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By Annabel Monaghan

Not all men like Tom Brady, but the men who do love him with a fierceness that is remarkable to me. There’s a certain look they get on their faces when they talk about him. It’s difficult to describe this look without using the word “swoon” or inserting that emoji of a happy face with two hearts where the eyes should be. Yes, he’s really good at football, and he’s certainly easy on the eyes, but it’s more than that. There’s something about Tom Brady that makes men weak in the knees in a way that might amount to the greatest and most widespread bromance in history.

Tom Brady ran out onto the field to start Super Bowl LII looking like the guy you kind of wish would ask you to the prom. Women around the country thought to themselves: Heck, that’s a good-looking man. Many of us were then quickly distracted by our nachos.

Cut to the two male announcers who are supposed to be getting us psyched up about the game. They are silent for a few seconds, gazing at the monitor as Brady walks away. During the Super Bowl, that silent gaze costs about $200,000. Finally there’s a sigh, and they exchange a smile. One of them composes himself long enough to speak: “Father time does not have Tom Brady’s address.” The other swoons, “No, he does not.” Another $200,000 of silence.

I’m sitting there thinking, for the love of Pete, would these two guys go write Tom Brady a sonnet already so we can get back to the commercials?

Sure, he’s good at football. But so is Ben Roethlisberger and I’ve never seen a grown man blush at the mention of his name. Sure Brady is handsome, but so is Chris Hemsworth and I’m pretty sure my husband couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.

I think it’s a third thing that sets him apart – the abundance of his blessings. For starters, the guy is married to a supermodel. Want more? She makes even more money than he does. It’s as if the rules of fairness don’t apply to him; like when God was doling out the nice things, Tom Brady went through the line multiple times.

It’s easy to see why many men see him as a kind of god. He’d have to be to have pulled this off. He even defies medical convention – it’s said that he drinks more than 2.5 gallons of water per day, an amount that would drown a mere mortal. I’ve been told that Tom Brady eats dessert once a month. And that it’s a tomato.

When I look at Gisele Bündchen, I think boy is she pretty. When I listen to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I think boy is she smart. But I wonder if there is a female Tom Brady, one aspirational woman who women adore this deeply and who could actually make me blush. The only one I can come up with is Tina Fey.

By Annabel Mongahan

Pullquote: The joys of small-town life are many. Or

There’s a chance I’ve morphed into Aunt Bee.

Thirteen years ago, the first day I lived in Rye, I took my kids to the barbershop for haircuts. Looking back, it seems sort of crazy to think of haircuts on moving day, but grooming was a bigger deal back when we were urban. These days my children get haircuts mostly for safety reasons.

Anyway, a woman at the barbershop who also had two sons struck up a conversation with me. This felt new. Strangers never spoke to me in the city, unless we were safely separated by a counter and I had my wallet out. This woman told me that they were packing up their house and moving to Florida because of her husband’s work. She’d been in Rye for ten years and was looking forward to the change. It was a bit of a baton passing moment, with my arrival coming at the perfect time to fill the gap she was leaving. So I asked her, “How did you like Rye?”

“Well,” she said. “It’s a bit Mayberry.”

This didn’t freak me out as much as you might think. I was still in an information gathering stage, quietly listening and taking in my new environment in an “I come in peace” sort of way. And I’d already been given a lot of misinformation. A neighbor told me that I’d never find parking at Rye Presbyterian Nursery School. Another told me that all of the women in town were snobs. (Captain’s log: I’ve been here 13 years; I’ve found tons of parking and I’ve met three snobs.)

Rye’s the smallest town I’ve ever lived in. There’s a chance I’ve morphed into Aunt Bee. Rye is so small that I make note of unfamiliar faces, as they are the exception. Most afternoons I run into a woman at the Stop and Shop who was also on the treadmill next to me in the morning at the Y. Her name is Sarah. Her kids go to school in Greenwich. We share a birthday. I don’t know her, but information like this just rubs off between people in a town this small.

In a town this small, there’s a good chance you know everyone running for office. And they might know you too. The other day I was at a book festival and Assemblyman George Latimer walked right up to me and greeted me by name. Imagine that. For a minute, I thought, heck, I’ve arrived. Then I realized we just live in the same small town. Also, I was wearing a nametag.

Someone else might feel suffocated here. It might bother them that they recognize everyone at Ruby’s on a Wednesday afternoon. It might bother them that they can’t walk down the street crying without someone stopping them to ask what’s wrong. It might bother them that they can’t run to Jerry’s in their pajamas on a Saturday morning without seeing six people they know. Those things don’t bother me a bit.

I love raising my kids in a town where there are adults who know them around every corner. I love that we throw each other’s kids in our cars at a moment’s notice. I love knowing all of my neighbors and most of the previous owners of their homes.

There’s a comfort in all that familiarity. It makes me understand what Norm felt like walking into Cheers each day. Sure, Rye’s a little Mayberry. It makes me want to whistle.

 

By Annabel Monaghan

Pullquote: When time was scarce and valuable and delicious.

Many years ago, my son received a Thomas the Tank Engine train and a circle of tracks as a gift. He was two years old and could zoom Thomas around that track for hours, frontwards, backwards, crashing into imaginary obstacles. He loved it so much that I bought Thomas a buddy, his faithful passenger coach Annie. My son could not believe his eyes. Thomas and Annie chased each other around. They had fights; they made up. Those two trains were so precious to him that he always knew exactly where they were: one in each hand.

Because these toys were such a hit, I decided to buy him 12 more trains and a more complicated set of tracks. This gift was received with the shock and awe that’s usually reserved for a 12-scoop banana split. It was the difference between watching The Mickey Mouse Club on a black-and-white TV and standing in the middle of Disney World.

And in doing so I’d ruined the whole train thing. There were so many trains with so many names and different facial expressions that they became overwhelming. What were the rules of this new world? How did they all know each other? In a big pile, each one was just another train.

I think about this all the time. I think about how I repeated this mistake with another child who loved his four Matchbox cars. They were always parked right by his bed at night so he could wake up and zoom them around his room. With the unbridled enthusiasm of an American consumer, I bought him a suitcase full of another 48 cars. We had Matchbox cars in every corner of our house, between every sofa cushion and under every bare foot. And that was the end of playing with cars.

I think about how when I had a child in preschool and only three hours of free time per day, I wrote a novel. If I could score another 90 minutes of free time via an afterschool play date, I would write two chapters. Time was scarce and valuable and delicious. One whole hour was as tangible and precious as a much loved little train. Back then I knew exactly where all of my hours were.

Now that I have all of my kids in school for what amounts to a full workday, it’s just different. I have nearly all the time in the world. An hour is of little consequence, so sure I’ll meet you for coffee. These castoff hours link together to make whole days, and suddenly the week has passed. One time I blinked and it was suddenly 2018.

There’s luxury in abundance, but there’s discipline in scarcity. Someone on a budget knows exactly how much money is in her wallet. A game show contestant focuses all of his energy because he only has 25 seconds to come up with the name of the river that flows through the Republic of Namibia. If you gave me a whole day to figure that out, I’d watch “Out of Africa” and forget the original question before it was time for my nap.

When you find yourself with a lot of something, it’s a challenge to keep sight of its value. Each little train, each hour matters. If I believed in New Year’s resolutions, mine would be to keep closer tabs on my abundant but precious hours.

Along for the Rye’d

By Annabel Monaghan

Pullquote: I think my junk could use some psychotherapy.

Sometimes, when I’m busy not writing my novel, I daydream about finishing my students’ novels. My mind floods with ideas to fill in their story gaps. I dream up surprise endings and pages of snappy dialogue. While driving the other day, I decided that one of my student’s characters should have a heavy suitcase at the beginning of the novel that is lighter at the end of the novel, signifying personal growth. I am so pleased with this brilliant idea. Boy, am I good at other people’s novels.

Similarly, if you asked me to come over to help you clean up your house and organize a garage sale, I’d probably do it. It would feel productive to sort through your junk and then label everything for sale. I have a couple of folding tables and a label maker that I’d throw in my car. I bet it would be kind of fun.

So why does the idea of going through my own junk and finishing my own novel make me want to check myself into a hospital? My junk is immovable. It’s heavy with feelings of attachment, responsibility, and guilt. If I give that set of dishes away, am I ungrateful? If I give away that giant package of plastic forks and knives, am I going to regret it one day when I desperately need a giant package of plastic forks and knives? If I finish that novel, will it be trite? To be honest, I think my junk could use a little psychotherapy.

But I look at your stuff and my eyes sort it into neat piles. Likewise for your problems. Other people’s problems seem pretty solvable. “She should just leave him,” someone says. Everyone else nods in agreement, mainly because we’re not the ones who have to do the leaving. Just call your in-laws and tell them you’re not coming for Christmas. What’s the big deal? Also, you should just quit smoking. Other people’s tangles seem so easily undone.

You might notice the overuse of the word “just” in people’s friendly advice. “Just” is a real minimizer. Try telling someone they should “just let it go” and then maybe duck for cover. If it was that easy, they would have already let it go.

I bet if we all exchanged our to do lists, a lot would get done. The tasks are the same, but our relative resistance to the tasks is very different. The things that remain on my list week after week are the ones that drag me down, the ones that bring up irrational feelings of dread (call EZ-pass, schedule physical). The easy stuff that I don’t feel very strongly about gets crossed off right away.

The variable here seems to be the emotion. If only we could fake ourselves out and pretend like our to-dos are someone else’s. I could easily finish my novel if I pretended it was yours. What do I have to lose? I could call my in-laws and pretend they’re your in-laws. They seem harmless enough. I could even clean out my closet if I pretended all those crazy shoulder-padded suits were someone else’s. They wouldn’t be laden with memories and complex feelings about returning to work. Just give them away! This might actually work.

I wonder if there’s an opportunity to help each other out. Maybe there’s someone out there who doesn’t mind sitting on hold waiting for the next available customer service agent, but who really doesn’t want to write that long overdue thank you note. I’d be happy to write your thank-you note. If you want, I’ll do your ironing. But could you come over and finish my novel?

 

By Annabel Monaghan

I was laid up for the month of December. I was recovering from surgery, and I’d gladly tell you all about it, but I’ve been watching so much “Downton Abbey” that I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t talk about such things in mixed company. I mean Lady Mary had some kind of women’s surgery and didn’t even tell her husband. Only in the 1920s could one fake a headache for that long.

I know I’m a little late to the game on “Downton Abbey”. I’d sort of been saving it for emergency downtime. There is nothing I like better than stories about wealthy British people doing each other wrong. I like clues and affairs and the accidental slip of the tongue that unravels the mystery; maybe a body surfacing from the depths of the loch.

I was surprised that “Downton Abbey” delivered none of that. In fact, it struck me as so domestic in nature that it was no escape at all. I spent the first season in a series of births, deaths and meals, marveling at the fact that Lady Mary and her sisters spent the day waiting to eat a dinner they did not plan, shop for or prepare. After dinner, while the kitchen servants cleaned up and thwarted each other’s romantic advances, they awaited other servants who would brush their hair and help them into their nightgowns.

These are not my kind of rich people. These are idle rich people who sit with straight backs and speak in soft voices. They don’t even go to that much trouble to vex each other, other than a carefully placed comment or quickly penned note. At one point there was much excitement around the preparation for a garden party, which included Lady Crawley telling the head housekeeper that there should be flowers. With all that order giving, no wonder she takes breakfast in bed. Later, during the war, sacrifices were made and the family learned to make do without the service of a second footman.

Their general sloth was like nothing I’d ever seen. Well, until I started to notice my own. In that first week of recovery I wondered how I was going to survive the schedule of 12 hours on the couch, 12 hours in bed. I wondered how I would endure the kindness of friends coming by with dinner every single night when I couldn’t even get to the door to let them in. I dreaded the daily task of changing my pajamas, an ordeal I only suffered so that my kids would find a slightly fresher looking lump on the couch at the end of the day.

It is alarming how easily I adjusted to this sedentary lifestyle. I quickly adapted a new routine, which was as pleasing to me as my old routine. Wake up and exercise was quickly replaced by wake up and read for five hours. The endorphins were exactly the same, and I’ve lost five pounds. Reading was followed by lunch and a few episodes of “Downton Abbey”, which soothed any lingering guilt I may have had about not really doing anything. I mean I brush my own hair after all.

By the end of week three, I had adopted the rhythms of “abbey” life. It was a lot of work resting up to eat a dinner that I neither prepared nor cleaned up. All that order giving made me feel like I needed breakfast in bed. At the end of the day I needed someone to bring me the mail and locate warmer socks. To the extent my second footman was delayed at basketball practice, I was relieved when my first footman came home for Christmas vacation to pitch in. Because God knows the tea doesn’t pour itself.

Along for the Rye’d

By Annabel Monaghan

If I can help it, I don’t drive to the CVS in town. I’ve had enough altercations in that parking lot, real and imagined, to scare me away forever. I’ve been yelled at, honked at, given the evil eye. A friend of mine was criticized by a stranger, for showing too much cleavage in that parking lot. I’d be willing to say it’s our town’s spiritual black hole.

One time I knocked my wallet into the backseat with my elbow as I was parking, so I had to get out and open the door to the backseat to retrieve it. Sue me. Or, if you prefer, you can be like the lady who was waiting to park in the spot next to mine and just shout for me to get the *expletive* out of the way. Once she’d parked, she went on to explain that I was taking too darn long shutting my car door. I told her about the errant wallet and apologized for exceeding the appropriate amount of time for a door to be open next to an available parking spot. She stormed off.

The funny thing is that in this parking lot, I kind of get it. The CVS parking lot induces madness. First of all, it’s too narrow. The calmest driver has a hard time backing out and completing a turn before hitting the row of cars behind her. Secondly, no one at the CVS is at her calmest. Most people in the CVS parking lot have the flu, a kid with lice, or, worse, a baby. If you’re shopping for an ace bandage or Excedrin Migraine, you’re not having the best day. Even the lady picking up the jumbo-sized bag of Peanut M&Ms is probably nursing some kind of emotional wound. And they no longer sell cigarettes.

The lady in the greeting card aisle is completely unhinged, because she knows that soon she has to cross the street to the post office to mail it. It’s her mother-in-law’s birthday and she’s a day behind. She has no choice. She leaves CVS like a criminal, looking left and right to make sure the coast is clear. Someone with a migraine or lice is going to pop out and accuse her of using the CVS parking lot for post office parking, which is a quiet, victimless crime that will get you towed. As she hops the parking lot wall to freedom, she brandishes her CVS purchase across her chest as evidence that she’s bought something.

So I walk.

Since a Whole Foods has opened in Port Chester, I’ve been studying the intensity level of that parking lot. It’s as poorly designed at the CVS lot. It’s too narrow to easily back up without a collision, with the added handicap of having only two points of entry, which happen to also be the points of exit. People pulling into the lot are in immediate, head-on conflict with the people pulling out. I’m sure an engineer and a line painter could fix this lot faster than you can say ‘wild Atlantic salmon,’ but why bother? No one seems to mind.

In fact, the people in the Whole Foods parking lot are happy to wait. They’re happy to back up out of the entrance/exit and wait for you to settle comfortably into your parking spot and check your emails. People who are about to pay $15 for two heads of broccoli don’t sweat the small stuff. They’re on their way into the happiest place on earth, where chickens are free-range and trans fats are abolished. Someone even sent me a photo of Justin Timberlake browsing the pasta aisle at Whole Foods. That’s how good it is.

This bliss can also be found in the Jerry’s Post Road Market parking lot, a lot that is similarly treacherous and too small for the throngs of people who are hooked on chicken cutlet sandwiches. People will happily stop traffic in the middle of Boston Post Road and wait for a spot to open up. Once they’ve turned in, they patiently adjust their cars in impossible ways to allow you a smooth exit. Take your time. The nice people inside are preparing lunch for their whole family. It’s possible that the problem has nothing to do with the parking lots at all.

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