Favorite mugs and the best things I never wrote about being home

I have a thing about mugs. I really, really love well-made mugs and am ashamed/proud to admit that I will go out of my way to frequent a particular cafe if it has the best mugs. Must be heavy but not too heavy, preferably handmade, and must fit well into the curves of my palms for maximum cupping on a cold day.

I have two favorite mugs. One is stoneware pottery, stolen from a coffee shop and given to me as a gift. The other is an earthy green ceramic mug that I bought at a yard sale in Arlington, Virginia from a neighbor when I was 22.

I saw mug #2 at my old workplace when I was in Chicago, picked out of a cupboard by someone (Hi Tif!) and drunk from as though it were a normal part of everyday drinkware at the theater. Which it is.

But I stared at it. Stunned. Literally open-jawed. “That’s my mug…”

And I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. Not like, possessive. More like, “how did that get there?” Like running into an ex on the train or unexpectedly walking by a place you used to live. I just couldn’t process that while I had left the day-to-day of this place, my mug had continued to have a totally separate life. It didn’t belong to me anymore; it belonged to a different me from a former life and now it would have its own trajectory.

Tif tried to give it back, but I was all caught up in the drama and metaphysics of the thing and insisted that it stay. It felt as though that mug had slipped through a hole in the space-time continuum — and since it’d gone on such a long journey, best to leave it there. Also I have no Chicago cupboards in which to place it and Cambodia is too warm for hot beverages anyway.

So I am back in Cambodia.

And there’s a little time-skip happening on this blog, because I didn’t have the chance to write much while I was in the U.S.

Which is a shame, because there are some good unwritten fragments that deserved to be written.

Like this one: About how Oriana called at 9am for a spur-of-the-moment breakfast meetup. When I got to her car, she was in the backseat of her car looking proud and sucking down a coconut water like it was saving her life. She giggled and told me that, back there, she’d managed to swap her skirt for jeans without flashing the neighborhood. She’d also put on a fleece and scarf. It was 70 degrees. (She’d been living in super-hot Costa Rica since March.) I’m FREEZING TOO, I said. Two girls just back from separate tropics.

We scrapped fancy brunch ideas and drove instead to the Golden House on Broadway, with its red vinyl booths and hand-lettered ads for the $4 Bonanza Breakfast, where we drank a million cups of weak coffee and talked about everything.

Oriana is freezing. It is 70 degrees. Also we are indoors.

And these:

  • My friend SJY taking me direct from the airport to four city departments in order to unravel the mystery of WTF happened to my car. Highlight: Her saying to a policeman, “She hasn’t had a lot of sleep.”

  • Amanda looking for her favorite tree on the Northwestern campus, on a laid-back day that included sunning ourselves on the rocks by the lake and biking on her husband’s recumbent bicycle. She found the tree, she thinks, but realized that since it wasn’t fall yet, she couldn’t recognize it by its purple foliage.

  • Watching my Italian grandmother pick a screaming fight with a man half her age and three times her size, in the motor home community/trailer park where she’d hired a neighbor to seal and repaint her front porch. She said the initial price quote was $100. He demanded $180. They both shouted and cursed. Highlight: me calling my dad from the curb and saying, “Uh, Nani’s fighting.”

  • Sitting cross-legged on Eliina’s soft carpeted floor, during “tummy time”, which is the alloted time where Alice struggles to turn from her stomach to her back while a jaunty, tinny tune plays from the overhead mobile. It was comic, this juxtaposition of cheerful music and Alice’s in-vain infant  struggles. But more than that, it was rejuvenating to sit there with Eliina in the peace of that room, just her and the baby, us struggling with things bigger than tummy time but maybe cosmically just as funny.

  • Caleb and me on the playground at midnight, where he told me that yeah, I didn’t have a condo, but I was making art instead and investing resources in that direction. Let’s call it “a creative condo.”

  • The one about where I finally got to see Kirk, just before he left for L.A., a squeaker of a visit where I helped him carry a dresser he’d sold on Craigslist down to a Chinese man waiting in a van. After, we rode the freight elevator extra times for fun and talked about how improv taught us to fail with so much grace and live with such austerity that it’s no wonder we ended up like this.

  • Becca sitting me down with a glass of wine and an Excel spreadsheet, and I shielded my eyes from the inevitable train wreck while she mapped out plans A through G for the next three weeks of my life. Yes, A through G. The wine was delicious.

  • Sitting on a blanket in the rain with Kate and Joe, waiting for Guster to play, sharing two rain coats between the three of us, and watching the opening act. We all realized the truth: We’re old. The opening band, which shall remain nameless, was adored by the high school and college kids, but all three of us swore we’d already heard it the first time when it was called Better than Ezra. Or maybe not that one, because as Joe said, “Better than Ezra was really good.”

  • How I had a ticket for the overnight train from Buffalo to Chicago, and while waiting in the creepy train station at midnight I turned and saw my dad walk in, wearing his work clothes, smiling. He;d left his shift at the plant to see me off. He bought me bottled water and M&Ms from the vending machine, and as I watched him feed in the dollar bills, I felt so proud to have the world’s coolest dad. like when I was eight and he won me a bracelet of rainbow heart-shaped beads at the mini-golf.

  • How I drove to see Deanna in Rochester, and she solved my heart easy as a crossword puzzle while we took a walk around the block, and then we went home and listened to her boyfriend’s bluegrass band play in her living room.

  • Getting martinis with Kate and Caitlin, where the crazy Italian bartender lady approached us with menus and looked at us sternly: “Do me a favor ladies. Just order what you’re craving. Otherwise it don’t matter what I put in fronna you. You won’t like it.”  Which, also, is life advice.

  • The morning I woke up to my sister Christina, wearing a black skirt and yellow shirt, her voice urgent: “If I wear THIS shirt with THIS skirt… will I look like a bee?” No, I said, you won’t. Well, maybe a little.

The one about you. How I ran into you in the CVS while I was buying packing tape and couldn’t believe my luck. . How we had sushi and you still mashed your wasabi paste the same way, the way I’ve mashed mine for years since you taught me. How we saw each other on the sidewalk and decided to get a beer and you said you liked my pigtails. How we talked for hours about how everything sucked except the good parts.

The one about how grateful I felt, every single minute, in a way I haven’t before, for time. As in, the dimension. The fact that time exists. The way you’d feel grateful for gravity if you’d just come back from bouncing too long on the moon. Appreciating the present with the fierce longing that usually flavors nostalgia. I ate time. Revelled in it. Loved it so hard I’m surprised I didn’t wear a hole in it. Or maybe I did. Maybe I wore a hole in it, and time and space are related, right? — so maybe that’s how I got here, which is back to the other side of the planet. And my mugs, well, they’re still in Chicago, beloved as ever.