Tag: El

Counts for Easter

lamb cake
He is eaten.

Among my mom’s many mildly annoying sayings was “Well, this counts for eatin’.” I was never sure what it meant, whether she hadn’t really enjoyed the meal or she really had. Or maybe that she wasn’t hungry but felt obligated to eat. Or maybe it referred to something specific the first time and she enjoyed saying it so much she just kept doing it. If all the annoying habits of my family could be charted on a huge tree there’d be a dotted line running from “Well, this counts for eatin’” to her mother-in-law’s standby, “I wonder what the poor people are eatin’ tonight.” I believe that was meant to be a compliment to the cook.

Saturday night I saluted the end of Lent with a cold glass of sake at Katsu, where Dave and I went with Xeena and Buck. Usually we meet at our old standby, Midori, but we decided to try somewhere new because there are a million restaurants in Chicago, for Pete’s sake. We agreed that the quality of the sushi at Katsu may be superior, but we enjoy Midori more. Not just because it’s cheaper, though that helps, but we’ve gone there together enough that it feels like ours. I crave my favorite rolls there, and the margaritas, and the familiar faces.

At the table, Xeena said she misses ritual. “Holidays come and go,” she said. For Easter they were having her family over for barbequed fish tacos.

“I thought we were going to try going to church sometimes,” I reminded her. We had talked about it maybe a year ago, on a Sunday morning when we were all at Ann Sather, how we could check out churches of different denominations around town.

“We were,” Xeena agreed. She asked Dave and Buck, “You guys interested?” Buck stared blankly ahead, just as he did when she mentioned it at Ann Sather. She added quickly, “We could go to brunch afterward.”

Dave replied in the same words he used the first time, “Couldn’t we just go to brunch?”

Our Easter dinner was mostly traditional. Ham at my brother Rolando’s. They also served eggplant parmesan for the vegetarians, and many side dishes. I laughed more than I have in weeks, sitting with my brothers and their wives and their kids and Dave and cousin El, who’s more like a sister. El made two lamb cakes, just like last year, and this year both their heads stayed on. However, one lamb fell face forward into the green coconut grass, so it seemed to be sniffing the other lamb’s butt. Also, the upright lamb’s ear fell off so she re-attached it with a dental floss pick. She swore it was unused.

After just a few years of El bringing two cakes instead of one, I now expect two. The first time she was trying to make up for her ugly homemade one with a bakery one, which froze  and shrunk in the car so it actually looked worse than the homemade one. Last year she made two recipes, pound cake and chocolate zucchini. This year they were both pound cake, the difference being that the upright one with the dental floss pick ear had white frosting while the toppled-over one had white frosting plus a layer of coconut flakes. I’m not sure how many years it takes for a pattern to become a ritual, but there’s a little place in my heart now that longs for a pair of lamb cakes this day every year, ever striving for perfection, always failing in their own perfect way.


Storytellers hugging
It's effing golden.

It took me all day to record my voiceovers, which I always think of as an easy day, a fun day, but when it comes around it ends up being miserable. Me standing in a small room unable to believe how bad I sound. Every now and then it goes amazingly well and I have no mouth noise and I sound great even to me, and can tell I’ll have to do almost no cleanup and editing, but this wasn’t one of those times. And my ears got all clogged up, which  always makes me wonder whether I have high blood pressure or the headphones are just too loud.

Then I was late to meet S— for the StoryLab thing, where our fellow classmate was telling a story. Instead of showering and choosing a cute outfit and having a leisurely walk with Dave and Django to the train, I threw a sweater over my dirty tee-shirt and made us walk so fast Django couldn’t stop and sniff anything.

I hate it when we walk Dave to the train and he’s in a hurry. I want to say, “Just go ahead,” in a huff. When I’m in a hurry I keep waiting for him to do the same thing, but he doesn’t. Which is also stressful. It’s only a block away so I don’t know why it has to be such a production. But it’s what we do. The other problem is, the whole time we’re walking I keep waiting to hear the clang-clang of the bells and see the gates come down. I get really nervous about it, like a person with high blood pressure would do. I coach myself, “You’re not in a hurry. You’ll get there when you get there.” It’s almost not worth living near the train because I can see the gates as soon as I start walking, so I can imagine them lighting up and clang-clanging over and over again for the entire walk. Then I worry that by imagining it I will cause it to happen. This is all a good argument for checking the train times on my phone and starting early. But it never works out.

So I left late and texted an apology, and S— texted back a Zen-like reassurance. Then I got to the El and was waiting on the platform. Dave and Django suddenly re-appeared, walking up the alley on the other side of the tracks. It made me smile. I called to Django, who looked at me blankly for a moment, then resumed investigating the alley. I was across a fence and hence had ceased to matter.

The train came and I got to the pub. S— was sitting at a table. She always looks so calm. I’ve only met her a few times, in our writing group, but she seems to wear a mantle of contemplation. When she reads something she’s written, the sentences feel surrounded by space and yet full of meaning. It’s like she thought it all out and is just giving you the fruit of the experience, not the stems and leaves.

We went into the crowded back room of the pub for the event. Seven people each telling a true story. No special lights or mic or stage. Each story was better than the last, no matter what order I remember them in. They were about rebellion, friendship, a breakup, a crush, a botched medical procedure, a botched attempt to hook up through an online site, and the literal truth of a heavy metal song.

Afterwards I just kept hugging people I’d never met, saying over and over again, “I loved your story!” What made each one shine, beyond its individual merits of structure, word craft, or presentation, was the inseparable and unique relationship of story to teller. Some tellers were totally comfortable standing up and entertaining an audience. Some were less comfortable. One clung to the script and read it word for word, like instructions. But each person had lived through that story and now they were up there, passing it on. It sounds so obvious, but as Blago would say, it’s effing golden. It’s the whole point.

When I left, there was a mailing list by the door. When you fill it out, they ask you to circle your name if you’d like to tell a story some time. How could anyone there not circle their name? The whole thing is effing golden! I circled mine, and immediately started worrying that I wouldn’t be able to come up with a good enough story. I mean, some of these were staggering. They happened to people who make far bolder choices than I do. But let this be a reminder, half a year from now or whenever my name comes up, that the story is important because I lived it and I’m telling it. Everyone wouldn’t see it this way, but they also wouldn’t spend their weekday night in the back room of a pub for StoryLab, so it’s okay, it’s all self-selecting.

I was recently at another storytelling event where you could tell either truth or fiction. That was also amazing, for different reasons, but a friend said that it was fun because it wasn’t just like StoryCorps. But I guess I want everyone’s personal StoryCorps. I want every one of my friends and family to stand up and tell a story that they lived. It’s like a rite of passion – I mean, a rite of passage in being human.