Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Heart of Glass

Rehearsal was at my house tonight. A glass was broken. Second one this week.

The first one was my Big Mac glass, which I will be forced to replace on eBay. I accidentally knocked it into the sink when I was washing dishes. It's a shame; I got it for a quarter at a yard sale.

I used to have a set of eighteen matching pint, water, and juice glasses, and only those glasses. I didn't want a cluttered cabinet. Although my apartment was a mess, I made a point of storing them in a very particular way, up down up down. Most of them never got used because it was just me and my boyfriend using them, and he didn't live here. I didn't have friends over. I didn't have many friends. I went from work to home and back to work the next day, and sometimes I went shopping. I let all of my friends drift out of touch.

I was so angry when the first glass in that set broke. Now everything was unmatched. It wasn't even. It wasn't right. And indeed my life wasn't right. I was bored. I was unhappy. Eventually I changed. I made friends. I left my relationship. I found a new relationship. I changed everything.

I lost two of the water glasses when a spontaneous rager was declared at my house after a night at The Burren. A pint glass the night the I'm the Rhoda Advisory Council had a meeting at my house while my basement was cleared of past relationship detritus. Susie Cat has knocked a few off tables. I picked up a few novelty pop culture glasses while cruising yard sales with my boyfriend. He moved in and brought his specialty beer glasses. We didn't register for new glasses when we got married. I've embraced having a life where the drinking glasses don't match. If enough people are over that we can't find a matched set, it's a party, and party guests care more about what's in the glass than what it looks like.

I can't own too much in this small apartment, and I like to use the things that I have. I try not to save things for nice occasions, or own pretty things I don't use. I like to own things that have a story.


I have a set of heavy glass mixing bowls that I love. Glass is impractical, but they're the perfect mise-en-place set for my kitchen. My friend Carly gave them to me. She's the friend I met by placing a personal ad in a local paper, back before social media existed. I helped her pack when she moved from Boston to Phoenix, and saved the bowls from a trip to Goodwill. I think of her every time I use them. I dread the first time one breaks, but I know that when it happens I will e-mail her and she will say something that makes me laugh.

It's only a bowl. Or a cup. Or a glass. Things are used. Things break. Ancient pottery shards tell us how people lived, what and how much they ate, what they bought and sold, what was valuable and what was common. I live a life where glasses are broken during games of Mansions of Madness, or because someone didn't see someone's bag on the dark patio. It is evidence of a life lived.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

YA-Again: Steffie Can't Come Out to Play

Sometimes when I leave the library, I leave with great literature. Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye: First checked it out the summer of 1992. The Count of Monte Cristo: Acquired a huge overdue fine when I borrowed it to use as a prop in an elementary school/Somerville Community Access Television production of Rod Serling's The Girl Who Could Predict Earthquakes. (I had the lead and, already displaying method actress tendencies, insisted that I use the actual book.) I finally read it when I checked it out again in the summer of 1998.

Sometimes I leave the library with this:


I like to re-read books. I even like to re-read horrible books. It comes from the same part of my brain that allows me to watch the VH-1 I Love The Marathons in repeats.

I first encountered Steffie Can't Come Out to Play in my elementary school library. It was a badly designed space, that library with a mezzanine entrance to the gym. At least once a year a basketball would bounce out of the gym and into the library, and the librarian's pent-up rage would erupt into wordless squeals. I spent more time there than most. I ate lunch there because I didn't enjoy the cafeteria's atmosphere. (This should not surprise you.)

It was in the YA section. I had special permission to read things in the YA section before seventh grade because I was a nerd and had already read everything in the age-appropriate fiction section. But this book was rumored to be so scandalous, so dirty, that I wasn't brave enough to take it out or be seen reading it. I read it in furtive bursts when the librarian wasn't looking. I read it so quickly that I forgot most of the details. Years later, when I had a nagging memory of a shocking book with a red cover, it took me a while to figure out the title and find the book.

Steffie Can't Come Out to Play is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl with a sad home situation, from a nothing town near Pittsburgh, who dreams of being a model. She runs away on a Sunday night with nine dollars in her pocket. She arrives in New York City on Monday morning, and immediately upon arrival (page 13) meets a suave and mysterious man at the bus station. His name is Favor, baby. Favor. He takes her to dinner and buys her wine, takes her home, buys her bubble bath. If you watch Lifetime you know where this is going. By the end of the week she's convinced she's in love with him and joins his prostitution ring to prove her commitment. That's the end of Chapter One.

The rest of the book is a cliche montage of Times Square in the 70s. You can almost hear the electric bass when you turn the page. Halter tops. Hot pants. Discos. Steffie gets a pair of knee-high high-heeled silver boots. Favor has other women in his employ and there's as much girl-drama as a Taffy Sinclair book. Steffie falls in and out of Favor's favor. She professes her love for him as he drifts in and out of Cadillacs with shirts unbuttoned to show his chest. Her roommate is attacked by a trick with a knife. Steffie herself is attacked by another girl over a teddy bear before finally meeting up with the jaded cop who keeps appearing in a distracting sub-plot with a third person narrative. He sends her to a shelter and she goes home.

When I was a kid, I was sure this book was for adults and got mixed into the YA section of our school by mistake. Reading it now - 33 years old and having read Portnoy's Complaint - it's not so vulgar. It's a book about a teen prostitute for the Ann M. Martin set. It dances around the subject. No dirty words are ever used. The most graphic it gets is a client who asks her to stand unclothed in front of a window, and she gets a cold. Which is actually a decent and age-appropriate metaphor for feelings of humiliation and helplessness that might be part of forced prostitution, but it's buried in pages and pages of Steffie's screamingly bad judgement, ellipses, and melodramatic pining.

Anyway, Go Ask Alice? Way dirtier.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Et tu, Werther's Originals?

It's come to this: I ordered Life Savers online.
This is after weeks of searching. I finally found the rolls for sale at Hidden Sweets in Harvard Square, but they weren't the right flavor and my craving was not satisfied. I've been craving them for over a month. I had to give in.

And did you hear me? It took weeks of searching just to find the classic five-flavor roll. Did you notice that Life Savers have disappeared from every candy display in every drugstore, supermarket, and megamart within... well, I've really only surveyed within driving distance of my house, but it took weeks of searching. Weeks, I tell you. I didn't notice until I couldn't stop looking for them. Sure, you can find bags of them in the candy aisles, but they're individually wrapped candies, and Life Savers come in rolls. Any idiot knows that. And besides, those bags don't come in the assortment I want.

What I was craving, what I'm still craving, and will crave until Amazon delivers, is the Tropical Fruits pack. When I was a teenager, I always had a roll of them in my book bag. They were one of the few candies sold at the strange little school store that sold Snapple iced tea and gold chains. There was nothing better than a study period with no one who wanted to gossip, a paperback novel, and an entire roll of Tropical Fruits. I remember realizing I actually liked Silas Marner as I struggled to let a Papaya Punch dissolve all the way without ever shattering.

To transition from Andy Rooney mode to Holden Caulfield mode, I'm actually pretty angry that rolls of Life Savers have disappeared. They disappeared because we weren't buying them. They disappeared because we didn't care. They were an American institution, like Coca-Cola or Bounty, and we stopped paying attention. They were such a nice, concise candy, with a minimal wrapper and easy to eat surreptitiously. Nicely portioned. Easy to share. Brightly flavored, nothing to get in your teeth. Now how will teenagers find ways to turn out the lights if not to prove that Wint-O-Green Life Savers really do make a spark when you bite them in the dark? Life Savers have fallen out of favor to gum, and I think that's a perfect example of what's wrong with society.