Tag: friends

Found.

In Madison, this might be considered a clue.
In Madison, this might be considered a clue.

When Ruby saw her car again, the first thing she wanted to do was vacuum it. Also scrub and Armor All every surface, “erase the hell out of the bad ju-ju,” she said. But first she had to get it out of the impound lot and back to Wisconsin.

The CRV had been found on Medill and Belden, parked in front of a fire hydrant with a note on the windshield, and towed to the impound lot near Humboldt Park. At about 11PM on Sunday night, a week and a day after it had disappeared, Ruby and Roy got a message on their answering machine—a real, actual answering machine down on the dining room desk that you can hear from upstairs in the bedroom—from the Chicago Police. “Your car has been found. Call 9-1-1.”

911? Really? Okay.

During that week and a day, they’d bought another CRV, which oddly was missing headrests but also oddly Ruby had taken the headrests out of the old CRV the day of her trip, so they were still in the garage. Same upholstery too, so they fit perfectly in the new one.

A week ago, Ruby had decided not to fly or rent a car to get to the pig roast, but instead took an Amtrak home and then on pig roast night went to see some other friends of Slim’s and they all had a bonfire. She had adjusted. She’d emailed during the week to tell about the new CRV with 100,000 fewer miles on it, and the headrests, and the email chain agreed that it was serendipitous, and now the only real acknowledged drag was that they’d lost certain custom mix CDs that were irreplaceable.

But then they got the call, prompting joy and celebration—it’s been found! Which turned into a huge hassle of phone calls and arrangements—it’s been found and now we have to deal with it.

I have this picture in my head of how it should be when the police find your stolen car. Sargent Kielbasa calls and says, “Eh, we got yer car here,” and you drive over, and the sarge is waiting with a half-smile on her face, a little annoyed at you with being so gullible as to have left your car outside somewhere in the city of Chicago, where it could be picked up by any stranger with a master key, but whaddayou know, you’re from Wisconsin where people leave their cars outside all the time, sometimes not even locked!

She has to admit, she kinda loves your gullibility, your faith in basic human goodwill, your promptness in showing up after a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Madison, rain all the way, and how you don’t even complain about how you had to take off work for this. You’re good people. You are the reason this thankless police job is kinda worth it, she has to admit. Hell, she opens the driver’s side door for you, and shrugs modesty as you exclaim, “The garage door remote is still here! And our CDs! And the maps in the glove compartment!”

She loves that there are people who still use maps.

She points to how the rear seats are folded down and enjoys your confusion at seeing dirt and a couple of landscaping pavers back there. Sometimes people steal cars in Chicago not for a joy ride or the chop shop, but because they need to haul something for a job. “People do what they gotta do in this town,” she observes, and heads back to her cruiser after making sure you know how to get back on the highway in the cheesehead direction. Just another day in the city that never sleeps except when it’s sleeping.

What really happened is that Sargent Kielbasa gave Ruby the address of the impound lot and hung up. Ruby and Roy got there as the rain slowed, and found the trailer where business is conducted, and waited among several unhappy people whose cars had been towed for various reasons, and when their turn came paid hundreds of dollars to get it released. How does it make sense that you have to pay money after your car gets stolen?

The car was marked up on all windows with wax penciled numbers. “You should have brought Windex,” I joked. “I did,” she said. “It had to be scraped with a razor.”

A van drove them out to the general location and they hunted it down. They then drove it through two and a half more hours of rain back to Madison. When they got there, Ruby parked it in the garage and started vacuuming.

Or bust.

White CRV, Wisconsin plates, M-22 bumper sticker.
White CRV, Wisconsin plates, M-22 bumper sticker.
As soon as I realized Ruby’s car had been stolen out of my driveway, I wanted to vacuum the living room.

First I wanted to walk the neighborhood, hoping I would see it, sure I would see it parked around the next corner, wheels gone or door open, but there. The thieves would have gotten in and seen the tub of caramel corn in the front passenger seat, the summer tops on hangers, and the Pig Roast or Bust travel book Ruby had made, spiral bound and including section dividers. If they’d paged through it, they would have seen one tab for Fabric Stores between Madison and Alexandria, another tab for Motels, another for Campgrounds, and a Summary page linking the likely stops with approximate travel times between them (MT & Dave’s to Yoders in Shipshewana 2½ hours, Yoders to something in Ohio 3 hours). They would have seen the first bag of fabric from a store in Crystal Lake, and they would have said, “We can’t take this lady’s car. We like the spirit of this lady and we want her to make it to the pig roast.”

But Dave and I walked the neighborhood, as soon as I’d woken him and made him understand that “Ruby’s car is gone” didn’t simply mean she’d left early. As we looked around corners for her familiar car, one we’ve seen every August for the past ten years when we meet up in Michigan for a week, it became clear that what the thieves had actually said was, “1999 CRV, it’s a chopshop favorite. Let’s go.”

The thieves couldn’t know that the pig roast was in honor of Ruby’s first boyfriend, Slim, who died earlier this year. They couldn’t know that Ruby hadn’t been able to make it back east for his funeral, or that a funeral had anyway seemed an odd thing to connect with Slim but the summer pig roast his friends always threw felt like a better place to say goodbye.

When Dave and I got home from our neighborhood search, Ruby had already talked to the police and found a 2pm train for Madison. We offered her our car to continue the trip east but she wanted to get back home and start shopping for a new CRV. I held off on vacuuming until we took her to Union Station, and then I held off again because some other friends were arriving in their rental car from Midway. I wanted to erase the event by vacuuming and then maybe also mopping, but instead I had to say to my other friends, “Did you get rental car insurance?”

When they said no, we had them put their car inside the gate, and we parked ours in front of it.

There were also three bottles of dressing in the CRV, because Ruby’s pig roast task was salads. I believe there was also a Recipes tab in Pig Roast or Bust but I can’t be sure. I only got to see Pig Roast or Bust for a minute, standing on the driveway as Ruby got an overnight bag out of her car, paging through it and marveling at how a drive to DC suddenly seemed short and fun when you looked at it in terms of 2-3 hour fabric store destinations. And marveling at Ruby, who continues to interact with daily living in a way that is unlike anyone else I know yet mostly manages to pass for normal.

I’d almost asked to hold on to Pig Roast or Bust and bring it inside to look at longer, but when Ruby reached for it I knew I’d feel terrible if she ended up forgetting to put it back in the car in the morning. Like the last conversation you don’t get to have with someone you’ve loved, I couldn’t have known there’d be no car to put it back into.

Thank you, Russ

 Most of the years I knew Russ were spent hoping he’d remember who I was. We were introduced several times, first by a friend who was in town to see Ballad Hunter and took me. Russ was in the lobby, greeting a long line of people with his raised eyebrows and deep voice. A couple years later I signed up for a class, and when I walked into the office Russ was in there alone, somehow stranded among long tables. “Downstairs,” he said. The look on his face suggested that he couldn’t believe I had just done something as idiotic as his eyebrows had just witnessed, even if it was just walking through a door. I didn’t understand then that that’s just how his eyebrows were shaped.

Over the years, I took more classes, and joined the network, and people continued to introduce us — Arlene, Trina, sometimes even me, not always sure it was necessary but seeing no sign that it wasn’t. His eyebrows would go up in surprise or dismay or maybe, in retrospect, because that’s just what they did.

Then I took a class from Russ, Marketing Your Play, and he took me to task for including both my first name and my first initials on my resume and cover letter. “You have to pick one or the other,” he said. I’d heard this before, in other classes with guru-like teachers who’d prodded us toward the just-be-yourself thing, but something about Russ’s eyebrows convinced me. I went with MT. In class next time, Russ seemed to find this no better or worse than going with Mary-Terese, though he said something about initials being a bit of trend with female playwrights.

A few more years went by of seeing Russ at readings and plays, and hearing Arlene say, “it’s great you’re directing this, Russ will notice that.” And maybe he did. He always looked at me in just the same way, like he had no idea who I was, and I’d mumble “MT,” and his eyebrows would go up like I’d said something very strange or maybe he was simply acknowledging me, it was just so hard to tell with those eyebrows.

At one table reading of a play of mine that Rich Perez had kindly organized, Russ said only, “I almost didn’t notice that nothing happened.” I’d been hoping for “brilliant, luminous,” those shiny words that writers long for. What I got was a specific opinion that was easy to dismiss. “He just didn’t see it,” I defended myself to my husband later, and included my best imitation of Russ’s eyebrows.

But as I came to see after I put the play away for a while, disappointed that it wouldn’t be winning the Tony that year, what it needed was for stuff to happen. Not because of the stuff, necessarily, but in order to explode it from tone and texture into living drama.

Then, a few years later, I got to Will Dunne’s class and sat down, and Russ popped his head in the door. “Come see me after class,” he said, furrowing his eyebrows, and I wondered what I’d done wrong. Then, in the same tone, he added, “I want to talk to you about your wonderful play.”

I sat through class in a fog. Afterward I knocked on his door. He was eating lunch, and he waved me to sit down, and set his food aside, and told me in detail what he’d found special about the new play I’d written. His eyebrows were the same but somehow they looked different. Kindly. Engaged. I couldn’t seem to hear what he was saying, and kept telling myself, “Listen, listen,” because I knew they were the words I’d wanted, but I couldn’t experience them. All I could think was, “He’s so kind. How did I not see how kind he is?”

He told me he wanted to help me in any way he could, and to call him at any time of the day or night. I quipped, “I’ll try not to call at two a.m.,” and those eyebrows went up, like either I’d made a bad joke or not a joke at all, or maybe like it was a fine joke and he was in on it too, and he said, “Absolutely any time at all.”

Today I’m sitting in a cabin in Oregon, far from Chicago and the reality of Russ’s being gone. I’m working on a new play, something I get to do more of now because Russ believed in me and made good things happen for me, and I’m remembering to let action in, because without it I know just what his eyebrows would do. And those eyebrows would be right.

Outrageous fortune

"Nurse, get me the remote and a dog biscuit, STAT."
“No time to focus, this is a dog Martian collar halter biscuit serious EMERGENCY!”

Yesterday Toots came over to watch “Lovejoy” but we ended up watching Slings & Arrows. The temperature in the room changed, as she said, when we learned she’d never seen it. Lovejoy is a fun thing to bond over—our mutual adoration of Ian MacShane, our affection for the Lovejoy world where everyone pretty much just cares about antiques, enough to kill for them, but mostly just enough to look menacing and almost kill until Lovejoy ambles along and saves the day—or, at any rate, when the day gets saved by some ramshackle coincidence. Then they all go to the pub for a pint.

I wanted to make a test batch of chili because contrary to Dana’s email I don’t actually like to make chili. I just thought it would be easy and I know I’ve made it before, and it was good. But I don’t know what recipe I used, and browning the turkey always stresses me out. So I picked a recipe and decided to stick with it exactly and I did mostly, but I always pick the easy version in my online search—Easy Turkey Chili! Easy Thanksgiving Stuffing!—and then scoff as I cook because it doesn’t have enough interesting ingredients. So I add some.

I made the chili and set it to slow cook and then drafted our proposal for a new freelance project and corresponded with the shuttle service who might get me from Redmond airport to the middle of rural Oregon for the residency next April. They are willing to stop at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for only fifteen extra bucks. I feel like I’m walking on bubbles, up on top of bubbles, because so many good things have happened lately and this is not where my heart is used to processing emotion. I’m trying to find a way to be calm and wise about it, so that when the many things are rejections and losses and just plain nothings, to which I am more accustomed, I can be just as calm and wise.

Taking a lunch break to read Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted put me on more familiar ground because it made me wonder, God am I just treading her ground with the small stories I’m sharing, only hers are about surviving an Alaskan mudslide whereas mine are about being afraid of ground turkey?

But I set that aside, because I can’t go down that road or I’ll never get to tell you how desperately important it was that Toots and possibly you, if you haven’t, see Slings and Arrows. Standing in the kitchen after she’d arrived, catching up from the week, having a slow drink before the chili, I can’t remember whether it was Dave or me who mentioned something Slings-and-Arrows-related and Toots said, “What’s that?”

And suddenly it was like an emergency operating theater. “What? You’ve never seen it? I think maybe I’ve heard of it. You. You have to. You can’t go another day. Lovejoy is out. But it’s not on Netflix anymore. We’ll find it. Where’s my phone? How do I? Oh, I’ll try the TV.” And then it was on Acorn, and we fixed our bowls, “Come on come on, we’ve got to fit as many episodes in as possible—there are only 18—does everyone have napkins? Okay, go.”

And this makes sense if you are the sort of person who can appreciate both the charm of one show which is really lovely even when it’s awful and the plot points only sort of connect, and the humor and utter seriousness of another that’s constructed of a thousand truthful details that build so cleverly to reveal what is wonderful and awful about loving something so much that it makes a fool and a hero of you, all at the same time.