Contentment: A story of just one Sunday in just one life

2:00a.m. Not getting up. Not yet. This aging thing makes sleeping until 4:00a.m. feel triumphant, although calling what I do in bed sleeping is the same sort of delusional leap as calling Donald Trump presidential. My night is a series of short, unsatisfying naps punctuated by efforts to determine the time from the amorphous glow of green-blur radiated by the bedside clock I bought five years ago — the one with extra-large digital display specially designed for the near-blind — without putting on my glasses because putting on my glasses somehow cues my body to full wakefulness.

2:45a.m. See 2:00a.m. plus a nagging feeling I will soon have to visit the bathroom.

3:15a.m. See 2:45a.m. plus the definite feeling that I really should go to the bathroom.

3:30a.m. See 3:15a.m. plus the suspicion the need to use the bathroom is waking me up.

3:40a.m. See 3:30a.m. plus a mad dash to the bathroom.

3:45-3:59a.m. Tossing and turning, checking and rechecking of nuclear-green blob of near numerals waiting to see a shape that looks like 4:00. Obsessively dwelling on how long it will be before my delaying of night peeing and natural decline in bladder control will result in a return to wetting the bed like I did as a child and wondering if my other youthful qualities like unbridled optimism and trusting in happy endings will also return or will this aging thing only result in adult diapers and disappointment?

4:00a.m. Glasses on. Rise and shine. Paradoxical Note: while this aging thing may make sleeping until 4:00a.m. feel like a triumph, it makes getting up at 4:00a.m. feel like a defeat. But, this aging thing and the serendipitous result of giving things up in order to get free of less than soul-affirming situations is that here I am in a spot where there isn’t anywhere I have to be, so, time can continue to be a big green undefined blob because it is unimportant. And I am lucky, because I can live this free-form life. So, live. Time for coffee. Made last night in my old-school, throwback, non-electric percHamilton, Jane The Excellent Lombardsolator. Since latest unexpected but ultimately beneficial downsizing and relocation requiring further economizing, have learned to love and appreciate the practices of my frugal forebears, like buying the cheapest coffee, preferably chicory infused, and slowly, steadily, patiently boiling it until it is diner-mud-strong. Delicious way to start the day. Even if the day’s start is what I used to call the night.

4:00a.m.-6:00a.m. Read current novel, Jane Hamilton’s The Excellent Lombards, which I am loving very much and which I got from library because Ann Patchett blurbed it. As a rule, I no longer fall for blurbs because I understand the pressure to get and to give them, but when Ann Patchett or Elizabeth McCracken blurb or talk about books, I believe them. This plot is particularly resonant for me because it features a brother and sister, very close in age, who are so close and soul-connected they believed themselves to be twins. I had that once with a sister.

july 24 2016 36:00a.m. Breakfast. We splurged on a pastry labeled “authentic French chocolate brioche” and it is delicious. I imagine it has been flown in from Paris as I place it on a plate that has been in my family since before I was born, a plate my aunt, Sissie, insisted I take when she was moving to her assisted living, final apartment, a plate I had in storage for years until we moved to this place, our own, and I use a fork I acquired (stole) on one of my trips to the pre-Marriott Algonquin Hotel, the hotel Sissie insisted I visit before I got too old to enjoy it, before it was too late, as it became for her. Surrounding myself with these echoes of the past — my own, my imagined, and stories borrowed from others — used to make me melancholy and achey of soul, but now, these spirit songs make me happy. How lucky am I to be able to imagine Paris? To have this plate and this fork? To have made those Algonquin trips? To have had my life so shaped by Sissie? I hear ethereal, intangible music of such beauty every day because of all of these memories and reminders.

o'hara frank6:30a.m. Catching up with my backlog of New Yorker Magazine issues has triggered my poetry jones. From the stacks on the windowsill and nightstand by my bed I choose Frank O’Hara: Selected Poems: A New Selection Edited by Mark Ford. I don’t do investigative, interpretive reading this morning; instead, I dive into and wallow in Mr. O’Hara’s soul-words, reading many poems, quickly, merging his and my memory songs. My first Frank O’Hara was bought for me when I was an adolescent by Sissie, my literary mentor, from Learmont Books, my first independent bookstore, a two-storied, mezzanined treasure trove opened in Frederick by two transplanted New York City gay men who recognized in me a like and looking-for-kind spirit and guided me toward books and authors I should know.

8:30a.m. Time to read the New York Times on-line — which is a gift from a marvelous friend. While I love basking in the echoes of what once was, I also cherish the now and the magic of gaining entry to or information about almost anything in the wide, wide world with the clicks of a few buttons. When I was the child who first ate off that heirloom breakfast plate and heard Sissie’s tales of the Algonquin Round Table and met Mr. Learmont and Frank O’Hara, managing to get a New York Times (or a copy of O’Hara, or a new Streisand album, or, an old Streisand album) in Frederick was a near supernatural feat. Now, everything is mine for the searching on my laptop, a banquet unto gluttony! Speaking of which, the Book Review section persuades me to go to my library account and reserve Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sypmathizer and Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls. Another modern-on-line miracle: reserving library books from home in an instant! I truly do love this life I am living.

july 24 2016 19:30a.m. It’s time to put the kale on. My sister — the one with whom I once believed myself twinned — is on her annual jaunt to Duck. She usually entertains Mommy on Sundays, so I am filling in today. When I spent my Thursday with Momma, I told her I’d be making a new recipe for chicken salad and asked what else she’d like. She did her Mommy thing, “Oh Charlie, I don’t care.” Wait for it. Within a few minutes she placed an order for corn on the cob and kale. I wanted fresh tomatoes, so we went to our favorite orchard stand where she also found some peaches and a strawberry-rhubarb pie she thought would be nice. $50 later we were back in the car. I made the chicken salad yesterday morning when I woke at 3:30a.m. Now, the kale goes on to cook all day, and I shuck the corn to soak it in water until it is time for the fast boil.

10:00a.m. Time to finish the cleaning I started Friday night after returning from two weeks of dog & house-sitting during which I’d stopped in briefly here at my new home to check on the sister, so I’ve gotten behind on domestic chores. After tackling living room, dining area, kitchen, and sister’s room Friday night, today is bathroom attack. It wasn’t properly cleaned before we moved in and with my busy house/pet sit schedule, this is my first chance for a real scrubbing. I make my own cleaning solution using tea tree oil, lemon juice/essence, and vinegar which I use for a first pass and daily wipe-downs. I follow up with a manufactured product in shades of neon-green and blue and by the time I am done, the bathroom is clean enough to sup in. I guess I could also say my kitchen is clean enough to pee in, but that doesn’t make much sense, does it? I love cleaning. I do a little every day.

July 24 2016 511:30a.m. I stack the books I got for Mommy. She very much enjoys reading but is almost blind (I guess she can never tell what time it is when she wakes up in the middle of the night, either.) and new large print books are ridiculously expensive so I regularly visit the library discard shelves and a Girl Scout Used Book Store which both offer hardbacks for one dollar, paperbacks for fifty cents. The Girl Scouts had ten possibilities this week. I re-donate the ones she rejects and too, the ones she finishes. I feel some guilt the authors and publishers aren’t benefitting from these re-readings, but I can’t afford $35 a book and I figure books are read repeatedly from library purchases, right?

11:40a.m. Me time. Catching up on backlog of New York magazines. Oh no. An article titled Publishing Can Break Your Heart [click here] about author, Helen DeWitt, of whom I’ve never heard, and her possibly great novel, The Last Samurai, of which I’ve never heard and now, OF COURSE, must add to my ToBeRead stack. I go to library on-line. DAMN. They don’t have it. Now I am going to have to do my used bookstore search thing until I find it. OH LIFE! WHY?!?! Hahaha, this is probably a good thing because I now have ten books on hold at library, some of which are yet to be released, but, if history is any indication, most of these will become available for pick-up at the same time or within days of each other. Why am I blogging? I should be reading.

12:30p.m. Message from a dear one I met on Twitter and fell in friend-crush-love with in real life, who is about to go out-of-electronic touch for a while. During our brief exchange we discover we LOVE yet another author-in-common, this love and this message, this connection, again, marveling at how full is my life. And, the wonders of Twitter. From which I am taking a break(ish) because the political crap is exhausting (and frightening) me.

1:00p.m. Call Mommy to ask what time she’d like to be picked up. Four. Because her Orioles are playing and she wants to watch the game, there, in her room at Record Street, where she can rant and rail and rave at the players and coaches.

machado, manny

Mother’s crush: Manny

1:15p.m. I head to gym. If only Mommy had wanted to spend the entire afternoon with us instead of with Manny Machado (Not that I blame her? But no question where I got my — uhm — desire to waste time with the cocky, swarthy types. Hahaha.) I could have delayed my return to workout routine another day. Alas, I seriously need regular exercise because since May’s upending eviction notification, the ensuing search panic, the purging, packing, and moving, the busy pet/house-sitting summer schedule, the return (continuation?) of my digestive(?) illness, and, too, my low-grade (well, some days it was pretty damn HIGH-to-HUGE-grade) depression and existential angst exacerbated by the uproar, I have not been eating as healthily as I might, not weighing myself, and not gymming as I ought. So, here I am, going to the gym. Dammit.

3:45p.m. Picking up Mommy at Record Street after two hours of gym work. I did it. I had to force myself to stay on that elliptical and finish all those sets of chest and leg works, but I did it. And, yes, we said 4:00pm, but, Mommy knows I continue to operate by my theatre-days motto, “If you’re not fifteen minutes early, you’re late.” So she comes down to the lobby early and on those occasions when I arrive at the actual appointed time, she asks me why I am late.

4:00p.m.-6:30p.m. Mommy, sister, and I finish watching the Orioles game. They win in the bottom of the ninth. Mommy is overjoyed. Sister and I are relieved. We watch old black and white episodes of Gunsmoke until dinner time. We have a delicious dinner. We have a lot of fun. We gorge on strawberry-rhubarb drowning in vanilla ice cream. Mommy gives me hell for getting too many books for her. I give her hell for giving me hell instead of just saying thank-you. Sister intervenes and explains that I check the Large Print sales outlets all the time and they only rarely have new books so I get a lot when I can so she doesn’t run out. Mommy says okay. Not, mind you, thank you, but, okay. I come by my curmudgeonliness honestly, people.

6:30p.m. I take Mommy back to Record Street. Every time I go there — EVERY — TIME — I am both grateful that it exists to take care of my Mom, and stunned and surprised again that both she and Sissie, two such very different people who influenced and raised me in such very different ways, who loved the father I never knew in such very different ways, knew him so differently, have both loved and known me so differently; Me,Charlie, who looks so much like that father I never knew; Me, Charlie, who was seventeen months old when he died, who stayed behind and decades later took and takes such care of two women he loved so much. Lots of different. Lots of the same. Lots of decades to figure out how often what you think is different turns out to be, ultimately, the same.

Me, Charlie who drives back to this apartment I share with my sister, heats up some of the percolated coffee, settles in for a bit of trash television, heads to my room by 9 to read some more Jane Hamilton, and starts dropping off to sleep shortly thereafter.

9:30p.m. I put in my earplugs, reduce the pillow stack from seven to two, turn out the light, and marvel at this contentment, this quiet satisfaction I have won without ever having starred on Broadway or had a book published or married or made millions or managed fame. I marvel, having recently read a biography of Mary Martin, who did star on Broadway, published a book (or two or three), married (twice), made millions, and was famous for much of her life, and I mentioned her to a younger guy I was seeing and he had absolutely no idea who she was, had heard of none of her shows, had never seen Peter Pan, and I realize, at long last, everyone is forgotten, everyone is unknown by most people, everyone is on their own, finally alone, here we all are going, doing the best we can. We Love the best we can. We make Light the best we can.

My Love and Light might not have been shared and shone in the way I dreamed as a child, not in the way Sissie and Mommy and even Daddy might have imagined and wanted for me, but damn, I can rest my head at night and sleep well, having saved those dishes and mementos and morals and memories I gathered through life, kept them around me, making a full and unique life that could be lived by no one other than me, and I have made others’ lives richer, made others believe in their own paths, given others enough Love and Light to make my being here worthwhile. And I’m okay with that.

So at the end of one Sunday in one life, with a smile on my face, I go to sleep.

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