Monday, September 10, 2012

A Fair Plan

I maintain that men don’t make plans. Unless it involves a sporting event or golf, they just don’t have the wherewithal to organize a planned event with more than one other person. I’m not even sure my husband ever made plans for a date with me prior to our marriage. Pretty sure I made all the decisions in that social arena too.
So when I overheard my husband and the husband of one of my girlfriends making plans to go to The Sandwich Fair, I thought it was impossibly adorable. I had to butt in and invite myself and his wife along. It took a lot of self control to stop myself from following up on these plans. I sat back and waited for the most part, though I did float a casual “so, are we really going to the fair Saturday with the J.’s?” Far as I know, my husband answered.
Imagine my surprised thrill when my husband and I received this email from J. who had cc’d his wife, S.

“8:00am - Pick up B’s (fair opens at 8am, we can go earlier if you prefer to be first in line; or later if necessary since I believe L. & S. have similar weekend sleep-in habits)

8:30am - Arrive fairground

8:40am - Walk through livestock barns to inspect the beauty of various farm animals

9:00am - stop for elephant ear

9:30am – stop for lemon shake-up

10:00am – stop for corn dog

10:30am – consider snack of cotton candy, homemade fudge, or fresh caramel covered popcorn

11:00am – start thinking about lunch

11:30am – eat at Fay’s barbeque for lunch

12:30pm – check out who won all the blue –ribbons for home-baked deserts

1:00pm – play the mouse game

1:30pm – complain about stomachache

2:00pm – consider heading back to Batavia

Of course, these points of interest are all open for modification if it doesn’t meet everyone’s expectations for enjoyable fair outing.”

Immediately I responded to J., indicating that this was perhaps my most favorite itinerary of all times.
Alas, it was slightly too good to be true.
“Did you see J.’s email today?” I ask my husband.
“Yes, but it’s not going to work,” he responds.
“Why? Too much eating?”
“No, I have to pick up my daughter Saturday afternoon,” he says. “We can still go, we’ll just need to take two cars so I can head directly to Hampshire from the fair.”

Unreasonably, I was upset. J.’s plan was so sweet, I didn’t want to deviate from it at all. I pouted and an argument ensued. Why can’t we communicate our plans more effectively I whined. But we can still go to the fair, he retorted.

We planned to meet them at the fair and text when we got there. We got a late start. After we made a stop at the bank, K. tells me which roads he plans to take. I stop listening almost instantly, knowing that my way of getting there will be faster. No. Matter. What. K. is famous for his shortcuts that always end up taking an extra 5 to 30 minutes to get to the destination. I am silent and he makes a relationship mistake by asking: “Is that OK with you?”

“Well.... I was just assuming we’d take 88 and get off at 47,” I say.
“OK, I hadn’t thought of that,” he says.
A few miles into the trip we pass under 47. There is no exit and I realize I’ve goofed. My arrogance is palpable; I apologize profusely.
“I knew there wasn’t an exit at 47,” K. says.
“What? Why didn’t you say something.”
“Don’t worry about it. Nothing we can do about it now,” he says.
I continue to press him on why he didn’t speak up. He urges me to drop it.
“It’s a gorgeous day for a drive,” he cheerfully says.

Rarely do I enjoy living in Illinois. But on a sunny September morning, the drying corn and soybean fields of gold and green rising to meet a perfect blue sky make me feel like the Midwest is the heartland of dreams.

We arrive at the fairgrounds an hour late. I get a decent cup of coffee inside the gates and we get in touch with the J.’s.
“Meet us at Horse Barn #1,” S. says.
I tell K. and he gets out the fairground map. I points to the barn on the map and traces out a route to it with his finger. He looks to me for approval.
“Uh, I suck at maps. I trust you to get us there,” I sheepishly say.
I get another call from S.
“The building is labeled Poultry, even though it’s horse barn #1 on the map,” S. says.
We wander around the grounds, a bit lost, but heading in the right direction. An antique farm implement display distracts us and we get even more lost. K. consults the map and sniffs the air. This is the right direction he says. I follow and within minutes we spot the barn and S.
They have already scouted out the breakfast options: Fresh mini-donuts, elephant ears, and red velvet funnel cakes. We get one order of each.

We loosely follow J.'s itinerary. K. and J.'s boyish enthusiasm for everything at the fair is contagious. Soon I've forgotten I was an arrogant idiot just a hour before. I've forgotten than I have a stressful job, that K. is unemployed, that my son has no money, that I've just blown my diet.

After looking at the award-winning home economics projects, and the photography contest winners, and the antique jukeboxes for sale, and the goats, cows, rabbits and chickens, nothing really matters except getting across the fairgrounds to the Fay's Barbecue tent.

The sun shines on us all day.
Men can make plans. Really good plans.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thought Bubble

We finally hit the road into Chicago after a very late start because of hangovers and a hastily arranged lunch with an old friend.

My mother is in tow and we are heading to the Art Institute to see the Lichtenstein retrospective exhibit. This is my call. I want to see the exhibit, having developed an affinity for his work on a trip to New York nearly 20 years ago. I worry vaguely that my mother, who has invited herself along, and my sister will not appreciate this collection. Art appreciation is always a tricky thing; who can say what will resonate? My worries increase when whining begins because there is extra traffic on 290.

"We could just turn around and go shopping at Oakbrook," my sister says."No! We are going to the fucking Art Institute!" I unreasonably shout. "We can shop anytime. Besides, I don¹t have any money to shop." My mother giggles nervously in the backseat. She changes the subject to the recent health decline of one of her friends. This time her not-so-subtle attempts to avoid confrontation do not annoy me. She and my sister chatter on.

A personal Lichtenstein-esque thought bubble pops into my head: "...OH SISTER, YOU DO VEX ME SO." I think about all the bullshit things she made me do last time I visited her in Texas. She can suck it up and indulge me this trip to a world-class museum to see things that interest me.

We arrive at the museum and I march us directly to the Lichtenstein exhibit. While reading the exhibit overview, I decide that I will not attempt to discuss art with either of them while we move through the galleries. An alienation from my mother and sister swells to a grossly magnified giant comic-book cell of three women, caption reading: "...I WISH YOU UNDERSTOOD ME."

Apart from each other we move through the galleries. My mother appears bored. My sister looks critical. I tune them out and stare at the half-tone dots, lines and words, absorbing the work. How would I ever explain to anyone what this work means to me? I don¹t have to, I decide, thought bubble reading: "...OH BRAD, I JUST CAN¹T EXPLAIN MY FEELINGS."

Midway through the exhibit we enter the Mirror series. For me, this is Lichtenstein¹s most perplexing work and his most genius. My sister and I read the overview together and walk around. "I like these," she says. "He and I have the same opinion of mirrors," she continues. "How the mirror itself is art but what the mirror reflects is a work of art as well." For a fleeting moment my heart soars. She gets it! I am not alone. Conversation bubble: "...ME TOO!"

I say nothing. I nod in agreement. My mother chimes in. "These are my favorite too. This one is so big."

Could it be that they really do get what Lichtenstein is trying to represent about materiality and immateriality and the point at which both merge in your mind to become one? Could they really understand the paradox of perception that the mirror paintings evoke? Is their praise an oversimplification that creates its own paradox?

My own emotions are magnified one hundred times into an unrecognizable pattern. I draw a line through them and add a swath of turquoise. The resulting image doesn¹t need a thought bubble or a caption. I title it Satisfied Apathy.

We move on.