On January 7th, I finally weasled my way into competing at Write Club Chicago. By "weasled", I mean "got them to listen and understand that I will make seven minutes worth of compelling performance, promise." I did that, with one second over.
I watched Ian Belknap, Don Hall, Samantha Irby and Daniel Shapiro weave words and hold the audience captive. I held my breath and smiled like an idiot as my friend and opponent, Rachel Claff, presented her hilarious and passionate piece on "Sweet". We both mentioned in our respective pieces that she made my wedding and baby shower cake. Because...how do you not mention that? She was brilliant.
It was a great night all around, and I laughed until I cried. My husband and my baby were both there, and that was everything to me. My infant daughter hardly cried at all, and that was victory enough for me. I held her as the words "I'm not gonna stick my dick into a jar of CHUNKY peanut butter" were presented in defense of the topic "Smooth". I'm pretty sure that's model parenting right there. Hey, she also heard Irby's defense of "Rough" and now knows the dangers of Brazilian waxing. See? Parent of the Year.
Ian called my daughter out a few times for being "mind cracklingly adorable" while she sat in the audience on her father's lap. She yelled out after my piece and everyone applauded. If she had a hand in my winning that night, I don't care. She earned it.
She also cried during Don Hall's piece, and we had to take her into the front for a bit. See? She knows what's up.
I had the topic "Salty". It seemed I couldn't help but write about my mother, even though I had other things in mind when I sat down to hammer it out. So today, on the three year anniversary of her death, I reprint it here.
It was 1988, so naturally, my hair was enormous. I slept in rollers, then hot curled, sprayed, fanned, shaped, threw all of my styling tools into the sink in a fit of frustrated young girl rage. I did everything RIGHT.
But it rained anyway. Of course it did. And I didn’t have an umbrella. Of course I didn’t.
I hesitated before walking the short distance from the door to my mother’s car, wondering if Rave Level 4 Hold would be enough to withstand the downpour. My mother turned and saw my concern. In that moment, she offered sage wisdom to put things into perspective.
“Only two things melt in the rain,” she said, “shit and sugar. You’re not either of those, so let’s go.”
My 14 year old mind was blown. Thanks, Mom, for telling me I’m not shit. But also, those are the only two things that melt in the rain? Who conducted this experiment? They left out salt. And...anything else that dissolves in water. Like ice. Or a cake. A cake that, by my mother’s logic, was made of fondant and feces. I had so many questions and zero time to decipher her colloquialisms.
As I have aged, I have discovered salt doesn't dissolve. It transforms when it hits water. It becomes vital fluid.
Salt water is brine, antiseptic, hydration, the sea. Sugar water, meanwhile, is what the crazy guy keeps asking for at Starbucks. Dissolution is not an option for salt, so it was left out of my mother’s list of things I was not.
She was a 55 year smoker. Her voice was lower than any man’s in this room. She held onto her Brooklyn accent like a prize, and whenever I recall something she said, I imagine she had a cigarette in her hand. Because she did. She was the head of my salty family for a reason. She was a sailor, the rim of a margarita glass, she was a cure for the bland. She literally ate salt for breakfast by crumbling up saltines and pouring milk over them. We called it “cracker cereal.”
If I tell you someone I want to set you up with is so sweet, you’d expect two things: they’re idiots or they’re ugly. Sweet, it would seem, is a consolation prize. “You’re so sweet” is a pandering shitbag of a compliment.
We are all salty. Our blood, sweat, and tears define a person’s ability to live. Also, they have a fantastic horn section.
Saltiness pulses through us. When we cry, or become damp with exhaustion, or we cut our goddamned finger on the slicing blade of the Cuisinart even though there’s a big fucking orange sticker telling you not to do that and now you’ve bled all over everything, goddammit, we are human. We literally cannot live if we are not salty.
When my father took his life in 1987, we moved very quickly from my childhood home. Like, REALLY quickly. I didn’t know at the time that the bank was foreclosing on the house. You could say the bank salted the earth after we were defeated and left, but OTHER people did fine on that land. So...we kinda salted the earth under our own feet wherever we were.
Things had a hard time thriving wherever we lived - a tiny apartment in Melrose Park, my mother’s boyfriend’s house that had a mirrored dance floor no shit. We grew, but we didn’t thrive. I mean, my HAIR. I worked HARD. Nope. Not gonna happen. You have been deprived of your riches, child, your father left you shame. Flat hair for you. Start over.
I don’t crave chocolate. I have been called a communist and have been accused of not being a real woman because of this fact. It’s not that I don’t like it. I just don’t crave it. Unless you add salt to it. A salted piece of chocolate will make me get up in the middle of the night. Salt makes sweet better.
My eight month old daughter is adorable and sweet. But when she got her first baby doll and went right for the face and started chewing, she somehow got even cuter. I’ve passed the saltiness on.
My husband and I have a very sweet meeting story. I will not bore you with it now. It’s awesome. It really is. But no one wants the sweet part. They want the fun part. The sustenance. The salty goodness. Ok. Here’s that part. We broke up about four years into our now ten year romance. Everyone had advice. Everyone had opinions. It was upsetting.
I did what every girl would do. I called my mother. Once again, salty to the rescue. Sweet had failed me over and over again.
“Fuck em,” she said, “This is about you and him and no one else.” That was the best advice I’ve ever gotten. You could dip it in ranch and make it even better.
The proper response for sweet is opening your mouth, tilting your head, looking foolish and saying, “Awwww.” The proper response to salty is raising one eyebrow, pulling in your chin, looking smarter than everyone else and saying, “mm.”
I have nothing against sweet. Sweet over there made my wedding cake AND my baby shower cake. Everyone likes sweet. It’s so...nice.
On the other hand, french fries. That’s all.
Let me tell you about my salty mother’s dying thought. I don’t know the very last thing she thought of, but I do know what she said to me in what turned out to be her final few hours. Lucidity, as it turns out, comes and goes when you’re about to leave this world. All I knew was that I shouldn’t correct the woman on her hallucinations because it confused her, and I hated hated hated seeing her confused. So I went with it. After asking if I could warn her when nurses were coming so she could put out her imaginary cigarette (she hadn’t smoked in two years. COPD didn’t give a shit), she asked me what number was “up there”. She gestured to the door. I knew immediately she was looking at a deli counter. Do you get that? A deli. She wanted some salty meat when she went, and who could blame her? I walked up to the fake counter and squinted. “92?” I said. “What number are you looking for?” “99,” she said. She died four hours later, as apparently it was a slow moving deli. And I bet dollars to donuts (see? donuts are only worth a dollar. say dollars to Fritos and the value skyrockets on that bet), she is happily eating pastrami on rye and shoestring potatoes out of the can and licking the salt at the bottom.
Because that’s what heaven is. Where you get to lick the salt at the bottom.