Lori Gant is my oldest friend.  We met in preschool and remained best friends up until we attended different high schools, and even then, and even after, we could always pick up our conversation as though we’d never stopped.

I loved spending the night at Lori’s house, because her mom always served those frozen honey buns for breakfast.  When she spent the night at my house, we slept in the guest room at the opposite end of the house from my parents’ room, so we could get away with talking for hours and hours.  But I preferred sleeping in Lori’s bedroom – fully Fancy-Nancy-fied (before she even existed) – with lacy bedding and frilly curtains and an overflowing ballerina jewelry box.  The lone exception was a huge poster of Michael Jackson, sparkly glove era, hanging over her bed.  Lori could NOT understand why I didn’t find Michael Jackson sexy.  We spent hours and hours darting from room to room in her house, making up elaborate games of pretend.  I envied Lori’s Esprit wardrobe.  I did not envy her bratty little brother, who once hit me with a baseball bat and gave me a black eye.

Lori and I swam together, took dance classes together, ate hot dogs together, painted each other’s nails, giggled, took summer school classes, slurped Otter Pops, and talked about boys, kissing, boys, and also boys.

In 7th grade, we partnered for the Utopia contest in social studies class.  We envisioned a world with parks and waterways, strict anti-gun laws, and a very high-tech fingerprint recognition crime-fighting program (like, waaay more cooler than boring ol’ ink).  We also had an elaborate monorail system, brought to life in little painted wooden cars gliding above our painted ponds, which were filled with miniature ducks and swans selected for the honor from my prized miniature collection.  We won.  And we got A’s.  Our world was called Kalora, and Moo now plays with one of the wooden monorail cars as part of her prized train collection.

Our biggest fight occurred when she came over to my house one day and we decided to play stuffed animals.  We threw my ginormous collection of animals into one huge pile and took turns divvying them up.  When we got to my beloved Unicorn, Lori scoffed and tossed him aside.  “We can’t play with a unicorn,” she said.  “Unicorns aren’t real.”

Lori and I were close as sisters, but we were also very different, and came from very different families.  I was a dreamer, and once carried on a long penpal friendship with a band of brownies who left tiny notes and fairy jewels on my front doorstep.  Lori refused to play with imaginary creatures and preferred the hard facts in life, as well as the rat-a-tatting vocal pattern of her sharp-nosed father.

So we sat and scowled at each other over Uni’s golden horn. 

“How do you KNOW?” I kept repeating.  “How do you KNOW they don’t exist?”

“Because they just don’t.  They’re just make-believe.”

“But maybe they existed a long time ago, they could have!  My mom says they could have!”

Lori wouldn’t budge.  “I am not playing animal school with your fake pretend unicorn,” she insisted.

I wouldn’t budge either.  It broke my heart that Lori would personally insult poor Uni.  I burst into tears.

At this disappointing display of weakness, Lori declared she no longer wanted to play with me.  My mom tried to step in, but there was no compromise for us in the great unicorn debate.  We drove Lori home.

It didn’t ruin our friendship, but years later, we would still argue about the damn unicorn.

The last time I saw Lori, I was living in LA and working at Houston’s, about 10 years ago.  She happened to be in town and we spent hours talking, and I remember marveling how crazy it felt to have cocktails together – weren’t we still 12?  We shared a long hug, and she drove away.  

Every Christmas morning, Lori and I always called each other to discuss our haul.  But when Christmas came around that year, I realized I didn’t have her current phone number.  I probably could have tracked down her mother to get the number, but I didn’t.  I just took a post-brunch nap instead.  We haven’t spoken in 10 years.  Every Christmas, after all the presents are opened, I think of Lori and my heart aches.  I wonder where she lives, what she’s doing, if she has any children, and if she got anything good for Christmas.

And I’d really love to have that argument about unicorns again.  Because I still say that maybe, maybe, they existed once upon a time.  She’ll have some scientifically sound assertions, I’m sure, but at least this time I definitely wouldn’t cry.  Or maybe, just at the sight of her, or the sound of her voice – I definitely would.

 

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Faced with a hot, lazy Sunday, Herbie and I spent the morning trying to think of something different to do while Moo read books in the playroom.  We listed all the regular activities: library, mall, uh…mall?  BORING.  Then Herbie had a flash of inspiration and suggested we ride the light rail downtown and have lunch.  Moo and I hadn’t been on the 5-month-old light rail yet, so I I thought the idea was pretty brilliant.  We took the train (can I call it that? is it technically a train?) to the Phoenix Art Museum and had lunch in their cafe, then light-railed our way back home.  Moo really got into it on the homeward leg, gluing herself to the window and shouting out everything she saw: “Clouds!  Birds!  Air!  ABC’S!”

We had a very fun afternoon, but the trip made me mysteriously melancholy, and it took me a while to figure out that riding the light rail made me nostalgic for my days of riding the subway in New York.

Every time I return to New York, I’m dismayed by how much it’s changed.  My old neighborhood, once a bit scary and notable for a deli open 25 hours a day and a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint with incredible garlic rolls, is now an uber-hip conclave of hipsters and coffee bars.  Times Square, as well-documented, is now corporate-branded, and it even smells better, which somehow seems wrong.  Living there, I grew to love that mysterious Manhattan scent of baking bread, piss, Indian food, and hot dog water.

But there’s still one place I can go in New York and feel like nothing’s changed – the subway.  Sure, it costs more.  But it’s the same trains, the same turnstiles, and the same stops, with the same names.  The same orange plastic seats, even some of the same advertisements plastered overhead.  The same rush of hot air as the train approaches.  The same unintelligble announcements, the same inexplicable stops in the middle of the tunnel when the lights go out, the same sense of we’re-all-in-this-together, but for God’s sake nobody make eye contact and acknowledge it!  The same crazies – ones that preach, ones that sing, ones that rub their thigh against your ass during the body-crushing rush hour.

I always loved the subway.  I never took a book on the subway, or a Walkman.  Didn’t seem safe to zone out so entirely.  So I read the subway poetry (right next to the ads for cosmetic dentistry), I secretly people-watched, I wondered whether to believe my boyfriend’s story of witnessing a man shooting another man on the shaky platform between subway cars (probably not).  I memorized lines, went over dance steps, imagined my perfect lover and dreamed big ol’ Broadway dreams.

One time, I had a lover freak out at the very existence of our relationship (our relationship being rather taboo) and dash out the closing doors, jumping onto the express on the other side of the subway platform, shrugging as I chugged away.  One time, a girl told me she loved my necklace and I lit up, thinking, “Hooray! Human contact!” And then she tried to convince me to join her cult.  Once, after a boring date in Chinatown, I boarded the subway with my date, who sat next to me yammering about dim sum.   I looked to my left and there was this beautiful boy, holding a book, standing at the doors and waiting for his stop.  Remarkably, we made eye contact, and could not break it.  For one minute, I had found my soul-mate – then we got to the next stop, the doors opened, and he hesistated for a second, holding my gaze.  He smiled and shook his head, and got off the train.  Later, I took it as a sign that, while that boy wasn’t my soul- mate, he was out there somewhere, and I should never settle for a yammering dim sum dimwit.

That’s all very different from holding a two-year-old in your lap and pretending to be a caterpillar-snake while hissing, “whooa, whoooooa!” every time the train stops and starts.  I wouldn’t trade it for a million billion anything’s, of course.  And luckily, I found my real soul-mate, with whom I can share a gaze over our chattering daughter’s fuzzy head. 

But I do still miss the subway sometimes, so very much.  Almost as much as I miss New York.

 

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(photo from Urban75)

Of all the break-ups of my life (and there have been many), there’s only one I truly regret.  One breakup I tried mightily to stave off, stalling for time, hoping that somehow, someway, I could figure out just how Mike made that absolutely perfect tuna sandwich.

Oh, the relationship was kaput.  Mike was quite a bit older than me, a little lost in life, a server at Houston’s like me.  Nice guy, always wanting to cook for me – but when we watched the Oscars and he scoffed loudly when Johnny Depp mentioned the “art of acting,” wellll, we clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye.

But oh! That sandwich.  The most perfect tuna sandwich I’ve ever tasted in my life.  When I realized that I wouldn’t be able to fake it much longer, I requested the sandwich as often as possible.  He served it with tortilla chips and Diet Coke – to this day one of the best meals of my life.

Perhaps realizing the tuna’s hold on me, Mike was very secretive about the recipe.  I got to him to confess that he used chopped green olives, and I could see that Swiss cheese was key, but beyond that I was clueless, and my waning ability to be in the same room with him for very long meant that I didn’t accomplish any quality spying.

Finally I couldn’t hide my feelings anymore, and Mike and I had a terribly awkward mid-shift break-up at the restaurant.  A week later he gave me a Pete Yorn cd, telling me to listen to it, “and maybe you’ll learn something.”  I learned that Herbie and I love listening to it on lazy Sunday mornings while we drink coffee and Bailey’s on the couch.

I also learned that, though I’ve tried again and again, I cannot recreate Mike’s perfect tuna sandwich.  Mike’s tuna is lost to me forever, and no matter how many different brands of olives I chop, I can never quite capture that perfect, unknowable tuna essence.

I’ve even thought of looking up Mike on Facebook and sending him a message, something like: “Hi!! How are you!! Oh my gosh, it’s been so long – your children are sooooo adorable!  Wow, we had some fun times, didn’t we?  Remember that tuna sandwich you used to make and how I was totally obsessed with it?  Like in a crazy Ali Larter way?  Ha ha, ha ha haha – TELL ME WHAT’S IN THE TUNA.  TELL ME NOW.  I still have your beloved copy of “Aliens” and I will SHIT ON IT if you do not tell me.  I will SHIT ON SIGOURNEY WEAVER’S FACE.  You don’t want that to happen. Take care!”

Good tuna.