I saw "Matilda"

What I saw: Matilda
What I wore: boots, tights, a denim skirt, and mascara that ran in the rain
What I did beforehand: ate the candy I found in my purse (I jacked it from someone’s office when I visited last week)
Who went with me: about a thousand strangers, some with children
How I got tickets: online, full price

Why I saw this show: while my favorite Roald Dahl book now is “Danny, Champion of the World,” when I was a kid I read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” over and over. I would start at bedtime, knowing I could not stop reading until all the golden tickets had been found. I read many positive things about “Matilda” as a show, specifically the music and production. I agree that the music is much, much better than typical successful Broadway shows, and the production is exciting and engaging. Matilda is one of Dahl’s darker books, with many cruelties inflicted on the main character and her classmates. 

Where I sat: Row G, center, on the aisle. I met people who’d come from Philadelphia by train and barely made it on time, and a woman and her daughter from Hawaii. The ushers made efforts in the run-up to curtain telling people to move their coats and tuck away their bags, sometimes revisiting the same people with new issues. Indeed, the actors run into the audience frequently, and I reflexively tucked my feet under me as they ran past. I wondered a number of times how hard it would be to trip them.

Things that were sad: Matilda is emotionally abused by her parents at home and her headmaster at school. The bullies are buffoonish, and their insults are delivered for laughs. The “good ending” involves a lot of nasty revenge. 

Things that were funny: there are a lot of zingers in this very funny show. Early on, Matilda’s selfish mother defensively screeches, “Dinners don’t microwave themselves!!” The woman next to me snorted with laughter at almost everything uttered by the character of Miss Trunchbull, broadly over-acted by the hilarious scene-stealer, Christopher Sieber; as it happens, the woman from Hawaii and I kept setting each other off with peals and snorts of more laughter.

Things that were not funny: I got clocked in the head by a leg or arm just as the funny line, “Dinners don’t microwave themselves!!” was delivered. I gather that the restless child behind me was being passed from the lap of one parent to the other. There were many children in the audience, not all of them quiet. Wine and candy were offered beforehand and at intermission, and the Skittles were $5.

What it is: a very, very good musical. Songs and dancing are truly superlative. Regrettably shouty, though, which seems to be a Broadway thing. I thought the accents were uneven, contributing to diction problems, especially from the large cast of otherwise amazing kids, and it was particularly distracting in the opening number. I realize that Roald Dahl was English but I’ve always thought of him as an American writer. The accents seem unnecessary. 

Who should see it: Wannabe Wednesday Addamses, Sally of Halloween Town, anyone who appreciates a weird and wonderfully wicked story, people who can tolerate the ruinous quality of over-amplified singing. I would like to see it again, and next time get a souvenir cup of wine.

What I saw on the way home: a menacing number of NYPD marching up the bike lane on 8th Avenue, looking for all the world like drunken sports fans making their way to their cars, staggering away from the stadium where they just witnessed the disappointment of a tie game.


I was gone from the house only a day and a half. Two nights. When I drove up, I felt that something wasn’t quite right. The dogsitter was parked in front of the garage so I couldn’t go in the normal way, but that wasn’t even it. I parked and grabbed my weird bundle of stuff (half a loaf of bread, a sweater that needs new buttons) and trundled in.
I didn’t have to look directly at the hornets’ nest to know that it had been violated. My stomach twisted in recognition before my eyes had registered what had happened. The nest was a damp, wet color, dark and greasy. It was quiet and limp. A dead hornet clung in the entrance, its body curled and its wings aloft. All around it on the siding of the house a great wet stain, glistening with poisonous wasp-killer.
While I was gone–and without my permission–someone came and killed them.
My dog sitter was in the kitchen eating her lunch. I was early, and had taken her by surprise, and I didn’t feel like ruining her lunch, so I said nothing of the stain on the house or the carnage it marked. We talked instead about the dogs. Her puppy brought me toys from the bin. I told her about Captain’s Hanukkah dog; the puppy brought me a Kong. She finished her lunch and left. 
I sobbed for the dead queens.
I realized that I was holding out for the promise of the queens emerging to get me through October. We are leaving. It’s true. October promises to be busy and includes a yet-to-be-scheduled move and packing and the long lists of things to remember. We don’t even have a place to go yet. The landlord has put someone to work scraping and painting outside, so I can no longer go out and see sunset o’clock without getting chips of paint stuck to the bottoms of my feet. No wonder the hornets’ nest was spotted. Someone was helping out.
I texted my husband a string of unintelligible nonsense, but including the word “hyperventilating,” correctly spelled, two times. The hornets were dead. The queens were dead. All their work was for nothing. All my hopeful waiting wasted.
I texted various other people who I knew would sympathize. I sighed a lot. The nest had been almost done. There was no reason to soak it in poison. The nights are getting colder, and the workers were dying off already. The whole future of these bald-faced hornets was in the few queens that were meant to emerge last. They would be over-wintering in the trees. I loved that hornets’ nest. I thought people knew. I talked about it a lot, I took pictures, and now the pictures are all I have.
I avoided going outside, but I couldn’t pack without crying. Finally, I resolved to run an errand. Two errands! I thought. I could do two at once! I exited by the patio door and walked the long way around the garage. I arrived at the drugstore and realized I didn’t even have my wallet. So I had to come all the way back. I finished the errands and collected my basket to go get veggies at the CSA. I played music loud on the way. Really loud. 
Sometimes, the flowers are the best part

At the CSA we got three pounds of potatoes. They are loose in big wooden boxes and coated in a layer of dry dirt. This time I tried to pick ones about the size of hen’s eggs. I got two heads of lettuce and ¾ of a pound of carrots (which was four) and a single head of garlic and a cucumber and a head of cabbage. A bunch of rainbow chard and a bag of arugula (I took less than my allotment since I won’t eat that much in a week). 1 1/2 pounds of onions. I chatted with someone about weighing the 3/4 of a pound of green beans and chose 3 red peppers (that I won’t eat). I went outside to pick 25 flowers and 30 cherry tomatoes and as I tucked them into my overflowing basket I heard a child screaming in the parking lot. Last of all I had four pounds of tomatoes to choose, so I headed to the front where the tomatoes were.
There are several mothers with young kids who also go get their CSA allotment on Tuesdays: one who speaks German and has her hands full with little blond M. who runs away when she calls to him, and another with an earnest four-year-old with large, dark, wet eyes and a mop of almost black hair. They must have reasons for bringing their young children here at the end of the day on Tuesdays and not coming on Saturdays. The hour before dinner is usually the hardest with youngsters. I saw M. disappearing behind a tractor when I came back in with my flowers.
I was weighing my tomatoes when the woman next to me turned to the dark haired boy and his mother, now choosing their carrots, said, “I can see it.”
The small child was flushed from crying, with a tear still balanced on his lashes, and turned and gestured up with a single open palm. “It’s going higher and higher,” he said.
I turned and looked up to see. There in the sky I spied the fast-disappearing pink dot that had been the boy’s balloon. He must have lost it when his mother opened the car door to help him out. And somehow because of what this woman said or what his mother said or because he’s filled with the miraculous bravery of being 4 or because watching things fly is magical and amazing, he was just able to watch the balloon rise impossibly high into the sky, away and away and up and up and up, until it was gone.

Budapest #2 ⅔: Looking for Váci Utca

There is a story my mother-in-law likes to tell, laughing until the tears fill her eyes, about my husband when he was a young boy. The story took place on the street, in Budapest.

I dreamed about the story a couple of months ago. In my dream, my husband had written down the story, in Hungarian, for his blog.

My husband left Hungary around the age of 5, with his parents and his older brother. After that, they sought asylum in Austria for a year or so and then, received permission to come to the United States. None of them spoke any English when they came; it had been forbidden. Now, a generation later, everyone in Budapest speaks it.

Growing up, the only people my husband ever really spoke Hungarian with was his parents. Among his siblings, they spoke English unless they were using it as a secret language, to say things in front of other people. There was very little danger of anyone overhearing them and knowing Hungarian.

Spoken Hungarian sounds a bit lit people are making up sounds and are pretending to talk. I always thought that the character of Latka Gravas on Taxi as speaking a gibberish resembling Hungarian. 

My exposure to Hungarian has mostly been overhearing one end of my husband’s phone calls with his mother.  I am only familiar enough with this famously difficult and unique language that I know a couple of weird, mild curses, plus, “Én nem tudom,” which means, “I don’t know,” and “Nagyon jól, which is, “Very good.” I am familiar with the stuff of ordinary conversations with Mom, “Good night!” and “Love you!” but that’s about it.

My husband had asked his mother for a list of things to do when we were in Budapest, and it was mercifully short. It was easy enough to buy opera tickets. We stayed near the Szent István Bazilika and went in on the first day; there were art students sitting on the floor, sketchpads on their laps, their heads tilted up, as they drew the ceilings. We stumbled onto the Labyrinth. It was pretty cool and creepy, though I still don’t understand the manikins in renaissance costumes and the piped-in opera music. Still, we did it; we paid the ridiculous 2000 Ft, used our phones as flashlights, got water dripped on our heads, and checked it off the list.

By the second day in Budapest, I was wondering about that story my mother-in-law likes to tell. Where had that story had taken place? My husband called from Budapest to ask his mother if she knew what street it was on.

She remembered it to be on Váci Utca. We had already found Váci Utca on the Pest side of the Duna, a shopping street with souvenir shops, chain stores, and restaurants. Pretty much the kind of street where you weave between the shuffling tourists and the restaurant barkers, offering “authentic gypsy music and Hungarian food.”

All I wanted was a picture of a street sign. The three of us fanned out, my husband with his camera, and my oldest son and I with our phones. I take so many pictures with my phone I’ve gotten pretty good at snagging candid shots of random people without drawing attention to the fact that I’m getting a photo of them. But there was one photo that got away completely that morning. It was a man, not too young and not too old, with the flushed complexion of a guy who drinks a lot, but that lean, thin look of a guy who works hard, but maybe drinks more than he eats. He was standing on the corner of Váci Utca and Türr Istvan Utca, solemnly wearing a paper Burger King crown. I really wanted this man’s picture, but he had a wild and terrible look in his eye. My husband saw him too, but took a photo of the street name on a different corner.
Váci Utca, Budapest

The old story goes like this: Kís Otti was walking with his brother and mother and father on a Budapest street when a black market peddler whispered to them that he had chewing gum to sell.

People in Hungary had not had chewing gum before. It was new, chewing gum, yet children knew about the stuff somehow. It is children’s business to know about candy, especially new kinds of candy.

Kís Otti paused and said, in a whisper, “Rágógumit akarok!” which means, “I want chewing gum.”

His mother and father pretended they didn’t hear him, and kept walking.

Kís Otti stopped and said, in a quiet, speaking voice, “Rágógumit akarok!”

His mother and father heard him, but they couldn’t buy him chewing gum. It was too expensive. They kept walking.

Kís Otti would not go another step. He said, in a loud voice, “Rágógumit akarok!”

His mother and father had to stop. What were they going to do? They couldn’t buy him chewing gum. It was out of the question.

Kís Otti began to chant in a small, powerful voice, “Rágógumit akarok! Rágógumit akarok! Rágógumit akarok! 

Kís Otti’s brother Istvan, who stood to benefit from the purchase of black market chewing gum, stood nearby, not smiling, but not frowning, either. Kís Otti kept chanting, “Rágógumit akarok! Rágógumit akarok! Rágógumit akarok!”

One stick of chewing gum was 1000 forints. The family had just 16000 forints for the week. Kís Otti’s father thought they should pick him up and carry him away from the black market peddler with the 1000 forint chewing gum. Kís Otti’s mother thought he would never stop chanting.

Kís Otti still chanted, “Rágógumit akarok! Rágógumit akarok! Rágógumit akarok!”

Kís Otti’s brother Istvan, looked from his frowning father to his pleading mother, said nothing.

When we got back from Budapest, I was struggling to write the story of “Rágógumit akarok!” on the grounds that I still didn’t have enough details. Didn’t they live in another town? Why were they in Budapest? How did they get there? How expensive was the chewing gum?

I called my mother-in-law and she was happy to oblige. Her English is very correct, and her accent is gorgeous and slow, with rolled r’s. They had travelled to Budapest because, as she tells it, “We did not want our little sons to be not aware there was a larger world.” They were living in a small town, “quite close to Budapest,” and had a car, a Moskvich. 

It was a terrible, underpowered car, and struggled mightily on hills. She laughed her way through a reminiscence of driving it into the mountains, a long line of cars following as they struggled up, their finally overheating on a narrow shoulder and their efforts to cool it down by heaping snow into the engine. She told me her in-laws had bought it for them, and they were meant to pay them back, but they, “did not get lucky enough to pay them back.”

Of course, if you know my husband, you know that he got chewing gum, and so did his brother: one piece each. They chewed it all day and wanted to save it for the next day.

As for me, I continue to have new questions. Will I really have to call her again to ask, what color was the Moskvich?



There are people who really won’t eat a raisin. I’ve never seen them object to a grape, or a glass of wine, or a sun-dried tomato, but the raisin inspires a gag of revulsion from some people, two of them my raisin-hating relatives.

There are other shriveled foods, like, as I said, the tasty sun-dried tomato or the sugar-coated pretender the Craisin® or beef jerky or apricot fruit leather. Raisins, usually being almost black, do have the both shriveled appearance and the blackness to surmount. The blackness of raisins means that they might appear to be an errant rock or burnt bit, and makes them easy to identify and pick out. They are minimally processed and so lack the uniformity of beloved foods, like the shapely whip and twist of RedVines® (all the same length), or the sculptability of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, or the colored domes of the trendy fancy macarons or even old school Fig Newtons or Oreos or any doughnuts really. Perfect, uniform food appeals to the particular palate and the infantile. “No,” screams the toddler, “I want it the SAME.”

So raisins. Wrinkly. Shriveled. Black. Big ones, small ones, occasionally long ones. Sometimes in one of those tiny boxes of Sun-Maid™ raisins you get one that’s shrunken to the point of seeming a first cousin of gravel. Not so nice. Lots of little kids hate them, though a few little kids recognize that raisins are mostly sugar in a little black chewy shrunken nubbin. The rest pick them out of oatmeal cookies, pick them off of otherwise gooey and completely delicious cinnamon rolls, and leave them on the table, on the napkin, in their hair, on their clothes, on the side of the plate, on the floor for the dog. The dog will eat the raisins, though grapes and raisins and onions and chocolate are all pretty toxic for dogs. Dogs don’t care. Dogs are happy to eat toxic things. If a toddler drops it, or a ten year old drops it, or an adult sneaks it under the table, a dog will eat it.
They put raisins in the traditional Moroccan tagine at Barbes, a midtown New York City restaurant. This place is a few blocks from the temporary apartment we moved to when we first got to New York, and so we ate there a few times and had a lovely meal even when they lost their Grade A and had to be Grade Pending and then even spent a few weeks as Grade B. These things happen. We kept going there, the Maître D’ kept opening the door to us, we kept ordering couscous and scalding hot sweet mint tea that they pour from as high up as they can reach and oh so delicious traditional tagine. But when my sister in law–a real live adult who saves people’s fucking lives—came to town and we met up with her there, she wouldn’t eat anything that might have raisins in it. I don’t even know how she knew to ask.
I think raisins are offered to young children and that is where the revulsion begins. My solution when my children were young and I still did things like bake cookies on a regular basis was to use golden raisins that are softer and lovelier and easily disguised within the texture of an oatmeal cookie.  But people will still ask, “Do these have RAISINS in them?”
I think the main problem that raisins have is the apparent consensus of their peers: most little kids hate raisins, and will complain about raisins being in things, and once the crowd has declared itself anti-raisin, that’s it.  They’re wrong, of course. Raisins are yummy. Oh well, more for me.

Things I Find in my Basement #30

When we moved into this house, it was 1994.
We had two kids and three pets (a dog and two cats).  Today we have three different pets (a cat and two dogs), and three kids.  

You can talk to your children about moving.  They can tell you about their anxieties.  You can figure out how you’re going to deal with it.

Pets are affected profoundly by a move. They know something is up, because now we are spending a lot of time opening boxes, and putting things in boxes, and taking things out of boxes, and throwing things away. They have no idea what is going to happen, how far we are going, and what their next home looks like. And if they could ask me, I could only answer some of their questions. 

My family moved only twice when I was a kid, and I was too young to remember either move. As a young adult, I moved all the way across the U.S. three times, and on one occasion I moved up the street.  

By 1995 or 1996, when my oldest son started elementary school, I had already stopped feeling like I could move again.  Family moved to Seattle.  School felt like a good fit. We figured out where to walk the dogs, where to buy groceries, dentists and eye-doctors, and how to get rid of an old couch. 
In 1998, something impossible happened: my father died. He was never old.  He was working, and then he was sick and then he was dead. In 2004, a second incomprehensible thing happened: my mother died.  She was never old.  She was working, and then she was sick, and then she was dead.  For me, surviving things that I never envisioned opened up the possibility that other bad surprises were waiting for me.  It also made me realize that I could get through things I thought I could not handle.

Parking Meters and the Window You Shouldn’t Open

The city of Seattle installed its first parking meters downtown in 1942. By the end of 2005, the city was about half-way finished switching from normal, old-fashioned stand-alone meters to high-tech kiosks.  I was quite surprised to see the same kiosks near Venice in Italy when I was there a few years ago.
The new kiosk takes coins or credit cards, which is very convenient when the kiosk actually works. Some seem to suffer from vandalism. Others seem like they don’t get enough sunlight on their solar panels to function properly.  You tell the machine how many minutes you want by hitting the “Add More Time” button or the “Max Time” button, but the machine feels a bit like it’s just not going to work every single time you use one.  Once, the “Add More Time” button was so laggy that I added way too much time and had to cancel and start over.   When a unit is really not working correctly, you get a strange error message like, “Card Unreadable,” or “Bank Unavailable.”  Every step of the process seems to take at least twice as long as it should. Worst of all, I’ve paid and had no sticker come out.  The point of the transaction is to get a sticker, which is printed with the time the parking expires.
Sometimes, when people leave before using up all the minutes they have paid for, they will stick their ticket back onto the kiosk. Once or twice I have driven to another park of the city and been able to use the rest of my time. Drivers are supposed to display the sticker on the inside of the passenger side window. 

I drive a 2002 BMW wagon, with about 130,000 miles on it. I bought it new, and I am responsible for putting essentially all of those miles on the car. Typically, my passengers have been some combination of my three children, all boys, now 20, 17 and 13, and my dogs.  This car is my favorite car ever, and even though I bitch and moan every time it needs another $1100 brake job, I love how it drives.
If you are familiar with Seattle at all, you know that it is a dependably wet and muddy place in all but the months of July, August and September. If you have experienced children, you know that they are mud magnets who climb into the car, touch every surface with their dirtiest appendage, wrestle into place and then swing their feet until arrival, depositing a maximal amount of dirt onto the door, seat-back, seat and carpet. Dogs do all of these things and also touch the windows with their open mouths.  It rains too much in Seattle to keep the outside of a car clean. And it rains too much in Seattle to keep the inside of a car clean. But life is not for keeping one’s car clean, as far as I’m concerned.
If you ever come for a ride in my car, I will not let you open the passenger window. It is not because the window will not open. It is because someone along the way opened the window with a parking sticker still attached. Down went the window with the sticker, and when it came back up, the sticker was stuck inside the door. Now when you close the window, it comes up very, very slowly, as if this time might be the very last time it is able to close. If a brake job for the BMW is $1100, how much do you think it will be to dismantle the door and get that sticker? I don’t want to find out.