by Lisa Robertson
After living long and happy lives and doing no less than all of the interesting things we wanted to do, my husband and I had a baby. Because having long lives and doing interesting things had been profoundly exhausting, we came to the conclusion that we were too tired to make another decision ever again, so we did what many people in our situation do. We moved from our loft in San Francisco to a Progressive Suburb Bordered on One Side By A Large Metropolitan Area and on the Other by Farms That Grow Locally Sourced Produce. For brevity, I will refer to this as PSBOSBALMA, or Marin County.
In Marin County, you do not need to make any of the decisions that would be necessary if you continued to live in some areas of Brooklyn, or San Francisco’s Mission District, or the wrong side of Boston. The matter of public vs. private school is eliminated entirely, because the public schools are rivaled only by those in Connecticut. The per capita yoga studios areequal to the number of pour-over cafes, so at any given moment, the people in the parking lots are at the same time Zen and over caffeinated. An otherwise perfectly well adjusted woman told me the other day that orange is the new black, and pointed to her pumpkin hued Jack Rodgers flip-flops to prove it. Was she on drugs, I wondered? I had worked in medicine but not for the past two years, and I wondered what new drugs might be out on the street and available to over caffeinated and over compensated ladies in parking lots wearing resort wear in October. These are the people who are happy to hold forth for entire hours about the benefits of locally sourced bee pollen and gluten allergy prophylaxis.
These people are my friends.
Occasionally, these people are my husband.
Last Tuesday, after I bought a nineteen-dollar bottle of olive oil, I began to suspect that these people might be me.
This is the conundrum. We are all, in fact, the same over educated progressives. We aggravate others and are aggravated by ourselves. We have found the answer, almost, to the questions that we can’t stand to discuss with the pour-over crowd in the farmer’s market parking lot. We know that even engaging in this dialogue is part of the issue, that in a way, our own self-conscious self-definition is the taxonomic definition of the problem. Sometimes we are tempted to drink coffee out of Mason Jars just to further the ironic paradigm. But my father, a man of granite hard-won middle class values, he was from Tupelo, and he drank out of Mason Jars, and so did his father, and his father before him, who spit dip into empty Folgers’ Crystals canisters.
There is nothing about this that I can make palatably ironic.
And at the same time, sometimes I wonder how my farmer’s market geraniums might look in an empty Folgers’s Crystal can.
My neighbor, who walked overland through Bulgaria to escape a dictatorship, now builds caves that arespecifically constructed for the food groups, in the highly stratified way that the food groups are interpreted by Marin County. He builds one sort of cave for the DIY sausage crowd, another for the soft cheese enthusiasts, and an entirely different one for the preservation of root vegetables.
The other day, this neighbor brought me a bottle of limoncello that he made from the lemon trees that border our property. It was hard liquor, organic, free trade, with a transportation related ecological footprint that was entirely zero. A few days later, I showed him an article in New York magazine that referenced locapours.
Locawhat? He said. He is just doing what he did in Bulgaria, except now with clean water and central air and excellent infrastructure and this stunning wife who owns an ad agency.
He knows that we live on the edge of the continent.
He doesn’t know that he’s on the cutting edge.
He might not even know that California is seismic.
Sometimes, I sit in my car and scratch at my face.
When I am not scratching at my face, I am singing holiday songs to my daughter. It is only fall, but if Rite-Aid can stock Halloween candy while simultaneously lining entire shelves with Father Christmas on Skis, so too can I sing Joy to the World to my small child. This is not because I am a holiday enthusiast, but because until my daughter’s first Christmas, Iknew no nursery rhymes. And by no nursery rhymes, I mean exactly zero. And having lost both of my parents before her birth, and having a husband whose parents speak only French, I was left with the last resort of finding infant appropriatelyrics to Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on The Wall.
“This is worse than I thought,” my younger sister said, when she came out to visit. But she had gone to UCSD. The lyrics to her drinking songs, I can’t even repeat here.
When my birth induced fog cleared, I was able to remember the more complicated songs that my mother had sung to me, but the only reason these songs were appropriate, was because my daughter was preverbal, and had no concept of what I was saying.
My mother, whom I loved dearly, and who tried very hard, did not have a resonant singing voice, and so as audience compensation, she allowed me to request songs from her illustrated piano playbook. And because I was a peculiar child, Iliked, in particular, the illustration of a girl floating in a river. For this reason, I could now sing On the Banks of the Ohio, as well as every other murder ballad that the publisher of that songbook had thought to illustrate.
This is less strange than it sounds. My family roots are old, not wealthy, and southern, and I have a suspicion that this music served a purpose. Like country western songs, except on steroids, they illuminated certain inalienable truths to our lives, truths that were not, evidentially, transmissible to Marin County.
“No?” I said to my husband, when he caught me harmonizing to Stagger Lee.
“No.” he said.
Last week I ran into a mother whom I knew from our playgroup. She was passing out Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food stickers, and when she handed one to me, I might have hesitated. Not because I disagree. I vehemently agree. I could not agree more. My agreement bordered on fanatical. In fact, if I could, I would know my farmer the way I know my toddler’s babysitter, background investigated and reference checked and trained in the latest version of the Heimlich maneuver. This is because I once knew a farmer quite well. Our neighbor, Clyde, also drank out of Mason jars, and ran the greywater discharge line into his rows of corn, and for the piece de resistance, ran over our two peacocks with his combine.
One peacock might be a mistake. But two peacocks are never a mistake.
I smiled and took the sticker. And then, maybe to be reciprocal, or maybe just to see what would happen, I pulled out a bag of candy corns. My friends looked at them, and shook their heads. I suggested that the candy corns were orange, and it was almost Halloween, and orange was, like some root vegetables, in season, but nobody laughed. After a minute, the woman with the stickers said: carrots are orange, and everyone nodded, and even I nodded.
It was a statement of fact. Carrots are orange. Orange is the new black. Carrots are the new candy corns. And I had this vision of myself, old and wizened, just before my grandchildren are told by the geriatrician that she is seeing an increase in this strange late life dementia, a misbegotten recollection of fairy-tale things like polar ice caps, and rainy seasons, and sugar.
Except sometimes, like those murder ballads, things have a way of seeping in, and so if the memory of sugar doesn’t last through the centuries, I can’t say that I believe that stone fruits will become extinct, or songs will be replaced with something else, or that anything can take the place of sweetness, all the good old songs and autumnal liqueurs.
And if that fails, I happen to know where the good caves are to be found.