Oh, dear friends. I have spent hours and days trying to recapture my work-fractured attention span, sit down, breathe deeply, and write with organization and care. I have spent the better part of 90 minutes trying to write an opening sentence, something that would encapsulate, with elegance, the events of the past week. I’ve never been a good off-the-cuff writer, shying away from it out of fear of writing what one of my college professors used to call “guts on a page,” but tonight I’m going to have to run the risk of guts-on-page and give elegance a pass. Dear friends, I have spent 2007 in such a miserable, sad state that I had forgotten just how lucky I am. I have a brilliant, wondrous family and brilliant, wondrous friends, and this week, they have made me feel like the most well-loved creature in the world.
Before I proceed any further, though, I’ll answer the big questions of the weekend. Yes, the LSAT prep is over, as is the actual LSAT, which I took yesterday morning. I would love to say that I went in and showed that test who was boss, but, well, despite all my best efforts, I panicked midway through the logic puzzles and ate up too much time on the penultimate fact pattern, which meant that by the time I was ready to diagram the last fact pattern and start answering questions, the proctor called the five-minute warning. I would also love to say that I did so well on the other sections that it doesn’t matter how I did on the logic puzzles, but I just don’t have that level of confidence in my work. I’d really hoped to substantially improve my score this time around, but now I’m thinking that as long as I match last year’s score, at least, I’ll be fine. It will keep me out of most of the schools to which I’d planned to apply, and it will definitely keep me out of all of the New York metro area schools, but it will still get me into a decent school—and as long as I eventually pass the bar, and as long as I can eventually work hard and well, I won’t be crying into my beer because I can’t get a job with some white-shoe firm that only hires graduates out of Harvard or Georgetown.
Here endeth the digression.
I’m not being disingenuous—at least I hope I’m not—when I say that I have no idea what I’ve done to deserve the week I’ve had. Ever since I received the last of my thanks-but-no-thanks letters from last year’s round of law school applications, I have been, to put it mildly, a pain. I have been a weepy, attitudinal pain in the neck. Nearly every word that has emerged from my mouth has been either a rant, a crying jag or an apology. I have allowed letters to remain unanswered, phone calls to remain unreturned, plans to connect with friends and family to remain unmade. A level of awkwardness I have not felt since I was a teenager has reared its ugly head: I blurt out stupid, tacky things, apologize for them, and find myself unable to stop apologizing, which I’m sure is a neverending delight for anyone fortunate enough to be in my company at the time. In short, I have been a dreadful human being this year—and yet my nearest and dearest still rallied around me, still showered me with love and affection and humor and goodness, as if I hadn’t been.
Of all the issues, worries and fears weighing on me—LuthorCorp, law school, another year of general fecklessness and unrealized dreams—one of the biggest has been Birthday with a Zero. It is probably, no definitely, vain and silly to dread it, but dread it I did. “It’s just a number, you know,” other, wiser people said, but I would have none of it, particularly if the wiser people in question were under the age of 35. (When I think about how insouciantly I said the same thing to Lloyd the year that he turned 40, I want to beat my head against my laptop with embarrassment, and apologize to Lloyd until he begs me to stop.) I was certain that this was going to be a bad, bad birthday. Fortunately, my family had other plans. “Where would you like to go to dinner?,” Momerina asked me, and when she did, I began to perk up ever so slightly.
My mom and stepdad, my brother and sister-in-law, all came to town last Saturday. As celebrations go, it was low-key and delightful, exactly the sort of thing at which my family excels. We did a little retail therapy, we walked to the Guggenheim, took one look at the sea of humanity and left, took a leisurely stroll around the Upper East Side. At the appointed hour, we met Lloyd (who opted to skip the museum trip) and Bunni (who my folks generously invited to join us) at this little charmpot restaurant, a big favorite of both mine and Bunni’s. We ate like kings, we drank like poets, we told long and silly stories, we just relaxed in the pleasure of each other’s company, and when the waiter made flambeed bananas and zabaglione for the table, I did not think I could have been happier than I was at that moment. Then I opened my presents: a gold-and-pearl choker and matching earrings from my parents; a Coach bag (a Coach bag!, she whispered excitedly) from my brother and sister-in-law; a hand-crocheted bag filled with Lush bath products from Bunni (a Bunni original! with Lush products!); and—I am still shaking my head in amazement over this—a new digital camera, specifically a new Canon EOS Rebel XT digital SLR, from Lloyd. I think I came as close as I’ve ever come to turning into a Tex Avery cartoon when I unwrapped that box. I don’t know if my eyes actually sprung from my head, if my jaw hit the floor, if my limbs actually sprung off and reattached themselves while making a sound like a klaxon horn, but I would not have been surprised if all these things happened. Dear friends, I was surprised.
I was so happy for the rest of the weekend that I almost, almost didn’t mind returning to the box factory on Monday. It would be a short week for me, because I was taking two days to dedicate to last-minute study prep and relaxation, and really, how bad could a three-day week be when I had the memory of this beautiful evening with my beautiful family? As it turns out, it could be pretty honking awful, and it was. By the time I left the building on Wednesday night, I was convinced that I could feel my blood growing thicker. I was surprised that my head didn’t explode from stress, and then realized that I couldn’t tell whether I was relieved or disappointed by the lack of Exploding Head. Once I’d got away from the office, though, my equilibrium, and my sense of humor, crept back bit by bit, and I found myself almost looking forward to Saturday, which was the test day. I’d have a day to do the last bit of studying, I’d have a day of quiet contemplation on Friday, and then I’d head to Bunni’s on Friday night, where we would watch silly movies and I would get a good night’s sleep. Since Bunni lived only ten blocks from the test center, I knew I wouldn’t have to leave Astoria at some ungodly hour to make sure that I would get to the test on time even if the N train broke down. I would get up early, get that pesky test out of the way, meet Lloyd for lunch, and then we would meet Bunni for fishbowl-sized martinis.
Sure enough, I did indeed do all of the above, and if I didn’t exactly mop up the floor with the test, at least I could say that it was put behind me, done, fable finito. Lloyd picked me up and took me to a Thai restaurant for a restorative and impressively spicy lunch. I called Bunni, who was stuck at home grading papers, and who I knew needed a break from them. “Ohhhh,” she said. “I’m not nearly ready to go out yet. I have a lot of work left. How about if you come back at, oh, 5-ish,and we’ll go to dinner from here?”
By now, probably everybody in the known world has figured out how this story ends, but no, I didn’t have a clue. I was still back in a fifth-floor classroom at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, staring mutely at a fact pattern I couldn’t decipher. “Do you want to go to Kitchen Arts?,” asked Lloyd, who knows me like his favorite poem.
I did. We went. We stopped at a pub on the way back to Bunni’s so that we could get out of the cold and hold hands in the dark for an hour or so. At 5 we headed to Bunni’s, rang the bell, and…
Well, we did not go out to dinner. We did not go out for fishbowl-sized martinis. For the life of me, I don’t know how they pulled it off, but—surprise!— there was Julie, in Bunni’s apartment. There was Heather. There were Ragnvaeig and Smarriveurr, who not only traveled to the city from north Jersey on the coldest Saturday in ten months to come to this party, but who did so via two trains and two subways. There was Steph, the Pie Queen, freshly returned from her Excellent Adventure on the Left Coast. There was Bunni’s friend, and former office elf, who is now my friend, too, and who is welcome to be my future office elf if he ever decides to eschew teaching for law. And, of course, there was Lloyd, who was in on the whole plan all along, and never dropped a single hint. Surprise!
I do not have the words to describe how I felt when I realized just what my friends had done for me. I still don’t.
Bunni, for those who might still be wondering, is a goddess. She fed us sugared spiced nuts, tea eggs, little prosciutto/artichoke heart sandwiches like the ones you find in swell wine bars, salami, cheese, tiny Welsh rabbits and an absolutely brilliant main course, a filet mignon with a tarragon and cornichon sauce, and with little potatoes on the side. Red wine, and plenty of it, accompanied all. To those who asked what to bring, she suggested dessert, and baby, was there dessert. Julie brought birthday cake, specifically the chocolate walnut torte that was a fixture of her childhood birthdays—but I will leave the telling of the tale of this cake to Julie, because I promised her, long ago, that I would. Julie also brought a tart made with oranges, pistachios and mascarpone cream. Heather brought apple pie. Ragnvaeig and Smarriveurr brought fabulous and moreish spice cookies, made from an 18th-century recipe, stamped with an antique cookie stamp. Ragnvaeig also took me aside at one point to mention that an interstate conspiracy was afoot: she and Joel had conspired, at his request, to bring me a chess pie. Joel supplied the recipe, he and his mom supplied the technical assistance, Ragnvaeig supplied the ingredients and the baking chops, et voila. Dear friends, trust me when I tell you that this pie is a masterpiece. I should be lucky enough to make a pie this fine.
Of course there was music, hours of music, from “The Power of the 45” by Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys to “Lawyers, Guns and Money” by Warren Zevon, from “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” by Nick Lowe to a cover of the theme from “Perry Mason” by a band which eludes me at the moment. There was a whole night of music, thanks to ‘mouse, our music man, right there with us even as he was 3,000 miles away.
I have a brilliant, wondrous family and brilliant, wondrous friends, and this week, they have made me feel like the most well-loved creature in the world. I wish I had better words for them than thank you and I love you, but tonight, they’re the only words that come close to saying what I would say. Thank you. I love you.