Saturday, September 12, 2009

Favorite Moment of the Day

     Sometimes I go to sleep thinking of the next morning’s hot coffee in my customary white paper cup. The anticipation makes the sheets seem softer. In my life, I am between landmarks: after childhood, before a book, before marriage and children, all potential. I’ve heard the gambler’s rush isn’t in losing or winning, but the interval between playing and knowing. Coffee is my ritual, my interval, the luminous place between now and what’s next, more arc than landing. It is ubiquitous and legal, solitary and communal. In the morning, when I take a sip, space opens between the molecules; voices and clatter in the cafĂ© separate into bright, tonal bands. My mind fans open. Fireflies blink in my torso. I take it to go, so I can drink and walk alone in the cool air under the trees on 12th street on my way to work. I savor each sip after the scorch has dissipated, before the cup is loose and lukewarm like a hand in mine.

Friday, September 4, 2009

From Britain, Food for Thought

Published in The L.A. Times, OpEd, September 15, 2005
    “IT CONTAINED more lumps, hairs and unexplained black things than one would have thought possible,” wrote George Orwell half a century ago about his English school food. But Orwell didn’t know how lucky he was.
      Over the last 20 years in Britain, his porridge lunch was replaced with processed, additive-ridden fare such as Turkey Twizzlers — 30% turkey, 70% other, shaped like Shirley Temple’s ringlets — that makes his lunch seem almost nutritious. And the number of obese children has tripled in those 20 years. Obesity rates in Britain — 22% — are second only to the United States.

Driving Jane

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Spring 1999

We drove. I sat on my mother’s lap in the driver’s seat and steered while she did the pedals, keeping us at 15 mph. She held her hands an inch away from the steering wheel, hovering, in case I overestimated one of the turns on our twisted road in Los Trencos, California. It was just the two of us, my mom and me – so nobody told her she was crazy. My mother knew: at five I was coordinated enough to steer the car.
In my aunt Mona Simpson’s book, A Regular Guy, a girl named Jane also drives. Her impoverished mother, Mary di Natali, sends her to find Jane’s rich father, Tom Owens.

I Can't Believe She Did That!

Published in O, The Oprah Magazine, August 2006

That summer I felt beautiful in motion, but Camille was just beautiful, without exceptions, even leaning over a Petri dish in goggles, fiddling with a pipette.
        We were interns in the Stanford Genetics Lab, growing yeast cells and then examining their tiny insides.
        Camille was not the usual lab type, though—she had Audrey Hepburn’s haircut from the second half of Roman Holiday and also Audrey’s derring-do and mischievous sparkle—and next to her gamine grace and fluttering French eyelids, I was a graceless, boisterous sidekick.


Published in The Massachusetts Review, Spring 2006

A woman – I’d never seen her before – stepped into the lift with us. Her hair was dark, pixie cut around a pretty face with a delicate, freckled nose. She and my friend, Cole, recognized each other at once.  Both seemed startled. He had forgotten her name but remembered when she told him – Emily.
            As the lift dropped from the fourth floor, they spoke – mostly Emily spoke. Her voice was frail but insistent, reaching to him, engaging him, laughing when he didn’t laugh. I noticed she was English, and her accent rounded softly at the edges so it was difficult to hear the last part of each phrase. Her demureness seemed a form of humility, or a  false humility.
            She had a hiding, teasing expression I mistook for flirtation. I suspected the lingering bruise of an unrequited crush. This irritated me, maybe because I was possessive of Cole. He wasn’t my type, but he was my luck, I thought then, and I was possessive of that.  But his good looks could be a liability. Girls must fling themselves at him and get hurt without his participation, or his wanting to hurt them, like nocturnal bugs to a bright, hot light. I wasn’t attracted to him myself, but if I was exempt from his appeal, I still knew there was a hierarchy: Cole was too much of a catch for her. I remember wondering, with disdain, why this wasn’t clear to Emily, too.

Confessions of a Lapsed Vegetarian

Published in The Southwest Review, 2008

“Now that men are saturated and penetrated, as it were, with love of pleasure, it is not an easy task to attempt to pluck out from their bodies the flesh-baited hook.” 
            – Plutarch’s Morals

            I was ignorant about meat, but today I roasted a chicken.
            The recipe said to gently wiggle my fingers under the two sides of the breast, between the muscle slab and the skin, to break the connective web and create two open gunnels for stuffing. Before that, I mixed slices of lemon peel, cilantro, basil, and some butter to fill the holes.  In the picture in the book, the final chicken—roasted, tied up with a string—looks poised and content, the stuffed part a dimpled double chin.
            I can’t place the dissembling code words for animal parts, like shank and rump. The words remind me of human body parts, but not quite, like the double chin, so it’s hard to grasp exact geographies. I’ve never tasted a steak. I’ve never basted. I have tasted meat a few times in my life before now – a French quail with a balding uncle, a few rotisserie chickens, bologna sandwiches traded in elementary school – but I’ve left most of the meaty world unexplored. 

Tuscan Holiday

Published in Vogue, February 2008

We met on the wide sidewalk of the Via Cavour where it intersects the Piazza del Duomo. Marco was a friend of a friend. I’d just arrived in Florence. As I reached out to shake his hand, a voice in my head, low and calm, said, You’re going to date him, but you’re not going to marry him. I’d never heard voices before, and I couldn’t imagine a reason for such an admonition on a weightless Italian afternoon. I was 24. He was good-looking in jeans and a blue collared shirt with a button undone, tan and a little gray at the temples. He was slim, and he spoke clear English warmed by an Italian lilt—perhaps I would date him, I thought—and he smiled, and his warm brown eyes sparkled, and we shook.
I had arrived on a one-way ticket with savings from the banking job I’d quit a month before. A man I knew, a jet-setter, had introduced me to two kind and well-connected Italian women before I arrived. I planned to stay and learn the language. I’d dreamed of going to Italy and living there and most of all of belonging. When I was in elementary school, I watched Cinema Paradiso 22 times and memorized the dialogue. In the movie, everyone had a place, even the bum who thought he owned the piazza. Eccentricities were celebrated, and no one was isolated. There was tradition and camaraderie, and all of it seemed more fulfilling than what I’d had growing up in Palo Alto, California. Italy was where the soul went to find calm and love, and I wanted to hold the best of it in the palm of my hand.