The painting above is one of my all time favs. Some little girls grew up wanting to be princesses covered in silks and jewels, and maybe marrying a sheikh who lived in a fancy tent. Me? I grew up wanting to go off into the Rockies with friends to live in a tent (in the summers, I was a romantic, not an idiot) and paint like Sargent used to do. And with that in mind, I’ll start with last Friday.
In the midst of making lunch last Friday, post pedicure, my mother called. Minka had killed again. Another young bunny. She wanted to know what to do, so I told her. Ziplock (body) bags, of the appropriate size were in the drawer near the oven for just such occasions.
Once bagged, the bodybag needed to go into a Hefty bag filled with Gran’s used Depends. California is hot. The trash wouldn’t be picked up till Tuesday. It’s important to cover the smell of dead bunny so as not to draw coyotes to the yard.
Although if a coyote hopped into the yard and took Minka out, I’d be inclined to think “karma.” Mutti then mentioned finding parts of a rat in two different bird baths, and what did one do about that? So I told her.
You’d think that would put me off lunch, but no.
There was then a pause in conversation, after which she, apropos of nothing, apologized. She said she didn’t realise that Gran was so much work. Apology accepted, I replied. Then she asked why I never told her. I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I always told her. She just never believed me.
Maybe she never wanted to believe me. I can see that. Who wants to think about a loved one’s slow decline and death? It’s normal. It happens to everyone privileged to grow old. I don’t dwell on it. I know few people that do. But, to be fair, she has her viewpoint, coloring things as well.
From things she’s said in the past, when I’d mentioned the challenges I faced, she’d chalked my statements up “whinge.” She thinks the fact I don’t have children means that I’ve never understood the hard work of caring. Uh, yeah, sure.
Older people are not all as unhinged as the person above (lives in Gran’s county, and not in an institution). But they’re not easy. Mutti thought like caring for a very elderly adult was just like caring for a very young child. No. No it isn’t. Not at all. But now she had to deal with the situation, alone, she knew.
Now that she had to use the internet to figure out how to cut Gran’s hair or give pedicures because the podiatrist was closed or constantly have to adjust the temp in the house, buy and make food she didn’t eat, use hoyer lift on bad days, help her to brush her teeth, deal with doctors remotely and fears of bringing home SARS CoV 2? Now she understood.
She said she was going to claim the annual family caregiver benefit from Gran’s LTC for me. It’s not a lot considering the months I was there caring. But I was there out of love and never expected anything. Also, when you haven’t worked in 6 weeks and don’t have a job lined up, every little helps. So, water under the bridge.
We talked about the US-Canada border situation. As of now my parents can legally return to visit, but they’d have to spend two weeks in quarantine. I don’t see that happening. But I’m glad it’s possible. It means in the fall, they can come back before the second wave hits and the border closes again.
We don’t talk about it, but it’s inevitable they’ll be there and I’ll be back on the frontline. Gran wouldn’t do well if she, and Minka, moved up and in with my parents. Her house is all set up for her needs. Her doctors are there. There’s no point in wishful thinking. The US situation is out of control now. In a few months?
I sometimes wonder if the 50K of elderly dead were 50K white male GOP donors dead, that we’d see action. I’m not sure. The refusal to mandate basic, “easy to do” steps to stop transmission is mind boggling. But almost 120K are dead, and nothing. Worse than nothing. Leaders actively encouraging superspreading with rallies.
It reminds me of the story of Abraham pleading for Sodom. Only now it’s God asking if people will change their ways, like wear a mask, to keep the losses to 10 dead? No? How about 1,000 dead? Surely 100K dead? No? What about to keep their parents alive? Where’s the line with this nation? Is there one?
I remember when Americans were slack-jawed at the idea people in Africa refused to modify their behavior to stop the spread of Ebola. I remember conservative news outlets saying if “those people are too stupid to take basic precautions, why should we send people and spend money to help them.” Racism was foundational to their reaction.
I hope now American people can see, in normal times, to change millennia of social practices is hard. Getting human beings to change social behaviors, when they can’t see imminent danger to themselves? Trying to get containment, when widespread poverty (or fear of falling into it) is not addressed? Eradicating a virus, when a lying, incompetent dictator and his weak, greedy toadies pretend there is no virus?
And these are not normal times. It’s not an outbreak confined to a few nations, on another continent. It’s a pandemic. It’s worst right here. Yet, no one in the US seems to understand even basic things like exponential growth.
On Weds the US, in the midst of its massive uncontrolled outbreak, decided to restart flights to China. On the same day, China to cope with a (comparatively speaking) small outbreak, grounded all its flights. The level of stupidity in the US is so high, even progressive states with large upticks, like California, fail to mandate wearing a mask in public.
Sidebar: The Australian prime minister, John Howard, stopped gun violence, that killed several hundred people each year, by committing political suicide.
The California governor, Gavin Newsom, to stop coronavirus killing tens of thousands this year, refused to risk doing the same till yesterday. Not in March at 1K test-proven cases a day. Not in April at 2K. Not in May at 3K. Yesterday, when the horse has left the barn and there is vast unchecked community spread.
BTW, the “mandated” mask-wearing “guidance”? Not a law. There’s no punishment if you blow it off. And, there is no state program is handing out free masks to the homeless, the poor, or under-served communities.
People assume if Joe Biden wins things will get better. He wouldn’t take office till the end of January. That’s six months down the road. I’d bet, with winter second wave, by then, the human toll will be enormous and much of the country will be shut down. But it’s not a future that’s unexpected. In fact, it’s expected. Dems in office is just the start of a new cycle.
The GOP model of government has been destructive venture capitalism since at least the 70s. Strip all the assets of a company (or country, ie, the US) for the benefit of the rich and then dump broken bankrupt company (or country) back to the Dems to rebuild it. And each time it’s back on it’s feet….the GOP strips it again. With each cycle, more assets go to fewer people and wealth inequality gets worse.
I have concerns about November, but not for the reasons most people do. Lots of people are talking about vote by mail, which the GOP — with zero proof — claim disadvantages their party. No one is talking about the Post Office, which delivers ballots to voters and make sure they get back in time to be counted.
The office of Postmaster General has been held by a female Democrat. The second in command was a black male Democrat. Also on the 6 person board, another Democrat. So 3 Dem and 3 GOP on the board. The USPS wasn’t worth bothering with by this administration for 3.5 years. The minute VBM became an issue, a white Republican man, major donor to the POTUS, gets appointed PMG.
The current second? He resigns so “the new PMG can have the second of his choice” aka another white male Republican donor. That puts the number of Republicans on the USPS’s 6-person board at 5. If you think that’s not going to result in immediate cuts in service and closures that affect how fast things (like ballots) get delivered or picked up in non-white and Democrat-leaning communities, I suspect you’re paying attention.
I gave my mother the number of the Samaritans Helpline before I rang off. Sometimes, you just need to talk it out with someone. Someone not a friend or family member. There’s no shame in that. I came within a cat’s whisker of calling a few times. But I talked it out with Minka. She’s a good listener. On the other hand, maybe that’s why she suddenly became a spree killer?
Since I had some money coming in, I decided to make a health-positive investment, and signed up for the Diabetes Undone course. I only just started it, but it’s been good, and helpful. My friends were right about it. I’d say totally worth it.
I’m trying to get the Significant Other to help me test out recipes but the program is plant based and the cookery leans decidedly vegan. Not a stretch for me, but for him….no. And that’s okay. He does a lot to keep fit and stay well. That’s all I really care about. I can throw a little organic grass-fed meat into his portion.
I also decided with extra cash I’d splash out on a surprise for the SO. I called my Jordanian friend and got the number of the mehndi artist that did her Eid / wedding last year, when there were still weddings. Thankfully “Noor” wasn’t busy. She was delighted to book me an at home appointment for Monday morning.
Friday afternoon, just after lunch, I heard the Significant Other hove up. He rides his motorcycle these days. The lease on the company car was up in January and it was deemed better to let it go, for now. Which makes my old beater our only car, and not really worthy of a white-tie arrival anywhere. So, I did wonder about our Monday dinner destination.
After snagging a quick sandwich, I expected him to go to work in the sunroom. He works 50% of the time at home and 50% at the office, so he’s there every day. The 5-person staff came up with a rota. Each person is in the office 40% of the time over a 2-week period, but never with the same staffer. This way everyone gets a chance to connect with everyone else. Less cabin fever and less stress.
But no. He’d taken the afternoon off. Interesting. He spent an hour in the garage, banging around, then “Mattie” an Australian friend who does landscaping and trims our trees and bushes every fall arrived. A series of rectangular slate pavers were laid horizontally from the backdoor to a point of nothingness on the lawn.
Next they installed attractive copper lantern solar lights along the pathway. (They lit up the following night a lovely amber color.) After that they pulled out tape measures, power tools, then round stepping stones. It was looking very UFO landing site to be honest. However, once they started to lay the stones out in a familiar pattern, I knew exactly what they were up to.
On the wet soil and grass, the stones would act as footers for the portable deck on which the 6M bell tent could be raised. For a white tie event, it was genius really. Exotic locale, yet pandemic safe. And it didn’t cost him anything. He’d bought the tent for the company events and parties a few years ago. It’s even got a tent stove, for those colder, wetter days. And Monday was predicted to be cool and rainy.
The dogs were very excitedly running about. Something new to sniff! The cats and I watched from the air lock. I was intrigued. Sweaty shirtless men with power tools. Mattie is gay so …. just fantasizing. As Mattie himself might have been. Eventually the cats went out and sat on elevated, dry, lounge space to survey their servants wrestling canvas, pegs, and pole on the lawn of their petty kingdom.
By the end of the day, the bell was up. The half-moon screened air vents were left open so it could air out and the canvas could breath and relax. On Saturday Der tweaked the guylines till it was perfect in shape and form. Then he dragged out the tent stove. I couldn’t imagine him making a white tie worthy meal on a tent stove. Realistically? I suspected delivery from a favorite restaurant was planned.
Sunday morning the flaps over the vents facing the house were lowered. The cats, who had been quite happy in the tent, were removed to the house, under protest. The dogs were also shooed inside. A van arrived around brunch-time. Two attractive women in jeans appeared, carrying large boxes. The interior decorator, and her assistant, had been (willing they said) roped into his scheme. Although I’m sure he paid them something.
Everything taken into the tent was wrapped up. Very frustrating. I was told not to peek and spoil the surprise. I disconnected the Nest camera in the basement and told his nibs the same. I can say various pictures were taken by the ladies. Before, during, and after the decorating of the interior. I was later informed the company tent is now part of their new business plan, at least for the summer.
I’m sure a per-event rental fee will come back to the company coffers. As I said, he’s intrepidly entrepreneurial, and every little helps. They told me the the platform, tend, and all its fittings, post our event, would be shipped off to Mattie. He’ll become the tent storage facility as well as set-up and break-down person, thus spreading the wealth around.
As the ladies were out decorating, the SO was in the house cleaning. I could hear the vacuum. He’s not a messy person. But really would you want to walk into your home after months away and have to clean everything? I heard some loud thumps. Possibly furniture moving. The dishwasher ran. I saw some mopping equipment leave the kitchen cupboard and heard it travel upstairs to the bathroom. All good things.
Monday, he left the house very early. I found note under my door saying he’d be back at 6, and pick me up at the basement door at 8. Seeing he was out, and there was so little time left on the quarantine clock, I opened the door and went into the house. It was spotless. My favorite little vase was on the kitchen sill with flowers in it. Just like always.
I went upstairs and took a shower. A real shower with all my best products. Heaven. Afterwards, I checked out “the attire” on his antique valet stand. It was très élégant. The box of shirt studs was open. His great-grandfather’s pinky ring case was there. His best cologne. Top hat. Kid gloves. Pocket square. Polished shoes. Tiny flower boutonniere. And of course, the tie.
Definitely he was dressing to the nines. Most people don’t understand how sartorially complex white-tie attire is for men. Silk stockings with garters. Silk suspenders. Cuff links. It’s a lot of fuss. Beautiful fuss. Der goes white tie once a year, at New Year’s, just to keep in practice. I was glad I’d opted to splurge for the surprise. I grabbed up all my best things and took them down to the basement to sort through while I waited for Noor to arrive.
If a woman wants to hold her own in the sartorial department when he goes white tie, she has to plan ahead. If he puts on a lot of layers, she must as well. It makes for equal time spent undressing. So, because a floor-length gown is required, it was the perfect time for French silk knickers, a long silk chemise, the garter belt stockings, a corset and various bling for the hair and body.
You also have to build in a few surprises. Noor was my secret weapon there. She did a simple henna mehndi from my big toe over my foot to my ankle then up the leg the top of the thigh where the stockings would stop. Looks good under the stockings, but also adds interest when the stocking comes off.
Since I’d decided on champagne opera gloves, I had her put a pattern from my index finger, across the back of my hand, up my arms to wear the gloves end. Gloves come off for dinner. He’d see part of it then. After dinner, the gloves go back on. So he’d have to ponder if there was more, till later. Or not. He knows me. There’s always more.
I also decided to mehndi my neck as well. I went with a turtle neck black velvet halter dress with a gold wire open necklace. The necklace looks fab on the black dress, but once the dress is off? The mehndi pattern enhances the necklace, post dress, and is still there when the necklace is removed. Memorable.
A white-tie romantic evening is all about the slow burn. And granted, we’ve been on slow burn for months, but it’s important to savor such occasions, so they linger in the mind years after. Sure, I could wear a chic black silk strapless corset with the zipper. But that’s speed over style. Better the deep blue satin with gold brocade decoration and back lacing of black ribbon. That’ll linger.
Kudos to Noor. She was so much fun. We had tea and talked for a couple hours. She had no place to be. I sure didn’t. Henna takes a while to dry and darken. I felt bad that she did so much work and I could only let it set for a good six hours before removing the paste. But she pointed out that it was better that way. He’d see it orange red, but the following morning, it’d be totally different. A gift that keeps on giving.
After Noor left, I went through my checklist of all the things I had to do to get ready. Yes, a checklist. So I didn’t miss anything important. Like my special occasion nose bling. I heard the SO arrive at 6 pm, as stated, then dash upstairs. The final bejeweling of the updo was already well under way. By 8 on the dot, as I was spritzing my best perfume, he was there at knocking on my door.
He was the height of sophistication. But somewhat under wraps. He had on his white evening scarf and black overcoat. But he tipped debonairly tipped his hat, and returned it to his head at a jaunty angle. I of course was covered up as well. I had my good champagne silk evening cape with black velvet trim and high stand collar. If I wasn’t getting peek, neither was he.
He opened the dutch door, popped his umbrella, and stepped out. I have to say, it was thrill to step out and put my gloved hand on his proffered coat sleeve once I opened the door. Silly I know, but true. We strolled into the fairly clear twilight, across the softly light slate path to the tent, which glowed from within. He complimented my eyes and compared them to the sky.
When we reached the tent flap, he decorously paused and unzipped it. I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I was not disappointed. The tent is huge. Candelabras hung from the center post. The floor was awash in colorful patterned rugs and fluffy cushions. A low round teak table with low chairs, was perfectly laid with china, silver and crystal. Romantic Spanish guitar music was playing.
The stove was on. It was warm in the tent. He closed the flaps so it would stay that way. Credit where credit is due, there was not a bed in sight. Just a low white divan. A bed would have been vulgar. To “expect” that was where the evening would be insulting. I mean, after so many months? Too having empty space for dancing was a plus.
He took my cape politely, but I made sure he got good look at the skin that was there to see. He placed it casually on a fat pillow, along with his gloves, hat, coat, and scarf. I believe the word “spiffy” came to mind when he turned to me and I beheld him in his glory, in the golden glow of the lanterns.
We sat down at the mother-of-pearl inlaid table and he made us French Martinis. We made urbane, scintillating, flirty conversation for a little while, till dinner arrived. Courtesy of DoorDash, from my favorite Lebanese restaurant. I think the driver was a bit perplexed on how to knock on a tent, and then of course, seeing people inside in formal wear? Well, I’m sure he’ll be telling some tales.
Der set the dinner out in the center of the table, and shoved all the paper trappings into the stove. He opened an excellent malbec and poured generously. I at last had the chance to open my mousquetaires, tuck up my gloves and show my hand, so to speak. He was delighted.
I think it was the henna, but it may have been the little ring he gave me after I told him I was applying for permanent resident status. It’s just a stacking ring, a small ruby baguette in a thin gold band. Not expensive, but meaningful. And now it was enhanced with henna patterning around it. He immediately noticed his name, written across my hand beside the ring.
At some point I left my hand on the table too long after eating a piece of namoora and he reached out and touched me at last. Fingertips on fingertips. Thrilling! Now I know why all those girls in Austen novels were always swooning. But then something peaking out from under his crisp white cuff caught my eye.
He had no watch on. This was expected. It’s a pocket watch with white tie, never a wristwatch. But as he never takes his watch off, even in the bath or swimming (it was a gift from his parents when he graduated, which is why he owns a white tie suit to begin with, it’s a Dutch thing), I never see his wrist. Now it was off, and I could see.
There was a band of markings, lines, squiggles, and circles across the back of his wrist. It didn’t go all the way around to the inside of his wrist. It was more a thin tattoo cuff, in some weird writing I’d never seen. And this was on a man who told me he’d never get a tattoo. They were okay on other people, but it would make him feel…déclassé. His word.
When I got my nose pierced he was upset. The D-word was spoken. I explained, my body, my choice. And if I pulled the stud at some point, there would be no mark left. The same could not be said for a tattoo. Why not talk about again in a few months? (That’s de-escalating.) After a few months, he found it charmingly eccentric. Now he thinks it’s beautiful and sexy, for a day two every time I change it out and he remembers it exists — on my face.
I had to ask, “Is that a tattoo?” It was. “When did it happen?” A month after he hit the Netherlands. “Why?” He wanted a way to remember me, always. “And what does it say?” He merely smiled. “What kind of writing is it?” He didn’t say. I sexily slipped off my heels and showed him a glimpse of my stockinged, painted feet. He caved. Not just the women swoon over a bit of flesh in the 18th century.
He said he’d only give me a hint. “Haply I’d bet the moon, you’ll never guess.” The word haply gave away the phrase instantly. Such a romantic choice!
Did he regret doing it. Never once. Would he ever get another? No, “it would cheapen the meaning of the one to get another.” I nodded. “So, it hurt?” Yes, like hell. We had a good laugh. I put my gloves back on, and we danced. He’d made a nice mixtape (why are they still tapes?) of vocal and instrumental music to slow dance too.
He started to look quite nervous and overheated after a bit, odd considering we weren’t that actively dancing. I suggested he might want to repair to the divan and “lose a layer.” He removed his tailcoat. We sat down together. I peeled off my gloves, a racy move. He made a stifled whimper and bent to undo his shoelaces.
When he stood up, he offered his hand. So I gave him my naked hand. Flesh on flesh at last. I confess to blushing. He tugged on his collar slightly and pretended not to notice. We returned to dancing, but still he did seem nervous. Turns out there was a reason for it. He had a surprise of his own.
Night and Day came on and he sang it too me, as we danced. Highlight of the evening. And yes, he went the Fred Astaire version. And yes, Fred was not known for his voice, although Cole Porter liked it. But, the SO nailed it. And the dancing was pretty up to snuff as well. After which point, I might have collapsed on the divan. A cigarette was not offered, but there was a kiss. And that’s all I’ll say about that night.
He took off Tuesday so we spent the day together doing normal things. Strolling hand in hand on a walk around the block with the dogs for instance. Going to the grocery store. Picking up an order from Les Amis du Fromage (the Friends of Cheese). Cuddling and fondue on the tent divan. Watching a program from 2020 (instead of 1980-2000 because Gran couldn’t follow “new shows”). Never hearing, “Why do you like such weird stuff?”
Weds morning I cleaned the basement and got all my stuff moved back upstairs, reclaiming my closet space. Oh, so nice to have a selection of clothes again and access to different shoes and lots of socks….glorious socks. After that, though it took me a bit, I did finally track down Der’s moon hint and confirm the tattoo. Not that I doubted.
The decorator showed up. She and her assistant packed up all the cushions and paraphernalia. Off it went in a white van, to where I know not. She seemed really happy that I enjoyed her design work. Then Mattie rang the bell and, with “help” from the dogs and myself, took down the love shack. He drove it away, pavers, lights and all. Like a mirage, it was gone.
Late that afternoon, I went up to the attic and opened my art/yoga/everything studio up. I love the smell of an art studio. I could tell it missed me. The air rushed around me like a big warm hug when I stepped in. The Prussian blue was weeping (linseed oil, I may not have tightened the cap enough). Yep, now I was really home.
The studio had been shut up since I left, so of course, the cats ran in and reclaimed their fabled window perches. I sat in my squeaky captain’s chair, turned on the spattered radio, and scraped off the palette table. The dogs seized the moment to grab some hand weights and run, till the realised their error. I heard them drop down the wood staircase, thunk, thunk, thunk.
Thursday morning we discussed the financial situation. What it came down to was, he’d rather I spent the summer doing whatever at home and not working and we could afford it. He thought I needed time to decompress. Hmm, really? That’s what you’re going with? Another d-word. Personally, I thought he just wanted to spend as much time as possible together because, you know, stuff we don’t talk about.
I was looking at my otter mug when he brought this up. Had it been a different mug, things might have ended differently. I said he was probably right and it was a great idea and I’d wait till fall to look for a job. He looked visibly relieved. Truthfully the unemployment rate is almost 12%, I’d have to quit in fall, so isn’t it better to let someone else get the job? I’ll look for something remote, that can travel.
That afternoon the man I rented the cabin from called. He said in case the province shut down because of an uptick in covid-19, he could refund all my money or refund half my money and pre-book me to next year, same week, for half price. My feeling was he probably needed to lockdown income since rental is his business.
If the province shut down, half returned and pre-booking worked for me, I said. He seemed happy. Der said it was a good deal. But he was thinking next year we’d gather up some of our arty outdoorsy friends and maybe, go to the Rockies, and paint and bird watch and… live my childhood fantasy. Maybe we’d take our parents. And Gran, on a donkey? She’d totally go.
Later today I have an appointment to get my hair cut, finally. My mask is pressed. My jeans are clean. My henna is looking delightful. It’ll be my first drive into the “city.” I’ll probably get lost again but I’m looking forward to it. Long hair is great but looking like Cousin It? Not so great.
Sorry about the length of this post today. I’m wrapping it up and signing off for the summer, maybe for longer. Who can say. Remember, despite obstacles or setbacks, heartbreak or separation, sickness or disaster, life (as in being alive) is still good, loving someone or something makes that life a wonderful thing worth living, and never use the word déclassé.