I lived through the fellows event, signing 30 books in the process. (Hillary Clinton might want to think about riding on my coattails.) This might be because Matt and Tucker were on stage with me. The best part of the morning was Frank Luntz—yes that Frank Luntz, the madman behind Newt Gingrich and the Contract for America. He was slated to appear in the next segment, but Luntz, being a Panels ‘R’ Us kind of guy, saw the three of us on the set, assumed he must be late, and quietly wandered onstage and sat down. He’s like Bob Barker when it comes to stirring up audience participation; as the morning progressed, we just sat back and let Bob Barker perform. Sen. Joe Biden, who gave the 10:45 a.m. speech, thanked us for warming up the crowd.
When I got home, I had a nice surprise. My daughter! With time for lunch! She was in town to see a friend visiting from California and stopped by to see me. After we took the fuzzy Polaroids of the hole in the kitchen (see yesterday’s “Diary“), we went out to have some French peasant food at Les Halles and write an ad to put the Thermador on eBay. Let’s see if that great survivor of the dot-com implosion can move an appliance the size of an aircraft carrier. While waiting for a bowl of mussels, we compared the Sunday Times puzzle neither of us had been able to finish. (Courtney had gotten further, figuring out the theme: The long “A” sounds were “I” ‘s, as in “Whatever You Sigh.”) Being ADD sufferers, we then moved on to sketching Courtney’s bathroom, which she wants me to renovate, on the paper tablecloth. I quoted my father’s dictum, “Don’t fight the pipes,” as reason to replace the toilet but not to move it and questioned whether we really would be able to put up tile. She countered that she could: “I’ve watched a lot of grouting.” We both suffer from This Old House disease. If we’ve watched a home repair being done on television more than once, we assume we can do it.
But there was no wine at lunch today, which meant I wasn’t deluded enough to think that we could retile the shower (although I’m game to try the floor). A few days ago, Courtney had a contractor come to give an estimate on repairing the roof—roofs we don’t do—and retiling the bath. He cast an admiring eye at the Thermador as he maneuvered his way around it. So, Courtney came up with her version of eBay: The contractor can have the Thermador in exchange for the labor it will take to install tile and a rubber roof. Who says you never accomplish anything at lunch?
People are always surprised that as politically engaged (Courtney just gave up a job with Mayor Bloomberg to move to Harrisburg, Penn., so that her husband, David, could work for Gov. Ed Rendell), as talented (she has a few essays in a book whose name I won’t mention), and as funny (she said that buying my house for the windows was like buying a Mercedes for the cup holder … well, I think that’s funny) as Courtney is, she is so happy practicing the domestic arts. She’s like me. I’m Margaret Stewart: cooking, baking, sponge-painting, gardening, and, occasionally, grouting tile—but without a staff. When I talk to Courtney (several times a day), we might mention Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln, but we quickly slip into a discussion of how much you can increase the amount of brown sugar in chocolate-chip cookies before they turn into pralines (1 and 1/2 cups brown to 1/2 white) or why, in our attempt to eat healthily, we can’t knead the whole-wheat bread into submission. (It remains sticky.) At lunch, when we weren’t making architectural drawings, we were deconstructing the bread served. Was it made with yeast or a starter? It didn’t have irregular holes in it. The crust? Not crackly. Maybe their oven wasn’t hot enough? Hey, maybe they want the Thermador!
For all the differences between my life and my mother’s, I am like her in more ways than I am not. My parents taught me to read when I was 3, but they also taught me to pitch in as they planted tomatoes and zucchini, knocked down walls and added bathrooms, made our clothes and our dishes. (We had a kiln in the basement.) If I ever had a piece of store-bought bread, I don’t remember it. This was their way of making sure my older brother, who was brain-damaged at birth and never learned to read or write, had a lot of life around him to take part in. When I was young, I thought my upbringing would turn out to be useful only if I wanted to become an interior designer or a survivalist. But, for reasons too long to write about, it led me into journalism as surely as if we talked about the missile gap every night at dinner.
On Mother’s Day, I’ll be reading from my book at Politics and Prose bookstore (C-SPAN’s Booknotes is airing the reading), and Courtney and David and my brother Jimmy will all be there. Afterward, we won’t be celebrating me. We’ll roast a chicken, mash some potatoes, and bake an apple pie; I’ve already got the starter going to make bread. We could visit my mother’s grave on Mother’s Day, or we can have a feast. A feast it will be.
After spending this morning doing three drive-time radio interviews in my pajamas—not a bad way to make a living—I’m now heading to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Is there a worse department in all of government? I spent two hours a few weeks ago trying to get my address changed on my driver’s license and registration, which had expired. I had the deed with all kinds of official stamps on it. But I didn’t have a utility bill, so no dice. The gas company holds my parking sticker in its hand.