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Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman is a bestselling crime novelist.

Whole 60

Evgeny Buzov / Getty

Laura Lippman | Longreads | July 2019 | 15 minutes (3,660 words)

1.

When I was in high school, I would walk to the Waldenbooks in the mall near my home and read novels while standing up. This was the 1970s, long before bookstores became places that encouraged people to sit, hang, browse. There were no armchairs in that narrow store on the second floor of Columbia Mall in Howard County, Maryland.

Reading while standing up felt like stealing, a pathetic thrill for this straight-A goody-goody. I had money — I babysat, I eventually worked at the Swiss Colony in the same mall. I could buy any volume I truly desired. But my stand-up reads were books too embarrassing to bring home. I remember only two.

One was The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden, a British novelist perhaps best known today for inspiring the name of Bruce Willis’s and Demi Moore’s oldest daughter. It now strikes me as a perfectly respectable book; I could have forked over $1.25 for it.

The other one was — I couldn’t begin to tell you the title. It was a slick psycho serial killer tale that began with a young couple parked on Lovers Lane, where they were attacked by a man with, if I recall correctly, a metal hook for one of his hands. He used his hook to slash the roof of the convertible, or maybe it was a knife, and as the metal blade (or the hook) pierced through the canvas, the beautiful, vain sorority girl — it was implicit that she deserved to die if only for her smugness — thought: “I should have had that slice of cheesecake at dinner.”

It has taken me more than 40 years, but the singular achievement of my life may be that if I am attacked by a serial killer on a deserted Lovers Lane, I almost certainly will have had dessert. Not cheesecake, because I don’t like cheesecake. Possibly some dark chocolate, preferably with nuts or caramel, or a scoop of Taharka ice cream, an outstanding Baltimore brand, or one of my own homemade blondies, from the Smitten Kitchen recipe.

Maybe a shot of tequila, an excellent digestif. Maybe tequila and a blondie.

But only if I want those things. Many nights, I’m not in the mood for anything sweet after dinner. Every day, one day at a time, one meal at a time, one hunger pang at a time, I ask myself what I really want. I then eat whatever it is.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
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Game of Crones

Illustration by Homestead

Laura Lippman | Longreads | May 2019 | 16 minutes (4,090 words)

[1]

My daughter was 10 days old the first time I was asked if I were her grandmother.

It was the second week of an unseasonably early Baltimore heat wave and I had managed to maneuver her stroller across my neighborhood’s bumpy, narrow sidewalks to my favorite coffee shop. Almost nine years later, I still remember the one spot on our street where the juxtaposition of a tree planter and a set of rowhouse steps made it physically impossible to push a stroller through at any angle. One either had to lift the stroller a foot in the air or bump it over the curb into the street, a solution I figured out only after much grunting and angling. By the time I arrived at the coffee shop, I was sweaty and unkempt.

A young man peered into the stroller, then glanced at my face: “Oh, are you her grandmother?” Only three days earlier, a woman had seen me boarding a plane with my newborn, eyed me approvingly and whispered: “You look amazing!” An unearned compliment — my daughter didn’t come out of my body and my body’s not that great, anyway — but I had been happy to take it. I’m not dumb. I knew the grandmother question would be asked again and again, and that compliments would be rare.

I tried out a simple, direct reply, the one I use to this day: “No, I’m her mother, but I am old enough to be her grandmother, so it’s understandable that you would ask.”

I thought my answer generous. But in the years since my daughter was born, I have discovered that people who ask rude questions feel terribly affronted if you say anything that implies they have just asked a rude question.

“But I’ve seen that baby with a young couple,” the man said. “Out and about in the neighborhood.”

“I don’t think so.”

“No, I absolutely have,” he insisted. “She’s been going around with a young couple.”

I let it go. I live in a city that, year in and year out, has a startlingly high teenage pregnancy rate, and consequently a high number of young grandmothers, some of whom end up raising their grandchildren. I’d be proud to be one of those women. But I am not. I’m just an old mom and I’m cool with that. Say a word or a phrase often enough, and it loses its power. I’m an old mom. I’m 60. I’m a 60-year-old woman with a third-grader. I am old. I am 60. I am old. I am old. I am old.

“You don’t look old to me,” my daughter has said on more than one occasion. “You could be in your 40s, your 30s, you could be in college, you could be in high school.”

Uber drivers say something similar, but at least I know why they’re blowing smoke up my ass. I’m not sure what my daughter wants, but she’s been eyeing the American Girl Doll spaceship, which lists at $449.99 on eBay. Good luck with that, honey. Mama’s got money, but she’s not crazy.

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