This was my next thought as I listened to my son on the other side of the tub wall moan and sputter in his sleep. Any second now he might burst in on me. In January, a bathroom can go from spa to sick ward just like that. It’s a shame, because for that first day, everything’s so happy and hopeful. But the next thirty days are all hangover: stomach viruses, strep, flu, and teacher workdays.
I fished myself and the last dissolving Thin Mint out of the tub, and headed to the kitchen to get a mixing bowl in case my son tossed his cookies.
Why don’t guests give mixing bowls at baby showers? They should. Big bowls are so useful, and not just for getting sick in the middle of the night. You can bathe a newborn in one. And later, use it to make cookies.
Chris Martin, the frontman of the band Coldplay, said in a radio interview last year that he never holds back his best material. For him, there’s no rainy day to save a good song for, nor a mythical better album for it to crown. Whatever future opportunity may exist, the song is here, and the time is now.
I feel the same way about the zebra-striped fleece socks I bought last Fall at a big box linen store. There’s no “better outfit” they’ll go with to make me look more asexual. Whatever ensemble I choose, the socks will fully neuter me in it. Perfectly. Today.
My carpe diem approach to wearing the socks was inspired by Martin—and I like to think he’d be pleased to know it. For nearly two months after I purchased them, they languished in a drawer with the little plastic hanger and labels still attached. That’s because I didn’t really want the socks in the first place. Buying them was a beer-goggles type of decision; my judgment was impaired by the potpourri reverse-aromatherapy permeating the store. I had to get away from that smell, and whatever items were in my mitts when I checked out, well, so be it.
It took a bitterly cold day last January to make me willing to wear the socks. Our floors were like ice floes. I donned the zeebs atop two other pairs of dress socks I already had on. My feet became pedal turduckens.
Instantly, I was hooked. I went from being a designer with a decent aesthetic sensibility to someone who’d totally let herself go. In the morning, I forced my freakishly fat, felted feet into ballet flats and experienced warmth I never knew existed. At night, I climbed into bed with the socks still on (see “asexual” above). Stowaways joined me between the sheets: lengths of Washi tape, apple produce labels, and Ninjago stickers from the pediatrician’s office—all cozily adhered to the fuzzy bliss of my sock soles.
With my first zebra anniversary now approaching, I’ve been reflecting on my total abdication of fashion for warmth. I troll through different outfits in my mind, hoping to conjure a jaunty costume that my socks will actually look good with. It’s no use. Swimsuits, power suits, and zoot suits all look decidedly worse with the socks as a foundation.
The only way to preserve some measure of dignity with my zeebs on is to hide them under boots. As I max the PSI on the zippers, I tell myself that it’s okay; everyone’s hiding something. Teenagers have their acne concealer, and those of a certain age have their turtlenecks and hair plugs. Guess what? We all look frigging fantastic. Especially when we notice the little chinks in each other’s armor, take a shallow breath in our Spanx, and pretend that we didn’t notice a thing.
If you snap this blanket, and the whole fringed edge falls over the far side of the bed without touching the wall, then the frozen meat package arriving from your in-laws will contain those delicious twice-baked potatoes.
Some people spend their lives trying to quiet their mental critic. I spend my life being propositioned by my mental dealer.
Like most parasites, he entered my life unnoticed, without fear or fanfare. But he’s ravenous, highly adaptable, and looks like Hell under a microscope. If I do one deal, he wants another. And the stakes only get higher.
In elementary school, skipping cracks in the sidewalk meant a Mad magazine in my mailbox. In middle school, finishing the dishes before the high note in “Evergreen” meant a sleepover at my friend’s house. And in high school, pulling a blue M & M from the bag right after a red one netted me the college acceptance of my choice.
On and on it’s gone, through every stage of my life.
My rational mind knows that these trades hold no real power. But the dealer is a drug I can’t quit. He preys on me in vulnerable moments, like when I’m bored, or hungry. He’s my own personal fast-talking Ronco pitch man who dangles the good stuff in front of me: candy, toys, social acceptance, and career advancement.
It’s exhausting, facing his litany of proposals. Especially because recently he split into two beings, and is using my children as mouthpieces. The deals fly twice as fast. Competing offers are the norm. And my fairness is constantly questioned. The process starts with an innocent-sounding query designed to make me look like the dealer. “Can I have a sleepover if I get my chores done?” This sounds reasonable, so I say yes. But then I get clocked with “You said she could have a sleepover if she gets her chores done, so why can’t I watch a video if I do my homework?” If I’m not careful, I’ll end up in that dangerous parenting alley where Justice swings her scales like nunchaku. The dealer, her thug boyfriend, laughs in the shadows by the trash cans.
Sometimes the dealer is eerily quiet. I confess that it’s then that I actually seek him out. It’s a pitiful scene. He’s the exposed Oz with nothing in his bag for me, and I’m the greenhorn Dorothy holding my singed broom. I try to engage him; I promise greater patience with my children in exchange for a healed loved one. I offer to trade a donation to his chosen charity for a safe flight home. But the dealer won’t play because his currency is joy. And in those moments, mine is fear.
Since relationships work best when everyone knows the power dynamic and sticks to it, I’ve learned to back off. He has to be the initiator, I get it, I get it. No more of my big asks. I wait for the dealer’s weird requests, and his bouquet of petty prizes. This isn’t easy when it’s the New Year, and I want to broker big deals about resolutions—about being a better person. The reality is, he won’t even give me those me those cool lip balm orbs if I meditate more. He just won’t.
But if I floss my teeth every night just so? Well, maybe he’ll bite on that one.
For twenty-five years, clients have hired me after their design budget spreadsheets were already singing on key.
I’ve come in, most often as part of a team, to join the middle verse: designing what they’ve dreamed up to build.
Eventually, the clients and I find ourselves standing in that realized dream. No matter how big or small the project, the walls feel like a skyscraper rising around us. We look out like tiny, awe-faced action figures. I never get used to it, that moment when drawings that have resided in my head–sometimes for years–transform into places where people can dwell.
Like most architects, I exit at the coda, when clients carry in their furniture and potted plants.
At least this was my professional routine until the summer of 2014, when I realized my own dream of being both client and architect. Filled with hope and terror, I initiated a project and managed it from concept to completion. I had a great team of builders and advisers. And an ample stash of Tylenol PM.
I started with the project spreadsheets. In my naivete, I thought they’d shimmer like a Kiri Te Kanawa aria. In reality, they were more like a Bonnie Tyler B-side—until I reduced the design scope. This brought things back up to the vicinity of a Whitesnake power ballad, which was something I could work with.
The middle part of the project was the pleasantly familiar design and construction phase. But when when the coda began and it was time for the furniture and potted plants, my spreadsheet ran out of notes. Even foam sofas from a Swedish retailer were out of my range.
So I dropped the needle on Mackelmore, and hit the thrift circuit. It was a homecoming of sorts, because I grew up at the hem of the world’s greatest thrift shopper: my mother. She can spot a diamond in the rough, tell you where it was mined, appraise its value, and polish it to—a shimmer.
“Take a look at these chairs,” I’d say on a call to her from a consignment store. “They’re asking $300; I’m going to offer $250.” I’d text her a photo. “They’re French country,” she’d reply without missing a beat. “Check the cording. The manufacturer. The springs. The joinery.” I’d report back, and wait for her verdict, yes or no.
In this way, and with her parallel thrifting efforts in her town, we furnished my project on key.
The scores of passes I made through local consignment stores played not like a coda, but like a full opera. Comedy and tragedy sang out from the shelves as I rifled through jumbled merchandise that once resided in other people’s dreams. This was especially true on the wall art aisle, where one day I found a signed photograph of a skyscraper the world once knew. It was just waiting for someone to recognize it, beneath a portrait of a cat in a beret.
Oh my beloved father,
I love him, I love him!
I’ll go to Porta Rossa,
To buy our wedding ring.
Oh yes, I really love him.
And if you still say no,
I’ll go to Ponte Vecchio,
And throw myself below.
My love for which I suffer,
At last, I want to die.
Father I pray, I pray.
Father I pray, I pray.
–translation, O Mio Babbino Caro, by Giacomo Puccini
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