Archive for April, 2009

Apr 30 2009

I Fought Insomnia, and Insomnia Won

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At least so far.

It’s 2:00 in the morning. I made the mistake of taking some Excedrin for my raging headache, with the result that I now have a headache and what I call “aspirin tummy”. Throbbing head; stomach a vat of seething acid. I tried to go to sleep and forget about the whole thing, but after an hour of tossing and turning and irritating the cats (who were setting a good example by sleeping curled up cutely together until I kept waking them up*), I had to admit defeat.

When I was in second grade, I had a truly vile teacher named Mrs. Conneman. She was so mean to me that I used to have extremely vivid fantasies about my parents sweeping into the classroom and carrying me off (with a quick stop at my locker for important personal belongings, like my red rain boots). I still remember looking back at the old hag with total triumph as I was borne away from her clutches, once and for all. I’ve always been a pretty talented day-dreamer.

Not surprisingly, I had bad stomach aches in those days. Apparently they were quite common among Conneman students (though this did not seem to lead to an official inquiry or get her fired, because she was still there when I was in 6th grade). Rather than getting rid of the cause of the belly aches, I got dosed with a hideous dark-green liquid to dull the pain. If it were in a fairy tale, it would at least have turned me into a toad, and probably something worse. It was the liquid version of Mrs. Conneman. My hopes were temporarily raised when I learned it also came in chocolate, but that turned out to be a brown, chalky nightmare that was, if possible, even worse than the original flavor.

When I was in 6th grade, I was horror-struck to learn that our class would be presenting a Christmas play to none other than the evil Mrs. Conneman’s latest batch of victims. Despite the protective camouflage of my full-body Christmas tree costume, I was convinced she’d know it was me and do something horrible. I don’t know what I thought she could do but believe me, I was ready for some medicine by the time I tremblingly approached her door like it was Death Row.

Needless to say, nothing happened. Undoubtedly she was fully occupied with destroying the psyches of those currently in her class to bother with the damaged goods of years gone by. Nearly 40 years and 4,000 miles later, though, a stomach and headache bring me right back to that day.

*And looking at me as if to say, “What the hell? Stop imitating a tossed salad and go to sleep already!”

4 responses so far

Apr 29 2009

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

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I thought I’d feel relieved and happy once the whole storage debacle was over, but I don’t, really. Sure, I’m glad that we aren’t spending all that money every month when we have so little to begin with. Yes, I’m glad that I’ll never have to go there again and see the sad remnants of the past, and be faced with how different our lives are now.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m like the Magnificent Ambersons, finally getting my comeuppance. When I was a girl, we lived in a beautiful 150 year house on five acres of land, had two cars, went to Maine every summer and often visited Dad’s parents in England. My mother never had to work.

When I grew up and got married, we owned a gracious Jazz Age apartment in one of the best neighborhoods in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I drove a 1966 Mustang convertible, wore diamonds and went to Europe at least once a year. The world was my oyster.

Now, I live in a tiny house in a city where murders are commonplace. My brother, sister and I are panicking about our ability to continue paying the mortgage on the property where we will eventually retire. Or not, if we’re forced to sell when there’s little or no market for undeveloped rural property. I’m selling the diamonds I used to wear so proudly just to make ends meet (and the ends appear to want nothing to do with each other).

Confronting that storage space and thinking of how far I’ve come in the past thirty years has been a deeply saddening experience. And instead of feeling like a weight has been lifted, I’ve had insomnia, nightmares, and headaches ever since. Is it the closing of a chapter of my life, facing up to the deaths of my parents, grandparents, and my marriage? My tiny house is jam-packed with boxes, which will eventually be put into the storage cube my brother bought, and furniture, which there isn’t room for. Maybe it’s not really over yet and I still have some things to work through. My head aches too much to think about it any more.

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Apr 28 2009

The Long and Winding Road

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And I thought I had a rough day yesterday…

My brother, sister and I have a tradition* of calling each other when we get home from a visit. Emptying out the storage doesn’t exactly qualify as a “visit”, but we still agreed to call each other. I knew it would take my brother at least an hour longer to get home than it would me, since he had a longer way to go and had to drive the loaded-up truck slooowly on the two lane corkscrew known officially as Route 128. I was a little concerned about his driving the truck all Clampetted up like that, but he said that after driving a fire truck so long, it would be like driving a sports car.

I had put on my PJs, nuked dinner, and was well into a bottle of wine when I thought he’d be home. I called his cell and it went straight to voicemail. I wasn’t worried, because of the total lack of cell phone service for most of 128. When the phone rang half an hour later, I thought it would be him.

It wasn’t.

It was my sister, working the night shift, telling me that the truck broke down near the thriving metropolis of Navarro (population 130). He managed to stop it on the shoulder and hitch a ride to Navarro, where the driver provided him with a beer and a cigarette and went on his way, leaving my brother to call AAA from a pay phone.

Now, Navarro used to be a slightly scary place, appearing to be populated entirely by meth** users (and possibly manufacturers), bikers, and trailer trash. It’s been cleaned up quite a bit and has a decent-looking store. Last fall, I saw a sign saying that Edgar Winter was playing there, which mystified me for several miles.

But the store was firmly closed at 9:30 at night, and there was no-one to be seen. So my brother had to stand there until AAA appeared, shivering in the t-shirt that had been entirely appropriate for day time furniture wrestling, but was now wholly inadequate protection against the cold winds. My heart ached for the poor guy, marooned in the middle of nowhere, freezing his butt off after the day we’d had. I was so glad when my sister called to say he was home, safe and sound.

*The other farewell tradition is waving and blowing kisses until the departing car is out of sight. Our parents did it, too.

**I find the popularity of meth in rural communities a mystery. Why get all speeded up when there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go?

3 responses so far

Apr 27 2009


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Well, if that wasn’t a manic Monday, I don’t know what is.

I was just settling down to work when the phone rang. It was my brother. Calls before 9 am on my landline tend to be either my boss or my brother (sometimes the same thing), whereas calls before 9 am on my cell are almost always someone on the east coast. My brother isn’t much for idle chit chat, so I figured something was up, and it was. He wanted me to meet him at Mom’s storage, 60 miles away, and help him pack up the rest of the stuff and move it on out.

Work was looking better and better, but I agreed to put it on the back burner (it’s used to being there anyway) and headed out the door, leaving June in charge.

At the storage, it soon became clear that all the remaining stuff would not fit in our brother-in-law’s truck. We accepted the inevitable and loaded it up with things destined for Chez Suzy: the grandfather clock, in its suspiciously coffin-like carrying case; the Atwater-Kent radio cabinet; the glass-fronted bookcase; and the rocking chair my great-grandfather made for my great-grandmother.

We caravanned to my house, wrestled the goods and chattels into my increasingly tiny house, and then went back to the storage for Round Two. We hillbillied the remaining stuff into the truck, destined for the storage container now residing on the property up north, and after a long hug, he went his way and I went mine, each of us plunging into the rush hour traffic armed with the knowledge that we’d never have to meet up there again.

I felt a pang of sadness as I looked at the empty space. Sure, I wish I’d told you all that it was my new year’s resolution to empty it out so I could check that one off and feel good about it. I’m thrilled that we aren’t spending $mumble* on one more month of storage. But I’m sad that we had to sell so many family things, and that things are so hard for all three of us now. I’m also glad that I’m not an only child, and that I’ll always have my brother and sister by my side, no matter what happens.

That’s the power of love.

*When I told the guy at the office that we were clearing out today, he said that we were paid up until May 27, since the charge had just gone through today. Of course. I asked if they could reverse the charge, and he said we were supposed to give 10 days’ written notice, but he’d ask his boss. I was resigned, but on the way out, he stopped me and said they’d reverse the charge. Maybe it’s a sign that things are getting better?

One response so far

Apr 26 2009

Past Imperfect

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I’m feeling nostalgic on this sunny Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s knowing that Mike and Jennifer’s little ones are going to be spending the next few days with their Grandpapa while their parents are (hopefully) in Paris. Maybe it’s the roses blooming so extravagantly in my back yard. Maybe it’s just getting older.

Whatever it is, I’ve been thinking of the long-ago days we spent with my mother’s parents. They lived in a grand white Victorian house, which was the town sheriff’s wedding gift to his only daughter. It was built by the same architect as the bride’s father’s house next door, and in both houses, his initials were carved on a beam in the attic.

The attic was a wonderful place, full of boxes and trunks and wardrobes full of ballgowns. In the afternoon, the light would stream through the stained glass windows and paint everything in rainbow colors. You never knew what you would find: great-grandfather’s sleigh bells; his Civil War sword; souvenirs from Nana’s brother’s grand tour of Europe…

Next door to my grandparents’ house was an even grander one, practically a mansion, set in vast, professionally-tended grounds. It was fascinating and mysterious, because its owner, the fabled Mrs. Newton, was never seen. Gardeners kept the outside in perfect order, and groceries were delivered, but they were not taken in until dark.

After dark, you would sometimes see a light moving from room to room, as if Mrs. Newton carried a lamp with her.

My grandmother was regrettably not a gossip, but her two spinster boarders (with the perfect spinster boarder names of Frieda and Maretta) fortunately were. They told me that Mrs. Newton’s son had been killed in WWII, and that she hadn’t left the house since. This seemed wonderfully tragic and Miss Havisham-ish to me at the time, though it never occurred to ask me what had become of Mr. Newton.

Although I don’t know what happened to the sad lady who lived in the mansion, I do know what happened to the mansion. It’s a bed and breakfast. I could go and stay there, right next to my grandparents’ house, and find out who’s living there now. But I think it’s better to let the past stay in the past.

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Apr 25 2009


Published by under Cats,Henry,Moving

Now that the heat wave is gone and my mind is more or less back in working in order, I’ve been thinking a lot about the great house hunt.

It’s probably just as well that I didn’t get that house. I’m not sure I could handle the stress of sudden packing, giving notice, having to pay for two places at once, and the cost of moving. Also, I didn’t get a good feeling from the landlady. She was pretty cold and distant, and immune to my charm, which may well be what bothers me the most. My current landlords may be flaky, but at least they’re nice.

The biggest problem with that house was no outside access for June and Audrey. They spend a lot of their time on the screened-in porch, sniffing the air and keeping an eye on Henry. It’s the best of both worlds, since they can be outside while still staying safe. It would have been really hard for them to adjust to being inside all the time again, and I want my girls to be happy.

I also wonder if Henry would have run away or stayed at the new house. We had a breakthrough today. I was talking on the phone and walking around the back yard. He saw me and came running up. I reached out, and instead of clawing my hand or running away, he sniffed my hand and then let me pet him. I think he may have actually purred. It’s the first time this has happened, so he must really trust me.

Maybe it’s all for the best if I stay here for now.

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Apr 24 2009

And in the “Small World” Department…

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My dear friend, the Lipstick Gardener, fierce defender of feral cats, guardian of my kittens’ mother, and all-around Renaissance woman, mentioned that she had some musicians staying at her charming Victorian house. Their names sounded familiar. I dug through my mental attic, finding years’ worth of rubbish, like old high school biology tests and ex- boyfriends and the words to the “One Day at a Time” theme song, finally finding – bing! – that I knew these musicians.

I had in fact met them and shopped at their wonderful record store in Dearborn. They are good friends of Kathleen, the Belle of Motown, who introduced me to them. She also happened to stay with me last fall. And both Kat and the Gardener happen to be knitters, vegetarians, and cat lovers. And of course, Suzy fans. I mean, who isn’t?

How’s that for a small world?

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Apr 23 2009

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Published by under Cats,Henry,Weather

View from my porch

The heat wave has gone back to hell, where it definitely belongs. Probably good practice for me, though. It’s nice to be able to open the blinds instead of living in the strange, hot gloom, feeling besieged by the relentless sun.

The sun is feeling kinder and gentler today, possibly sorry for its earlier temper tantrum and trying to make up for it by being nice, even though we all know it will be back to its old tricks again soon enough.

The kitties are celebrating the return of the cool. Henry is lounging openly on the grass, instead of hiding in whatever shade he can find. The girls are chasing each other around the house instead of lying exhausted on the porch or by the front door, seeking an errant breath of air. So we’re back to normal. For now.

3 responses so far

Apr 22 2009

Stylish Suzy

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Remember how I mentioned that my recent Vogue purchase was research? I’ve been doing some fashion and beauty writing for the San Francisco edition of It’s fun, but it’s more work than I anticipated. I have to come up with three story ideas a week, get any additional information I need by phone or in person, write the articles, and take photos and upload them. Whew.

The writing part turns out to be the easy part, but I’m not sure if I can keep up with the articles, my blog, and my email along with everything else that has to be written. I guess we’ll see. It can be an experiment!

All this for being paid by the click. But I’m used to being underpaid, and it’s fun. Check it out and tell me what you think. Any ideas, comments, insight, or spring shoes are much appreciated.

4 responses so far

Apr 21 2009


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The view from my office window

I’m coming to you from my office, high above the streets of San Francisco. I can look down on almost everyone from here.

My boss/partner and I share an office, but we’re rarely here at the same time. Today is no exception: I’m here, and he’s somewhere else, possibly Chicago. I decided to stop in after doing the paperwork for selling my ring*, since (1) I had a conference call and (b) I wasn’t in a hurry to subject myself to the indignities of BART so soon after removing myself from them.

Since I have the office to myself, I have taken my shoes off and am luxuriating in the air conditioning while happily eating one of the bagels the handsome receptionist brings in. I’m also blogging instead of working, and the little flat screen TV in our office is tuned to HGTV instead of CNBC, now that the “Gilmore Girls” re-run is over. To be fair, I did check out how the markets were doing first.

I still like working with music or TV on in the background, the same way I did when I used to do homework. I don’t know why, but it’s just more fun that way. And I can use all the fun I can get.

*Though I sold it to a reputable jeweler near Union Square, I got to sign my very first pawn ticket! Apparently such sales have to be documented for the city and state. I got my thumbprint taken, too, giving me a little criminal frisson.

6 responses so far

Apr 20 2009

Hot Melted Audrey

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It’s 96 degrees as I write at 5:30 pm. The sun can’t get its ass out of here fast enough for me today. I’m kind of offended that it chose my blog’s birthday to be so unreasonable, since my dislike of heat is so well-known, but perhaps the sun was just being extra unreasonable in my honor.

Audrey is stretched out on the table on the porch, trying to catch an errant breeze. I left the girls in charge and went to Wal-Mart to buy a cheap barbecue* today, since the fancy propane one that came with the house (surprise!) doesn’t work. It’s way too hot to cook, and even if everything I could have delivered didn’t suck, I couldn’t afford it, anyway (hence shopping at Wal-Mart). Since I can’t take the heat, I’m getting the hell out of the kitchen.

On the menu tonight: grilled lemon-garlic shrimp soft tacos with fresh cilantro and a salad of field greens with my fabulous shallot vinaigrette. Come on over – you can help do the dishes!

*Which I had to assemble. You can imagine.

3 responses so far

Apr 20 2009


Published by under Uncategorized

Fear not – it’s not a post about the dreaded Octo-Mom. Nor have I decided to see how far I can push the fertility envelope.

(Pause for collective sigh of relief)

No, today is my blog’s 8th birthday. Can you believe it? Never has so much been written about so little for so long!

I wonder if I’ll make it to a whole decade. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading. You know I love you.

5 responses so far

Apr 19 2009

Make Yourself at Home

Published by under Cats,Henry,Weather

Henry in his tent under the rose bush

June & Audrey on the porch

All the cats are enjoying the sunny day more than I am. It’s supposed to be 85 today, which is just too hot as far as I’m concerned. Especially in April, when some people are still waiting for Spring to spring. It’s supposed to be even hotter the next few days.

I faced the inevitable and put away my duvet until next winter, when I can once again enjoy its cuddly embrace. I’d better go and drag the fans out of the shed.

It’s going to be a long summer.

Update, Monday, April 20: It was record-breaking heat yesterday and today. It’s supposed to ease off in a couple of days, though.

5 responses so far

Apr 18 2009

Audrey Takes the Air

Published by under Cats,Henry

Here’s the baby girl, interrupted during her post-prandial bath on the porch. Cats have no problem bathing in full sight of the neighbors, or, in this case, other cats. You can see Henry’s rose bush in the background. He has a tent under it and his dishes are next to it, and he also has his bed under the porch until the winter rains start again.

I felt bad about evicting him from the porch, with its futon couch and blanket, but now the rain seems to have really gone away, it’s only fair for the girls to be able to sniff the air and get some sun, or breezes when it gets hot again, which I’m sure will be sooner than I’d like. And since the weather has improved, I hardly see Henry other than at breakfast, when I make the most of my opportunity to pet his soft fur and have a little chat.

It’s been almost a year since I started taking care of Henry, and sometimes I question the wisdom of blunting his survival skills by giving him food and water. But other times, I’m so thankful that I could help him and make a difference in his life. He definitely trusts me, though I can never pick him up or cuddle him. And it gladdens my heart to see him running toward me in the morning, or sleeping peacefully, knowing he’s safe.

3 responses so far

Apr 17 2009

Now We Are Six

Published by under Jessica

Those in the know of course know that Jessica’s birthday is every April 15th. If you didn’t know, mark your calendars for next year – it’s clearly more important than that silly tax filing deadline thing. Also, shame on you!

I couldn’t be there for the celebrations, but I mailed my offering (Cinderella’s Magic Pumpkin Seeds) and a really cute card in good time (unlike my tax return).

Being the well-brought up child she is, Jessica called to thank me. She ventured that “I’m not sure the seeds are really going to turn into Cinderella’s coach, though”, as if this would be terrible news to me, having given them to her, thinking that they would. She was afraid I might be disappointed! I told her they probably wouldn’t, but they would turn into pumpkins which she could carve at Halloween, and that was clearly a welcome thought.

We chatted a bit more, and I asked her how old she was. “Six!” she said happily. “So you’re going to get your driver’s license this year,” I said. “Suzy…” she sighed. “You are so silly.”

Even six year olds are onto me.

2 responses so far

Apr 16 2009

Buzzing Around Town

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I’ve been a busy little bee the past few days, flitting up and down Market Street wearing slightly more sensible shoes than usual, going from conferences to meetings at the office to fun errands like selling my jewelry* and sneaking into Walgreens to buy Vogue** and antacids.

There were two days of conferences, held at the posh Four Seasons. As I swanned past the two doormen (one for each door – I love having doors opened for me), I noticed elevators to the “private residences” and felt a pang of envy for those with the means to buy a condo in a five star hotel. And of course, you all know that I suffer from serious Eloise envy and fantasize about living in a fancy hotel the way other girls fantasize about meeting Johnny Depp.

Oddly, the lobby is on the fifth floor, where the conferences were held. I’m beginning to think that there’s never any escaping school. The speaker (teacher) stood at the front of the room (class) and talked about things (insert Charlie Brown grown-up voice here) while the attendees (class) pretended to listen and take notes, while actually wondering what’s for lunch and why time is standing still.

When breaks (recess) and lunch (lunch) arrive, everyone’s trying to talk to, sit with, or be seen with the popular kids. Unpopularity is disguised by going out on the terrace and appearing to make and receive important phone calls.

I left for meetings in our office and came back both days, giving me ample opportunity to observe how skanky that section of Market Street is. It’s not the worst part, but it does have a fair number of homeless folks and crazies, one of whom was calmly relieving himself on the side of the BART station access near the fancy hotel. If I were paying $400 a night for a room there, or lived in one of the sky-high condos, I wouldn’t be too thrilled with that. I wonder why they built it there (and it was built recently, so Market Street was already like this when they broke ground). I used to live half a block away from a slaughterhouse, and thought the same thing when luxury condos were built directly across the street from me. “Abbatoir adjacent” and “Homeless crazy central” aren’t usually considered luxe amenities.

Maybe they want to feel like they’re walking on the wild side, or seeing the real San Francisco, which they are. It’s not the whole truth, but it’s definitely part of it.

*Now that the ring’s been cleaned, it turns out to be yellower than it first appeared, so it’s worth a thousand dollars less. The jeweler chirped, “Usually when a piece is cleaned, it’s much brighter and worth more. This is really unusual!” Thanks, family curse! You will never stop surprising me in innovative ways!

**It’s for research. I’ll tell you more soon.

One response so far

Apr 15 2009

Sunny Morning

Published by under Uncategorized

My kitchen, 7:30 a.m.

6 responses so far

Apr 14 2009

Suzy Eyre

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Few things make a girl feel more like a distressed gentlewoman than selling her jewelry. I almost felt as if I should be clutching a threadbare shawl about my shoulders and writing answers to advertisements for governesses in remote country houses.

The possible purchaser (not surprisingly, I haven’t made up my mind yet whether I can part with it or not) was a kind and experienced woman, who told me more about my ring than I had ever known. It was like Jewelry CSI as she peered at the ring through a giant magnifying glass and told me how it was made and why old diamonds (the ring dates from around 1900) are different from new diamonds.

The ring needs to be cleaned before the appraisal can be completed, and when I have all the information, I’ll decide what to do.

I don’t feel as sad about it as I thought I would. I rarely wear it anymore, and it’s part of the past. It’s actually less painful to let it go than to have it and not want to wear it. I like to think of a young man searching for the right ring for his beloved, and falling for the ring the way he fell for her. Or a couple looking together for the ring that symbolizes their love, their future, both knowing it’s the one.

I loved having it, but it’s time for someone else to enjoy it.

I seem to have decided, don’t I?

2 responses so far

Apr 13 2009

Why I Need a Glass of Wine

Published by under Uncategorized

I finally finished looking through the boxes today. I had originally thought I could get rid of half of them. Ha! I have three boxes of books to be sold, and a box and a half of things for the auctioneer, but that leaves 30-mumble boxes taking up valuable space in my dainty living room. The box on the far left is nothing but cookbooks, including The One Maid Book of Cookery*, which used to belong to my grandmother and starts out “The conditions of living are fast changing, the number of gentle people living in flats with One Maid, or with no maid at all, is rapidly increasing. The One Maid Book of Cookery is specially written with a view to these modern conditions.”

You can almost hear the tone of horror with which the author wrote “with no maid at all” in 1913.

I have the same feeling about the boxes (or, as the cookbook writer might say, The Boxes). I keep looking over at them and being amazed all over again that they’re there. Every morning as I stumble past them/into them, I discover all over again that they have failed to vanish overnight, the way nightmares should.

I’ll avert my eyes and pour a nice, cold glass of Geyser Peak sauvignon blanc. It’s almost time for Jacques Pépin, and I know he’s having a glass, so I’ll join him. Just to be polite.

*When I opened it to copy the preface, I found a file card in my father’s writing for Borscht Moskovski, and a slip of paper in his mother’s beautiful hand with recipes for rice pudding and spiced gammon. Also a newspaper clippings with recipes for cheese straws and oxtail stew. Available upon request.

4 responses so far

Apr 12 2009


Published by under Uncategorized

During one of my many recent trips to Petaluma, I noticed that part of the dreaded 580 is officially named the John T. Knox (whoever he is/was) freeway. This is not the kind of immortality I’d like.

Dad and I used to talk about everything, and one thing we talked about was having things named for one posthumously. Dad thought it would be nice to have a public garden or park named in his honor – anyone could enjoy it, and there would be the whole cycle of life and renewal thing. He was a devoted and talented gardener, like his mother and his youngest daughter, and in the midst of our preparations for his memorial service, the autumn plants he had ordered arrived, at once comforting and sad and hopeful.

As I drove for the nth time to Petaluma, to see a house I probably won’t get, it occurred to me that my perfect immortality would be a handbag.

I’d like to be the Kelly or Birkin of my time.

The Kelly was named for the iconic beauty, actress and real-life princess Grace Kelly, of course, and legend has it that she carried the roomy Hermès bag to conceal her pregnancy from the paparazzi. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that more than half a century later, it’s still so highly coveted that there’s a lengthy waiting list, and they start at $5,000.

The Birkin was named for Jane Birkin, sultry actress/singer and muse to Serge Gainsbourg. Versions vary as to how the lovely Jane got involved in the creation of her eponymous bag about 25 years ago, but it’s the most desirable of all the Hermès bags, and supposedly has a waiting list of two years. When Logan gave Rory a hot pink Birkin bag on Gilmore Girls, I was shocked that she didn’t know what it was, and wanted to grab it from her unappreciative hands immediately. Fortunately, she later understood the significance of the gift. I hope she kept it after they broke up.

I know I would.

Besides the practicality – you can use your namesake bag as often as you’d like – you’ll have something beautiful to live on after you’re gone, but not forgotten.

2 responses so far

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