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Frances Kuffel wasn’t a Victoria’s Secret model, but she wasn’t so bad. Why couldn’t she find her Mr. Right? As Shakespeare said, the course of true love never did run smooth, but for Kuffel, it seemed like one pothole after another...
In this sharp and irreverent memoir, Frances Kuffel recalls her quest to replace her on-again, off-again lover with someone new and preferably less unstable. Fifty-three and never married, Frances opens her mind to all possibilities. She goes out with an Orthodox Jew, is almost the victim of a scammer, stays out all night with a man twenty years her junior, encounters feeding fetishes and shoe fetishes, and generally reads a lot of strange emails.
Brazenly honest and insightful, Kuffel comes through the experience with a new understanding of love and realizes that what she wants is not necessarily a knight in shining armor. She’d be perfectly happy with someone who’ll spend hours buying antique teacups with her, thinks two dogs are not enough, and wants to be in her life through the good and the bad. And once she finally figures out what she’s looking for, the only challenge left is to find it...
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Frances Kuffel, author of Passing for Thin and Eating Ice Cream with My Dog, and has been profiled in Time, Salon, More, Chicago Sun-Times, and other media. She has made extensive radio and television appearances, including on CBS’s The Early Show and Good Day Live; has been a guest columnist for the San Diego Reader; and has written and blogged for Psychology Today. Her short stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, the Massachusetts Review, Glimmer Train, the Greensboro Review, and Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, and her poetry has appeared in the Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and Quarterly West. She holds an MFA from Cornell and lives in New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Penguin couples spend their lives apart from each other and meet once a year in late March, after traveling as far as seventy miles inland—on foot or sliding on their bellies—to reach the breeding site.
We are in Santa Fe to find a ghost. It is also, as he and I had discussed in a wearying back-and-forth series of phone calls and emails, my audition as Dar’s girlfriend and, seven thousand feet higher than where we started out in Phoenix, we were breathless in all the wrong ways. Instead of canoodling our ghost into rearranging the furniture, I slept fitfully as the television murmured and flickered through a marathon of Sasuke. In the end, our only haunting is that “Need You Now” is on every radio station between Santa Fe and Phoenix, which is annoying but also fitting as we sit in the car outside his house having the Talk.
It is becoming more and more obvious that men are oblivious to what Friends with Benefits can start for a woman.
“I love you,” he begins. “We have a lot in common. You know, the whole lit thing, and dogs, and a general sort of outlook on stuff. But then again, there are things that are important to me that we don’t have in common. I don’t know whether it’s best to be with someone with whom you have everything in common or not. I had a girlfriend like that once, but the minute she came to visit me, I knew it was all wrong . . .
“So I dunno. One thing is that you’re not exactly easygoing. You don’t always relax and go with the flow. I mean, you never know what could happen, I s’pose. I could wake up one day and be in love with you. But I’m not now and I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our friendship. That means a lot to me. You know that, right?”
I blow my nose in answer. I want out of his car. I want to get into my car, which is parked in his garage, and I want to drive to my father’s house, get on the plane to New York the next morning, retrieve my dog from my friends Ben and Jean and tell them what didn’t happen and then hold a weepy funeral with the mostly faithful love of Daisy, an ill-behaved, too-smart-for-her-own-good yellow Labrador, in the solitude of the Bat Cave.* Don’t say anything, one part of me warns. Have some dignity.
“Okay.” I hiccup and open the door. “I guess that’s that. I gotta go.”
He hugs me good-bye, an awkward bear hug in which I pat his back as though consoling him.
I’m so sick of this bullshit, I think.
· · ·
I should have known, I think as the Midwest skeins me away from Dar. I should have known when I was late meeting him in Phoenix for the drive to New Mexico. I should have known when I found myself biting my lips in an ugly frown against my grinding jaw, that I was too tense, too scared to be girlfriend material.
I had no excuse for not knowing how tension crippled anything soft and fluid in me because I know the difference between scared, solo tension and the tension you admit to and find is as shared and rare as a yellow crocus flowering in the snow.
“God, France, I’m so sorry I’m not going to be here,” Grace calls in disappointment on a heavy and cold Sunday afternoon. I am about to leave on my book tour to Seattle and Portland and am excited to see so many people from my past. Grace and I had been good friends in college but we’d lost touch in the last twenty years. I’d looked for her on various networking sites with no success, but her curiosity was equal to mine and she had found me in a two-second Google search. All Grace had to do was email me and we spent most of a Saturday on the phone reestablishing a comfy, happy friendship.
“I have lots of friends and family in Seattle, so I have plenty to do,” I say, “although I really wanted to go to the movies with you.”
She sighs and is about to answer when there is a loud crash and cursing on her end of the line. I wait through some mumbling and then laughter. “Kevin just knocked over the trash,” she says. “He comes over most Sundays and makes brunch for us. But first we have to pick up banana peels and plum pits.”
“And eggshells—ick!” I hear him call.
It’s been thirty years since I’ve heard Kevin’s voice but I could pick it out of Monday morning rush hour. I hadn’t even heard of his sister, Grace, when Kevin Willoughby and I were pals for about five minutes in high school drama club. He’s two years older than I, had dimples you could bury nickels in, dazzling blue eyes, a lovely tenor and he was one the most popular boys in school. He was perpetually jolly and surrounded by people; I was fat, a depressed underachiever, someone who went through friendships like Kleenex. I admired him for being all those things I was not and wasn’t surprised when he got bored with acting. He went off to date the cream of the Joni Mitchell clones and the funniest cheerleaders, take the coolest drugs and ski with the maniacs. We lapsed into jokey hallway hellos and the thrill of having him sign my yearbook.
The ironies are rife. Kevin, gay and closeted, was hiding behind what I should have been learning—how to talk to the opposite sex, going to the prom, falling in love for the first time. But of course his story didn’t end there. After graduating, he came out and cozied up to Jack Daniel’s like the boyfriend high school never gave him. I’d gone on to college and more college, worked in publishing, wrote a book about my dramatic weight loss and then wrote another book about my more mundane regain. I know from Grace that he’s in his fragile first year of sobriety and is starting beauty college; I’m a sometimes–adjunct professor but mostly walk dogs for a living.
So much for our halcyon days. Which is why I am dying to talk to him.
“Put that Kevin on the phone,” I demand. “I need to talk to Kevin Willoughby.”
“How the hell are you?”
I start to laugh.
“Not well, Kevin. Not well at all.”
“What’s wrong, darling?”
“I have new neighbors.”
“Are they partiers? Complainers?”
“No. They’re gay.”
“Uh-huh,” he says cautiously, letting me know he’s waiting to see how this plays out.
“They have the garden my apartment looks out on. Summer’s coming and last night they were listening to Fiddler on the Roof.”
I can hear the hideousness dawn on him. “I see.”
“It’s going to get very . . . brunchy around here in a couple of months. I swear I’ll call the cops if they have Oklahoma! with their mimosas.”
Kevin has a laugh that is as dangerous and infectious as bubonic plague. I hunch-run to the toilet before I wet my pants, and when we catch our breath, he wheezes, “Where have you been all my life, Frances Kuffel, and when does your plane land?”
· · ·
By the time we head out to Kevin’s favorite pho noodle shop on East Yesler Way, I am as tense as I would be a month later in Santa Fe.
There is a difference, however. In Santa Fe, I am tight with waiting, wondering, searching for the magic words or slant of light to fill Dar with that love he isn’t sure he doesn’t have for me, a double-negative that is too big to overcome.
Kevin and I, on the other hand, have sat on his small balcony discussing AA and the 12-step program for compulsive overeating I’ve not been attending lately, telling our drunkalogue and fatalogue stories with increasing glee, then a sharp ritenuto into the grim side of addiction, how we avoided everyone and everything in order to eat or drink alone, consuming so much that we passed out only to wake hours later to do the same thing again, our underlying convictions that we are pieces of shit and that addiction is both our punishment and solace. At several points along the way, each of us lost everything and learned nothing. I declared bankruptcy in my thirties because I couldn’t pay the cost of takeout. He was fired from a glamorous, well-paying job. Drunkenly careless, he contracted HIV in his thirties; overburdening my body with fat and hormones, I had emergency surgery to remove a thirty-six-pound ovarian cyst and my gallbladder in my thirties. At 336 pounds, I couldn’t walk for more than ten minutes. He spent the first three days in rehab leaning heavily on a walker.
We discover that we have unknowingly dallied in each other’s shit and I am shaking from the intensity of the second conversation we’ve had since high school. I’m not hoping I’ll turn, eyes bright, and give him a private peek at how pretty I can be. I am not waiting for Kevin to realize anything about me.
He already knows. He’s known for years without knowing me. And I am shaking and sweating because I want to dance or scream the loop-de-loop of a roller coaster.
I look up at the soft blue March Seattle day as we walk to my car. Daffodils are out and the pear trees are flowering. Across the street is an old white house that needs rose trellises and hanging pots of begonias.
“Just think what we’d do to that house,” I say as I fish out my keys.
“I know,” he says in that way that says he really does.
I should know that Dar’s aloof tolerance is a deal breaker when I beg to make one dash into the St. Francis souvenir shop. I want to buy gifts for my friends who are taking care of my dog. They are Vatican II babies like me who revel in bloodied martyrs and swooning penitents. Such tchotchkes have no charm for Dar, and he’s eager to move on to the art galleries where he can speak seriously with owners about the Mesa museum he volunteers at. I snatch Christmas ornaments of Francis of Assisi and primitive angels, hurrying, embarrassed, not wanting to waste Dar’s time.
When Kevin and I went down to the piers a month earlier, he knelt to pose goofily with a photo of Ivar Haglund at Ivar’s Acres of Clams and solemnly wrapped his arms around a scary arcade clown. He deliberated with me over crab-shaped salt and pepper shakers and pulled a stranger over to photograph us with a plaster fisherman, then dragged me to the Olde Curiosity Shoppe to visit his friends, the petrified remains of a dog and a human who seems to be screaming that Mount Rainier has erupted and swallowed her child.
If I’m honest—or later, when I begin to get honest—I am mystified by Dar’s lack of schlock idolatry. He’s too smart and too funny not to groove on jumping beans and Barack and Michelle Obama Day of the Dead figurines. After all, he’d laughed at the junk in the truck stop we gassed up at, modeled a baseball cap with a propeller on top and stuck a navy blue leather cowboy hat on me.
What happens in a truck stop, I am forced to conclude, stays in the truck stop.
· · ·
I am hurt but determined to make the best of it. I breathe deeply for the first few days back in Brooklyn, walking dogs and taking too many pictures of tulips showing their Georgia O’Keeffe to the clement sunshine, but I can’t stop thinking about my conversation with Dar. I laugh crookedly and add to my list of Wrong Things to Say When Saying It’s Over:
I love you, but I’m not in love with you.*
It goes right up there with:
You would like her.*
Let’s get married, but to other people, and then tell each other about it.
I owe you an amends for how I treated you when we were together.*
I do like absurdity. In the end I tell myself I’ve come out ahead. Then I turn my attention to Dar and to what went, maybe, right.
· · ·
“I want to remember . . .” Dar says, pounding along to “Need You Now” somewhere near Gallup on our way back to Phoenix, and proceeds to rattle off meaningful moments in our thirty-six-hour trip to fine arts purgatory. A few days later I email him from Brooklyn with the precise list:
The smell of pines as we climbed east and up in elevation from Phoenix
The pitcher of ice water with floating tangerine quarters in the lobby of our hotel
The portrait of our ghost, Julia Staab, hanging over our very own fireplace, across from our very own four-poster bed
The pony-hide armchair in the art gallery
The ukulelist and his girlfriend, who sang an affectless “Oh, Susannah” (and their conversation about clawhammer music after)
My entrée of shrimp with a green chili and lemongrass sauce [that he preferred to his plato supremo]; my lavender ice cream [that he preferred to his crème brulée]
The urn of Mexican cocoa in the hotel lobby (the best he’d had since living in Nicaragua)
The massage with oil made of bergamot, lemon, lavender and rosemary
The prayer wheel garden
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he wrote back. “I love that you remembered that for me.”
“Love?” I screech to Kevin. He’s taken to calling me a couple of times a week before he has breakfast and goes off to cosmetology school. We talk about living one day at a time and how much we want and don’t know how to be happy-joyous-and-free, as well as about the chittering Vietnamese students who dyed his hair platinum one slow afternoon and my audition in Santa Fe. “He loves my memory but he doesn’t love me?”
“That’s exaggerating, Frances, darling. I know he loves you.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I singsong back at him. The rest of that sentence doesn’t need finishing.
“If I’m not easygoing, why did I let him eat my dinner? Why did I smile and go study paintings while he talked to street musicians and gallery owners?”
“What do you want to remember from the trip?”
I’m stumped. I liked my shrimp and the lavender ice cream but an overeater has a hard time remembering tastes. A massage is a massage. The prayer wheels in the cool daffodil light will stay with me, though. “I liked the storm drain covers,” I say. “They had the city’s coat of arms on them.”
“That’s hilarious! Seattle has special drains, too.”
“I know! I took pictures of them. They’re walking squids or something, right?”
“I’m not sure. So if you liked the drains, what would he repeat back as the things you wouldn’t want to forget?”
“Probably the same things he loved,” I say. His mother gave him the trip for graduation—he had finished yet another bachelor’s degree, this time in social work. He’d earned that trip. Having earned the trip, it became a star turn, the Lone Ranger joined by Tonto so that he’d have someone to talk to and be admired by.
“When you’re . . . uncomfortable,” Kevin says, either searching for words or trying not to offend me, “you get all, you know, arms crossed and frowny-eyed and your voice gets kinda high-pitched. Did you do that?”
“You mean diffident? You saw the pictures he took of me. I’d give the Phantom of the Opera a shot at homecoming prince.”
“How much did you apologize?”
“For how I looked?”
“Partly. But for the waiter not bringing water on time or the cost of gas or for him ordering the wrong meal?”
“Or for him not burning CDs to play in the car? Yeah, that was my fault, too.”
· · ·
The words “you never know what could happen” are still so alive in me that I rattle off Dar’s pleasures in the trip as that last shred of hope that I’m too smart to grasp at very often. Memory and sentiment have always been my province. I’m the one who has family stories from generations back, insists on holiday traditions and cried when the seam of a leather jewelry box my mother gave me forty years ago finally ripped. Maybe it’s ...
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Book Description BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP. TRADE PAPERBACK. Condition: NEW. Seller Inventory # IM136757
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Book Description Berkley Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. Frances Kuffel wasn't a Victoria's Secret model, but she wasn't so bad. Why couldn't she find her Mr. Right? As Shakespeare said, the course of true love never did run smooth, but for Kuffel, it seemed like one pothole after another. In this sharp and irreverent memoir, Frances Kuffel recalls her quest to replace her on-again, off-again lover with someone new and preferably less unstable. Fifty-three and never married, Frances opens her mind to all possibilities. She goes out with an Orthodox Jew, is almost the victim of a scammer, stays out all night with a man twenty years her junior, encounters feeding fetishes and shoe fetishes, and generally reads a lot of strange emails. Brazenly honest and insightful, Kuffel comes through the experience with a new understanding of love and realizes that what she wants is not necessarily a knight in shining armor. She'd be perfectly happy with someone who'll spend hours buying antique teacups with her, thinks two dogs are not enough, and wants to be in her life through the good and the bad. And once she finally figures out what she's looking for, the only challenge left is to find it. Seller Inventory # BTE9780425247471
Book Description Berkley Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. Frances Kuffel wasn't a Victoria's Secret model, but she wasn't so bad. Why couldn't she find her Mr. Right? As Shakespeare said, the course of true love never did run smooth, but for Kuffel, it seemed like one pothole after another. In this sharp and irreverent memoir, Frances Kuffel recalls her quest to replace her on-again, off-again lover with someone new and preferably less unstable. Fifty-three and never married, Frances opens her mind to all possibilities. She goes out with an Orthodox Jew, is almost the victim of a scammer, stays out all night with a man twenty years her junior, encounters feeding fetishes and shoe fetishes, and generally reads a lot of strange emails. Brazenly honest and insightful, Kuffel comes through the experience with a new understanding of love and realizes that what she wants is not necessarily a knight in shining armor. She'd be perfectly happy with someone who'll spend hours buying antique teacups with her, thinks two dogs are not enough, and wants to be in her life through the good and the bad. And once she finally figures out what she's looking for, the only challenge left is to find it. Seller Inventory # BZV9780425247471
Book Description Berkley. PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0425247473 *BRAND NEW* Ships Same Day or Next!. Seller Inventory # SWATI2132160130
Book Description Berkley Pub Group, 2014. Paperback. Condition: Brand New. 261 pages. 8.00x5.00x1.00 inches. In Stock. Seller Inventory # zk0425247473
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