Midway Through the Midwest Passage

Thursday, June 13th, 2002 | Food, Travel

Today Chris and I went to Geneseo, the kind of town that is called quaint–victorian homes with lawns, a real main street, a public park with a bandshell, and lunch with the ladies. Geneseo is a nice 30-minute drive through corn country from Chris’ mom Pat’s house in Moline, one of the Quad Cities on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. We were accompanied by Beth and Margie (Chris’s sisters), and Beth’s daughter Maggie. I shot some additional video for Chris’ film project about his family, which he started last year. He’s been filming them individually and together, asking them about their memories and experiences growing up. The theme that has emerged seems to be how the family has survived the erratic and often abusive behavior of their father, Jim. Lucky for them, at 60 years of age, Jim decided to have a complete sex change, and became Stephanie. She’s now 67 and lives in Chicago, in a fabulous condo on Lakeshore Boulevard. From what I gather, she wasn’t very good at being a man, embodying a lot of the worst traits that men have to offer–cheating, lying, etc… I think that Jim was so miserable being a man–well, maybe not so much being a man as NOT being a woman, or not being able to DRESS like a woman–that he inhabited his maleness with resentment and anger, and turned it all outward. She’s now engaged with life and ideas in a way that she wouldn’t let herself be as a man. She’s studying art and the violin, and has a little lapdog named Annie. “Mommie take, mommie take!” I’ve noticed that when Stephanie mentions guys, she talks about them in terms of their attraction to her, and when she talks about women, it’s with a yearning, lusty lilt. My own opinion is that Stephanie loves women, REALLY loves women, and has chosen to define herself as heterosexual because her ideas of gender and sexuality are limited by tradition and midwestern values. She loves her creation, though, and her love of self is infectious. She’s my hero in some ways, particularly in how she’s risen so beautifully from Jim’s ashes.

So the past few days have been about hanging with the BC family, drinking Harvey Wallbangers, and eating lots–LOTS–of fat and protein. If I lose weight on this trip, I’ll completely change my opinion of Dr. Atkins. Later, we’re going to Whitey’s, the home of the greatest chocolate malt in the world. Chris and I have previously visited only in the winter, when everything’s under five feet of snow and the malts don’t melt. It’s about something different then, like even food is about things frozen and unthawable. Last night I had my first Whitey’s malt of the trip. Deviating extravagently from my usual chocolate malt, I had a chocolate malt with a black cherry sunday on top. I couldn’t stand to see it end. The malt girls don’t just mix the ingredients together and stick it under the mixer, no, they mix their concoctions a little at a time, and then hold them under the mixing paddles, move them around, pump the cups, add more ingredients, move them up and down. It’s an aerobic workout. All for me. My malt arrives with a spoon in it that doesn’t move. The state is somewhere between liquid and solid, but neither. I think heaven must be something very close to a Whitey’s malt. Or hell. I’d take either.

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