Friday, January 19, 2007

glitter and hand-me-downs

The sky here today reminds me of one of my favorites lines from one of my favorite books, The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter.

"Because it's the Midwest, no one really glitters because no one has to, it's more a dull shine, like frequently used silverware. We were all presentable enough, but almost no one was making any kind of statement. Out here in Michigan, real style is too difficult to maintain; the styles are all convenient and secondhand. We're all hand-me-down personalities. But that's liberating; it frees you up for other matters of great importance; the great themes, the sordid passions."

Driving to Panera for lunch today, my father all giddy from the dual thrills of wearing pants and leaving the house, commented that it was a beautiful Michigan day. I smiled and agreed with him as I steered the Crown Vic into the slushy parking lot. It's not a beautiful Michigan day, but it is typical. As I write this now, the sky and ground are the same shade of smudged white and the sun, what little of it is lighting the scene, will probably begin to set around 3:00. The sky is as unobtrustive as a sky can be, hanging low over the train tracks and Ag College fields like a watchful parent.

I opened the car door and stepped into a pile of melted snow, soaking my left foot. When I packed I knew that these heeled boots would be all wrong and when I put them on this morning I knew I'd be lucky if I didn't fall and break my neck on a patch of black ice. But I wore them anyway. Usually, whenever I come back to Michigan I do things like this; wear three-inch heels in the dead of snowy winter or wear unnecessarily attractive outfits to run to Meijer's when we're out of flour as if to communicate to any passerby "Okay, I am sort of from here but I am certainly not from here now." My snobbery glares brighter in Michigan than it ever does in DC.

Of course, today was the first time I've worn the boots all week. The rest of the time I've been in hiking socks and sweatpants as I cook and clean and generally act like I'm the parent. I say things like "Time for your nap," and "no animal crackers until you finish your vegetables" without a trace of irony. The situation that brought me here, much like the place itself, has a way of killing my usual twisted sense of smartassness.

My mind is always quieter in Michigan. It's as if that low-hanging pewter sky blocks out all the chatter and noise that decorates normal life, both the good and the bad. This week, my mind has been even quieter than usual. It's numbed by daytime television and then sharpened into focus every time he coughs, slowly stands up and winces from the effort.

There is no glitter to distract me this week. Just hand-me-down pain and gray skies.


S said...


plaid stirrup pants, a sweater vest and a turtleneck. and no one to field my snarky remarks. it's too quiet without you around.

i hope your dad's doing well. i've been thinking about you.


ejtakeslife said...

I miss you guys! Though I can't say I miss stirrup pants. I've already see about nine pairs today alone.

Lillian said...

So glad to hear that your dad is doing okay! I hope you're doing okay too...keep your chin up, and know that a total stranger from the Blogosphere is rooting for ya. :)

carolbean said...

em. i have the best story about charles baxter ever. i can't believe i forgot to tell you. it involves pen-pal-ing....