I flew

I took a plane from Newark to St. Louis on an Embraer EMB-145, operated by EXPRESSJET AIRLINES INC. doing business as United Express. 

What I saw: the lights of a small, midwestern American city from way up high. The streets were made three-dimensional by the interplay of streetlights and mist, spread like a great glowing tentacled beast, clutching the contours of the earth.

What I wore: Chinese-made Australian boots (coated in an authentic coating of fine horse-show dust), James jeans with stretch that I like to wear on planes, new navy embroidered peasant blouse (made in India), no makeup, scowl.
Geo Washington Bridge
What I did beforehand: used Google maps to drive to Newark Liberty International Airport and for once did not get lost in New Jersey.

Who went with me: 37 strangers and crew.

All anyone does anymore in airports is look at their phones

How I got tickets: online, from United Airlines.

Why: family obligations 

Where I sat: 3D

Things that were sad: after I had packed, but before I left, I was sitting in the kitchen thinking about what I might have forgotten, and I was suddenly struck with an inexplicable feeling of sadness.
Things that were funny: my car’s navigation system announced the GWB as the “Geo Washington bridge,” rhyming “geo” with “Rio.”

Things that were not funny: the bro-guys drinking beer in the Earl of Sandwich in the A Terminal of Newark Liberty Airport comparing notes on why they’re voting for Trump.

What it is: about a two-hour flight

I take this photo almost every time I fly

Who should see it: people who like turbulence, folks for whom a palm-sized bag of “Asian Snack Mix” is adequate for dinner, anyone who can sleep sitting up.

What I heard on the way home: Google Maps pronounces “Ladue” as “LAWD-way.”

How I Learned to Smoke

Selfie, 1979-ish
My parents pressed me to learn to drive. I took Driver’s Ed, and was always chose to sit at the broken simulator during class, so I entertained myself when the lights dimmed by screaming the teacher’s name in a high, weird voice and flooring it. With the pedal all the way down in my fake driver’s cockpit, and me in the back of the classroom, I didn’t even steer and it didn’t even matter.  Then, I only just barely passed the driving portion of my test, having completely failed the parallel parking bit. My dad loved to drive and had been letting me do the manual shifter for years (he would tell me when); he took me to the parking lot at Stix to practice, and he seemed calm about it. No way would Mom have done it.
I got my license on my 16th birthday, a hot, humid June afternoon after my final exams. I went to private school, and we got dressed up for exams: I wore a red calico wrap skirt and brown clogs. My legs were already tanned because our pool had been open for a week and I could float in a raft and study in the sun. I liked doing two things at once, like sunbathing and studying.
The car my parents had for me to drive was a silver and white Chevy Blazer. They bought it to replace the ‘72 royal blue Chevy van. I could barely see over the dashboard of the Blazer. The other cars had manual transmissions that I would conquer in later months. The Blazer was my car to drive that first summer with my license. I think we got our first microwave oven as a gift with purchase with the Blazer.
The person who taught me to smoke was the dirty-blond girl—the only other white girl I worked with at Arby’s. There were two night managers, a tired and blunt woman and a surly, bored guy who were never there at the same time, and come to think of it, they were never around anyway. Much of the time it was one of them and me: the only two white people who worked with the whole night shift. It was the first time I’d ever been the only white person anywhere. Arby’s wasn’t normal fast food like hamburgers; it was sliced meat sandwiches, and one night I saw one of the guys who worked in the back making sandwiches almost cut off his thumb when he was cleaning the meat slicer. We had to do extra mopping that night. That whole summer I never learned to be fast enough for the lunch rush, so I only worked the night shift.
I did learn a lot of different shit that summer. I learned how to sweep up every last sesame seed from under the mats. We had to offer potato cakes because we didn’t sell fries, and some customers would just stare and stare, unbelieving. I learned that you throw away sponges like every other day because they get fucking gross. I learned to punch a clock and use a cash register and count change and how you never wanted to be short. Once I was over by like $21 and I just handed off my drawer that way; it did not occur to me until later that I could have pocketed the difference, or that my manager would.  I learned to clean the soft serve ice cream machine and on break I learned to smoke.
I had hit the drive-through teller at the bank with the door of the Blazer. I had, like, the German exchange student Nina in the car with me, and maybe someone else, too, and the damage was well over $300 and that was that. The next week my mother sent me to interview with some creepy old guy she knew and then a few days later I was working the night shift at Arby’s. It was some sort of bargain that I was supposed to work and pay my parents back for the damage I did to the Blazer. I do not remember paying them back. I do remember getting my first paychecks. Before this fast-food job I had only worked as a babysitter, where the parents slipped me a wad of cash that I pocketed uncounted.
I wore a polyester uniform and an Arby’s nametag and I was supposed to pin my hair up under the hat. Sometimes the other people who worked there would speak to me and I would have no idea what they were saying. Before this job I knew there was what we called black St. Louis, where African American people lived, and white St. Louis, which had its areas that I knew, like Clayton or Ladue or even Frontenac where Saks was, and the areas I didn’t, like South St. Louis. We had a maid, Gwen, who came once a week, and the mailman, but outside of them and Billy M. in my elementary school or the three kids in my class in high school, I only knew white people. I had a primitive understanding that African American people lived in a separate and parallel St. Louis to the one where I lived, but I did not realize how things worked in the places where white people and African American people overlapped. It seemed remarkable and stupid to the point of ridiculous to 16 year old me that almost everyone who worked at Arby’s was black but the all managers were white.
Smoking was easy. You put the cigarette in your lips, but you tried to keep it dry. I lit it with a match because if my parents caught me with a lighter they’d know I was smoking. You shook out the match with your one hand and puffed. You dropped the match on the ground and took the cigarette out of your mouth and blew smoke. You could hold it between two fingers, like a tight peace sign, or your thumb and index finger, like a guy. You could tap off your ash or flick at the filter with your thumbnail. Smoking was the perfect thing to do during a ten minute break at Arby’s. You had to stand in the parking lot anyway, because the break room didn’t have a window so taking a break in the break room in it was like taking a break in the bathroom, without the toilet. Also, I had to clean the bathrooms.
Smoking at the University of Utah, 1987
I smoked secretly all the time after that. I loved smoking. I loved smoking and driving even more than smoking or driving alone. Lighting up was such a grand and pleasurable gesture. I smoked through college and then grad school, and then quit. My grandparents smoked so much that my 29-year-old wedding dress my grandmother made still smells slightly of smoke; it rests folded in special tissue in an acid-free conservation box. Sometimes, I still smoke in my dreams.

The Empty Air, and Filled

In my anxiety about traveling alone, I’ve come too early to the airport and must wait. Outside it is hazy, warm and humid, but inside the AC is blowing on me. I showed up carsick and unfed, and so bought food with a crumpled ten I found wadded at the bottom of a purse pocket. I eat a greasy, not nice, slightly desiccated pretzel and drink an ice-filled, sugary lemonade tasting strongly of dust and citric acid and regret. My stomach protests.  I shiver in my seat.
The carpet is supposed to be blue but you know it’s more ratty and stained than blue. I sit in an empty row of connected chairs, facing the window. Two of those retractable hallways block most of my view, stretching away from the terminal but reaching no planes– empty, like rigid sleeves.  I watch a little jet tooling around out there through the gap.  I am not inside my thoughts. The sound of voices. The people who work at gate A23, to my right. The couple directly behind me. The sigh of the woman with a styrofoam clamshell of beef teriyaki over white rice. Is that a TV? People on their phones. Why didn’t I bring a raincoat or sweater? I’d have them both on if I had them now.
I buy two books in the Hudson News; I’ve read them both, and liked them enough to recommend them, but they are not for me. I will take them to my aunt in the hospital, just as soon as I land. I consider buying a giant pink I-heart-NY hooded sweatshirt, for the irony or because I’m cold. I feel like I’m an asshole for even considering it.
We passengers fill the little jet quickly, and the captain tells us with surprise that we are next to take off. I can feel the acceleration, I think, and wonder if I’m going to be airsick, too. My father, in the middle of his career, traveled frequently, but liked to brag about St. Louis being so well situated, out there, smack in the middle of the country. It was the perfect hub to travel from. A two-hour flight to New York. Back then he would time his drive to the airport so he could park his car and walk straight through the terminal, and through the open doors of the jet-way onto a waiting plane, about to depart.
The slightly stooped flight attendant is almost too tall for this little plane. He asks, “What will you be drinking on our flight today?” I look stunned. “You’ll want something,” he continues. “It’s a two hour flight.” I consider a beer but settle for hot tea.
The turbulence. The squeals of a baby. The two coughs. Repeated. The tinkle of the hollow ice cubes in a real glass in first class. The roar of the plane. High, light, loud, white noise filling all the air inside the plane. Making the atmosphere inside seem almost visible. To be inside and high. High and moving forward.
The woman in 1D is too loud and too chatty. She wants to know if they have Jameson. The flight attendant doesn’t know. She’s on her way to Bonnaroo. She is starting nursing school and changing careers after 6 years in a psychiatric program. She settles for a Jim Beam and ginger ale. She says didn’t even vote in the last presidential election because she didn’t like the guy. And not voting is her right, you know. She seems too old for Bonnaroo.
I try to read. Another pair of squeals. The man in 2C is tapping his toe arythmically.
The sky above the clouds

Bonnaroo heads to the bathroom. I am offered more tea. 1C struggles to return his folded tray table to the arm of his seat. It is folded, but somehow still not fitting. The flight attendant is not going to help him; he is busy, behind a curtain in the galley, fetching my tea.  More table-wrestling from 1C. The curtain moves as 1C loses his temper, and begins bashing the folded table into the slot it doesn’t fit into. As the flight attendant dances around the curtain, 1C calmly refolds it. This time, it fits.
2C leaps to his feet and bolts to the bathroom.
Bonnaroo orders a cranberry-apple juice with Tito’s, and a water, on the side.
The book I’ve brought to read is too good and too rich to read more than a few pages at a time. I think about writing. I can’t get the crusty tick bite I found on my horse’s tail out of my mind. I tell myself to write about it anyway. “You have to write beautifully, even if your subject matter is the crust on your horse’s tail,” I write to myself. It is a joke. Asshole.
I find more money in a bank envelope in the back of my notebook. How high are we? 30,000 feet? I am up here, high in the air, finding money and thinking about my mare’s asshole. She is a gray, and melanomas are common in grays. But this is the cancer that killed my dad. It acts differently in horses. Grays. Horses, of a color, known collectively by that color. We try not to refer to people this way, when we don’t want to be assholes.
Chestnuts have a reputation of being nutty and opinionated, on account of their red-headedness. My chestnut is a beauty, and sometimes naughty when you ride. Or, should I say, when I ride, because he saves his worst for me?
Thinking about needing to pee when the seatbelt sign is lit. I write that secretly I think St. Louis gave my father cancer, not the sun. Or bad luck.
1C has noticed me scrawling. I resolve to develop a more inscrutable handwriting.
Another invisible bump in the air. From here I imagine we bounce all the way to the ground. Bouncing down the sky. The ground will be smooth. The captain calls the flight attendant. He listens at the handset, his eyes rolled up into his head, blinking.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the captain is advising us we can expect some rough air going in to St. Louis.”
He tidies the curtain under neat straps.
Bonnaroo returns her bag to the overhead bin, crushing mine underneath it.
I never did get up to pee. We will bounce down the air, to the ground. The captain himself announces, “Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for arrival.”
I look out at the farm pattern of the green and tan squares below. Neat, straight roads interrupted by dark green bits of forest remaining and then the wandering water of a mud brown river or creek. I ask Missouri silently to take care of my aunt. It’s in the mid 80s out there.
I see the Mississippi. Downtown. The new stadium. The Arch. I see Forest Park, Clayton. What does it mean to be from here? Who am I now? We are low above highways. I used to know all their names. I learned to drive here. Bump. We are down.

Easter Envy

Better colors than Xmas to my 6 year old eye
On Good Friday in 1969, I was almost 6 years old and my mother took me for my first visit to a beauty salon. I had long, thick brown hair and up until this day my mother had always been the one to trim it, outside on the brick patio, with her large, black handled, metal sewing scissors. My mother would yell at me regularly about the squirrel’s nest in my hair, but the squirrel’s nest wasn’t there; it would have been too wonderful for words to have my own squirrels. This day, Good Friday, 1969, my hair was gathered into a ponytail, secured with a rubber band, cut off, and handed to me. I sat in the salon chair, swinging my legs and holding my hair, stroking the long straight brown ponytail like it was a pet. I shook it like a whisk. I held it up so it could cascade out around my hand like a fountain. I brushed my face with it. When the stylist was done cutting my hair I had what my mother called “a pixie cut.” I thought it looked terrible and I cried silently all the way out of the salon, back to the front seat of our Ford Falcon.
On the way home I slid very low on the seat so the backs of my legs would not burn on the car’s hot, black, vinyl upholstery.   “What is Good Friday?” I asked.
“It’s a religious holiday. When Jesus Christ died,” my mother said.
My childhood was filled with mysteries; “Jesus Christ” was something my parents shouted at each other when they were very angry.
“Why is it a holiday if Jesus Christ died?” I asked.
“It’s part of Easter,” my mother said.
 I did not understand.
Easter was not one of the holidays we celebrated. We had Christmas. We put up a tree, made lists, and Santa brought presents. As far as I could tell, only the Presbyterians who went to the church across the street from us had Easter. They wore fancy dress-up clothes, the little girls in smocked dresses and white tights and shiny Mary Janes, the boys in seersucker sailor suits and saddle shoes and little caps with white piping. I wore my brother’s hand-me-down Optimist Baseball League t-shirts and cut-off jeans, and ran around with no shoes most of the time so my feet could take the hot pavement in summer. I spied on the Presbyterians lying on my stomach on the cool tiles of the side porch of our house. When the church bells were done ringing and the last of the church-goers filed in the door, I might go crawl around our suburban yard to see what the cat was doing or look for a long line of ants.  
I wanted the Easter bunny to come and bring me a huge Easter-colored basket filled with green plastic grass and stuffed rabbits and ducks and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. I wanted to dye eggs with a Paas kit and hide them for my little brother, pretending that the Easter bunny had done it. It would have been like a second Christmas, with prettier colors. 
In the family photo album there were pictures of my older brother at an Easter egg hunt at my father’s parents’ house when my brother was 3. By the time I was 3, and I was old enough to ask for one, but there were no more Easter egg hunts. By the time I was old enough to wonder about religion or Jesus or Easter, my parents had stopped going to church and stopped sending us to Sunday school.  I was pretty sure maybe I wanted parents who would dress me up in a new dress with little ducks appliqued on it, who would buy me white tights and shiny new Mary Janes, and we would walk into church with my brother Clark holding my hand. Well, maybe I hated wearing dresses or any shoes at all, and my brother punched me, and church was very boring and Sunday school smelled like paste, but I still wanted that basket. I really wanted my own Easter basket.
Clark still likes to tell a story about our cat Sugar killing baby bunnies on the front lawn one Easter while the horrified Presbyterians (who were our enemies because of their poor parking manners) filed by on their way to church, stifling their screams, and hiding their eyes. Sugar was a prodigious hunter, able to catch a mouse in the ivy as casually as Clark would toss a baseball into his glove. Sugar did bring us a litter of screaming baby bunnies one day, one at a time, all in various stages of shock, but I think it happened on an ordinary quiet day in spring. My mischievous father was the one who suggested that Sugar should have done it on Easter, and gleefully described the parade of traumatized Presbyterians witnessing the slaughter.  My family was the kind that laughed at church-going-people, holding hands and wearing matching outfits, singing about Jesus’ love and yet parking so they blocked our driveway.
Many years later, when my own children were small, my old-world mother-in-law would send us tiny fancy Easter outfits, complete with matching socks and small caps with white piping. Sometimes we had to wait a year or two for the one-piece sailor suit to fit one of our boys; other times we might wait a whole year for an occasion worthy of stuffing our wild toddlers into dress-up clothes. If the outfits were worn, they were worn once; some went to Goodwill without ever being taken off the plastic hanger or coming out of the sealed, clear plastic bag. For many years, this Hungarian grandma, known as Nagymama, would send lavish Easter baskets, with huge chocolate bunnies and jellybeans and stuffed animals. Usually the package would take us by surprise because we never paid any attention to the arrival of Easter.

On Breakfast, Humoring Your Mother, and Remembering Your Friends

I woke up the other day feeling like a big farm breakfast. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, I had slept well and things felt right with the world. I found four pieces of bacon in a bag in the freezer, sliced off some mighty fine bread from our favorite bakeryin TriBeCa for toast, and scrambled two of those farm-fresh local eggs—the ones that are in the carton all brown and greenish blue, and every size from wee to woah. I made two different pots of tea (gen mai cha and rooibos) and a glass of juice and sat down for a rare breakfast feast.
Farm-fresh local
free range organic eggs
My mobile phone rang.
I wasn’t planning to answer it. I had breakfast to eat. I looked at it, though. The number was not one I recognized, not one my phone recognized, and a suburban St. Louis, Missouri number. I expected it was a call from my high school, maybe, asking for money. Something like that. I looked up my St. Louis aunt’s number—it was not a match. I ate my breakfast. When I saw there was a message I hesitated to listen, but curiosity got the better of me.
The first time through I fumbled the pressing of the speakerphone button so I didn’t hear the name. I had to hear it twice. It was my brother’s good friend, saying I should call back, that he had important news that I would want to know about a friend. He was cheerful and pleasant in his message, and seemed a little flustered.
I finished my breakfast. My delicious toast lost its buttery wonder. The finishing of what was supposed to be a special, feel-happy meal becoming mechanical.
I called back, struggling to identify myself. I forgot my own last name.
My brother’s friend got around to telling me that he heard through the grapevine that my childhood best friend, B., who he knew from those ski trips and because their kids went to school together in St. Louis, had died.
I’m not sure when B. and I spoke last. Maybe the summer after my mother died.
When my mother was dying, in her last weeks, one of the last conversations I had with her was about the light fixtures in her house and how she and I should go over to B.’s house, to see how B. had the exact same light fixtures in her house. When a person who is dying of a brain tumor tells you this—that you should go someplace together—flat on her back from her hospital bed that is set up in the dining room so she can die at home, you agree. It sounds like a great idea. Let’s go over to B.’s house to see her light fixtures. You humor your dying mother’s nonsensical suggestions. Your mother isn’t going anywhere, will soon forget what she just told you, might even tell you again, a couple of times.
When you are a kid, your best friend is the most important person in the whole wide world. It matters whether she does Girl Scouts; even if you don’t want to sell cookies, you will do Girl Scouts if your best friend does Girl Scouts. It matters which class she is in, because if you have the scary teacher, at least you have the scary teacher together. It matters that she goes to the same day-camp in the summer, and it matters that you can walk to her house. If she gets new Jack Purcell sneakers, you get them, too.
I think B. and I became friends after my 4th grade best friend T. moved away. In the 5thgrade, B. was already tall. I was still the smallest in the class. B. was a foot and a half taller than me and had the most beautiful strawberry blond hair and bright blue eyes. I had dark brown hair that I never brushed. B. showed up every day with a huge pink lipstick print on her forehead, deposited there by her mother as she left to make the short walk to school. My mother would lock the door after I left for school, so I didn’t try to sneak back in the house.
Her dog was a white German shepherd named “Princess,” a fat panting thing with a violent grudge against certain strangers. Sometimes, B. sleep-walked. B. taught me how to be preppy in junior high school, when preppy was about to be a thing. B. was popular in Junior High School when I wasn’t, but then I changed to private school in 9th grade, and left her behind. Yet, we stayed friends. She invited me to her school’s 9th grade dances; we invited her skiing on our family vacations.
My brother’s friend says B. was very private and no one knew she was ill.
Once, B. and I went to Christine’s house, where her dad was sitting in his upstairs study. Christine’s dad saw B. and got a sly grin and held out his index finger, “Pull my finger, B.,” he said.
Now, I grew up with brothers and uncles and cousins and second cousins and great uncles and grandparents and all the rest and if there was one thing I knew, it was that you did not pull the finger of anyone, avuncular or otherwise. B., being from a protected and tidy little suburban household. B. was not so prissy as to be a push-over, but still was rather reserved.  To me, B.’s mother was a throw-back, with her hair teased up and Aquanetted, her crisp housedress covered in an apron, her lips slathered in fuschia lipstick before she ever left the house. My mother wore her hair long and straight and parted in the middle, and had butterflies embroidered on her bellbottom jeans. B.’s stockbroker dad sang 50s ballads when he puttered in the basement. My dad had huge sideburns and played rec league ice hockey. B. had had none of the random forces of avuncular jocularity to contend with, and had as yet not encountered the offered finger to be pulled. 
Hence the suggested pulling was dutifully performed by B., and Christine’s dad tipped theatrically onto one butt-cheek like a pouring tea-kettle in his comfy smoking-and-paper-reading armchair, letting rip from the sitting part of his esteemed personage with a ripe and thoroughly air-tearing, wet, percussive and voluble fart, rending B. colorless and limp, nearly lifeless and faint, well before I could intercede, grab her by the arm, stop or steer her away.
We were different, B. and I, with complementary areas of expertise.
B. grew up, got married, became an architect, had three kids. She stayed in St. Louis. I grew up, got married, became a math teacher, had three kids. I stayed away. We exchanged holiday cards some years, but I’ve fallen out of the habit of holiday cards, haven’t I? I blog.
Death isn’t in and of itself evil, it’s just what happens at the end of life. It has to happen. Being dead at 51, though, with children still in school?   Sometimes I think some force of evil is erasing my childhood. Ok, maybe not evil, it’s just the way things go. Just life and death, and loss. Everything we ever have that is wonderful or good or special will go or end or shrivel or die or break or run away or collapse or have to be put down, put out of its own misery. Our job is to make the most of what we get, I guess.
Until B.’s obituary ran, a few days later, all I could find out about her online was her nominal LinkedIn presence. I saw her brother there, and her husband and oldest daughter. I have many mixed feelings about LinkedIn, but one thing I am absolutely sure of is that it is not a place to send a condolence email. I was utterly distracted by not knowing what to do, how to reach out, whom to contact, and also by what happened. It makes it hard to focus on even the littlest thing.
I have written and re-written this post, trying to come up with something to say about how the death of my childhood friend fits into my life.  I can’t. It doesn’t. I live in New York; I don’t go to St. Louis anymore. I guess I do regret not being at her funeral in St. Louis to tell that one story, preferably to the whole assembled and somber mass of grieving friends and colleagues. What would the people who posted comments in her online guest book saying they know she’s already an angel in heaven think of me? I’d like to tell them to pull my finger.

Too Many Words About Annual Giving

I do believe in supporting educational institutions, both public and private, and I have a record of doing so. I attended six colleges and universities in getting my degrees, and have contributed to all but one. My children’s schools have always been well supported by us, also.
The house I grew up in
In the summer of 2004, perhaps a month and a half after my mother died, my mobile phone rang while I was driving west on 520. I answered, about halfway across the bridge, using the speaker phone. There was rowdy cheering in the background, and a voice identified the caller as someone I went to high school with. His message was simple: he was calling on behalf of our high school. It was their annual fundraising call-a-thon. He rattled off the names of some other classmates I could hear carousing in the background. “You guys have money,” he said. “You should donate.” This was followed with a roar of laughter in the background.
I do not remember saying much in reply. I may have even hung up on him. I would prefer to think that I used the catch-all I like to use in such occasions: “I am not in a position to help you right now.”
My mother’s death was widely publicized in the local papers, as she was a high ranking administrator at a prestigious university there. My high school published their condolences in the quarterly newsletter, just as they had for my father a few years before. I can certainly imagine that for the purposes of fundraising, using classmates to make the calls is a good way to get participation; it’s someone you know, if not an actual friend. The problem with this system is that if you invite a group of obnoxious drunken bullies (who were obnoxious drunken bullies in high school and seemingly never stopped being obnoxious drunken bullies since) to make the calls, they will behave in the obnoxious, bullying, drunken ways that they have always behaved. The call was an error whether or not I had just lost a parent.
I was not in the worst possible state of mind for such a call. I was still very hardened to bad news. My mother was never old, not even a little old. She was only 20 when she had my older brother and 22 when she had me. She battled brain cancer her last year and a half, so she was sick, but she was never old. My dad had died after a year and a half of bad news about his cancer, and then my mother had died after a year and a half of bad news about her cancer. I had arrived at the point where both my parents were gone, cut down in their prime, and I was still barely feeling like a real adult myself. I had arrived at the point where the unthinkable had happened, where I was among the oldest trees in my woods: my brothers and me. A phone call from obnoxious, bullying drunken idiots from my (seemingly) distant past was like squirrels playing chase up and down my trunk, for I was the unimaginably old elm. What are squirrels to a 300 year old tree?
Back when this elm was a sapling, she went to an exclusive, private non-religious, college-prep high school in suburban St. Louis.  I received what I considered a quality education; I sailed through my freshman year at an elite college with mostly As and a few Bs, feeling completely prepared for rigorous writing assignments. 
The high school partying scene was alcohol-fueled, though kids from the classes above mine were still smoking pot and a few of my peers regularly dropped acid. It was not a come-to-school-shitfaced thing, more of a get-plastered-on-the-weekend thing. Bad choices were made on a frequent basis. If my children partied today like we did in high school, I would be very, very alarmed and would probably not let them out of my sight.
In St. Louis in the late 1970s, our parents played tennis and golf, rooted for the Cardinals, went to church on Sunday (but were disdainful of actually religious people), and went to parties and had parties where they got drunk. My parents were different, in the end, because they liked to go camping, my mother was a fine artist, and my father ran marathons; we did not belong to a country club like my classmates’ families did. We were different, but we were also the same.
About a year after my mother died, in the summer of 2005, I went back to St. Louis to go through her things. This was a painful process, and I made a few mistakes which leave me with some regrets. It was a thing done as quickly as my brothers and step-father and I could manage, and it was a big task. I have not been back since.
I almost went back this past August. The previous August, I saw pictures on Facebook of a gathering of my girlfriends one weekend. Their kids were all there, and so were many of my old friends (and none of the obnoxious drunken bullies). I had just moved to New York, and pretty lonely, and St. Louis is an easy flight from here. I was sorry to have missed it. I promised to go the next year. When this August rolled around, I was invited, but I was in the midst of the move from North Dreadful to New York City, and really could not manage it.
I went to our tenth high school reunion and our twentieth, but I do not think I will go again. I did enjoy seeing some of my old friends, but there were just enough obnoxious conversations, just enough bullying questions that I did not feel like answering, and just enough drunken gossiping for me to say, “No, thanks.”
Lately, I have had to make many (if not almost all) of the folks I went to high school with invisible to me on Facebook. One of my classmates likes to post videos of business leaders who sell cheap goods (mostly made in China) in their big-box retail stores, but claim that we need the presidential candidate they endorse to create good jobs for college graduates. Another accused me of being “brainwashed.”  
Missouri is the home of some famous obnoxious, bullying public figures, including Phyllis Schlafly (who certainly deserves her very own blog post at a later date) and Todd Akin. Akin is one of the many members of the GOP who have used the extra attention of this election season to share with the world their interesting and unusual but appallingly unscientific and degrading thoughts about acts of violence towards women and human reproduction. I was wondering what kind of terrible high school was responsible for Akin’s obviously poor science education. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he went to my elite, college-prep high school.
I try to be a person who is hard to embarrass, but Todd Akin makes me embarrassed to be from the state of Missouri.  When someone who publicly and willfully flouts facts to serve what he claims to be his religious calling turns out to be an alum of the school I have been more or less proud to say I graduated from, I am chagrined. My first thought was one of, “Well, now I can continue not to contribute to annual giving.”
After some more reflection, though, it has become obvious to me that a donation is in order. If we allow the manipulative idiots and the drunken, obnoxious bullies to completely control the conversation, everyone loses.  I am thinking about contacting the school library, to ensure that they have the books I have found particularly influential to my current mindset. I am compiling a list, but, for now, two such titles that come to mind are Alice Sebold’s rape memoir, “Lucky,” and Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” I plan to buy the school copies of any books they do not have.
I believe in education: that when we expose good ideas to people, the world becomes a better place.
Readers, I strongly encourage you to add your suggested books in the comments, below.

The Cat in the Ceiling

The summer that I was getting married, I spent a few weeks at my parents’ house in St. Louis, having my dress fittings, tasting cakes and lying in the sun.  I brought my two cats with me, and they stayed with my parents while we were on our honeymoon.

The house I grew up in was built in 1929. It is brick, with a slate roof, plaster walls, and oak floors. The bathrooms had all the original tile and enameled cast-iron fixtures. The basement had its original asbestos covered heat pipes serving the radiators. Summer in St. Louis means air-conditioning, all day, every day, and our old house had yet to get central air. Growing up, we slept with the windows wide and the attic fan on, wiping down our arms and legs with a wet washcloth to cool off enough to go to sleep. Later, we got window-unit ACs, and I cranked mine to the coldest setting I could get, even if it meant having to sleep in a sweatshirt. Once you adjusted to the noise of it, the AC created a zone of privacy; you kept your door closed and the shades drawn.
I had both of my cats with me, in my room, so they did not disturb Sugar, the cat of the house. It seemed they could not get into any trouble this way. One night, the black and white tuxedo cat found her way into the plumbing access panel in the back of my closet. This panel was perhaps intended to be fastened to the wall, but had been simply propped there for all the years that it was my room. Once inside the wall, the cat ventured further in, ending up about ten or twelve feet away in the floor of my room. In the morning I could hear her calling.  You could also hear her calling from inside the living room ceiling.
I do not actually remember being hysterical about the cat being trapped in the wall. My brother says I was, and I believe him.  My point of conflict centered around the fact that my mother would not commit to ripping up the floorboards.  I threatened to call off the wedding. While I do not recall saying this, I trust my brother’s memory, and agree that it sounds like something I would have said when I was 23.
Mom and her handyman were sure the cat would find its way out. I was sure it would die there, create a stink, and the floor would need to be ripped up anyway. After about 30 hours, the cat appeared, close to dawn, unrecognizably black from head to toe. I gave her a bath, restoring her to white and black, whereupon she was attacked by the other cat; he no longer recognized her smell. My solution was to also bathe the attacking cat, to level the score anyway.