Friday, October 30, 2009

Taco Party

I reluctantly walked a block in the cold to attend a Taco Party on a Wednesday night. I automatically assumed the company would be superficial, the food would be greasy, and the experience would not really be worth replacing the bag of popcorn and homework that I had planned. Nevertheless, I knew that I needed to try something new.

One of the guys I met at the party had some self-given name like Folge or Grunk. He wore a light brown shirt with deer antlers on it, orange boots, and wranglers. He asked me where I was from. Texas, I said. He served his mission in Houston and—judging from the look on his face—I think he assumed this would make us insta-friends, even though I’m from Austin, which is a good four hours away, and I’ve only been to Houston twice.

“What year in school are you?” He asked ordinary questions.

“I graduate next semester.” He smiled big and scooted to the edge of the couch, closer towards me.

“Will you be my sugar mama?” He practically shouted. Are you kidding me? I thought to myself.

“Um,” I looked at him with, what felt like, a disgusted expression, “No.”

“Why not?” he asked genuinely confused, throwing his hands up into the air.

“Well, because I expect a man to take care of me. Sorry.” My forehead wrinkled up in honesty.

He continued to plead with me for about two minutes, and I didn’t know whether or not I should keep pretending to smile. I am done with this, I thought. My mouth quivered with confusion, I averted my eyes from his, and walked home by myself about ten minutes later.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Walking Alone

I walked alone today, in my royal blue flats and a borrowed brown jacket. Stepping on wet leaves, I headed home down W. 2nd S.—with my eyes closed, and my face and my neck turned up to the grey sky. Carla Bruni sang Quelqu-un m’a dit one time after the other to me, through the earphones I bought last summer. She understands this beauty I feel. I passed the football field and ran my fingers along the chain-link fence, watching them vibrate.

The French song plays in 500 Days of Summer when Zooey is in the passenger seat, wearing a light blue shirt. Her bangs are dark and in her face. She laughs, but the music plays over it. I will go see that movie tonight.

I pushed the little white button on the crosswalk, saw my breath in the air, and waited for the lights to change. I remembered a dream I had the night before. I wore the spandex pants and grey school sweatshirt I often sleep in. I’m not sure exactly where I was, but someone I once loved was there, talking to me. He was tall, and I strained my neck to look at him. He told me he loved me for all the right reasons. He told me he always meant it. I looked at him confused, but said nothing. The light changed, and as I crossed the street, I watched a man with a beanie riding his bike in the park.

This morning when I woke up and walked alone to class in my royal blue flats and a borrowed brown jacket, I saw the tall person from my dream, the one I once loved. I’m sure he saw me, but crossed the street plugged into his iPod, and never looked. It hurts, and you’d like to feel miserable about this, but you can still make your day a good one.

On W. 2nd S., I stopped to take a picture of the yellow tree I love with dark brown branches that sits across the street. I took a cold breath, pulled my earphones from my ears, and walked up the driveway of the light-blue house on the corner.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Only Grandparent

I hadn’t called my grandmother since last summer when my mom told me to thank her for the donation that she made towards my tuition. When I called then, she expressed to me how grateful she was to hear from me, how she never heard from my mother’s other four children, and how I remind her of grandpa with my talent for still life paintings. The only other times I’ve called my grandmother have been to wish her happy birthdays in October—and that’s about how frequently we talk.

I was hesitant to tap the little green call button on my iPhone. How would the conversation begin? Am I allowed to say things like what’s up or how’s it goin’ to my grandmother? I called my mom earlier to tell her that I thought it would be more of a service to interview Grandma than it would be for me to interview a complete stranger—she is my only living grandparent, and I am the only grandchild who writes. My mother agreed, and told me during our next phone call that Grandma was expecting my call. Would she know that I would be interviewing her, writing in her voice? I sat myself down on the stained couch in my college living room, grabbed my grey, 5-subject spiral and pen, and gently hinted my finger on the iPhone touch screen.

“Hello?” Her New York accent was just as thick as I remembered; it’s the same accent my brothers imitate during the holidays when she visits. I could picture her sitting in her blue recliner, the small chain of her pink-framed glasses dangling on either side of her neck, holding the cordless phone to her ear. I thought of Lipton Soup with Acini De Pepe and White Shoulders perfume. I thought of her little pink villa in Florida, and how she lives there alone.

“Hi, Grandma,” I smiled big enough for her to hear through the phone.

“Hello my baby. How is school?” I replied with my usual. It’s great; I’m really busy all of the time; I spend twelve hours a day on campus; I share a room with three people; and the house is old. “You datin’ anyone yet?” I replied with my usual. No. “What the heck is wrong with these people? My granddaughter’s meetin’ wimps out dere in Idaho. You’re gorgeous and-and-and talented—just a gem, Aly. You’ll meet some schmuck someday.”

“But Grandma,” I laughed, rocking my entire body forward, “that’s exactly what I don’t want to do is meet some schmuck.” For some reason, hearing my grandmother’s slang words and ideas on dating is refreshing and takes me by surprise. I remember now that there are places in the world besides Rexburg; I am made up of more than this.

She told me about how she just had dinner last week with her old bishop: Bishop Montgomery. Apparently he has a gorgeous son in the Air Force and a daughter at BYU-Idaho that I should befriend. “Didn’t your mother tell you?” No, she didn’t. “You gotta be kiddin’ me. I’m gonna clobber her. I can’t believe she didn’t tell you. You just wait til I get her. I’m gonna pull her hair outta her head.” I laughed loud again. I hadn’t laughed like this in a while. “Oh, I guess that’s okay. She’s got more problems than hair on her head, that woman.”

I propped my legs up onto the couch and pulled a pillow from the ground to place in my lap. I set my notebook on top and drew swirls on the lined paper with my purple pen.

“You know,” she began. I expected her to recommend I meet with the Montgomery brother or tell me what the Swami said about me in her last Tarot reading. “My friend fell down, and she looks like a raccoon.” I laughed. Okay, change of subject, I guess.

“What? She fell down?”

Grandma chuckled, I think, at her raccoon simile. “Yeah, I’m not kiddin’ you. Annie was walkin’down tha steps at tha community centa and fell down. Now she’s walkin’ around with a black eye, for God’s sake.” She continued. “You know, we got March of the Widows over here with all these women. The only men here are the old bitties that are about to croak, God bless ‘em. They look at me like they wanna date me—are they kiddin’? Whadu I wanna be with an old man for?” Grandma is eighty-six. I laughed again, and I tried to scribble down all of her classic lines as fast as she talked. This is my mother’s mom, and though I don’t talk to her much, I feel deeply connected. She raised the most influential person in my life, and because of that, I am connected.

The conversation about our current lives lasted an hour. “Well thank you for calling, baby.” I felt adrenaline as I remembered that I hadn’t interviewed her yet—that was the main purpose of this call. I wouldn’t have thought to call without the assignment. I am a crappy grandchild, I thought.

“Grandma?” I asked before she could hang up. “Mom told you about how I need to interview you for a class, right?”

“Oh yeah, yeah.”

“Is that okay if I ask you some questions? Do you have time?”

“Of course.”

“I was thinking about the deli?”

“The deli? Whaddaya wanna know about it?”

And my grandmother told me about her little deli in Nanuet, NY. We talked for another hour.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Deli

I interviewed my eighty-six-year-old grandmother about an interesting time in her life. The following essay is written in her voice:

The Deli

I’m sorry we hadda sell it. Grandpa was so happy workin’ in it. But I got sick. My pneumonia came back because I’d work up a sweat from runnin’ around all day. Then I’d go into our cooler-freeza to get things, and I’d get tha chills. I told him not to sell it, but Grandpa says to me, if I lose you, Jean, what’s tha deli to me? So, we sold our Hobbies deli to a family of five.

Whadda you wanna know about it? It was around 1977. Grandpa and I were in our 50’s with no kids anymore—they were all outta tha house by then. It was tough work, man. We’d be in there workin’ from seven a.m. to nine p.m. Some nights, especially if it was snowin’, we’d sleep on tha couch bed in tha back. We had everythin’ we needed in there. We had each other, and we’s were doin’ what we loved.

People came to tha deli because they were crazy about tha food—what can I say? One time a man came in, and he complained to me about there bein’ too much roast beef in his sandwich—do you believe it? I made two roast beefs a day, and of course I used them up in those sandwiches; I wasn’t gonna skimp nobody. His was the only complaint I ever got. It was a pretty good complaint to have, if you ask me.

It smelled like roast beef and garlic all tha time in there. We had an eight-foot salad bar that was always loaded with potato salad, chicken salad, veal and peppers—tha works, okay? I’d cook up a storm and make 250 meatballs a day. Our floor was brown, and we had three aisles of canned foods and other things for people to purchase. There were no seats. This wasn’t a restaurant—are you kidding me? Grandpa and I would nevah have been able to do that on our own. People just came in, got what they wanted, and then they’d leave.

The entire place was immaculate. Tha health inspector came in once and all he could say about tha place was that our bathroom door didn’t close fast enough. I says to him, oh, was that all you could find? I’m pleased.

We had a reputation, boy. One time my mom was comin’ in from the airport, and she told tha cab drivah Hobbie’s Deli, downtown Nanuet. It was on the other side of tha Hudson. Tha cabbie says to her, I eat there all of tha time. She says you’re kiddin’ me, my daughter and son-in-law own that place. He told her he loved it—especially tha sausage and peppa sandwich. There was also a trucker man that would plan his route around our meatball sandwich. What can I tell you? Italians know what’s good.

We’d specially order tha bread for those sandwiches from the Italian bakery down tha street. Sometimes tha sandwiches would go so fast, we’d have to make two trips to tha place in a day. Our sandwiches were magnificent, sure, but our trays were somethin' else. Grandpa made 'em look just fabulous—gorgeous, even. You wouldn’t believe them. He was such an artist, and he’d fold tha Boars Head cold cuts just so. It was tha happiest I’d seen him. He gained weight workin’ there—he was always a skinny mini otherwise. He ate so much pasta and meatballs; he had his fill, boy. I have a picture of him standin’ behind tha deli counter, smilin’. He was always smilin’, Mr. Happy Tooth.

I never liked to eat tha food like Grandpa did. There was so much of it all of tha time; I’d be sick just thinkin’ of eating it. So you know what I’d do? I’d go to tha nearby diner to have an omelet. Tha people workin’ there would say to me, Jean, with all that great food you got over there, you’re eatin’ an omelet? Those people looked at me like I had bugs crawlin’ outta my ears.

We had some experiences in that place. We’d cooked for tha mental institution in Orangeburg, New York, a number of times for Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving—you name it. They ordered h’orderves and cold cut trays from us. Any time we went inside with our trays and bins to set up, we’d pass tha patients runnin’ around or sittin’ on tha floor. One time in particular, I was in tha kitchen puttin’ tha h’orderves into the oven, and I sees this guy come in. He starts runnin’ around tha table hootin’ and hollerin’ like an owl, takin’ his clothes off. I says to myself, if he comes near me, I’m gonna hit him over tha head with a pot. He didn’t ever come near me, and I just minded my business. I’m tellin’ you, tha things I saw.

Another time, a woman with red hair came into tha deli and said she was a waitress and wanted a caterin’ job. I told her I was caterin’ a colored wedding, and she could help. I was out settin’ things up, runnin’ back and forth, makin’ sure everything was just so. I found her in tha kitchen takin’ shots like don’t ask, with tha men who were mixin’ tha drinks. They thought it was hilarious. Of course she couldn’t help with tha trays after that; she could hardly stand up straight. We were sittin’ in tha van afterwards, and she says to me, boy I had a really great time; that was a beautiful wedding. I told her yeah, that’s tha last time you’re workin’ for me. I was no dummy.

We catered for tha homeless children once. It was tha nun’s 25th anniversary and about 200 people were there. We had so much food left over; I let tha Reverend Mother keep it for tha kids. She says to me Jean, God has to bless you; the children will be eatin’ for a whole week with what you gave me.

So I got sick from tha cooler-freezah, but God spared, and my pneumonia went away. I was blessed; what can I say? No matta how happy Grandpa was makin’ those trays and washin’ our windows, he still sold tha place. I was it for him. He woulda gone crazy without me.

It was a lotta work, that deli. But man, was it a hoot. And that’s it. What else you wanna know?

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Tree

I lived there in the summer. There was a tree close to the foundation of my neighbor's red-brick home. If I wanted to, I could walk across a small, black driveway to get to its trunk, but I never did. I only watched the tree from my upstairs window; it wasn't mine.

The branches gnarled like a wise, aged hand and stretched to my window. At night, the shadows of its form would play on my ceiling, and I'd watch it from my bed those times my friend would call from Canada.

When the sun baked my old, brown carpet and dust trickled through the sunlight, I would struggle for a clean breath. I'd open both of my windows--they didn't have screens--and I'd reach from the sill to touch the leaves. I'd examine their waxy coating, their veins, their jagged outline. I'd drink the clean air and sometimes smell the leaves' damp chlorophyll when it rained.

When songs by Joshua Radin or Rosie Thomas played too long for me to feel the words, I'd sit by the window in my wooden chair, prop my feet up on the sill, and listen to the leaves rub together in the wind. The tree was whispering things to me, I'm sure of it, but my thoughts were never pristine enough to hear what was said--I was always emptying myself onto it.

I could never bring myself to pluck a leaf. The leaves weren't mine. The tree belonged to my neighbor, and it sat close to the foundation of the red-brick home. When the Fall came, I was the one to leave it.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I woke up to the first snowfall of the semester, but the weather isn't the only thing that's changed.

I have found myself smiling at strangers passing by in the MC or on the sidewalk, when before I'd walk with somewhat of a cloudy eye, focused on my destination and nothing inbetween. A roommate of mine told me that a text message I sent made her day, and I want to understand her. A girl in my creative writing class opened up to me to the point of tears. I felt so much love for her and so much sorrow for what I'd thought of her before. A stout girl offered the scripture in class, and I studied her chapped lips and empathized with her. I got excited about an assignment given: to interview an elderly person about a specific moment in their life and write about it, providing a small record for that person and their family. A really great guy that I know ate lunch with me today and had me listen to about eight of his favorite classical songs, and I felt his enthusiasm.

I've decided that after graduation, in April, I'm going to serve a mission. There was something about Elder Perry's talk during General Conference on Sunday, and all of the talks following, that really echoed that message. I never wanted to go; in fact, I was positive I would never go.

It's amazing to me that changes like these can take place overnight. But the snow has brought this with it, and I am content.