Adventures with Claire Hollenbeck #284

I guess it all began eighteen years ago. It was my first day of pre-school and I was nervous about making friends. I remember thinking about how I had never had to make a friend on my own before. I thought about my siblings and how they did it, by making jokes.

So I walked up to this curly-headed little girl with round cheeks and freckles and the following went down. Or at least this is how I remembered it…

Little Coco: “Hi. Do you wanna hear a joke?”

Little Claire: “Sure!”

Little Coco: “Knock, knock…” (I have no idea what the knock knock joke actually was, but it was the first one I’ve ever told, and also probably my last one since)

Little Claire: (Laughs)

Little Coco: Do you wanna be my friend?

She said yes! It’s the simple beginning of a fated friendship.

And everything henceforth with Claire has been like chapters from a book about two ladies turned misfits.

Claire is my oldest best friend for a reason. When we’re together (and my mother will cringe reading this) we are INVINCIBLE. If you don’t believe me, ask me about Adventure #121, Claire & Coco get locked inside a Dick’s Sporting Goods (and run amok), or Adventure #94, Claire & Coco take over the Christmas town of Parkville, Missouri.

So yesterday we reunited after about a year and a half absent of our magic, and it was like we were sixteen again. One day after four tornadoes hit our town, and it was the prettiest I had ever seen it: 73 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky.

“We’re putzing around mom!” She laughed into her cell. Mrs. Hollenbeck had called to check in with her daughter, now cruising around with the likes of me. I had spent the night in her new apartment on the Plaza. For out-of-towners, it’s the old shopping village little girls in town grow up imagining they’ll live someday. Many a girlfriend I know rent their first place there after college; my mother did before she married the likes of my father. It’s a whimsical life, and so it was the perfect destination for my Claire.

We were awfully busy doing nothing – it was the perfect set-up for a blissfully unproductive and entertaining day.

Claire was on a mission of sorts, to buy a blue wig for her already colorful wig collection. I was in the mood to spend money. We headed to the Crossroads district to discover Gigi’s Wigs had shut down after over 20 years of business. Disappointed, we pulled into the 1960 Kansas City landmark, Bob Jones Shoes, home of over 100,000 old lady pumps. We had our fun, but didn’t stay for long.

Lethargic from our late night of wine and chitchat, we headed to Quik Trip to purchase our fair share of caffeine. For out-of-towners, QT is the bustling one-stop convenience store I am strangely fond of, perhaps because I spent a good amount of time here with my high school girlfriends growing up. After cross-country practice or before a late night editing the school newspaper, we would stock up on taquitos and fountain drink cocktails made of Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke, and something called Rooster Booster, akin to Mountain Dew Code Red. On this particular morning, the line was long with men holding donuts and women holding apples. I made a beeline for the Rooster Booster.

Ice Cubes taste like hazelnut-coconut truffles.

While purchasing the goods, I eyed a row of nostalgic candies my dad has only talked about eating as a kid, so I grabbed a handful and Claire and I returned to the open road. We enjoyed our retro candy breakfast of Albert Moritz’s Ice Cube Chocolates.

Rejuvenated, we ambled over to the gourmet cheese shop that took a chance on hiring me at age 17, The Better Cheddar. I attribute the beginnings of my rather informal foodie education to this little storefront in Prairie Village, Kansas. It was here I tasted the best cheeses from around the world, and learned to pair the right cheese with the right cracker or compote, for the right clientele throwing a certain dinner party. I learned everything from my boss – we’ll call her Miss Swiss. It was rumored she hired men only, and that I was an anomaly. True, every other employee was a guy in his early twenties. I was shy, but persistent, and wanted to learn as much as I could from this woman, who apparently, didn’t like other women. I

The Better Cheddar storefront

learned soon enough how sadly true this was, when one day, Miss Swiss pushed me. The next day I quit, thus ending my thorough, but short-lived career in the cheese-selling industry. I had always wanted to return to stand up to her, now that I was older and stronger. Now that I knew for certain that her actions that day had been entirely out of line.

And so I returned to The Better Cheddar, finally ready to say my piece to Miss Swiss. Claire came for support and I walked inside with my head held high. I was greeted by two young women who told me my old boss had retired 6 years ago, around the time that I left. I was disappointed, but also relieved. Free from the hard stares of Miss Swiss, I could peruse the

Cheese, cheese, cheese!

cheese selection and talk to the young women about my time working there.  They still had all the greats, like: Piave Vecchio, the aged Italian cheese that tasted like Parmesan with a stronger punch of salt; Smoked German Bruder Basil, which makes Smoked Gouda taste bland; Triple Cream Brie, best served beneath some kind of pepper and berry chutney; and ultimately Gjetost, the caramelized Norwegian combination of goat and cows milk cheese perfect for dessert. To my surprise, they had heard of me. I was known as “that girl with the long eyelashes” to Miss Swiss. It was a delicious walk down memory lane all the same.

Claire and I contemplated mimosas at the new restaurant next door, Story, before we shifted gears entirely. We were a block away from our grade school, St. Ann’s Parish, the castle of our girlhood studies and dreams.  St. Ann’s, where soccer moms and mini vans were all the rage. St. Ann’s, the home of Girl Scout cookies and mystery meat, recess was four square, kick ball, and gossip by the tire swings, study hall was after social studies and pre-algebra, and weekly mass was held on Thursday mornings. After Claire and I hit it off in pre-school down the road, our mother’s decided to surprise us so that neither of us knew that the other was in the same Kindergarten class until we saw each other in Mrs. Miller’s home room.

With my partner in crime, K-8th was classic childhood bliss and growing pains. I was ready to reminisce again. The last day of class had been the day before, so we roamed the deserted halls and classrooms, all still open. And in the spirit of our invincibility, we took this to mean, time to explore!

St. Ann's Church in Prairie Village, Kansas

The library had been completely redone to look like a modern, well-lit library. I was a little disappointed, as the 1960s decor of its predecessor, and its many cavernous dark-wooded shelves had certainly provided cozier reading corners and  escape nooks. I noted the titles of their book sections were still cleverly the same. They still labeled children’s fiction and nonfiction “Easy Fiction” and “Easy Nonfiction.” I recall these monikers completely dissuading me from ever selecting a book from these shelves, shaming the kid who publicly desired easy reading. Psha, I was all cool and into books on Ancient Egypt and American Presidents…

…moving on…

Claire and I took twenty minutes to pass through the classrooms it took nine years to graduate through. We finished our tour in the cafeteria. The kitchen was open, so naturally, we began to search for the frozen churros we remembered so well. Nothing was left, and the morning’s breakfast Ice Cubes were hours behind us. We said our goodbyes to St. Ann’s, knowing full-well we’d return again in a few more years. Now in old school mode, we returned to QT for Rooster Booster refills and taquitos. We were back on our mission for Claire’s blue wig.

Next destination: U.S. Toy, arguably, the best toy store in Kansas City. Nostalgia was thick in the old warehouse. Claire found her blue wig, and I found a glittering wall of party beads in every Crayola color. U.S. Toy may not be much to look at – it’s a warehouse – but it’s a dream to walk through. Every aisle has a theme and party supplies and toys abound within those themes: there’s princess aisle 9, and dinosaur aisle 11, pirate aisle 7 and cowboy aisle 12. And there’s even a wig room, which explains our visit.

Back on the road, we passed a sign I could hardly read, but registered suddenly, “Take a right up here!”

Claire did so, confused.

“Estate Sale.”

Claire smiled. We had talked about them earlier that morning and it seemed fitting that one would suddenly appear in our path today. Walking up to the home, a man in a chair looked me up and down and said “the purses are a dollar.” I have a thing for vintage purses, and apparently, so did the owner of the house. There was indeed a table of classic leather purses. Was the man serious? “Yep, a dollar.” OK! I picked them up in a clean sweep like I was playing jacks. I don’t mess around with vintage leather purses.

We had done everything we planned on and even more we couldn’t have planned on. It was the perfect day, but rather than it ending prematurely, we chose instead to bask in the sun.

“OK, I’m going to jump the fence!”

Claire’s new apartment didn’t have a pool, but the condos next door had a grotto. So four seconds later the girl with the legs for miles had scaled the fence while I held the magazines and sunblock. Inside the complex, more men than women tanned poolside and all seemed to be reading Kaplan LSAT prep guides.

We fell asleep in the sun, both of us still wearing the wide-brimmed hats we had worn to keep the sun off our faces. It may be the only poolside I get this summer, if this summer in NYC is anything like my last.

There’s nothing like lazy summer days spent making new memories with your oldest friend. And this is most important. Friendships contingent on reminiscing is a bad sign. I believe that means the friendship isn’t growing.  Time with Claire Hollenbeck is a story well made, adult happenings spiced with the playful magic of childhood.

This one’s for you, girl. I impatiently await our next adventure in the city this summer.

Stay tuned…