Ask Pearl is the Dennison Gazette’s advice column. Pearl Jenkins answers your questions about all various and sundry things—relationships, books, gardening, bridge, pool, etiquette, or even a recipe you’ve been trying to find (or dying to try).
Up on the Rooftop
My friend Ernie is not my boyfriend. He lives on the next street, so our backyards share the same cinderblock wall. His parents have a shed/garage thing back there, right up against our shared backyard wall, so that I can easily get on the asphalt-shingled roof of the shed (the roof is not very steep) from the top of my cinderblock wall. My parents have an orange tree, and its branches overhang the shed roof a little. I can take a pillow up there and watch the stars at night, with my head on the pillow. It’s really quite peaceful and comfortable and a surprisingly outdoorsy-nature experience on the roof, even though we live in a suburb of Los Angeles.
So anyway, Ernie is the boyfriend of Mandy, who is in the junior high student council with me. Like I said, Ernie and I are just friends. He wants to hang out on the roof with me, to watch the stars. I have no interest in being his girlfriend (and anyway, he already has one). What do you think? Should I?
— Not dating anyone but friends with all my friends’ boyfriends
Dear Boyfriends’ Friend,
My Dear. I know you want to talk about the boyfriend/girlfriend part of this conversation, and of course we’ll get to that. In a minute. Before that, we must talk about this rooftop business. Now, I am all for you getting yourself outdoors to enjoy the orange trees. But my stars, can this not be done from the ground? As a girl, I spent many an hour on the roof outside my bedroom window reading Emily Dickinson’s poems. It was something of a tradition in my family. But I have recently come to my senses about the dangers. Why, I was nearly concussed by a Keatsian brick falling off because someone was sitting on my very own roof. And it can lead to all sorts of things, like (very innocently, I’m told) ending up without your pants in the back yard. I dare you to explain that one to your parents, or Ernie’s girlfriend. Roofing, as my siblings used to call it, is no longer safe. I suggest, if you must hang out with Ernie, that you find a nice patio or even a city park where you can sit by the river or a small pond.
Now. As for this hanging out to “watch the stars,” I have long found friendships that are not boyfriend-girlfriend to be a good thing for young people. You kids want to go out on dates and hold hands and drive around in cars and do that “Netflix and Shiver” thing way too young. You may not know this, but I am personally responsible for no less than 27 percent of the romances and marriages right here in Dennison. And that’s without having any orange trees to sit under. But I have a strict policy that I do not meddle in the coupling up of people under the age of 25. So I don’t mind you and Ernie hanging out (closer to ground level — “on grade,” as my friend Mr. Phillips would say). But I wonder if Mandy might. She may not understand and this could lead to some problems between her and Ernie, and her and you, and even you and Ernie. Very messy, if you ask me. Perhaps you could find a way to watch the stars as a group, including Mandy and some of Ernie’s other friends. And once you find the stars, perhaps you could name one for your group!
How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Groceries?
Sometimes when I go grocery shopping, I just buy what looks good. Then I get home and have all these things that don’t add up to a meal (added to such things from previous shopping). So when it’s dinnertime, what should I do, especially if someone wants to come over unexpectedly? (You’ll probably have advice on my shopping habits, too.)
— Thanks, Stymied at the Stove
I must say, you’ve come to the right place! I was so excited when I saw this email I didn’t sleep for three days waiting to be able to answer. I’ve never met a grocery store I didn’t like. And whatever I bring home, I find a use for it. In those rare moments where I do forget what I bought something for, I consider it a personal challenge to put it to use.
I’ve heard of people who bring things home, put them in the cupboard and never touch them again. I don’t understand this. Every can of beans and every ripe tomato deserve a proper celebration in a delicious dish or on a yummy sandwich. There’s nothing worse than having to throw spoiled food — heavens, the smell alone — and, I recently read, it’s hard on the earth, too. So here’s what I do to make sure I just bring home what I want, and have a use for every little thing.
1) I grocery shop once a week. People who stop on the way home from work or their bridge game and pick up a thing or two are the ones who stymie me. I know what I’m fixing every day, how many meals it will make and what I need to pick up to fill out my ingredients list.
2) I make a list. I’ve heard of this, going to the store without a list. But I can’t imagine, really. I’d be picking up every old thing, all willy-nilly, and have a cart full of things that look good but are of no use to me. And then I’d have to figure out what to do with it all.
3) I use the In-ter-net. Now, when I started cooking (I was 5 years old, thank you, helping my mother peel the potatoes on a little stool in the corner), we didn’t have such a thing. We just knew what went together and how to mix things up. Of course, the ingredients weren’t so complicated back then. Now the salt section alone in the grocery store takes up half an aisle. Whatever happened to plain old Morton, with the little girl in galoshes and an umbrella? You can get sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, coarse salt, unsalty salt. And don’t get me started on a whole aisle full of pastas. So now, if I happen to have a few ingredients I don’t know what to do with, I go to that one place where you can type something in, and I enter all my ingredients and ask for a recipe. And out it comes.
You could definitely do this with your sad little random grocery assortment when you get home. Or, if someone does unexpectedly plan to come to dinner (how does this happen, again? Do you not send out engraved invitations with instructions to RSVP? This is terribly perplexing.), you could just ask the In-ter-net to tell you what to do.
Oh, and if you are one of those people who grocery shop when they’re hungry, stop that. It’s probably how you end up with a shopping cart full of mallo cremes and cheese puffs, and I don’t care how many times you put those two items into that searching thing, it’s not going to give you a recipe anyone would want to eat, even unexpectedly. If you must shop when you’re hungry, go to one of those stores that has samples of things. You can try all kinds of things (I don’t recommend you buy any of them), have a sip of wine, and take the edge off your hunger so you can focus on picking up crisp leafy greens, bright orange peppers, and tasty round beans and lentils.
Flattery Will Get You Everywhere
How’d you get so smart, helpful, skilled, and selflessly neighborly? Who taught or advised you over the years?
— A secret admirer
Oh, good heavens. You mustn’t talk like this. People will think I write these letters myself.
You Really Can Ask Pearl
To ask Pearl Jenkins for a bit of heartfelt advice, you really can email to ask. Just use the address she’s provided above: firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered, though time, space, and fit may determine whether an answer is published.
Photo by George N. Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Pearl Jenkins.
By turns thoughtful and hilarious (even, inexplicably, both at the same time), this deeply Midwestern book quietly unfolds a vision for how to navigate in a world where we can’t always resolve things.
As much as the characters (like Pearl Jenkins) have a relationship with poetry and story (and they do), it is also a profound book about naming both the things that have held us back and the things we want, to move us forward—about choosing life. While it plays at the level of a few characters’ personal journeys, it is ultimately a novel for our time.
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- Ask Pearl: Up on the Rooftop, a Problem with Groceries, Shameless Flattery - November 7, 2019
- Ask Pearl: The Advice Columnist You Didn’t Know You Needed - October 16, 2019