The Muffin Lady’s Last Stand

The Muffin Lady’s Last Stand

The world is a very uncertain and frightening place. We all have our little things that get us through the day, or the week, or the winter. Mine was muffins. A certain kind of muffin, made by a certain lady. Maybe I took those muffins for granted, because even with my tendency to imagine the worst, I never imagined a world without a muffin-shaped vessel of sugar, flour, and pure home-baked comfort.

This Saturday marked the end of an era.

A woman named Mary (who my family has always called “The Muffin Lady”) has been selling the most amazing muffins the world has ever tasted at the farmer’s market in my hometown since 1982. My dad has faithfully bought muffins from her every Saturday since before I was born. Recently, he did some calculations, and came to an incredible conclusion.

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Ever since, his goal has been to get to 5,000 muffins. He talks about it all the time. Instead of “How’s the family?” or “What have you been up to lately?” his friends ask him, “How many more muffins until 5,000?”

When we were little, my dad and my sister and I had a ritual of going to see the Muffin Lady every Saturday, then grabbing a spot on our favorite bench in the park and playing the car game, you know, guessing what color car is going to roll down the street next. With a giant double chocolate muffin with extra chocolate chips slowly melting in your hands and the sun shining and the whole weekend ahead of you, it’s pretty much paradise, especially when you win because you know more people have blue cars than your idiot sister who always picks purple.

The Muffin Lady has always had a special bond with our family. She knew both of my late grandmothers by their first names. She welcomed A as a member of the family the first time I brought her to the farmer’s market, and last fall the Muffin Lady actually hugged me while we both cried over my parents’ favorite dog being put to sleep (since he was a faithful visitor every Saturday as well). We all thought the Muffin Lady would be there for us forever.

Well, the Saturday before last, I got there at my normal time, ready for my hardest decision of the day to be “Do I get one of my favorite muffin—cinnamon chip—or two? I should get two, because I like to stress-eat one during Game of Thrones,” and what do I see at the Muffin Lady’s stand? The same stand that she’s occupied in rain, shine, sleet and snow since 1982?

A sign that said, “Our last market will be next week. Moving to Texas. Thank you for 35 wonderful years.”

I was gobsmacked. I didn’t even notice the line forming behind me of fellow freaked-out townies, all asking questions like, “Can we order the muffins online? Will you be my Facebook friend? Will you ever come back?”

Mary’s assistant, Robin, said to me through tears, “How are you going to tell your dad?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not emotionally prepared for this.”

I never call my parents unless someone is dead, but I called my dad from the market.

“No more muffins?” said my dad. “Oh the humanity!”

“And your parents’ new dog just graduated from obedience school too,” said Robin. “He’ll hardly know us!”

My parents have always kept the Muffin Lady updated on everyone’s academic achievements.

I was so thrown off my game that I only bought one cinnamon chip. My dad went to the market later, and I asked him to get me one, if they had any left.

I did not tell him to say this, but my dad inquired, “Do you have any cinnamon chips left? Elizabeth needs one for Game of Thrones.”

“Do we have any cinnamon chips left?!” cried the Muffin Lady. “Elizabeth needs one for Game of Thrones!”

And Robin gasped, “We’re out of cinnamon chips! Will Elizabeth be okay for Game of Thrones?!”

No, Robin. No, I wasn’t.

So, last Saturday was the final farmer’s market for the Muffin Lady. I put on my sunglasses and my little farmer’s market bag like I was going to a wake.

My dad made the Muffin Lady a card with our family’s picture on it, along with pictures of all our family dogs that the Muffin Lady has befriended, and a letter thanking her for being a part of our lives and our town.

We weren’t the only ones getting emotional—people were posing for selfies with their muffins, taking pictures of their kids with the Muffin Lady, giving her lots of hugs and well-wishes.

In the midst of all the tears and the commotion, I grabbed the last five cinnamon chip muffins in existence, with all the stealth of Indiana Jones stealing a priceless artifact from a tomb. I mean, I paid for them, but still, what a rush.

My dad was only 42 muffins short of 5,000. He considered buying 42 muffins in one swoop, but immediately thought better of it, since that wouldn’t be fair to all the other people getting their final muffins.

He’s always put other people before himself. I really admire that. Did that stop me from grabbing the final five cinnamon chips? No way in hell.

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By Sunday, we were still grieving. My sister announced her plan to freeze two of her muffins—one for a year, “So we can eat it next fall like people do with their wedding cakes, and then we’ll freeze one muffin forever.”

“Why would you want to freeze a muffin forever?” I said.

“What do you mean?” said my sister, like this was a silly question.

“If you freeze the muffin, you can’t eat the muffin. That’s a wasted muffin,” said A.

“I know a guy with a vacuum sealer,” said my sister’s boyfriend. “We could borrow it.”

“I could keep it in the freezer,” said my mom. “Ooh, what if the power goes out? We’ll have to get a generator.”

“You could always bury it,” I said. “Worked for Otzi the Iceman.”

“And the mastodons!” said my mom.

“We’re not going to bury it,” said my sister. “Just freeze it forever. Why do you have to hate on my plans?”

“We should vacuum seal multiple muffins and put them in different locations,” said my sister’s boyfriend. “Just to be safe.”

“I don’t understand anyone in your family,” said A, later on. “Your sister wants to freeze a muffin just so she can hold it up in twenty years and shout ‘MUFFIN LADY!’ at the sky. But you can’t eat a frozen muffin!”

“It’s more like a symbol,” I said, mentally counting how many cinnamon chips I had saved.

“It’ll be a doorstop that takes up space in your mom’s freezer,” said A. “Until your dad accidentally eats it.”

“Then he’ll be closer to 5,000,” I whispered.

I have three cinnamon chip muffins left.

I shall guard them like I’m guarding the last three dragon eggs in all the known world . . . while my family is taking a different approach.

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A said, “They’re sacrificing my FAVORITE muffin to the muffin gods?!”

All the Cool Kids are Shipping EdFord

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Flower game on point!

I know it’s in fashion to wildly speculate about the sexuality of various historical figures and label them as this and that through our biased modern lens, but having said that, Henry Ford was totally gay for Thomas Edison.

If you’ve been to the Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village on a visit or a school field trip, you already know this. When I was little, before I even knew what gay was, or that I was gay, I knew that Henry Ford was in love with Thomas Edison.

As the hippie teachers told us, Thomas Edison was Henry Ford’s childhood hero, and Ford worked hard and grew up to collaborate with Edison and then they became such good friends that they took yearly camping trips together!

(I had a similar childhood fantasy involving Laura Dern after Jurassic Park. It could still happen! I’d never make her go camping though).

When Edison was dying, Ford asked Edison’s son to capture his father’s last breath in a vial, and that vial is on prominent display at the museum (which was originally called The Edison Institute, because nothing says love like naming your personal museum after someone else).

“Ford asked for Edison’s last breath in a test tube” is presented as a completely rational thing to ask a person when their father is about to die.

I could never tell if there really was a last breath in the test tube, or even any breath at all, and even as a child on field trips, I wondered why Ford would ask such a thing of a guy trying to spend his final moments with his dying father? Did Ford do something weird involving that bottle?

As a kid, I imagined Ford sucking the air out of the vial and assuming Edison’s essence like a bombastic ‘90s cartoon villain. Now I think of . . . other things.

I don’t want to drag the image of an accomplished man through the mud, but Ford was a vicious anti-Semitic, union-crushing supervillain who shoved Michigan under the yolk of the car industry, destroying public transportation in this entire country and dooming our state’s economy forever.

And Edison was a patent troll who stole his greatest inventions, sued every competitor into ruin, and publicly electrocuted elephants to scare people into buying his stuff and his stuff only. He also overworked and underpaid his workers, most of whom he’d handpicked from poor backgrounds, so he could take the credit for their inventions—and all the profits. He singlehandedly held back the film industry for decades because he’d created a monopoly on moviemaking technology, all of which he stole from someone else. You can look that up.

I’m not trying to start a flame war fought with pocketwatches on Edison or Ford, I’m just saying, maybe they deserved each other. Nothing forges the fires of intense man-on-man bonding like unrepentant capitalism.

My best friend Stella brought me a magnet from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.

“Isn’t it great that we’re at a point in our lives where the highlight of our vacations are tours of historical houses?” she said, before telling me all the details of the tour.

As if having their names combined for eternity at the site of their neighboring homes wasn’t gay enough, allow me to present the following evidence with my best knowing smirk.

1) Edison built his house in Fort Myers and designed every detail personally, but once he moved in, Henry Ford bought the adjacent house so they could live next to each other. Didn’t change a thing about the house, didn’t buy new furniture, just bought the previous homeowner out and moved right in. Can’t you just hear the judgment in the House Hunters’ narrator’s voice describing that decision?

2) Edison had a laboratory on his estate, which Ford wanted so badly for Greenfield Village that he promised to build Edison a pool and a greenhouse to replace it. That lab is still at Greenfield Village, you can walk around inside it (shameless plug!), and Edison got his greenhouse and pool.

Did the two of them relax poolside in matching beach chairs, clinking pina coladas to technology?

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I can’t imagine sitting on a beach chair in formal wear

3) Ford loved Edison SO. MUCH that after Edison died, Ford returned to his own home in Fort Myers just one more time. On the tour, they said that Ford couldn’t bear to stay in the state of Florida once Edison was gone. He didn’t take any of his stuff with him or have the furniture moved out. He abandoned the place as if fleeing grief-stricken in the middle of the night. I imagine much clucking of tongues and raised eyebrows among the servants.

How has this story not become a musical yet? Someone call Lin-Manuel Miranda and say, “You still want to beat that Tony record?”

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This could be the poster! I’ve done 80% of the work already!
A Whole Zoo of Peacocks

A Whole Zoo of Peacocks

The little zoo was cheap and small and I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, but we were astounded.

“Are you here for the birthday party?” asked the parking attendant, and we joked that we should have said yes, but I guarantee that the kids at that birthday party had a crap time compared to us.

We were even wowed by the parking lot, where teenage geese were scampering along the riverbank. The car behind us was very polite and did not honk, even though we spent several minutes at a standstill, shrieking at these geese.

“I don’t care what happens from this point on,” I said as we entered the zoo proper. “The geese were worth the price of admission.”

The first animals we saw were these delightful river otters that actually scampered out of the brush in tandem to greet us with a synchronized belly-flop into their pool. We were hooked—and then we noticed that one of the otters was missing his left legs, front and back, and had only a stub for a tail. His mother had overgroomed him, leading to infections that required amputation, said the sign, but he got around just fine and was an inspiration to all who cared for him.

A and I were so moved we almost bought his college education right there. Lesbians love plucky animals with missing limbs.

This otter scampered around on his stump and swum around despite his ungainly tail and he slid down the little ramp on his tummy into the pool and chased his friend through a patch of dandelions and it’s a wonder A and I aren’t still there.

We somehow managed to drag ourselves away to see the rest of the animals, and it gradually dawned on us that the zoo was completely overrun with peacocks.

The first two or three or seven didn’t faze me. Most zoos have some, three or four, not nearly enough to populate a generously sized condo complex.

For every human employee, there were at least eight or nine peacocks. I’m not exaggerating. Every time we turned a corner, there were peacocks,but oddly enough, no females. Where were all these peacocks coming from?

Were they all gay peacock couples? Did they adopt eggs or use a surrogate?

There was an enclosure for a kind of South American rodent, the cavy, and they had a little rabbit hutch, and we were watching the rabbit hutch to try to spot the cavys, and a peacock came out of it. He had to duck his head to get through the door, but he didn’t mind. He bobbed his head at us as if to say, “Oh hello there. I sublet from these nice folks.”

I still don’t know what a cavy looks like.

There was a peacock on the roof next to the moose enclosure, where the moose was currently off on a business trip or something, and since there were no zookeepers around, I had half a mind to ask the peacock when the moose would be back.

We exited the reptile house, and there was a peacock on the roof, another on the fence, one coming up the path to greet us, and another hanging out in the next enclosure—and no humans to be seen.

Alfred Hitchcock would’ve enjoyed this zoo.

“It’s the peacock mafia,” whispered A. She got really close to one to see what it would do and it squawked at her, so she was afraid of angering them.

I wondered if this little zoo outside Lansing was secretly the premier vacation spot for gay peacocks, like Provincetown for gay humans.

“All these peacocks are wondering what humans are doing here,” I said. “’Oh, look at all these straight humans with kids. They’re going to ruin our spot.’”

There wasn’t a lot of staff around, but the peacocks seemed to be running things smoothly. I imagined the board meetings for the zoo were just a group of peacocks sitting in office chairs around a table. “Let’s review the quarterly report! All in favor? Squawk! Squawk! Squawk!”

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A peacock actually walked up to us by the rhino enclosure (which was occupied by both a rhino and an obese groundhog that seemed to come and go as it liked), and puffed up its feathers, then did that slow beauty pageant turn that all peacocks do when they’re on full display.

“Why do they do that drag queen turn?” said A.

“I think he’s introducing himself,” I said. “’Good afternoon, I’m the CFO of our zoological society, may we discuss your donation opportunities?”

Trust me, I observed so much peacock behavior that I could be an expert.

The peacocks weren’t scared of anything. They hung out in front of the lion and tiger enclosures, and they were within striking distance of the snow leopard, but they didn’t care.

One of the lions looked like a young male, but we were informed by the sole zookeeper who wasn’t a peacock that the lion was actually an older female, and the effects of birth control and aging hormones had caused her to grow a very fetching mane. The zookeeper, who may have been a peacock in disguise, now that I think about it, told us that even in the wild, females with manes have been documented.

It’s probably the result of menopause, and a sign of great achievement of sorts since a wild lioness would have to survive a lot to even get to that point in life, but the zookeeper seemed to think that there might be some willful component to it. That in a pride without a male protector, one or two of the females will grow manes in order to appear domineering and scare unwanted visitors away.

There are a lot of gay lions, why not trans lions?

I stared into this lion’s eyes, watched her lick her gigantic paws and do battle with a plastic bucket that was surely regretting whatever it did in a past life to deserve its end in a lion’s jaws.

The lion’s eyes were deep and dark with a ring of sunlit gold. And suddenly the glass did not seem thick enough. I felt sorry for the lion, living out her days in a zoo in the Midwest, far from the savannah, but her eyes were steel and sunlight. To her, I was in the cage.

By the way, if you ever need a vivid picture of what a wild animal could do to your skull, watch a lion play with a plastic bucket.

The only place where we were free from the peacocks stalking us was the gift shop, but even they sold cuddly stuffed versions of the peacocks.

I’m sure some nearsighted child has made a dash to grab a cute toy peacock only to startle an actual peacock taking a nap on the shelf.

And then that peacock ruffled its feathers and got back to working the register.

“This was a great zoo,” said A, as we left. “Wow, we saw a lot of cocks today!”

A single peacock feather lay on the pavement before us at the gate, bidding us a silent farewell.

My Fake Aunt and Uncle’s Real Exploding Waterbed

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Yes, that’s me. My parents took me to Boca because at four years old I acted like I was eighty-five.

I had a fake aunt and uncle as a kid. They only lived a few minutes away, but in the suburbs, in the early ‘90s, they may as well have lived in a different universe. They were “very California,” which was their compliment for everything. They loved wine and jazz and salad tongs. Their house had a lot of kaleidoscopes. They owned not one, not two, but three rainsticks of varying sizes. 

As a little kid, I stayed with them at least one weekend every month, and when I did, I slept in a waterbed.

If you’ve never slept in a waterbed, don’t.

If you are ever tempted to sleep in a waterbed, ask yourself if you’ve ever gotten a proper night’s sleep on a pool float.

My fake aunt kind of looked like Demi Moore, back when Demi Moore was the actress everyone wanted to look like. My fake uncle did not look like a movie star at all, but sometimes he wore a beret, and it looked terrific.

Sometimes he couldn’t hear very well because he’d just blown out an eardrum while scuba diving. We didn’t live anywhere near an optimal scuba diving environment, but he managed to find one.

They claimed they had a cat, but I never saw it. I think its name was Rainbow, which is an appropriate name for a cat that may or may not be imaginary. 

When I was five, my fake aunt got obsessed with Twin Peaks, like all the cool people did in the early ‘90s. “You’ll like it, it’s got little people in it, like The Wizard of Oz,” she said.

One time we watched Twin Peaks in the basement during a tornado, and I was afraid the house would be picked up and dropped, Dorothy-style, in Twin Peaks.

“That would be amazing,” said my fake aunt. “Let’s go outside!”

My fake aunt once let me take a bath during a thunderstorm, and I was convinced that I would die.

Their staircase had black spindles rather than white ones, and this was fascinating to me, because in every TGIF sitcom that I watched, the spindles were bright white, creating a sense of optimistic, comforting blandness as well as a nice visual whenever a small child inevitably got their head stuck between them. According to TV, a kid getting their head stuck between spindles was an average Friday night in the suburbs.

An average Friday night at my fake aunt and uncle’s involved a lot of wine and an attempt at playing one of their didgeridoos.

They had four.

“You have to cycle your breathing, like the Aborigines,” my fake uncle would say.

My fake aunt and uncle liked to ruin independent movies for me. In the early ‘90s, the heyday of Miramax, they were my version of Internet spoilers for films that I was way too young to see, but was still fascinated by, thanks to my daily devouring of the scintillating cinematic coverage in USA Today.

“We saw The Crying Game last night,” said my fake aunt. “It’s very good. You should see it … when you’re older, of course.”

I was only seven, but I knew what The Crying Game was because USA Today had run a pie chart called, “Do you know the twist of The Crying Game?”

“No, you should see it now,” said my fake uncle. “Before someone ruins it for you. The girl is a guy.”

My fake aunt yelled at my fake uncle for telling me the twist, but over the following two years she managed to ruin both The Piano and Pulp Fiction for me. My fake aunt and uncle loved Pulp Fiction. They dressed as John Travolta and Uma Thurman for Halloween. No one knew who they were.

When their daughter came home from college, she and her friend Kevin would read Magic School Bus books to me on the waterbed.

“The water cycle just blows my mind,” Kevin would say, with big wide eyes.

Kevin was very good at playing the didgeridoo. I bet he caused the waterbed explosion.

For my eighth birthday, my fake aunt and uncle took me to a Manheim Steamroller concert.

That same year, I lost a tooth while I was staying with them, and the Tooth Fairy left me an envelope under my waterbed pillow that was filled with loose change—most of it Canadian—and a note that said, “Thank you for the tooth! Love, Auntie.”

When I was nine, the waterbed exploded. Through a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of events, the waterbed explosion started a small fire as well as a major flood. A big silver cassette player shorted out from the water damage, and then melted.

The early ‘90s were quite a dangerous time. 

My fake aunt and uncle were the first people I knew who had one of those coded keypads for their garage door. They bought it because their garage door kept mysteriously opening in the middle of the night, even after they got the keypad. Finally, when my fake uncle went out in his John Travolta costume to confront the culprits, he found a trio of raccoons.