Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Church Ladies’ Cookbook

In October, 1970, someone in Rhode Island had a fabulous birthday. I know this because I now own one of the gifts this person received – the Centennial Cookbook of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in East Providence, Rhode Island. Better yet, the copy was inscribed by the authors.“Happy Birthday and Happy Cooking,” it says, and it’s signed by contributors Frankie Willis and Helen Bromage. Through the magic of the Interweb, I've discovered that the church is still standing; it's pictured here.

I found the cookbook in a twenty-five cent pile at a garage sale this weekend. How it traveled 1,300 miles to make it to that sale is just one of its fascinating mysteries. While I plan to use the book as first prize for this spring’s soup swap (“Joy of Jello” was first prize this fall), I’ve already read it a couple times myself, and I’ve found it riveting stuff. 

It offers a glimpse into a past where every organization had its own cookbook, typed by the volunteers, run off on mimeograph machines and GBC bound in complementary colors. I imagined every part of the process of putting St. Mary’s offering together. I wondered how the “Cook Book Committee,” as they called themselves, happened to be formed.  Were Suzanne, Helen, Evelyn and Nancy just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were they thrilled at the honor? Once they got to work, was there a great deal of political infighting regarding which recipes to keep and which to pass over? 

For example, was Hazel Johnston, who submitted the recipe for Grasshopper Pie, (which calls for a quarter cup of crème de menthe and two tablespoons of white crème de cacao), the falling-down drunkard of the congregation, the one who could never be left alone near the communion wine? Maybe she had a long-standing affair with equally pickled Frank Dearnley, who submitted a Low Calorie Egg Nog that called for Dream Whip and rum. Frank and Hazel, with the love, and the sweet tooth, that dared not speak its name.

The names of the contributors to this book are like a role call of ladies who, wherever they are now, are still wearing pastel nylon headscarves to keep their bouffant hairdos in shape: Gladys, Edna, Mae, Bertha, Dorothy, Mabel, Hazel and Marjorie. And, this being 1970, there are those women with no names to call their own, like Mrs. Arthur Salve (Franks and Corn Bread Casserole) or Mrs. Frederick Hauck (Pecan Pie, Spiced Pineapple).

In the midst of these mature women, there is a ringer, Lori Hassel, who contributes no fewer than 20 recipes, each one of which notes that she's 13 years old.  I wonder if this is a point of pride or a way of absolving St. Mary’s from any damages done by Lori’s newfangled recipes. I found myself thinking about Lori. She’s 54 years old now.  Still in Rhode Island?  Still an Episcopalian? Still known for her beguiling ways with tuna and chips?  These are questions that bedevil me.

The cookbook is full of recipes for stuff no one makes anymore.  Yeast bread, are you kidding?  There’s an entire section for preserves and relishes, with an illustration of a canning pot and rack (nimbly illustrated by the Rev. James P. Frink, according to the credits). The apparatus could just as well be a washboard and wringer, as old fashioned as it seems. Also, tellingly, there is no section at all for appetizers.  No cheese balls, no seven layer dips, no chicken wings. You’ll just ruin your dinner, I can almost hear Gladys telling me. 

What about ethnic foods?  Not really, although Bertha Sarganis (iffy name for an Episcopalian, if you ask me), has an entry for Spinach Pita.  Someone has typed in “GREEK” next to the recipe, and Bertha has added a note that the Filo pastry sheets can be found at the Near East Market at 253 Cranston Street in Providence. Sally Bagdasarian (must be Bertha’s sister-in-law), tried to slip in Rice Pilav, but the alert typist has sniffily added “ARMENIAN DISH” next to the entry. There is a modest attempt at regionalism, with a few recipes for foods native to the area:  Whoopee Pies (Ethel deMerchant), New England Baked Shrimp (Mrs. Clara Nichols) and Stuffed Quohaugs (Mrs. Gladys Dearnley, possibly the wife of pickled Frank). Also, I love this book's 1970’s definition of  “salad,” with recipes that feature jello, cans of condensed cream soup, or both.

This certainly made for entertaining reading, but I probably won’t be making any of these recipes myself. I mean, I had to read Secret Italian Recipe Meat Balls (Brenda Davey) several times, perusing its six ingredients to guess which one was the secret. Was it the “hamburg” the “two slices bread; wet bread and wring” or the Parmesan cheese? I’m going with  the Parmesan as the secret. Possibly, in 1970, it was a big secret, the kind of thing you had to get at that market on Cranston Street that Bertha was always gassing on about. Also, I think even Mrs. George C. Gartner, Sr. is overselling “Nice Luncheon Dish.” First, I’ve never eaten “luncheon.” And second, it’s scrambled eggs, Mrs. George, so stop fooling around and submit a real recipe, or we’ll get Mrs. George Junior for the next edition.

The dessert recipes included here invariably reminded me of my own mother and her friends. It seemed as if dessert recipes would whip through our neighborhood as if they’d been posted on Facebook pages, forty years before it was invented. I can remember when Watergate Gate hit the ladies hard, and I have a dim memory of Harvey Wallbanger Cake having a similarly popular run before that. The year of the Christmas cookies that were made of corn flakes, melted marshmallows and virulent amounts of green food coloring, and shaped to look like wreaths, is especially vivid. This cookbook, from simpler times, did feature the lemon cake with the poked-hole-and-goo-pouring method, as well as cookies like Aunt Ana’s Hermits (Vivian Hubbard), Hello Dollies (Mrs. Clara Nichols) and Leilani Bars (Bertha, again, but this time, no need to head to Cranston Street; all the ingredients are A&P approved).

I know that no one eats dinner together anymore, and that’s why our kids are all overweight drug addicts, but I have to question the quality of all those once-upon-a-time meals, with this cookbook as Exhibit A. So many of these recipes have the stink of four p.m. desperation, the sort of thing pulled together by a  woman who had too many highballs at Bridge Club, whose children are starting to whine, and who knows her husband will arrive on the late train from the city, blotto as usual. Entrees like Heavenly Hot Dogs (Caryl Frank) and Sauerbraten Patties (Mrs. L. A. Rabe) are sad excuses for family meals, the sort of thing prepared by a cook who keeps an ashtray near the stove, and whose countertops are always sticky.

As I reached the conclusion of this riveting read, I had to wonder if someone battled the woman who wanted to add the “Recipe for a Happy Home” that I had assumed was mandated by law for church cookbooks (“Take one cup of love, one pinch of fun … “). I can just hear Suzanne now: “God dammit, Evelyn, we’re St. Mary’s Episcopal. We have to have some standards!”  Possibly they placated the “Recipe for a Happy Home” submitter by allowing her to edit the Household Hints section, in which one paranoid soul warned, “Beneficial note: Never ask for a recipe in a restaurant.  You may receive the recipe and a bill … which could amount to $500.00.” Cue the scary music, Evelyn.

Some of the hints in this final section were real doozies, such as “To erase fingermarks from wallpaper, try rubbing with soft chunks of white bread.” I imagine the lady from Bridge Club trying this stupid idea, while she waits for the Heavenly Franks and Beans to finish heating up on her spattered stovetop. God, she needs another cigarette.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

“Dear Ms. Hill” An Eighties Survivor Offers a Long-Overdue Thank You

It’s been twenty years since Anita Hill told the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. In a recent interview, she mentioned that she’s received tens of thousands of letters since then, and that reading them inspired her to write her new book, Reimagining Equality.

I could claim that my letter to Ms. Hill was lost in the mail (remember mail? It was all the rage twenty years ago), but, the sorry truth is, I never wrote one. At the time, I didn’t realize the importance of her testimony, nor did I understand what the impact of that testimony would be. So here’s my belated letter, delivered with many thanks:

Dear Ms. Hill,
I started working when I was 16. I’ve worked in a public library, an all-girls’ high school and several advertising and marketing agencies. Except for my stint at the school, where every employee was female (except for the janitor), there was never a time when there were not men at my place of work who took every possible opportunity to engage in smirking innuendo, smarmy double entendre and blatant sexual discussions. The culture of the time dictated that everyone should laugh at, and pretend to enjoy, this talk, for to do otherwise was to be labeled “uptight.”

There was always at least one female in each of these work groups who indicated that she loved this sort of thing, and whose giggles and sidelong looks always encouraged the men to even greater feats of Hefner-esque blather. I noticed that these were usually the girls with the very large breasts. I suspected that if I also had very large breasts, I might think that the guys were just as funny as these girls did. In fact, I thought the men AND the girls were stupid, but I tried not to say so. To be uptight was a terrible thing, back in the eighties.

After working at a number of perennially failing local ad agencies (profits were low; cocaine costs tended toward the high side), I landed at a regular, mainstream marketing services agency, the largest operation in town. I was assigned to provide support for the all-male sales staff located in our Detroit region, where, I was told, women would need “a thick skin” and be able to “take it” from those rugged guys. I realize now that big breasts would have helped me a lot more than a thick skin, but I possessed neither, so it was, as one of those Detroit geniuses used to say, “a mute point.”

Since you’ve worked at law firms and universities, Ms. Hill, I suspect that you might not have met any men like these in your professional life, or at least until you ran into Justice Thomas. In any case, let me paint a picture for you of my world at that time, the time before you testified, using one fellow as an example of the archetypal behavior in that Detroit group. We’ll call him Bob, because that was his name, and we’ll skip over a detailed description of his beady eyes, his protruding jaw, or his tiny, mean mouth. We’ll just head right to some scenes that pretty much sum up my working life with him.

Scene One:  During a Presentation. We are gathered in a conference room, poised before flip charts (remember them? They were like cumbersome and unchangeable PowerPoints, just a step up from carved stone tablets, and even heavier). I am the only female present. Bob circles around the table, introducing each of “the guys.” He pauses a beat at me, then moves on. “What about her?” the customer asks. “She does the typing,” Bob spits out, looking very, very pleased with himself. 

Scene Two:  After a Presentation. We are packing up the slide trays and the flip charts after a presentation to GM Body Parts, and discussion begins about where we will be eating our celebratory team meal. I am the only woman in the group. Bob studiously avoids looking at me as he says, “Let’s go to the Men’s Grill at the Detroit Country Club.” Steve Maritz, a prince among these swine, points out that this will mean that I will be forced to eat, alone, in an anteroom.  Bob’s shrug indicates his lack of concern for this eventuality. I have heard, in fact, from other women upon whom this stunt was pulled. Joyce Irwin, a kind-hearted and creative member of the measurement team, told me that she once ate her entire dinner, alone, outside the confines of the Men’s Grill. “It was sort of fun,” she said, without a lot of enthusiasm. Steve suggests that we go somewhere else instead, and, mostly because his family name is on the building, we do. I never do see the women's anteroom, nor do I eat in it. But Bob continues to suggest it every time dining suggestions are being entertained.

Scene Three: During a Rehearsal. I use this term loosely, because “rehearsing” for an upcoming presentation to one of the big three auto manufacturers would seem to warrant an occasion for review, discussion and practice. At this company, at least back then, it was time for rushing out of the room on urgent phone calls, wandering around the office anxiously, and issuing graphic threats to the salesperson, who is frequently reminded that his genitals will be "on the chopping block," should the business not be won. By this time, I am used to the Betsy Ross craft work of making changes to the hefty flip charts, and rechecking the million-dollar budgets on a calculator. During this particular rehearsal, for GMC Truck, it becomes known that one of the salesmen in the office has accepted a job as a Regional Manager in the San Francisco office. This is a cause for great gales of homophobic hilarity. San Francisco, get it?

Bob tells the man, “Better not bend over to get the soap in the shower,” and everyone guffaws. Then Bob uses the speakerphone to share the news with several colleagues, always making sure to include his soap/shower warning. By the time the day is over, I have heard this remark dozens of times.

I keep at my work and I keep quiet. After a few years at this company, I have made a good friend. He is gay. I’ve always known that this talk is stupid, and I'm sure that, on several levels, it's just wrong. But to consider that what Bob is saying is illegal -- that people in business should not be allowed, by law, to be talking this way?  It’s not a concept I can even entertain.

Scene Four:  October, 1991.  Cue you. I watch every bit of the hearings. I know you are right.  I suspect that you are brave in ways I cannot imagine. And then I have to get back to work.

Final Scene, One year later. I am back in Detroit, preparing for another presentation, this time for Pontiac.  The group has grown weary of running around the room and threatening the safety of each other’s genitals, so we’ve gone out for lunch. There are maybe eight people at the table.  I am the only woman. Sometime during the course of the lunch, the smarmy freelance consultant says something. The funny part about this memory is that I cannot tell you what it was that the man said– it must have been so like what I heard every day from these characters that it became background noise.

But the moment we rise from the table and start to leave, the Regional Manager rushes over to me, smarmy consultant in tow. “Don didn’t mean anything offensive by what he said earlier,” the man says, “and he’d like to apologize.” The man then apologizes. To me. Because, he says, he hoped that what he said didn’t offend me. At first, I want to tell them that I don’t even know what they’re talking about, but I decide to keep that to myself. Grimly, I say, “I won’t report it. This time.”

When I see the relief on their faces, I feel as if the earth is shifting beneath my feet. I am in Detroit, a place where I have been demeaned, devalued and dismissed over the course of many years. And, Ms. Hill, because of you and what you were willing to do, these vermin are worried enough to behave politely towards me.  Not because they have suddenly sprouted souls, of course, but because the company’s corporate counsel has painted them a grim picture of how expensive a lawsuit from a mouthy, small-breasted bitch like me could be.

Work changed. It changed at that moment, and it changed every day after that. I’m not naive enough to think that these men are any different than they ever were.  When you put a lid over the sewer gas in a conference room, it just leaks out in different places, like talk radio, or Fox News. But, at least in the conference rooms I frequent these days, they have to watch their mouths.

And for that, Ms. Hill, I can only say – Thank You. 

God Bless You,
Julie Kendrick

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beautiful Sunday

Waking up on what might be the last beautiful Sunday for the next, oh, seven months or so, I have to admit that, as I thought about my morning, “spend a shift at the Crisis Nursery with all my under-age-six pals” was not in the top ten on my wish list. Not in the top 100, to be honest, and I tried to avoid thinking about all the wonderful life choices I could otherwise be making with such a lovely day. I attempted to wrestle the self pity to the ground and stuff it into my back pocket, and then I donned my extra-dorky “Volunteer” t-shirt and even-dorkier name-tag lanyard and hit the road to Golden Valley.

By the time I finished my shift that afternoon, Clifton (age 5, going on 50) was sucking his thumb and sleeping. In the next bed, Tristan (age 3, perhaps perpetually) was wide awake and thrashing a counterclockwise perimeter around his tiny twin bed, wearing out a crop circle on the Sponge Bob sheets.

I signed out, turned in my name badge, and headed back into a world that was just as lovely as when I’d walked in. See there? I told myself. And just what would I have done with that chunk of my day, if I hadn’t spent it as a volunteer? I answered both sides of the question:

I could have lounged about. Doubtful. I would have thought about lounging, but would have observed dirt and chaos all around me, then dealt with it, repeatedly. Even the very angry toddler at the nursery who, during a long crying jag, managed to drip quite a bit of, um, bodily fluid, all down her front and generously onto my dorky t-shirt,  was not remotely as disconcerting as a house full of misplaced items and dog hair. 
Point goes to: Volunteering

I could have achieved nirvana in a yoga class. Possibly. But no meditation labyrinth could have been nearly as restful as the slow shuffle I took across the playground field with a very quiet two-year-old. As a bonus, we stopped halfway across and played a rock game of his invention. I still got to enjoy the sunshine while I was opening my waiting palm, receiving a rock, then solemnly closing my fingers around it. Then, and this is the great part if you're two, I opened up my hand and showed him that the rock was still there, ready for the taking. His solemn pleasure at this game, and his diligence in the repetition, had to be better for my body than a thousand upward dogs.
Point goes to: Volunteering

I could have had a long, deep conversation with a friend. Not gonna happen. My friends talk about two things:  how their children are driving them crazy, or how their boyfriends are driving them crazy. (Or, with some friends, both, and that gets a little extreme.)

None of them ever reveals a secret worry that the emergency light in the bedroom will actually do some scary, unnameable thing (Clifton), how the nursery ID ankle band is so tight it actually prevents sleep (again, Clifton) or how anxiety over his mother’s safety kept him up all night (again, my main man, Clifton). We talked about some real stuff in that half hour before he fell asleep for nap yesterday. He misses his mother so much he could gnaw off his arm in misery, and all I had in my arsenal of comfort was a squishy lap, a mom-like demeanor and a willingness to offer some remedy.

So I thought very hard, and breathed very slowly, and tried. I explained about the emergency light, even offering a hands-on demonstration of its safe qualities. I persuaded the staff to provide him with a new ID band that I promised would be “the unscratchy kind.” I told him, over and over, that his mother was fine, that she loved him and that she was coming back for him, soon. I’ve never had a conversation with any of my friends in which we covered that many important topics in half an hour, and I’ve certainly never offered anything close to such direct and sincere relief. At least, not enough relief that they felt comfortable enough to suck their thumb in front of me and fall asleep, exhausted.
Point goes to: Volunteering

So I drove home. Surprise, I still had the rest of a day. And I spent it cleaning the chaos, going to yoga, walking the dog. Not one thing I did was as important as the time I had spent at the nursery. 

My better self was right (she usually is, when I stop whining long enough to listen to her). There will sometimes be beautiful Sundays, but there will always be children who need a little help in letting go of their worries for as long as it takes to fall asleep.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Communist Microchip in my Daughter’s Brain, or, what I learned about Sino-U.S. relations from a guy with a topographical sculpture of Hawaii on his office wall

Back when I'd let my subscription for Ms. magazine lapse and picked up twelve issues of Fast Company instead (plus bonus tote bag!), I worked as a corporate drone in a totally made-up sector of American capitalism, euphemistically referred to as “business services." (Or, when the computer geeks tagged along, “consulting.”) An essential part of these "services" involved going to lunch with out-of-town customers, usually with a ratio ten of us to every one of them. We really liked that power-in-numbers thing. Also, floppy neckerchiefs and big earrings, but just for the women.

At lunch, the ten of us would take turns spouting marketing department aphorisms like, “It’s the people who make the difference at our company” and “When customers hear about all we can do for them, they say, ‘I had no idea.’” The other nine of us would nod along in time, solemnly. I realize now that what the customers were actually thinking was, “When can I get the next plane out of this burg and back to my glass-walled cubicle at the RenCen?” But I was too earnest to figure that out. In fact, I think I even wrote the script for a promotional video called, obviously enough, “I Had No Idea.” It had a great deal of footage of puffy white guys shaking hands at the foot of the two-story, twisted staircase in our new red-brick headquarters, the one our owner’s brother had designed. I’m not twisted enough to make this stuff up, so you have to know it’s true.

It was at a ten-to-one lunch that I found myself seated across the slightly sticky table from someone I'll call "Mr. Travel." He ran our Incentive Travel Group, which, back in those fat 'n happy times, mostly required deciding which of the hundreds of possible “Fam Trips” to go on next. (If you don’t already know what a Fam Trip is, don’t ask; it will just depress you and make you miss the nineties, something you probably never thought possible.) That day when I sat down to lunch, I knew three things about this guy, and I was about to learn one more.

Thing One, he had served proudly in the Marines for a number of years, a fact which came up in every conversation I’d ever had with him, no matter how brief. Thing Two, he had a gigantic copper-glazed sculpture that took up one full wall of his office. It was a topographical depiction of the Hawaiian Islands, each one of which he had visited hundreds of times, on those Fam Trips you weren’t supposed to be thinking about. He sat with his back to the artwork, the better to allow visitors to gaze on its splendor during meetings. It made me think of dentist’s offices, and work-related road trips to sad factory towns, when I had to stay in Holiday Inns with exactly this sort of sculpture in the lobby. Every time I left a meeting in his office, I was thinking about root canals and New Jersey, and I wouldn’t be be able to do my best “I Had No Idea” work for days. Thing Three about him was that he liked to walk around the office with both his hands stuck down the front of his pants. Did I mention that all this was happening decades ago, or is that beginning to become apparent?

So there we were at lunch, drinking ice tea (mid-nineties, not mid-eighties, big difference). Back then, I only had one topic I felt was worthy of discussion – my adorable baby daughter. Had I mentioned yet how cute she was?  Did I show you the latest pictures? Did you want to hear more about her? No one ever did, but that didn’t stop me. I babbled on about the baby, hitting hard on the extra-specialness and super-de-duper wonderfulness of every aspect of her, mentioning a minimum of once every five minutes that she’d been adopted all the way from China. I really did love the kid (still do), but I’m sure I made it sound like she was some sort of imported olive oil or antique chiffarobe, not a human being. My apologies to everyone who had to listen to me between June 1995 and July 1997, when I got pregnant with daughter number two in a geriatric pregnancy that just about killed me. After that, I pretty much shut up about my damn kids altogether.

So there I was, ignoring the I Had No Idea customer at the other end of the table, babbling about my daughter. Mr. Travel took his hands out of his pants and leaned in, close. “Did you ever think,” he said to me, “that the Chinese government has put microchips in all those girls’ heads, and that they’re just waiting for them to get a little older and stronger and then set them loose to destroy you? And ...” (significant Marine Corps pause) "... all of us?"

Well, that shut me up about the baby. And helped me to realize Thing Four: Despite the sculpture and the Fam Trips, and possibly because of the Marine Corps, (and potentially hinted at by the hands-in-the-pants thing), this man was completely insane.

My husband and I had a good laugh about it at the time, as we put our daughter to bed and then went downstairs to watch videos of her that we'd shot during the day. (Yes, pathetic, and yes, I realize that now.) "A destructive microchip intended to ruin our lives?  Ha ha," we cried, merrily.

Then the years dragged on. The many, many sleepless years. And, every now and then, locked in some epic battle for survival with the strongest life form on earth, my daughter, I would think, suddenly, of that comment about the parent-destroying microchip. Was he crazy? Or the sanest man at the ten-to-one table?

Last week, Emma called home four times in three nights. From Beijing. Long after midnight, our time, each time. Her reasons were perfectly good, at least in the cold daylight of her tomorrow, which was still our trying-to-catch-up-on-lost-sleep yesterday. One time, her debit card wasn’t working. The next time she called, two hours later, guess what, it still wasn't working, and she needed to buy an Asian Miracle Bra, and how was she supposed to do that without a debit card? The last time, she called from a wedding, and wanted to let us she was having a good time, in case we'd been worried. That "good time" on a Beijing Saturday afternoon was way after midnight in Minneapolis, so it was a little less "good time" and more "nightmare that will not end" from the perspective of our time zone.

After the week we'd had, I suppose it was natural for one of us to let our sad, tired minds return to Mr. Travel.  My husband brought it up first. With his head lying on the kitchen counter and his bleary eyes rolling around, unfocused, in his head, he croaked out his new mantra, “He was right!”

“What did you say?” I asked. And then he told me his theory, the kind that can only come with sleep deptrivation: she’d returned to her homeland for a fresh recharge of her capitalist-pig-destruction batteries. That, he concluded, was the motive behind the Gitmo-level sleep deprivation campaign she'd been waging her entrie life. “If none of us can get any sleep,” he muttered, “then they’ll be able to flatten our economy even more.”

“They’re doing a pretty good job of it already. Too bad I don’t have an important job, or one with national security implications,” I said. He agreed. “All you do now is nod off during ‘I Had No Idea!' videos." 

“And order a lot of coffee at my ten-to-one lunches,” I reminded him.

Mr. Travel, wherever you are right now, I apologize.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My New Best Friend

A friend of mine was recently interviewed for a food-focused magazine and asked who she’d most like to invite to a dinner party. When I read her reply in the sidebar, I did a double take. Henry Kissinger? Why not invite Nixon, too? You can serve cottage cheese with ketchup, a liter of warm Pepsi, and everyone can be back home in bed by 9:30.

When I called my friend later to see if whatever meds she'd been taking had finally stopped giving her these neo-con hallucinations, she said she had no idea why she’d named the unindicted co-conspirator as the person with whom she most wanted to break bread (or the will of the wily IndoChinese Communists).  "It was the first name I thought of!” she wailed.

While I have no plans for a major interview any time soon (even the Patch is aggressively uninterested in me), I decided that I’d better get my fictional dinner party guest list all lined up. When Brenda Starr, Patch reporter, begs for a response, I want to be ready.

Luckily, I’ve been reading  D.V., so I’m ready with the person to seat at my right. When Mrs. Diana Vreeland arrives half an hour late, wafting along a trail of cigarettes and perfume, I’ll be ready with that vodka cocktail, anticipating an evening of jolly fun. She’ll fasten a cigarette to her holder right away, showing off her lacquered nails while I scurry to find an ashtray. (“When I arrived in America, I had these very dark red nails which some people objected to, but then some people object to absolutely everything.”) Then we’ll settle in together for a great evening.  Who cares if she’s been dead for more than twenty years?  She’s still got more life in her than Kissinger.

While I certainly do love my friends, I realize, after reading this book, that they’re decidedly lacking in – well, glamour, for want of a better word.  Vreeland not only had glamour to spare, she knew buckets of glamorous people, too. My friends’ relationship to celebrity is more of the bystander variety.  Virginia stood in line behind Alan Cumming at the coat check of a gay bar. Deb got her picture taken with Mandy Patinkin when he came back to the theater for his umbrella. Joel won a Chevy on The Price is Right and shook Bob Barker’s hand. 

Vreeland, on the other hand,  knew Andy Warhol. She helped Jack Nicolson apply a plaster when his back was sore. She went to El Morocco with Clark Gable. My friends are nice people, but they never say things like “Did I ever tell you about the Duchess of Windsor’s bathroom?” 

Also, my friends are decidedly lacking in staff, because I've discovered from Diana that they're a great source of interesting anecdotes. I don’t think we’ve got a chauffeur or personal assistant among us. And I’ve never heard one of them say something like, “You really should be talking to Joseph, my masseur. There’s someone who knows the inside stuff.” Also, they don't have much to say about their fittings, whereas my new best bud tells me, “Coco Chanel always fitted me in her private atelier six flights up in the house on the rue Cambon.”

Now that I’ve decided to invite Diana over, I wonder how we’ll get along. Maybe, I am starting to worry, not so well. She’ll take one look at me – the decades-old yoga pants, the hair my kids cut and highlight at home – and feel the need for another cocktail, pronto, and make it a stiffish one. This is a woman who said that unshined shoes are the end of civilization. Also not in my favor, she seemed to concentrate so much on living, that she didn’t have much spare time for reading, which is the one thing I do an inordinate amount of. “Actually I can’t stand novels – I don’t care what happens to people on paper,” she declared.

But I’m a great listener, so maybe she’ll enjoy telling me her stories, and I know I’ll enjoy hearing them. Even though she famously loathed nostalgia, as she said in the first line of her book, she lived big and liked to tell about it. Like when she and her husband were living in London, returning at dawn from parties, and they’d hear the lions roaring at feeding time in the London Zoo. (“Oh, how wonderful to hear a lion roar in the middle of a city!”)

I consider it to be a big day if I meet a deadline, walk the dog and manage to get the kids delivered wherever they need to go.  Here’s Mrs. Vreeland, winding up an anecdote:
“Oh my God,” I said to Reed when we finally got back to the hotel, “what an evening!  The gnome, the girls, the madam … the King of Spain!”  We never did find out what happened to the British consul. This was all one day.  It may sound like too much of an experience, but don’t forget, we were living every hour of that day.  Everything was a lot in those days.  The world was much larger – and much smaller.  Don’t ask me to explain that.

It does give me hope to think that she said, "We all need a splash of bad taste; no taste is what I'm against." Maybe she’ll find me delightful, in a ghastly way.  Or maybe I’m overreaching with dinner, and should just meet her for lunch, instead. When she was the editor of Vogue, she was famous for never taking anyone to lunch. “I had a bridge table brought in with my lunch on it – a peanut butter and marmalade sandwich. And a shot of scotch.”  

I could manage that, I think, if she likes Skippy. If not, we’ll just move straight to the scotch.  Cheers, Mrs. Vreeland.