be a different person if you had a different name? What was your “almost” name? Would you change your name if you could?

For the record, I love my name and am very glad that my parents picked it. Now my middle name, that’s a different story.

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