The day I went to court in my pajamas

It was the day before I was due to go to Bella Voce.  It was, for lack of better phrasing, the day before The Most Glamorous Day of My Life.

In other words, it was today.

Let me explain how it happened.  We got home from a long and lovely weekend in Seattle late Monday night, and Tuesday morning hit us all hard.  We were tired and grumpy and not ready to face Life yet, but face it we did.  And for me, that meant sifting through a huge stack of mail, school papers, church stuff, and trying to morph nineteen separate pieces of scribbled-on paper and post-its into one Master To-Do List.  (At least then I’d have only one list to ignore.)

The prior week had been hectic so my inbox was already suffering before skipping town for four days.  So Tuesday morning, after shooing the chicks out of the nest, I stared down my mountain of papers, mountain of dishes, mountain of laundry, and did the only thing I could do:  locked the door behind me and went shopping.

Oh, stop judging me—in forty-eight hours, I was going to Bella Voce to meet Geraldine Brooks!  What, you think I’m gonna show up in my twenty-dollar Forever 21 dress?  (Wait.  That’s the cutest thing I own.  Crap.)  I needed something subtle, sophisticated and, above all, something that made me look smart.  (Once you hit forty, the heavy-rimmed fashionista glasses don’t work anymore; everyone knows you actually need them to see.)  So I scrambled through every women’s clothing shop in the greater Kennewick area–all three of them–and after searching and sorting and trying and tussling, came back with exactly two pairs of jeans.  (Hey, I needed them for spring.)


By the time I returned from my non-shopping spree, it was time to pick up the kids from school and start the standard violin/volleyball/basketball routine.  By the time I returned from that, it was time to get the kids settled and start the standard Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire routine.  And by the time I returned from that, it was time for me to lie in my bed and make a conscientious decision to leave the Pile Of Important Papers for the next morning.  First thing, I promised myself as I dozed off.  First thing…

Fast forward eight hours.  I woke up late, got the kids up late, shuffled everyone to school kinda-on-time-ish.  I came home, still in my pajamas (sweatsuit that doubles as pjs, I swear nobody can tell) and sat down to tackle The Pile, figuring I would shower and shine a little later on.  Under The Pile lay my big family calendar which, though heavily lettered, did not have anything on it for this particular Wednesday morning.  Which was good, because I really needed this particular Wednesday morning to go through The Pile and get myself organized.  Shuffling through the papers and pulling out the calendar, I sighed and thought, good thing this morning was clear.  Crystal clear.  But…wait.  What was that I was seeing scrawled across  Wednesday, February 18?

Oh.  Wait.

Yes, Wednesday morning was clear–except for that little cursived note at the top ‘o the day, in my own handwriting, reminding me that I was DUE IN COURT.  At nine 0’clock.

I glanced at my phone.  It was eight fifty-five.

My mind reeled back to three weeks earlier when, while zooming my son from guitar to basketball practice, a rather disagreeable state trooper pulled me over for having a bit too much zoom in my zoom.  (I told him I thought it was 65 mph, not 60, which would have rendered my 71 virtually harmless, but my pleas went unheard.  Men.)  He wrote me the first ticket I’ve had in ten years (men!) and a few days later, I received a notice in the mail stating the time for me to appear in court and also stating–in an unnecessarily frightening tone, I thought–that “failure to appear” would result in the suspension of my license.

In other words, I had five minutes to get from my couch to the car to the courthouse to the judge or I would  not be able, the following day, to drive through the Gorge and meet Geraldine Brooks.  At least not legally.

All I could think was:  thank goodness I’d brushed my teeth.  See?  I wasn’t a loser.

I grabbed my purse, flew out the door and flew down the street, fully aware that I was risking a speeding ticket on the way to pay for a speeding ticket.  I flew into the courthouse parking lot which was, providentially, a mere five minutes away.  (I love you, small town.)  I parked the car, flew out, flew across the lot, flew through the front door, flew through security, and flew down the hall to Courtroom Number Four.  I flew through the double doors, then came to a sudden and complete stop.  The courtroom was silent, with only a single person standing before a scowling judge.   I could see the slumped back of the accused and the dismal face of the accuser.  Mercy.


There are two things you should know at this point:

1)  I was fifteen minutes late.

2)  I was, in fact, still wearing my pajamas (“sweats”), thick fuzzy pink socks with brown leather mules (so the heels of the socks showed and no I’m not kidding), no makeup and, tragically, no bra.  (Going bra-less in a baggy sweatshirt isn’t usually an issue for me.  But it did seem rather poor form in court.)  My hair hung in a flat, greasy sheaf against my ruddy and large-pored cheeks, and I’d thrown the heavy brown coat that my entire family hates over the whole mess, hoping to strike a sympathetic note somewhere between impoverished and ignorant.  I slowed my pace, bent my head, and stooped to the last bench in the back.  If I couldn’t look pretty, I could at least look penitent.

Sitting small and alone on that pew, swathed in my own morning smell while I waited for the formidable justice to apprehend me, I could think only one thing:  thank goodness I’d brushed my teeth.

The judge dismissed Convict Number One and cast his disapproving eyes on Number Two.  He didn’t ask my name, but rather the one question I dreaded:

“What time is your court appointment for?”

“Nine.”  I squeaked it out.  “I’m sorry.  I’m really late.”  (see:  “ignorant”)

“Well, come up.”  He waved me forward and I sighed with relief.  The judge would see me!  I wouldn’t lose my license after all!  I would meet Geraldine Brooks–legally!  I almost burst out this last one, so happy did it make me, but then met the judge’s eye and thought better of it.  He looked mad.  Or maybe just old and unattractive like the rest of us.  He frowned down at me.

“Do you have anything you want to say for yourself?”

“Well, um, I was going 71 in a 60, but I was just sure it was 65, so though I was speeding, I didn’t realize the extent of my speeding…”

“If you were going 65, he wouldn’t have pulled you over.”

“Yes, yes, I know.  I shouldn’t have been going that fast.  See, I was rushing to get my son from guitar to basketball on time, and…”

“Well, it didn’t work.”  He seemed pleased with this statement.  I half-smiled, hoping he would notice my brushed teeth.

“I know.”  He kept glaring.  So I kept talking.

“Um.  Yes.  I know.”  Steady glare.  Was he looking at my pasty hair?  Or did my big brown coat anger in him as it did my family?  For perhaps the first time in  my life, I could not interpret an older man’s stare as an admiration of my beauty.  He finally spoke:

“Sometimes you have to accept that you’re going to be late.”  The irony of his statement was not lost on me as I stood before him in my pajamas and pink socks.  He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to me.  “I can get you down to ninety dollars.  Pay at the cashier.  Good bye.”  And just like that, it was over.  I flew down the hall to the cashier’s window and happily signed off my check for ninety dollars.  What was ninety dollars in the wake of Pulitzer-Prize winning authors?  I was suddenly Jane Eyre roaming the sunny countryside, calling out to my beloved Mr. Rochester.  “I’m coming, Bella VoceI’m coming!”

Mama always said things would work out.  And the best part was, I didn’t waste good shampoo, body wash, or make up on the whole dastardly affair.  But I couldn’t help wonder:  if I had exercised any amount of personal hygiene this morning, could I have gotten him down to less than ninety bucks?  Hmm.  That is a question I’d rather not ask these days.  I am forty-one; perhaps I should stick with the impoverished and ignorant angle from now on.  At least when I’m staring down the law.

But not when I go to meet Geraldine Brooks.  Tomorrow, when I meet Geraldine Brooks!, it will be all class and enlightenment and brilliance and style.  (Okay, it will be my white blouse and fake silk scarf.  But I tried, Geraldine.  I tried.)  And at least I’ll be wearing a bra.  Of one kind or another.


Bella Voce Part III

With the cooler weather and changing leaves comes, in my world, an even more striking sign of autumn:  the October meeting of Bella Voce.  

In case you haven’t read my blog or just don’t know the inner workings of my heart and soul, Bella Voce is an author series that meets thrice a year in Portland and which, through the kindness of my husband’s business partner and forbearance of many-an-affluent-middle-aged-woman, I am allowed to attend.  (See what I did there with thrice?  I used one word instead of two: thrice instead of three times a year.  It’s the mark of sophisticated writing, trust me.  And doesn’t come off as pretentious at all.) 

The anticipation of taking the rare day off from Life to drive down the Columbia Gorge and sit at the feet of famous writers is, well, pretty much what gets me out of my small-town, big-hair, housewife bed every morning.  And yet today—the day that I should be zooming to Bella Voce for the first time since last May—I am instead sitting here, writing about why I’m not there.  And why, ahem, am I not there?  In short:  I missed Bella Voce because of my kids.

It’s those kids—ooh, those kids!  Those mean, nasty, rotten ‘ol kids.  They make me sign them up for stuff and then they make me pay for it.  They make me drive them everywhere and then drop them early so they’re not seen with me.  They suck the life out of me and then spit it back in my face.  (i.e., Daughter on Saturday Night:  “Can I go to the dance?”  Me:  “Sure.”  Daughter on Monday Morning:  “I forgot to do my homework!  Why did you make me to go to the dance?!”  True story.)

But worse than any of that, those mean, nasty, rotten ‘ol kids make me, sometimes, miss Bella Voce.  Swim meets, violin lessons, cub scouts—all have conspired to make this “I’m a mom first” put Bella Voce last.  Okay, I get it:  on her deathbed, no mother ever whispered, “I wish I’d spent less time with my kids and more time at Bella Voce.”  But last I checked, I am not on my deathbed, so this living mother can only scream, “I WANT TO GO TO BELLA VOCE!”  (I actually did scream that, late last night, but my kids just glanced up from their phones, a little confused, then held out their hands for more Snack Shack money.)  The brood didn’t care that while I was home doing their laundry, the lovely lunching literati would be lunching and literati-ing without me.  Nobody cared that I was missing my Big Day—or so I thought.  Until I got a call from Renee.

Renee is this dreamy woman who works for the dreamy bank that hosts this dreamy event.  I’ve never actually met her, but yesterday she sent an email asking me to call her before the luncheon, as she had a “surprise” planned for me.  Ever the cynic, I assumed this was a form letter sent to all Bella Voce attendees, and that the “surprise” was likely a free money market account or some such Wealth-Management-Super-Boring-Thing.  (No offense, Wealth.  We love you.  Please don’t go.)

So imagine my astonishment when, after leaving her a voicemail telling her I wouldn’t be coming (those rotten kids!) she called me back personally that night.  And imagine my increased astonishment during our conversation which, after standard pleasantries, went something like this:

“Jennifer, we get such a kick out of your blog, and we don’t want you to be a stalker anymore.  So we wanted to invite you to sit at the the Author’s Table tomorrow.”

“Really?”  (small voice, borderline squeaky)

“Absolutely!” (gracious voice, non-squeaky)

“But” (gulp) “I can’t come tomorrow.”  (those…rotten…KIDS!)

“I know.  But it’s no problem, we’ll just have you sit with the author at our February event.”

“Really?”  (squeaky-voice-turns-whimper)  “I can still do it in February?”

“Of course!  I’ll have it all set up for you.  We’ll look forward to seeing you then, and the author will look forward to having lunch with you.”

“I love you, I love you, I love you Ms. Renee from Bella Voce!  And I promise to never again curse my children or regret bearing offspring.”

Okay, fine.  What I really said was:

“Thank you so much!”

Can you believe it?  With one phone call I go from Repressed Housewife to Glittering Member Of The Social And Literary Elite.  (At least, I think that’s what Renee was saying.)  (Wasn’t she?)


And if you think that’s exciting, wait til you Guess Who’s Coming to Bella Voce in February, and whose table I’ll be drooling at  gracing when she does?

I’ll give you three clues:

1)  She’s an Aussie—which makes her automatically cooler than you or me.  (I’m not sure how this works.  It just does.)

2)  She has a dog named Milo and a horse named Butter.

3)  She won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction a few years ago for a story related to a story we all love.  (I love it.  You love it.  Guaranteed.)

And I will love meeting this internationally acclaimed writer in a few short months!  Though I’m sure I’ll manage to make a fool of myself in the process because, as my children have informed me on numerous occasions, “You’re so…cheesy, Mom.

Well, maybe I am, but what do they know about the neglected dreams of a mother’s stolen youth?  What do they know about anything?

Nothin’, that’s what.  Rotten kids.

Bella Voce

It’s that time of year again,  when my beloved Bella Voce whisks me away from the drone of small town life and catapults me, like a babe in the woods, into the glittering world of the literary elite.  Oh, the cocktails, the schmoozing, the name-dropping and agent-swapping circle of artists and poets!  It’s Genius meets Decadence at its best.

Well, actually, it’s lunch at a hotel in Portland.  But just go with it.

You may remember my last misadventure at Bella Voce wherein I stalked Rebecca Skloot–unsuccessfully–across the hotel ballroom in a desperate attempt to get a picture and a few moments of chitchat.  She somehow (unintentionally, I’m sure) skedaddled away from me and I had to settle for a long-range photo during the book signing, just like everyone else.  And the chitchat?  Forget it–her assistant snapped the shot and moved me through that line like common cattle.  I didn’t exchange a single pleasantry with Ms. Skloot and, truth be told, she didn’t seem all that excited about having me as a fan.  (Go figure.)  And though I always love BellaVoce, the gray February sky that hung over me as I drove home that day reflected my mood just a bit.  I’d spent the afternoon listening to an articulate, matter-of-fact woman talk about stem cell research.  It was interesting; it was informative.  It was moral.  It was what it was.

Fast forward three months to a dazzlingly sunny day in May.  Cruising down the Gorge with my sunroof open wide, I watched the sagebrush turn to rock turn to shrubs turn to trees, the metamorphosis taking place along the sweep of the sparkling Columbia River.  It was one of those rare spring days when the sunshine from the east held steady all the way to the west, and I took this as a bright sign of things to come.  For though I was going to see an author I’d never heard of (Jess Walter) talk about a book I’d never read (Beautiful Ruins), I just knew that this time, I’d get everything right.  The stalking, the photo-opting, the chitchat.  Oh, the chitchat!  My husband says I’m the only person alive who uses that word, but he obviously has no appreciation for the art–or etymology–of the chitchat.  Of course he doesn’t; he’s an engineer.  Engineers don’t understand that chitchat is the fiber by which we weave our cultural threads.  Jess Walter, I’m sure, would.  He may be a male, but he was a male writer.  And that means he’d be capable of chitchat.

I made it to town, parked the car, and ran-walked into the hotel.  I headed for the ballroom where my friend Lisa would be waiting for me, but upon breezing through the open doors, I quickly learned that I had made a wrong turn and instead landed in Italy.  For suddenly I was awash in a sea of blue and green gauziness.  The tables and chairs were covered in white linens and aqua tulle with glassy beads poured over every spare surface.  Enormous Italian landscapes graced the walls which, with the scent of fresh flowers that spilled over the tables, assured every person in the room that they had just stepped inside their dream vacation.  And when the writer approached the podium and began to speak, so we had.  He was that good.  And the day was that dreamy.


Me with my darling friend Lisa, Bella Voce benefactress and the woman I’ll be in my next life.

Jess Walter was brilliant and funny and fascinating and self-deprecating.  He’s a New York Times bestselling author, a finalist for the National Book Award, has had his novels published in over thirty languages, and yet still lives in his childhood home of (drumroll please…) Spokane, Washington.  An east-sider!  You may remember me joking, in my last Bella Voce post, that the next author I stalked might think I’m “crushing” on him?  Fifteen minutes into his speech, those words became prophetic.  He had me at “Spokane.”

He talked about his latest book, Beautiful Ruins, which is set between 1960s Italy (hence, the ballroom decor) and modern-day Hollywood.  Can you think of anything more fun to read this summer?  I can’t—and I can’t think of anyone more fun to listen to than Jess Walter.  When his lecture (comedy routine) was over and the Q&A session wrapping up, Lisa leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you going for a signing again?”

“Are you kidding?  I’m not just going for the signing; I’m going to meet him, and talk to him, and get my photo with him, and run off with him.”  Wait.  Did I say that last part out loud?


“Um, I’m going to get my picture with him.”

Before Mr. Walter had even stepped down from the stage, Lisa had cleared a beeline for me straight to his person, around which numerous middle-aged women were already clustering.  We approached him from behind and, in a gesture diametrically opposite to that of Rebecca Skloot (who, you may recall, kept walking away from me), Mr. Walters turned around and said “Hello there!” with a wide smile, as though he’d been expecting us both.  Lisa wasted no time in stepping back a few feet with her camera and telling us to pose.  That woman is efficient, I’m telling you.  She knew that just a few misplaced seconds and a determined assistant could snatch away our subject and foil my plans.

“Oh, you want a picture?” Jess asked me.

“Um, yeah–yes, if that’s okay?”

“You bet!”    And so inside of a minute (that plays out in my mind like a week) we took the photo, we shook hands, we stood and chitchatted.  And at the risk of getting too personal on this blog, let me just say that if things don’t work out with Derrick, I have a solid Plan B.


Jen and Jess, together for ever a minute

And ladies, it gets better:  he was the one who suggested I hold up the book, so I could remember what the lecture had been about.  Oh Jess…as if I could ever forget!  And then, as Lisa wisely foresaw, he was scurried off to his signing table where a huge line had already formed.  Well past discretion by now, I galloped straight behind him and staked my claim in line.  When my turn finally arrived, he looked up with (what I was sure was) a spark of welcome recognition.

“Well hello again!”

“Hi!”  I may have said this a little too loudly.  “Ha ha–I’m stalking you!  Ha ha!”  My eyes were wide (dialated) and my smile friendly (eager).

“Well, that’s great.  I always wished my stalkers had more energy.”  He was smiling patiently, but wait…did he mean I was coming off as too energetic?  Impossible.  I couldn’t think of anything to say except:

“Well…yeah…I do!  Ha ha!”  This may have been said, again, a little too loudly.  But in true Jess Walter fashion, he  was gracious and smooth and simply asked me a few more questions about myself as he signed my Beautiful Ruins in his beautiful hand.  And what you need to understand is that my book was already signed on the inside cover; that’s a standard courtesy the visiting authors perform for all Bella Voce guests.  Now, however, he would write his own, personal greeting on the title page.  To me.




And with these fifteen words, Jess Walter transformed me from Stalker to Groupie to Fan to Friend.  In my own mind, at least.  Which is, rather happily, a beautiful ruin of its own.