June 10, 2009

I’m cooked

The chase begins in earnest, on my part anyway, with another widower, an aerospace engineer, who some eight months before lost his wife to lung cancer (quick and pernicious and I don’t think she smoked).

I believe in rescue. I mistyped that at first and wrote rescure, saw the word cure inside and wondered how crazy or crazed I am. I know we must rescue ourselves. You don’t have to tell me that. But when our goose is cooked, don’t we all want the guy on the white horse—even if the horse turns out to be stationary and turning on a merry-go-round? Where you might think I am at this point. And I’m with you.

So I read the paper: “Almost exactly two years after it embarked on the biggest financial rescue in American history, the Federal Reserve acknowledged that the economy,” according to The New York Times, “was pulling out of its downward spiral and announced a step back toward normal policy.”

I believe my downward spiral is ending. After all, it is August, the month the shrinks escape, gardens overgrow, and children turn off the t.v. to go buy school supplies.

I meet the second widower one Sunday morning on the Internet —let’s call him m.r.s. (his initials and he, as you will see, is widowed but still married), profiled in Forbes, owns his company, consults with the Pentagon but is not a Republican, thank god, (yes, I googled him)— and we agree to meet for an early dinner at Matchbox, great pizza, near my condo. He flirts with me through IM: “You are a beautiful woman and write with both a comic touch and a real sense of romance/passion. It brings out the foolishness in us men. I like the Robert Browning line, ‘Grow old with me, the best is yet to be.’ ”

Here is what he is referring to (Oh sure my photo from 2006—so I don’t look that good now anyway) my Internet dating profile: see what you think:

I’m a fiction writer. I’ve returned from a visiting-writer gig at a major university in the Midwest. I am separated, have been for almost four years, live alone, own my own condo. I would like to talk with an intelligent man interested in the arts and who actually likes the part of my profile that begins: I’d give most anything to see Érik Bédard pitch against the Yankees. But then, of course that fact fits with these and, if you see what I mean, you may like to talk to me: I read, literary fiction and poetry (Nabokov, Joyce, Wolfe, Roth, Bellow, Kunitz, Bishop, Lawrence and especially Auden); love the movies, anything and everything, think a great actor gives us a backstage pass to his soul; loved Wild Strawberries, Match Point, and The Thomas Crown Affair (the second version! —go figure? But Steve was great in the first one.)

The profile, btw, is hidden now. I can’t do this anymore and here’s why:

M.r.s. hit me, the sight of him, like a ton of bricks. I was immediately smitten and then he spoke: He speaks of literature and Mother Teresa, he plays bridge, he had sex with his wife every day for thirty-five years, until she got sick, he thinks I am beautiful, he holds my hand when we cross the street) and I am a goner. He has been widowed for only six months. And, to his question, “Do you believe in beshert?” (meant-to-be would be the loose translation of the Yiddish)—He actually asks this on the first date—I answer, “I do.” Remember in Four Weddings and a Funeral when Andie McDowell advises Hugh Grant on getting married? “It’s pretty easy really,” she says in the church at his wedding to Duckface. “Whenever someone asks you a question, answer ‘I do.’ ”

I think, A second chance (Okay, call it a third if you are nitpicking about my two marriages) fortuitously walked into my life and a door I thought was forever closed opened. We neck impetuously on my couch and move to the bedroom with his pleadings. He says we must not make love—though he does want to—“but can’t we take off some of our clothes and lie down together? You can do this,” he says. I answer, “I can, but I’m old.” He says, “You have the shape of an hourglass.” Not true: I look like a small bosc pear. But it was the perfect response, time and shape in metaphor. He is a short (D. is so tall), gorgeous man—he and I are exactly the same age (D. is almost four years younger—perhaps that explains the wreckage?). M.r.s is an Aries and I am a Pisces. Believe it or not, this aerospace engineer ends up telling me he was born on the cusp of Pisces (the twelfth and final sign of the Zodiac) and that he is ruled by Mars and Neptune. So, he says, we are a Neptune/Mars combination, on the cusp of rebirth, associated with the beginning of human life.

So, I cook the Thomas Keller chicken for him. At that dinner I serve the chicken, the roasted potatoes, carrots and shallots on my farm dishes, the naïf pattern by Villeroy and Boch. M.r.s. tells me he bought the full set for his wife when he was in Luxembourg where they are made. He is speechless before his dinner plate.

I am unglued. Like a school girl: Remember promise in giant red doors you saw while your knees shook at the edge of the playground with book bag and lunch pail, cold from the thermos of milk? The sound of the future in the creak of the bindings of black and white speckled notebooks? How hope smelled in the wood of sharp yellow pencils? Remember how long red margins ruled down the side of lined paper you titled “My Summer Vacation” and you learned at hard desks how to write—in narrow white spaces—of weather, and clothes, and long days at the beach instead of skies bursting color like peaches and plums or birds’ feet on sand like the sweetness of time?

He calls the next day after the roasted chicken to say he is overwhelmed with guilt even though his wife is dead. He tells me he feels bad. That he is attracted to me but that that is the problem. He tells me he did not mean to mislead. He tells me this before he explains the Gaussian concept in answer to a question I have about a scientific passage I am writing in my novel. I am hearing the message loud and clear: In short, he is not ready.

I am devastated, again. I write him:

Dear m.,

You may indeed feel bad that, for example, you were not able to sleep over with someone you liked for complicated reasons that you could barely even explain (note the proper use of the adverb ‘barely’)–but you do need the adjective to describe this state of mind. However, if you were not able to touch her, you would appropriately say that you have lost your sense of touch; for example, I could not touch her because I feel badly; I can barely tell her skin from her teeth, without telling her of course that you wished to escape by the skin of your teeth (refer to Thorton Wilder for more on this last phrase.)

The reason for all this is that the verb feel when used to describe one’s feelings does not take an adverb. That is because it is what as known as a ‘linking verb,’ much like the verb to be, and it takes what in grammar is known as a ‘subject complement adjective.’ But the verb though it works like the verb to be cannot be replaced with the verb to be.

Thus, the confusion among educated folk. A person who feels bad is very rarely, though could be, bad. As in the phrase: I am bad. Something none of us wants to be except in the bedroom, of course, where consenting adults may be as bad as they both think appropriate.

I write this note to you because I would feel bad if I had mislead you as to the proper usage of a word to describe one’s feelings.

Grammatically yours,


I call D. and tell him I think we truly need NOT see each other until after the agreement is signed. I tell him I am an all or nothin’ girl and I can’t bear what has happened. I have to find a way to live with what happened. I have to find a way to move on.

I do believe my heart is broken and that I am a fool. I call my daughter Sarah and tell her about m.r.s. She’s been burned by both D. and m., the first widower, the psychiatrist and now sees me as foolish, impulsive, inexplicably romantic and has begun not to answer my phone calls. She writes an e-mail in the morning instead of calling me back: “I heard the phone ring downstairs when I was asleep last night. This morning I saw it was you. Is everything okay? Sorry I didn’t pick up. By the time I was awake enough to know the phone was ringing it had stopped.

“Did you see this article?” She includes a link to a site in Paris from our favorite newspaper The New York Times where now I am reading about the economic recovery that is not quite here—and ain’t that an understatement despite the good news from the Federal Reserve. She says, “I think we should take cooking classes in Paris together. Wouldn’t that be fun?” She and her husband Ryan and Lila, my grandchild, are going in September for six months: Sarah will have no time for cooking classes between the research for her next book and Lila. But she knows I need to recover and that I have planned to rent an apartment in Marais.

I find this at this at WIRED http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-03/wp_quant:

Where Felix Salmon had said in February 2009, “A year ago, it was hardly unthinkable that a math wizard like David X. Li might someday earn a Nobel Prize. After all, financial economists—even Wall Street quants—have received the Nobel in economics before, and Li’s work on measuring risk has had more impact, more quickly, than previous Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the field. … . For five years, Li’s formula, known as a Gaussian copula function, looked like an unambiguously positive breakthrough, a piece of financial technology that allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than ever before. With his brilliant spark of mathematical legerdemain, Li made it possible for traders to sell vast quantities of new securities, expanding financial markets to unimaginable levels. … Li’s Gaussian copula formula will go down in history as instrumental in causing the unfathomable losses that brought the world financial system to its knees.

“How could one formula pack such a devastating punch? The answer lies in the bond market, the multi-trillion-dollar system that allows pension funds, insurance companies, and hedge funds to lend trillions of dollars to companies, countries, and home buyers.

“A bond, of course, is just an IOU, a promise to pay back money with interest by certain dates.
“... Bond investors are very comfortable with the concept of probability.”

I ask you: What is the probability that my goose is cooked?

In the Grimm Fairy Tale “The Goose-Girl,” a beautiful princess is betrayed and instead of marrying her prince, must tend the geese while her talking horse Falada tries to save her even after his murder, after his head has been pinned to the wall. The princess is now the goose girl who after driving the geese into the country, unravels her plaits of long golden hair that shone with radiance.

But Falada can save her because his head, nailed to the wall can reply when the goose-girl says, Ah Falada, hanging there!

He says and the prince’s father learns of Falada’s reply: Alas, young queen how ill you fare! If this your mother knew, her heart would break in two.

Could it be that D. will ride a white horse? Or is he on the merry-go-round with me?

The real q.: How would Carl Friedrich Gauss measure the probabilities?


  1. Dear Mary,
    You must have written this piece while listening to Bibo No Aozora by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
    Musically yours,

  2. Bilbao,

    Ah, that's what I need for this blog: a soundtrack!

    Thank you for continued and sophisticated attention,


  3. Mary wrote The Woman Who Never Cooked. The title of this section is "cooked."
    I keep thinking this is not coincidence, that there is a theme here, linking cooking and eating and intimacy both physical and emotional. Yet,I cannot articulate it.
    Of course I admit that my idea may not be just amorphous but quite incorrect and all this may just be coincidence.

  4. Harvey Black,

    I don't think my unconscious mind knows about these connections. But when I read what you wrote, I believe you must be right. Did Freud actually say "There are no coincidences"? Don't know if that is right, but sure seems right here.

    Thank you for following the journey here that continues to unfold.


  5. Erik Bedard was fantastic on the Orioles (when he was healthy), but damn did that trade for Adam Jones and George Sherrill work out for the better.

  6. Mary,

    Wow. There is a "too much or us" in this piece;yet is that now what makes life so beutiful. The parallel and intertwinge themes of emotion, longing, finaces, sex--or the prospect thereof--connexion, grammar,mathematics, the magic of "the backstage pass to the soul", and cooking has the scent of life and all its complexities.We want answers but we only have pieces of a puzzel that is way beyond are control; and control is constriction in so many ways. Zen tells us to "wash the dishes" and this does not seem like much; but try being present for just one moment ant you begin to understand the wisdom in that simple phrase. And it all can work like a beutiful helix with perfect genes in all the right combination that can effect a wonder; yet, with one aberant gene or RNA decoder that wonder that is life can come crashing down, maybe not at once, but over time. But there are second chances and more, if you work, get up, and go to the edge without looking into the void. Thank you.

  7. Flannery tells us that a good man is hard to find. It seems that you found one in m.r.s. - you may have fallen apart, but you are not cooked (and don't the most savory of dishes fall apart at the touch anyway?).

    I'm with harvey black, there is a connection between your book, blog and being (vb.).

    Keep cooking.

  8. I agree with Sarah. MRS is not YOUR good man, though. you are cooked, but haven't you been for a while? are you really open to these men or merely open after hours? i've been in love once and i know what forcing yourself out of love looks like -- the check-list, the looks, the new-but-familiar touches. d. is a narcissistic jerk. but can't he be your narcissistic jerk? can he ride a horse slightly left of the merry-go-round?


  9. Mary,
    Thank you for the aside directed at me! I myself am recovering from having been as cooked (in the way you seem to mean here) as I've ever gotten, and I am glad I never literally cooked a glorious chicken for my particular heartbreak source. Giving someone perfection, having them make that perfection a literal part of them through the pleasure of eating, and then finding that even perfection isn't enough for them, devastating.

    Six months is a short amount of time to recover from heartbreak (especially when the heartbreak is caused by death rather than shortcoming of character); he wasn't ready for you. It seems to my eyes and mind as though timing is the most delicate aspect of romance to get right.

    (I still have not found the car that expresses you. It needs to be elegant and strong on the outside and sooo soft and rich and comforting on the in. I think it is a small car, making its exterior power and interior comfort all the more surprising.)

    Thank you for this post!

  10. Ah,Discovereuse, so glad you are back. It does appear that you are now part of the conversation even inside the posts themselves.

    Thank you for the sensitive comment. And may both our hearts heal.



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