2009 in 125 words
I started writing a year-end post like I usually do, but we’re about to walk out the door and I’m not dressed and the cookies are not all out of the oven, and all I really had to say about 2009 boils down to getting engaged and seeing Knowing in theaters (not in that order). Those were the major highlights of my year. Also moved (temporarily) to another country and had another book published and missed my friends and made new ones, but basically for me, 2009 = Nic and Nick.
(My best day of the year was the same as 2008! That’s funny. Maybe Nicolas Cage will release a movie on August 26, 2010 and we can really wrap this one up tight.)
Happy New Year, everybody.
Anyone Can Play Guitar
I recently found this scrawled on a scrap of paper at the bottom of my purse, in my own handwriting:
“Why are we acting like Radiohead is saving our lives?
They’re not going into space for us.
They don’t know the dark secret of the universe and they’re keeping it from us because they love us too much.
They’re just a band. They play guitars.”
No date, no attribution, none of the notes that usually accompany something like this.
Were you with me when we discussed this? Did you say this? Did I say it? Were we drinking? Did we have fun?
The Wheat Penny
First of all, let me preface this entire post with the fact that I don’t remember 95% of it.
I got a concussion and amnesia last Saturday night when Nick accidentally hit my nose with his elbow in a perfect storm of events at his cricket club Christmas dinner. He was reaching back to put his arm around me and I leaned forward at just the right moment, and bam! Concussion. There wasn’t even a bruise or mark on my face, and at the time, all I did was say “Ow!” and my eyes watered, and everyone made some spousal abuse jokes and then we went on with our dinners. (I’m told. I don’t remember this. I should probably pepper this post with “apparently” and “so I hear” and “Nick says.”) Then a little while later, Nick noticed that I was acting strangely, asking him the same question over and over again, not remembering that we’d had our food yet, and just acting sort of spacey. I started the same conversation with our friend Jason twice, and so Nick called NHS Direct and told them what was going on and they advised him to bring me in to A&E (that’s Accident & Emergency, Americans).
We spent the entire night at the hospital, with poor Nick having to re-explain what was happening to me every 5-10 minutes when my short term memory would wipe itself again and I’d say, “Wait! What’s going on?” And he’d relay the events very calmly, and every time, I’d say in a big stage whisper, “We can’t be in the hospital! I can’t afford it!” while he reassured me that no, this was fine. Apparently a few times I threw in something different, like suggesting we just go home and forget about it and look it up later on Wikipedia, or suggesting that we "ask Bernard if we can push the beds together" (a reference to Antonia's dad's house in Cape Cod), or, after he said, “I bumped you on the nose and now you’ve lost your short term memory,” getting very frustrated and telling him I had a very good memory and I think I’d remember that happening. I also casually referenced my eighth grade science fair project on short term and long term memory at one point, which he didn’t piece together until the next day when we’d talked more, but I think I’d like a retroactive blue ribbon for that, Mrs. Hedrick.
About the time I started retaining my short term memory again was the same time the doctor came in to see me. She gave me a very long and thorough exam. The first thing she asked was my name, and then she asked, “Who’s the Prime Minister?” and I thought she was making a joke because I have the same name as his wife. I kind of laughed and said, “Gordon Brown,” and she went right on with, “Who’s the Queen?” and I was like, “Uh, Elizabeth,” which strikes me as a bit of an inefficient question for this sort of situation, since Elizabeth has been queen for roughly one hundred years and it seems very unlikely that even a very old person would be like, “Victoria. Oh wait!”
Then she said, “Do you know where you are?” and I was like, “Uh, a hospital?” and she said, “Do you know where?” and I said, “Well, London,” but I didn’t know the hospital name or remember how we got there and had to keep looking at Nick for answers like a simpleton.
This exam went on for about twenty minutes, while she asked me a million more questions and tested my reflexes and nerve endings and it ended with me having to copy some geometrical figure that she’d drawn. I had to point out I couldn’t have done any better even without a head injury. You know that part of standardized tests when they’re like, “Which of these figures is the first figure rotated 180 degrees?” The answers are always like A) figure, B) figure, C) figure, and never D) Buhhhhhhhhhhh? That’s when my brain hits a wall and starts playing ‘80s sitcom theme songs to distract me from the cold truth that I’m never going to be an astronaut.
After I did well enough on the tests to get into a state school, the doctor said she’d like to keep me overnight and check me again in the morning, and that if I hadn’t improved, our options were a CT scan or a “lumbar puncture,” which are two of the worst words ever, and as my friend Pierce pointed out, why would you say them when “spinal tap” was available?
So we stayed the night and poor Nick sat up next to me the whole time, and then the next morning the nicest man in the world came in and gave us our breakfast options in a gorgeous Nigerian serenade. Corn flakes, bran flakes, Rice Krispies? Toast? How many, three four five six? Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soup, or Horlicks? Sugar? Milk? Just a dash of milk or a lot of milk? Warm milk or cold milk? I have to say, as weird and frustrating as this whole concussion episode was, I have never received better medical attention in my life. We were in the emergency room on a Saturday night in December with a full moon, and the nurses were all sweet and kind, both doctors who examined me were patient and focused and didn’t rush, but answered all my questions, and that man who brought in the breakfast should be knighted. NHS, I am your biggest fan, and I wish my country had something even remotely similar.
Anyway, I’m okay now, and even though I still don’t remember 9 pm to 5 am (the doctor said I might get those memories back, might not), my head is no longer achey and I’m not easily irritable and tired like a toddler like I was all last week. I can also type with just a normal amount of typos again. Apparently I tried banoffi pie for the first time that night and really liked it, but have no memory of this. I keep trying to tell Nick that if we go back to the restaurant and order the pie, surely all my memories will come flooding back, but so far he’s not having it. But that’s all right; he stayed home with me all last week and had to call my parents and tell them he’d broken me, and has just generally been wonderful. He’s even let me make abuse jokes all week long.
One highlight of this whole thing was that when we came home the next day and I was looking through the pictures on my camera that I had no recollection of taking, Chris said, “I knew at dinner that something was wrong because you weren’t being funny.” Aw. That’s nice.
Anyway, I would like to apologize to the Gentleman’s Relish Amateur Cricket Club for any annoying or spacey thing I did or said at dinner, any friends far away who are hearing about this now for the first time, and I would especially like to thank Nick for looking after me and being the best ever, but baby, you didn’t have to hit me to get me to say that.
Where are your badly-shaven, well-dressed idols?
My hair (who’s still with me! yeah!) (actually that’s not fair; you guys turned out in droves when I talked about my hair last winter) recently reached the length where it no longer curls properly, and since this is the only thing I like about my hair, it’s all I’ve complained about for about three weeks now. (That’s not fair either; I’m sure I’ve complained about many other things as well.) I don’t know if it’s the weather or London water or what, but my hair has just been hanging there, never completely drying and never completely curling, and it’s too heavy to even get into a ponytail without a headache. Nick, who I have a pretty big crush on lately, surprised me yesterday with an early Christmas gift of a haircut at a fancy salon, the kind where they’re playing Air’s Moon Safari and they wash your hair with something that smells like warm root beer and then a cute Australian girl massages your scalp and there’s a whole magazine in front of you about how Gwyneth’s marriage is crumbling. Still can’t resist a Gwyneth article, you guys. What eye-rolling/soft-chuckle-provoking thing will she say or do next? I will always check in to find out.
I was lured into this surprise by Nick asking if I’d come to Stoke Newington to help him paint our friends’ living room, so I took two buses and two trains and arrived in my running shoes, faded Steelers T-shirt, and the black drawstring pants I wore to repaint our bathroom two summers ago. (Maggie Mason may hear the words “six months in London with your fiancé” and pack vintage scarves and hot rollers, but my first thought is where are my stained pants?) Also it was raining and I was wearing my puffy coat. So I was really happy to be sent to the salon instead of handed a paintbrush, but it’s difficult to feel worthy of being in the same room where someone is playing “Sexy Boy” when you’re wearing clothes you wouldn’t even sleep in. I feel like wherever I go lately I’m reinforcing some cruel American stereotypes, namely that we all just shuffle around like the cast of Roseanne, idly licking the cheese dust off our fingers while distracted by whatever light is blinking nearby, but I’m happy to provide this service if it means I get a scalp massage.
Once I was shampooed and sat in the chair, I felt a little unmoored. This was my first haircut since 2004 by anyone other than my darling Nikki back in Brooklyn, and not only does Nikki know exactly what to do to my hair, she also knows my entire life history and I know hers, and sometimes she has a margarita waiting for me and we’re immediately like, Right, what is the latest with your brother. The prospect of making light conversation with a stranger has never fazed me, but I was really aware of the fact that I had a sopping wet head and was dressed like a five year old boy in a pediatrician’s waiting room circa 1990 and this girl hovering behind me with the scissors looked like a hot stylish Molly Ringwald so I just forged ahead with Trivia About My Hair. This seemed like a good idea since it was all we really had in common at the moment, other than the fact that we were both wearing shoes.
“My hair used to be straight, but then one day it turned curly!” I announced brightly, much in the same tone of voice a four year old would use to announce that sometimes dogs are brown.
That gave us about four minutes’ worth but then it got quiet again, so I tried another Hair Fact: “I’m going gray now!” To which she politely said, “Oh, no, I can barely tell,” so I barreled ahead and began to point them out for her, each and every one. I was soon aware of my mistake here, because what was she going to do, ooh and ahh over each gray hair? Yes, that’s a very scary picture of a monster you made! I see it! Yes!
I go in again, this time with, “My hair had gotten so long, it was getting kind of hard to wash!”
The girl next to me with her hair in foils, reading about Gwyneth, shifts in her seat and looks at me sort of pityingly. Air is still playing, the room still smells like rich people’s bathrooms, and no one else has suddenly changed into anything held up by an elastic waistband. I smile and say, “Last winter, my hair felt dirty all the time, like for months!”
This is a great, no-pressure way to start conversations and I’m doing it all the time from here on out: just blurt out personal, possibly negative things about yourself to a roomful of strangers and smile. “We have an ant infestation!” “I haven’t pooped since Monday!” “My sister is addicted to diet pills!”
Let everyone else smile with raised eyebrows and open mouths and scramble to string it all together. You’re getting a scalp massage while wearing the most comfortable pants in existence. You are a fucking ambassador to the world.