Southern Eclair

With Photos by E. Clair and Kristen L. Smith

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When we travel, the cat goes through a ritual in her carrier:

Step One: Meows to help us remember she’s a cat, and this is bullshit.

Step Two: Starts yelling because, clearly, we’re not taking her seriously.

Step Three: Rolls onto her back and makes crazy eyes while yelling. She’s about to lose her shit.

Step Four: Loses her shit, which is indicated by pretending to be a cat washing machine, spinning and howling.

Step Five: Comes to terms. Thinks “fuck it” and goes to sleep with her face pressed against the carrier door.

She then spends the evenings in hotel windows, telling different neighborhoods to kiss her ass.

Filed under cats cats in cars cats traveling

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Observations, Day 21 in the north, my last day here:

People wear jeans up here year round. Just thinking about jeans in July in Arkansas makes me feel as hot as the devil’s armpit.

The f-bomb is merely part of the normal vocabulary here. Like a verbal pause. An enhancer. “Those are some effing good tomatoes. Eff. You know what I mean?”

I missed sleeping with the windows open so much. I feel for my children and their first-floor windows that I will not open at night, and the air that won’t allow me to anyway.

The food here. For real, though. No wonder I was so fat growing up. The streets are paved with pastry and pasta and pizza.

People drive terribly everywhere, but in different terrible ways.

I love Lake Erie. That temperamental, punishing, glorious sea.

I am grateful for my Cleveland undergrad college. It changed my life path by surrounding me with scary smart people and including me among them.

Family is important. I love mine very much. I’m just the weird little sister, but I’m happy and okay and did something good.

Filed under north versus south

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My son: “I’m not spoiled.”

Me: “Ha! Right. You don’t even wipe your own butt.”

My mom, to me: “You’re one to talk.”

Me: “Yes, I am spoiled. Coffee is brought to me in bed each morning. I don’t even recall the last time I filled my own gas. I am treated like a queen. Of course I am. Why would I have married someone who didn’t treat me that way? And just look at his happy face about it.”

David smiles all goofy.

Filed under marriage spoiled-ass woman

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I waited at a bar to meet high school friends—people who knew me long ago—and Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine” came on, which I hadn’t heard in years: “I went to see the doctor of philosophy / With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee / He never did marry or see a B-grade movie / He graded my performance, he said he could see through me.”

I used to sing that song in Texas, driving from Austin to San Marcos, while working on my M.A. degree. I was learning what not to care about, and what needed caring. The trucks would roll at crazy speeds in Texas. I wrote my master’s thesis in my head on that drive back and forth, singing songs that felt like they were helping push me into my future.

"The less I seek my source for some definitive / The closer I am to fine."

Now I am a doctor of philosophy, meeting high school friends in my hometown. I’ve seen plenty of B-grade movies and did marry, but I do see through most people easily enough. I sometimes get it wrong.

One of those high school friends gave me this sign—Kings of Leon lyrics—to remind me of where I am, even when I’m no longer there. What I give to people just by existing.

The doctor of philosophy with shoes to spare. Closer to fine.

Filed under Indigo Girls Kings of Leon

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On the one side of the highway is the city. On the other side are the old steel mills next to the Cuyahoga River—the river that famously caught fire from industrial pollution back in the day. To get to this part of the highway from the east, you go around Dead Man’s Curve, which takes a major interstate highway around a sharp left turn. There are decades of marks from trucks and cars slamming against the highway divider because even the rumble strips and the huge yellow warning signs aren’t gonna slow Clevelanders down. In Cleveland, whatever you do, you do it hardcore, or you don’t bother doing it at all.

Filed under Cleveland

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A friend in Buffalo, New York, said to us, “You need to move back up here. There’s so much to do. And any hour of the day, really. Live here…please.”

Well, yes, there is a lot to do. Since being up north, we have gone to three malls, three pools, an amusement park, beaches, museums, mini-golf, countless strip malls, wine bars, craft brew bars, ethnic restaurants, festivals. Every day is car rides with traffic and endless stop lights to get to places with massive amounts of people and things. There’s a ton to do, any hour.

"You could get jobs up here. Just try harder!"

But here’s the truth: we don’t want to live that life. We have two tenure-track jobs at the same university, and at a school we like working at. That’s like winning the lottery twice. We wait nowhere. There is no traffic anywhere. We have peace. Loneliness—sometimes intense loneliness—but peace. And loneliness is only in our heads.

So I reply, if with a touch of uncertainty, “That’s sweet of you to want us close. But we’re supposed to be where we are.”

Filed under the north versus the south homes

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While waiting in line at Wegman’s in Buffalo, New York, along with ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE EVER LIVED, I began to complain like a proper Yankee does. Little Olive looked up at me: “It makes me cry when you talk with that voice.” Oh, my sweet southern girl: I forgot that you don’t know the art form that is northern bitching. You grew up in a world where people are, like, happy or something.

Filed under northern versus southern

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My mother-in-law: “I always look like a Girl Scout and you always look so sexy.”

Sigh. Maybe the hardcore mid-calf sandals and black nail polish were a bit much for a lake outing. But I don’t own capri pants and…what is it other women in my position wear? Shirts with buttons? Scarves or something?

Fuck it. I gotta be me. Black from head to toe and a bitchy resting face.

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For over 100 years, David’s family has owned a collection of summer cottages on Lake Ontario called Outing Park. To get there, you drive to nowhere and then turn into an unmarked apple orchard. Past the orchard, a drive is hidden in the woods. It leads to a minuscule forest village of antique dollhouses in a circle: its center a tiny park, its far end opening to the never-ending gray of the lake. It’s amazing to think this place ever existed—let alone exists the same as it always has—because it is like a fairy land that after I visit makes me think, “That must have been a dream I had. Such a place could never exist in real life.”

Filed under magical places Lake Ontario Outing Park

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Me: “It’s creepy when guys look me up and down. They are more polite about that down south than they are up here. At least they don’t look me in the eye also, because that would be super creepy.”

David: “Guys look each other in the eye all the time.”

Me: “Wait, what? They do?”

David: “Yeah. We make eye contact and nod. Like an acknowledgment of each other’s presence.”

Me: “The hell? I had no idea. Women certainly don’t do that with men, because that could be considered an invitation. And they don’t do that with women either. My God, it’s like you live in a completely different world than I do. It sounds much more pleasant than mine.”

Filed under men versus women being a woman