Me: Is it too early to eat dinner?
Dan: It’s two o’clock.
Me: When did we eat lunch?
Dan: We’re eating lunch now.
Me: Is it too early to eat dinner?
Dan: It’s two o’clock.
Me: When did we eat lunch?
Dan: We’re eating lunch now.
Two things that are not symptoms of COVID-19:
Last night I dreamt I walked into the kitchen and we suddenly had a roll of paper towels. There were all sorts of people living in our house and I kissed them, one by one. There was a man playing the banjo with food in his beard. My Uncle Billy was there telling my mother she should wear more jumpsuits. A little girl wearing a leotard was ice skating across my living room. When she turned to smile at me, several of her teeth were missing. My sixth grade teacher was there holding a tray. A lion was jumping up and down trying to reach whatever was on the tray. Mrs. Marshall held the tray up higher and higher. Everyone talked about the tray. What was on it? Why was Mrs. Marshall being such a bitch about it?
A young boy with a dirty face looked up at me and pointed to the other people.
“A man keeps bringing them,” he said.
I will now interpret this dream:
We’re out of paper towels.
Recently someone asked me why I love Paris.
The answer is simple. I love weddings and I love cake, and Paris looks like a giant wedding cake.
Who wouldn’t want to spend the day walking around a cake listening to people speak the language of love, wearing scarves and eating croissants? It’s the most beautiful city in the world. I did my semester abroad there. I lived with a French family and I became obsessed with French culture. When I came home to New Jersey after six months in Paris, the first thing that caught my eye was a huge Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips sign and I wanted to kick myself for ever coming home.
Paris taught me how to eat, how to dress and how to say hello to someone when you walk into their store or restaurant. In fact, if you don’t say hello, you might as well walk right back out, because no one is going to help you.
I wasn’t surprised when my son met a French girl and announced he was moving to France. It was a fait accompli.
Before we visited him, I decided to relearn French to the point that I could have a full conversation with his new girlfriend, and order my entire meal in a restaurant without resorting to my usual Franglish, as in “Je voudrais the chicken.”
My goal was not only to understand and speak; I wanted my accent to be perfect. I especially didn’t want to have to say, “What’s so funny?” every time I said, “Merci” to a French person. Or, in my version of French, “What’s so fucking droll?”
“You’re not rolling your R,” my son said.
“Yes I am, Merci.”
“Mom, you’re saying an entirely different word.”
“Merci, Meckci, Micksi.”
I practiced it day and night. I listened to audio tapes. I bought a French novel and tried to translate it. I only spoke French to my husband for weeks before our trip and I only shopped in French stores.
At a certain point, I heard myself saying,
“Bonjour Madame, Je voudrais une omelette fromage s’ils vous plait and I swear to God, I sounded French. I started speaking only in French in cabs all over New York City. Mostly to myself. And then, the ultimate test, I dreamt in French. The whole dream was art directed by moi in shades of that satiny French pink that I love while French words flowed out of me like pink champagne.
We stayed in the most beautiful hotel right near the Arc de Triomphe. Our bedroom had silk paneled walls with the traditional wedding cake mouldings that I die over and the curtains looked like something you’d see in Versailles.
“I feel so French,” I said to my husband. I had a little pile of pastel macaroons in my lap.
“Oui,” he said.
That’s all he said for two weeks leading up to the trip, whereas I was speaking French in full paragraphs by the time we arrived. It’s amazing what you can learn if you focus on it full-time.
The next morning, I was so excited to order breakfast in French, I practically ran down the street to the nearest cafe. I was twirling in the streets like a ballerina.
“Allons-y” I said to my husband.
“Oui,” he said.
And then we walked through the door of the most adorable restaurant in all of Paris.
“Bonjour, Madame, pouvons-nous avoir une table pour deux s’il vous plait,’’ I said.
She looked at me for a split second too long.
And then she said,
‘‘Good Morning, I’ll get you a menu in English.’’
I had dinner with a friend of mine from college the other night who still looked 25 years old. I stared at her all through dinner, scowling. I was irritable to begin with from the ride over. LA uber drivers are notorious for not knowing how to drive, my pants were too tight, I had a headache, and I hated my hair.
And there was her face.
True, she was a model in her actual twenties, and her mom also looked impossibly young. There was undoubtedly a genetic component, but still. It was uncanny. At one point she leaned in and asked me,
“Why are you staring at me?”
“I’m looking for a wrinkle,” I yelled.
She put her hand on mine and smiled.
“No, seriously, what the hell?” I asked so loud she jumped back.
“Steph,” she said, and gently put her hand back on mine to calm me down.
“Stop hitting me!” I said.
A few minutes later she left the table and came back with a warm plate of vegan chocolate chip cookies. That she made. From scratch.
“I think you need to start taking hormones,” she whispered.
“Ok!!! Which ones? The kind that give you cancer???” I screamed.
“Bio-identical,” she whispered in her 25 year old voice.
“Fine!!” I said, trying to remember when I first started yelling at people.
I yelled at the TV all the time, I yelled (in my head) at people on the plane who put their carry-ons in the wrong overhead bin, and I regularly yelled at my sister for not picking up the phone immediately when I wanted to tell her what I ate that day.
I went home, did my research, and called the doctor who wrote the book on hormones. I won’t mention her name because apparently she takes drug money, but who am I to tell someone how to earn a living? All I needed was to stop yelling at people, to grow my hair back, and to not have wrinkles. And she had the drugs.
“Hello, this is Stephanie Lessing. I’d like a prescription for hormones. I want the same ones my friend is taking.”
“You have appointment?” the unprofessional woman who answered the phone asked me.
“No, I’m calling for an appointment.”
Considering how rude she was, I think I said it very nicely.
“Dr. L not in today.”
“Okay, well, how about tomorrow?”
“Is this emergency?”
“No, I wouldn’t call a loud voice an emergency, but I’d still like an appointment. It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow.”
“Well, she only takin’ phone calls tomorrow.”
“Okay, so can I call her?”
“You need exam first.”
“Okay, then can I have an appointment for an exam?”
“She booked. When you want to come?”
“Oh my GOD!!! What is wrong with you?? Aren’t you supposed to tell me when I can have an appointment!! How did you get this job? ” I shouted.
And hung up.
I thought about calling her back, but there was no excuse for asking me when I wanted an appointment. I decided to talk myself out of taking hormones altogether. Life without estrogen wasn’t so bad. Thin hair doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, and I could always just warn people ahead of time about the yelling. Not to mention the serious health risks associated with taking drugs. What if they killed me? I took a long look in the mirror and asked myself, “Is thicker hair, a sweeter voice and a younger face really worth dying for?”
And then I called her back.
I dreamt that a device used in a Samsung promotional campaign to send a selfie of Cara Delevingne into space crashed into someone’s backyard in Michigan. And I don’t even take Ambien.
Someone in this house used Snuggle.
There are a number of suspects, but no one’s talking. I wanted to ask my new housekeeper about it, but I don’t know her name. She definitely told me her name when we first met, but then I immediately forgot it because it was a word I’d never heard.
If I had used Snuggle, I would have admitted it right away. Mistakes happen. Like the double-sided Scotch tape fiasco. I bought three of those by accident even though two-sided tape is not usable for anything. But, in this case, it wasn’t me and everyone knows it because I’m afraid of the laundry room. I’ve seen horrible things in there. Examples: A huge bug with arms, and a brownish puddle of some kind that couldn’t have come from anywhere.
When I got into bed last night, it only took a second to realize my sheets had been tainted with an industrial strength sweetness that I’ve come to associate with stupid people, psoriasis, and weed killer.
“What are we going to do now?” I asked my husband, knowing that if my sheets smelled like fabric softener, all of our clothes were also ruined and everything would have to be burned.
“Don’t worry. The scent will go away eventually,” he said.
“How? How will it go away? We’d have to rewash everything we own and honestly, which one of us is going to do that?”
“Not me,” we both mumbled.
I walked outside and looked up at the sky hoping for answers.
“Maybe we imagined the whole thing!” I wondered, and forced myself to go downstairs to the laundry room.
I didn’t want to believe it, but there it was, a half empty baby blue bottle with a picture of a stuffed animal acting like a human being holding a blanket and inhaling its fumes.
I picked up the bottle and looked at the teddy bear.
“You monster!” I cried, and threw the bottle in the trash where it belonged.
And that’s when I noticed my garbage bags were scented.
This is a sad story that ends with me peeing in my pants.
My mother’s twin sister died. If you have twins in your family you know what that means. It means part of my mother died. And half of my childhood.
My mother and aunt are/were insanely beautiful creatures. As legend would have it there was a good twin and a bad twin. I secretly loved the bad twin too.
There was the time she took me for my allergy shot and let me hold the steering wheel for the entire ride, the time I felt sick in the car and she put her hand on the cold windshield and then put her cold hand on my forehead to make me feel better. All the times she went shopping with my mother and me, trying to buy me things that would make me beautiful like them. I would stand there in the dressing room, with my hair a mess, legs splayed in baggy tights, seeing their reflections behind me, cheering me on.
My aunt had movie star hair, she wore red lipstick, and she walked with the kind of femininity that you don’t often see on real people. Her cheekbones were so prominent I remember her touching them. When she smiled, it felt like something was happening in the room. Her nails were polished on her death bed. And even though she was dying, when she lifted the covers and one of her long, thin legs peeked out, it was like opening the door and seeing Cher.
She was also the rule breaker, the one who overspent, who put herself first, and the one who was most likely to burst out laughing if someone had a coughing attack.
She was the one who toughened me up.
“You let a stranger make you cry? Oh honey, never let a stranger make you cry.”
I used to fake sick to stay home with my mother and my aunt. I imitated the way they talked, the way they walked, the way they sipped their coffee, and the way they looked in the mirror. Their twinness will always be the focal point of my life, my sister’s life and both of my cousins’ lives. The twins were pathologically close. Mentally conjoined like a twisted, gnarly vine. It was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. My sister and my cousins and I know we are their slightly less identical shoots. Whatever we are, we are still rooted in sameness. Our mothers.
I don’t usually turn to poetry because I can’t understand it, but I looked at my mother, and all I could hear was a jumble of words…
“I carry your heart with me…breath of my breath…eyes of my eyes”
How would my mother’s heart beat without her sister’s? Whose air would she breathe?
I’m not sure my mother even realizes what just happened to her.
At my aunt’s funeral service, we sat in a circle. Most of the family was there and a strange woman was sitting in the room with us. She was there to officiate the service. There was something judgmental about her expression, although none of us had ever met her. I wondered if I should have worn black or some kind of a religious hat. What were we doing wrong? I wondered. Maybe she wasn’t used to seeing a family that sat so close to one another. That looked so much alike. We were practically in a huddle. Whatever it was, I sensed her disapproval.
We were so stunned by the idea of a non-family member sitting in our circle, we were all overly polite to her. My mother offered her a tissue.
“She’s not crying, mom,” I said.
I imagined my aunt sitting there, making faces behind the woman’s back.
“Who invited her?” my aunt would have joked. “This is our funeral.”
We sat there in that cold room whispering to one another. Some of us were crying. Some of us were numb. And there sat the stranger.
“I would like to start the service now,” she said.
There was a dark silence.
We all looked at her, and then at each other. We were holding it together, but we knew whatever she was about to say would bring us to the breaking point. She was about to make it perfectly clear that my aunt was gone forever. That we would never see her again. I looked over at my mother.
And then, as God is my witness, the woman started belting out a tune.
It was a religious tune and I can tell you that no one in my family knows anything about religion other than that we are all afraid of God. Were we supposed to sing along? No one knew.
I looked over at my cousin whose eyes were bulging out of his head at the sound of this woman’s unbelievably loud voice that came out of nowhere. The only thing worse than the fact that she was singing so loudly in such a small room was that she was trying to sound really good. She was using all sorts of vibrato techniques, changing her pitch, and going so low at one point, I thought she was going to fall off her chair.
I tried not to look at my cousin again, but I knew he was about to laugh, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Everyone’s shoulders were bouncing up and down as we stole glances at one another.
Baseball hats were covering faces.
The more she sang, the more I told myself the same thing I always tell myself in situations where one shouldn’t laugh at people who are just doing their jobs, like: teachers, doctors, performers, small children, anyone wearing a bow tie. I once laughed out loud at a bride (i don’t want to talk about it, but it was her hair).
“You don’t have to laugh,” I said to myself.
“Just don’t do it.”
“Choose not to laugh.”
“Show your family you can handle a funeral service without acting like a five-year-old.”
“Think of something sad.”
“Your freaking aunt, who you loved like a mother, just died!”
“Keep your mouth shut or try to cry!”
And then I spit laughed and peed in my pants at the singing woman. At my aunt’s funeral. In front of my entire family.
As I flew out of the room, I felt my aunt’s cold hand grab mine.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” she whispered.
And together we laughed at the stranger for the last time.
Ever since this weekend of fabulous author readings in the most beautiful inns in the Hamptons (White Fences Inn in Water Mill, Topping Rose in Bridgehampton, The 1770 House, Baker House 1650 and The Maidstone Hotel in East Hampton) I can’t stop reliving my all-time worst book signing. Each one of those inns I just listed is more enchanting than the next and I was thrilled to design the flowers for all of these incredible places. It was any author’s/designer’s dream scenario: the magnificent porches, the pristine dining and the warm cookies at White Fences Inn, the antique charm of 1770 House, the magical arched vine entrance to Baker House 1650 and that barn at Topping Rose! Except for me it was an author’s “I dreamt I showed up to school naked having not done my homework and peed all over the floor” scenario because all weekend I was haunted by the memory of my most cringeworthy of all book signings. Not even the one I did in the train station, on Valentine’s Day, can top it.
Every time I remember this particular book signing, it gets a little worse. Maybe my memory plays tricks on me, but it’s hard to forget that I arrived late to my own book signing because I went back home for more copies of the book. I was fearful there wouldn’t be enough books to go around, only to discover that the only people who showed up were my husband, my son, one of the mom’s in my son’s class who I knew instantly wanted to leave, but had somehow gotten herself trapped in a middle seat in a very compact seating arrangement for fifty, and the book store owner’s wife. At one point another woman wandered in looking for the ladies room and took a seat while she waited for the bathroom to become available.
My son was sitting in the front row engrossed in some kind of hand held gaming device that was popular at the time and he kept looking up at me while I was giving my little speech indicating that he’d also like to leave. I was spewing words into a sea of empty chairs, using my thickest New Jersey accent, a nervous tic (at one point I said “wit” instead of “with”) not knowing what I was saying or even what my book was about when suddenly there was a commotion in the back room of the bookstore and several more people appeared and sat down. And then a few more trickled in, just enough to make it look really not crowded.
I just kept talking to almost no one, wishing I’d done virtually anything else with my life. Clown school would have been a better choice. Why did I choose to sit there for hours stringing words together? So I could read what I wrote back to myself? Why do writers insist on writing when most of the time no one’s listening? How does it help them? Unless the book is a How-To, what exactly are we trying to achieve? Some kind of connection with the human spirit? You could just as easily read a book to make that happen.
There was nothing in my book alerting the nation about a possible threat or delivering some new medical breakthrough. It was essentially a book about a girl who loved a boy. And shoes. It was funny, though. I’ll admit that. But WHY God WHY did I write it?
At one point, my mouth was so dry I literally apologized for the clicking sounds I was making. And then, a miracle happened. I was saying something about the importance of women supporting each other in the workplace, when an actual human hand shot up with a question. Could it be that in my utterly humiliated, bewildered, language butchering state, I was saying something worthwhile? That I’d managed to pull off some kind of meeting of the minds with another living being about what it means to be a woman trying to make her way in the world? Was it possible I’d made an impact and that it didn’t matter how many people showed up as long as I touched one person so deeply they actually wanted to learn something by asking me a question?
“Yes you, over there, sitting next to the other person,” I said, calling on the kind hearted soul who raised her hand. “What is your question?”
“This might be dumb, but where did you get your boots?”
“Oh. I got them at Barney’s.”
“Do you think they still have them?” she asked
“I’m not sure. I got them last year. Are there any other questions?”
“Can Dad give me a ride to Zack’s?” my son asked.
“I guess so.”
The book store owner was sympathetic enough to step in and put an end to my misery shortly after the last audience question, the one about getting a ride to Zack’s.
I thanked him and swore to myself I’d never do another reading as long as I lived. But the truth is you have to do them, and sometimes they’re not so bad, and sometimes a lot of people show up and you feel better, even though you have to find a way to answer everyone’s questions, particularly your own.
Stop eating food off the floor.