Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Apologize For Not Apologizing:


One of my yoga teachers recently published a nice piece about body and self-image. In it she attempts to address the kinds of random questions and unhelpful statements one encounters during the average extended relations holiday get-together where food and eating habits typically become a conversation piece, as well as unintentional verbal kindling for all manner of family judgement bonfires. In it she declares that this year she will not apologize for being thin, even though it makes others in her family feel uncomfortable about themselves.

I get it.

Except that now I'm on the other side of that argument. W-A-Y on the other side, to my way of thinking. Call me Ishmael Pudding Face.

I was extremely thin for all of my childhood, adolescence and most of my young adult life and I don't mean relatively thin when propped up next to Biggie Smalls or Snookie from Jersey Shore. I mean truly skinny. A stick figure youth who wore pantyhose under jeans in the hopes of filling them out and a college freshman with a bad Twinkie habit who never gained an ounce. That was then and this is now (Thank you, S.E. Hinton). I get where she's coming from and I sympathize why she feels the need to say what she's saying.

Somewhere along the way after three pregnancies, peri-menopause, a busted thyroid and a life-saving surgery to fix my palm-sized stomach ulcer, I lost my clavicle bones...or what my grandmother used to call "salt cellars", which are those triangular hollows between your neck and shoulder bones. Everything else followed. I can't decide if I have failed my body or my body has failed me. I take vitamins. I do some form of exercise almost every single day including at least three weekly installments of hot yoga and I try really hard to avoid my weekly nightly haj of wine and movie popcorn. However, my size in the last three years remains stubbornly unmoved. I have --according to many people whose sympathies I fail to earn--a normal sized body, but I'm unsure if that means normal in a "what's the big deal" kind of way or in the way that suggests I've gone the way of "Supersize Me" America. 

Either way, I hate me it and so do my pants.

True, I do not run long distances anymore. My hopes to complete a second marathon faded after I celebrated the 10th anniversary of having run the first one--and besides--it's too damn dark when I get home from work. The idea of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred would only work if she drove her skinny ass to my house every day to scream at me. I have the LOSE IT app on my phone and it restricts me to 1100 calories a day which is only successful when I approach its use with religious zeal while bookending each day between two separate workout sessions and drinking several liters of water. Sure, I get results, but 1) I must be close to a bathroom at all times, 2) My day devolves into little more than working and then working out and 3) I miss chewing.

So how desperate am I these days? I called an acupuncturist yesterday in the hope that having a thousand tiny needles inserted directly into my face will somehow tease my metabolism out of its present coma and I can pass by a mirror without grimacing. Of course, there is probably no way to be this honest about my negative self-image without inviting the assumption that I feel this way about everyone else in my situation. I don't.  I am the supreme ruler of my own body image planet and the restrictions I make for myself should in no way be mistaken for how I think anyone else should live. It's all about me. 

My biggest issue here is with the kind of change--unlike getting older-- that I should be able to fix and can't. It's about wanting to regain the one another part of my past life that I always took for granted. And--okay, I'll admit it. It's about walking into a party or a staff meeting or even the grocery store and feeling like nothing worse than a gently used version of my old self rather than one french fry away from a being a cautionary tale. Is that too much to ask? Please say "no".


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Up In the Air


There was a moment on our flight to Arizona when it was quiet and calm--both inside the cabin and in my head. The drink cart had made its way down the aisle and I decided against alcohol (too early) or peanuts ($6 for a package no larger than a tea bag. Sweet Fancy Moses! What's up with that?)

Flight terrifies me into a mild state of apoplexy, the type that even my jet pilot friend with two degrees in physics could never coax me out of. Yet here I was, seated next to my husband, peacefully and unmedicated-ly people watching. The man reading Kingsolver's "The Bean Trees. The grandmother in front of me perusing the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue for early Christmas gifts. The young snoring college student in headphones seated behind us--sandwiched between two female passengers who sat helpless as he assaulted rows 10 through 17 with his aggressively glottal explosions while he was blissfully protected from that annoying scraping sound a page sometimes makes when it's being turned. Because of the headphones. I felt sure both women wanted to punch him right in the throat.

Yes, I was hermetically sealed in this metal tube breathing everyone else's old air. Yes, my seat--like all the others in coach--did not allow ample enough leg room for a large child, let alone an adult. Yes, from my chair I could see the people in First Class drinking from real glass and crossing their legs without help from a second individual--preferably one with extensive chiropractic training. I was okay with it.

Maybe it was because I had already decided that this would be my last year at the school where I am presently incarcerated teaching. I imagine the triumphant return of Migraine Formula Excedrin to grocery shelves everywhere (and the disappearance of all Hostess products) is probably more of a shock than my decision to leave the source of my recent bitterness. Being locked in a room with a television that played nothing but old Gunsmoke reruns would produce less stress than the kind that bubbles up in me every Sunday night as I set my alarm for "dark thirty".

There may be one or two of you out there who are saying: "Buckle up, Nancy and let me pour you a big old glass of Get Over It" because--yes--I do have a job and it comes with health insurance, but those can't be the only factors that make it worth getting up every morning at 5 and coming home at 6 (with added hours for paper grading and lesson planning at home). There has to be more to it.

What was the straw that broke the camel's back? Was it last year when a failing child lied to her mother  about remarks she fabricated and attributed to me? (And then only retracting them after her mother had reported me to downtown? And after an investigation proved the girl a liar, the mother never apologized) Was it last week when student threatened to stab one of my colleagues? Or was it two years ago when a student actually DID stab one of my colleagues? Is it the overwhelming number of sub-standard parents whose misplaced sense of priority allows them to feel justified to apply for "free breakfast and lunch" for their child and use the extra money to buy an iPhone 5? Or is it the mother who claims that her son's inability to behave in school is our fault because her taxes pay my salary. I know. That last one didn't even make any sense. The woman is an idiot.

Maybe it's all of the above that make Sundays such a miserable day--only because it's the day before Monday. A woman in my yoga class says that one of her co-workers from the low-income high school where they both teach went to the principal and said, "I'm having feelings of suicide. I have to get out of this building or I'm going to kill myself".

That's not me, you understand. But I can imagine the process that might lead someone to have thoughts like that. Her students are basically the kind I have now...just older.  Low income, some low-intellect/ life experience with low expectations and riding in the last car of the welfare train. Add some anger and age five years. The next time you hear about them? It's on the 10 o'clock news.

I make jokes about the parents who pick up their kids wearing pajamas or tube tops.  The jobless "homies" that make up a good 40% of the dads/brothers/uncles at our school. The mothers with the stupidity or sheer audacity to get pregnant AGAIN--holy Jesus--after it's been made patently clear that they don't or can't take care of the half dozen kids they have now. The notes from parents detailing their child's absence the day before--with "stomach ache" spelled stomag acker. Mothers who agree to meet with us and then stand us up without shame. Fathers who don't know what grade their own child is in. The demands for free tutoring or for school supplies that they assume I should pay for because they can't.  And--worst of all--the school district which operates on the fantasy that the people I've just described above are the exception and not--as they really are--the rule.

It's a hot mess and there's no use saying that it isn't. Pretending the one student I'm likely to save is worth wading through the crap storm of everything else isn't enough any more. That child is a figment of everyone's imagination and even if he really exists, you can't help the someone who doesn't want to be helped. If I don't get out of there soon, someone's going to find me wandering the freeway at night wearing soft pants, drinking out of a paper sack and singing the theme to "The Flintstones".  It would be funny if it weren't true.















Monday, November 19, 2012

I'm Sad Because Vodka Popscicles Don't Freeze


A trip to Arizona for a wedding, the election,  a weekend campus visit to see two of our sons in college, a heartbreaking level of work stress, one respiratory infection, a crying jag, the discovery of Trader Joe's salads and a partridge in a pear tree. That is where I've been for the last month and the five of you who still read this blog most likely already knew it and refrained from calling in a missing person's report. I appreciate your self-restraint.

Meanwhile the words have built up inside my head to dangerous levels and this is bad news since it is time for Thanksgiving and the emotional dodgeball game that is holiday dinner at my in-laws. Or...as I've come to know it: Dysfunctional-Palooza.

I love my in-laws and they've always been good to me, but it's always been difficult for me to allow my life to be influenced or my holidays negatively affected by the off-kilter way others conduct their relationships. This year I seem to be unable to keep that from happening. The plan was to have the dinner at our house--you know--like the big kids do and have everyone plus their wheelbarrow of crazy here. One son is only here briefly and it was going to work better for him to leave from our house, rather than 45 minutes west of here after a dinner that will NOT start on time, no matter how many promises are made.

However, my MIL chose to allow my FIL to play his "heart attack" card and keep dinner out at their house. Now before you gasp at the sheer, unbridled heartlessness of that last statement, Aunt Bea, let me just tell you that this is the way my FIL operates ALL of the time. Even when his heart hasn't been stitched together with catgut and hot glue. He works hard all week long being the infante terrible of the legal world and then wants to sit out in his workshop and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist.

Now he would like to do this again on Thanksgiving day and just pretend it's because it's due to a weak heart, rather than the fact that he's uncomfortable in other people's houses all of the time. Not to mention that I believe he's no longer on the pre-op medication that kept his moods of late...um...relatively non-confrontational. This is no small feat given that the scotch and cigar industries took a major hit while he was under doctor's watch before his bi-pass and now those pills that made him okay with pretending that sparkling grape juice was just as satisfying as a snootful of chardonnay have probably worn off and it's every man, woman and child for himself.

Bring on the turkey coma, people. I'm hoping to lose consciousness before the BIL with the low self esteem and loose-cannon mouth says something stupid. I'm in no frame of mind to trifle with fools. My yoga instructor says that every time we encounter that family member who brings on the road rage, we should go outside and do a handstand.

At this rate I'll just have to eat my entire dinner while upside down. What about you? Who makes you crazy?



Sunday, October 21, 2012

Turning the Page


There's an enormous dry erase board that my husband framed up and hung in the little "mud room" entrance to our kitchen and since our family mostly enters our home this way via a garden door--rather than the more formal front entrance--the board has stood as a constant reminder of what needs doing around here.

In the beginning it was divided into five sections with each person in our house writing his or her name at the top in dry erase marker. This left five vertical columns for each person's daily stuff. Occasionally the boys would leave funny or cryptic messages for one another with the most constant data being grocery lists with scribbled in requests for ice cream, reminders for dry cleaning or to fix something broken in the house. Eventually, memos for tux rentals and graduation invitations fought for space with college application deadlines and dorm move-in dates, summer work interviews and appeals for a new pair of running shoes. There were times when the board was exploding with muti-colored announcements all crammed in a happy chaotic jumble.

The old board is looking a little barer these days. It's no secret that I dislike change if it's not something I wanted in the first place. However, I will go on record as saying that I hung on to some very old memos --perhaps longer than was necessary. As each boy left in more permanent ways the need for them to use this as a tap on the shoulder decreased imperceptibly.... almost as if word by word.

And then this week? Something changed  and I found myself standing in front of the middle son's written reminder to file his college graduation plan.   He's done that and the ceremony is in December. There was the oldest son's memo for rental agreement on his house, which happened months ago, as well as a sketch of a wooden construct to be used at a summer camp where he is the climbing instructor. Done. Finally, there was my hugely scrawled admonition to the youngest son to PACK for college as well as the distinctively pink signature of his girlfriend that had been there since the previous winter.

By not erasing those last two bits of information I realized I was trying to keep certain things alive that were no longer relevant to us or to our sons--and in that same way--avoid the inevitably gaping space that would result. But in fact the youngest had already left --successfully packed-- almost two months before, plus he and the girlfriend were no longer together. In the time that had elapsed those written words had been drained of their meaning and now were nothing more than symbols of fear that the space they had previously filled might never be replaced by anything else. 

Sometimes it takes naming a fear to make you see how stupid it really is. This was the case on Thursday afternoon. After considering one last time the commands, suggestions and reminders from the last six months I picked up a dry erase marker.  Impulsively, I turned it over to its felt eraser end and slowly scrubbed away at all of the messages that no longer applied. And... the world did not end.  Even though the board is still pretty empty. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. If that's true then I can't wait to see what she does with this message board...and the life we live as reflected on its surface.



Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weekend


I would have posted before now, but I appear to have a decision making disorder that makes it hard for me to commit words to paper (or computer screen) until I know where I'm going with the point I'm trying to make, but I've put off cleaning the house--or as it is currently known: Brokedown Palace--as well as grading the half kilo of papers I brought home with me yesterday so I have a moment to express a thought or two. I know I won't be the first person to say this, but two days for a weekend is really not long enough. Especially if I'm expected to be completely ready for work on Monday. I'm going to need at least three days, mainly because I require an entire 24 hours just for all the crying. I wish I was kidding.

How bad is the behavior at our school? So bad that during morning announcements over the PA system-- (Wherein the entire school collectively recites THREE pledges--national, state and the school pledge to be a better citizen and not stab anyone until we get home--so who are all the jagweeds out there on Facebook claiming school kids don't say the pledge anymore and the country is going to hell? No really! Find them for me so I can kick their asses right now, because it takes my school eleventy-five minutes of pledging instead of receiving instruction every day and as a result I've got students who think the name of our continent is Antarctica and one who just this week spelled the word the word shovel thusly: sufol. Time is of the essence, friends. OF. THE. ESSENCE!! This cannot be overstated. And no--I'm not suggesting that our kids can't read or spell because of the Pledge of Allegiance, so simmer down all you flag wavers out there.)  --our sweet principal has us clap in unison for the number of days our little dumplings go without a disciplinary referral to the office.

I'll wait while you digest what I just said.

Yes. It has come down to clapping for the self-restraint shown when young children make it through the day without setting fire to the bathroom, though rhythmically speaking what we do really resembles that slow "clap out" that all the prisoners did for Robert Redford when he played a warden in the movie "Brubaker".  By the way, that smell you've probably just noticed? It's the smell of failure. Thanks for noticing.

It was a good idea, in theory, to assess our progress with regard to in-house violence. Sadly, we got as far as 10 days of relative calm during that first week and a half, which had our teachers in a kind of mouths-wide-open-yet-cautious state of mild shock and disbelief and then things went south as they are wont to do here at Lord of the Flies Elementary when a bi-polar/schizophrenic third grader-- who is built like a small tractor and whose mother neglected to administer purchase his insanity pills-- roundhouse punched another classmate right in the face while in the cafeteria. Current total of claps as of yesterday? Three. Hope springs eternals, folks.

And then it is stomped until lifeless by someone wearing dirty Air Jordans.

In other news I saw something on Pinterest about a Chocolate Ding Dong Cake with caramel and sea salt and when you add that bit of happy information that to the fact that I also just this day stumbled onto the existence of Candy Corn M&Ms? Let's just say I may have discovered my reason to go on living. It's either that or risk censure when someone discovers me "drinking" my lunch out in the teacher's parking lot, though I don't think there's a jury in the land who would convict me if they had spent even a day with me. The invitation is open, but you'll have to bring your own kevlar vest. Don't say you weren't warned.

I'm headed out tonight to my husband's class reunion. I'm actually looking forward to it since I purchased this miracle cucumber eye cream that somewhat diminishes the suggestion that I'm storing small dark coin purses beneath my eyes. I'm not saying it's like a facelift or anything, but it shaves a whole three years off my appearance. When you consider that I was coming out of ICU three years ago and--even then--looked more rested than I do after leaving work every day? Well....I'll take what I can get and going backwards in the time machine known as "GETTING OLDER" is better than forwards. If you don't know that yet you are probably still in college, in which case you probably should be studying instead of pondering your mortality. There's plenty of time for that.



Sunday, September 30, 2012

Story



That whole "youth is wasted on the young" adage is true for more than just the reason it is generally used. Most people have grandparents for at least a while and when you do you're probably young and when you ask your simple questions you get answers--or maybe you don't ask any at all, but you're too unobservant to notice. Because you're stupid about the brevity of life you fail to realize that these people who keep the Dr. Peppers extra cold in a special garage refrigerator just for you are the keepers of your DNA in story form. And their visas for life on the planet have a limit. It's not that youth should be used for only one thing but that the patience and foresight you need about the swiftly passing years don't come until later.

Still-- you do hear about the twin sisters with rhyming names that your maternal grandfather tells you about, but only because you ask him while he's having his coffee in that maroon melamine cup he always drank it from. He probably wouldn't have told you otherwise because he's a quiet man. They were jumping from the hayloft and later one of the twin girls died and they carried her casket in the wagon past her old schoolyard one last time and played her favorite hymn which your grandfather could still sing. And he does in a low soft voice that raises the chill bumps on your arms almost as much as the unlooked for news that children die sometimes. What the hell?

There's the story your grandmother tells about a tornado that blew away her childhood home while they were hiding in the storm cellar and maybe a fire where someone risks his neck in order to duck back inside the burning structure to rescue the newly purchased suit of clothes. 

Your other grandfather with the spooky laugh and kind eyes teaches you words from his native Germany, but you scarcely get to know him before he dies of a heart problem which leaves you with the grandmother who taught you to knit and play cards but who shows disapproval more easily than affection. And who never wants to talk about where she came from.

One day it's as if every tale they've ever told you gets an instant replay in your head until you remember a detail or two that doesn't quite make sense and when you start to question it all because now you're actually interested and you have the time? The people you need to ask are out of time. Everyone's gone. You could have spent at least a few more hours with your mom's mother, but her last years of bad health coincided with the beginning of your teenage dating career and you couldn't possibly have known how important those old people were going to be until they weren't there anymore. Those who would have told you the most--had you bothered to ask-- exited the planet first-- leaving you with the grandmother with all the secrets and half truths. Ironically, strokes later relieved her of the need to continue whitewashing the exposed parts of her sad early life that couldn't be hidden--the part that took place before you even got here. 

There was that new start in America after leaving either Poland or Russia...no one's really certain because the story changed depending upon who was telling it. Her father who drank. Her mother who lost one baby after falling down the cellar stairs. The mysterious sister whose children were taken from her and whose ultimate end no one wants to talk about...even fifty years after her death. The great-uncle you never knew about who died when he was two. The institutionalized nephew. Her handsome baby brother, killed in a jeep accident in Puerto Rico. Her marriage to a man --my grandfather--which was never all that happy. The fact that a month before she gave birth to my father, her own father shot and killed his wife--her mother-- in their home on Olive Street before turning the gun on himself.  And the years of family members self-medicating with alcohol which make me more than convinced that if there was ever a family crest to discover, it would probably feature a bottle of gin and a bowl of peanuts. If these are the details we do know, imagine what there must be that she and her other siblings were keeping to themselves?

I remember my youngest sister's foray into geneology, which my other sister and I later followed.  One afternoon she called me and said, "Well...the good news is we've got some really artistic people on Dad's side of the family. Painters and people who write or create. The bad news? Lots of c-r-a-z-y and alcoholics everywhere." Awesome.

The grandmother who loved risque' jokes, and long neighborhood walks where she picked up spare change off the street,  talk show host Jack Paar and later--inexplicably-- a nurtured fixation for an actress named Della Reese; the grandmother who loved hearing your true stories but who was less anxious to tell you anything even remotely unvarnished, left behind a lot of objects which were physical talismans of the time I spent in her house. A commemorative John F. Kennedy spoon. Her telephone table. The best platform rocking chair ever made. Some mixing bowls. Her method for salting homemade french fries. Those are--every one of them-- treasures and they remind me of her every time I see or think about them.

However, I'd trade all of it for a copy of her missing salad dressing recipe and the truth about everything else-- no matter how shameful she probably thought it was. It's all just story and one of the last things we learn in life is that the best ones are those that no one wants to tell.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday



You know those things that always bugged you about your parents which suddenly make more sense than you ever though possible? I'm having one of those moments. Actually, it's not a moment...it's a day. In my family, Sunday was always the day that made my mother sad and that had a lot to do with it also being the day we went back to college after a rare weekend in town and that--for her-- signaled the beginning of the the slow drift away from the old homestead. Roger that, Captain. It's already happened.

It's been a really full day. I made the most of the rain and the solitude. The Hubs was gone on a campout and I grocery shopped and made stew and a flotilla of cookies to mail to the boys. I graded papers and did laundry and made lists. I listened to music and read the NYTimes. I fed the animals and talked on the phone. I saw and bought candy corn at the store and that got me to thinking about this being the first Halloween (I know...it's only September) without any kids living here. After that, the day was shot through with amber tones of both serene contentment and nostalgic melancholy.

You'd have to live here to know, but it's nearly impossible not to think about the past while in our home. We live in a house that is pushing seventy...with creaky hardwoods and cabinets which--when chipped--reveal a lovely stratigraphy of paint colors. Apparently our kitchen used to be Robin's-egg blue. The Hubs was at one time an archaeologist. One of my college minors is History. Both of us are blessed and cursed with the ability/need to look backward even as we seek what awaits us ahead. There's too much here that speaks to what has been as well as what is to come. Kids' art framed on the walls. Photos from beach vacations. Our sons' childhood handprints pressed into the plaster of their bathroom walls. Mail that still comes here addressed to them. The fireplace front I tiled in a mosaic fashion along with pennies pressed into the grout...each one bearing a son's birth year and one for the year I married my best friend.

There's no doubt that this is a tough transition. In the real world it might seem to others as though I'm completely fine with my newfound independence and in many ways.....I am.  We are. But it is clear to me that---because of the times I seem to return to this theme in writing---I'm grieving too. Every corner of this house is a museum to our family's happiness and an inescapable reminder of all that will never come to pass again. Did I just write that? Jesus! Someone tell me a joke.

Today I found a paper that the youngest son wrote when he was in the 1st grade. It was one of those Daily Oral Language things where the teacher calls out simple sentences and the students write them down. Probably one of many I glanced at--smiled briefly at the effusive 100 scrawled in red ink--and then placed it in a memory box with so many others. Today I actually looked at it (Thank you, Jimmy the cat, for dragging it out from under the bed) and read the words our son had so laboriously lettered: Can Sam skip? Will Roy jump?(Should Mother have some wine and just shut up already?) I trace with my eyes the curving penciled lines and stems he made on the 17th of October. Twelve years and one month ago as of tomorrow.  On any other day I might look at it, smile and then put it back in the box. Not today. Today I keep it out for a bit. A souvenir of a sweet time that was way shorter than I ever knew it would be.

Who knew that Monday would be so welcomed?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Canada: Still Not a State


You'll forgive me if I reduce this post to a mere grocery list of thoughts, but lists are pretty much the only complete sentences I can guarantee these days since I have to reserve all my strength for children who alternately delight, frustrate, bewilder, and anger me most every day of the week--none of whom did I bring into this world. It's like riding in that last car on the roller coaster. You might survive, but it will probably require showing up the next day in a neck brace and high on Tylenol 14. Or something like that.

1) When rebooting one's iPhone it is always important to be able to distinguish between the terms "reset" and "restore". The difference being that one is a bustling Costco jammed with all manner of things that make life enjoyable while the other is a sad and very suddenly empty warehouse.

2) I'm going to need a ton of cheap wine compasses if I'm ever going to be expected to teach these children about the world they live in. Namely, that Canada is not a state and that children who live in Texas should actually know where San Antonio is, given that a very important battle was fought there. They need to know that it is Kennedy's assassin who is buried in a nearby cemetery and not the guy who shot Lincoln--for the love of God! Or that the sun does not really rise or sink. I think when I told them that NORTH was not "UP" I may have caused a couple of spontaneous brain implosions. Today I asked one class if they knew which country (The choices were Mexico or Brazil) was further north and one child raised his hand and said with great confidence...."CHINA!" I think it was my father who used the term "Couldn't find his butt with a lantern in both hands". These precious children? Precisely that.

3) After two heart attacks, a blood infection and pneumonia, my tough-as-shit father-in-law was released from the hospital today. Two arteries are currently still completely stopped up with what is surely a  78-year old paste of cheese, pork, cigar smoke, more cheese and Glenlivet, but he stands a better chance of healing at home in order to survive his future bypass than he does in the ICU with people coughing their phlegmy, staph-coated body fluids in his general direction. I wish him luck. He doesn't have my own father's sheer Teutonic will power, but he's got whatever it is that occasionally makes you want to grab a crowbar and sneak up behind his stubborn Scotch/Irish ass. Either way, my money's on him.

4) If I'm not meeting with a parent--or attempting to hang myself in the elevator shaft after a particularly trying day, I enjoy closing the door to my classroom, turning off the overhead lights and listening to music by lamplight and what little sun that comes in through the very tiny windows the school's architect saw fit to throw our way.  Typically, I grade papers while doing so.  Today's selection was Leon Russell's "Back to the Island". Maybe you're too young to know who this guy is and if you looked him up you might think he was just some homeless man wearing a jaunty hat. You'd be right about the hat. But I've learned to keep my eyes closed and listen only to the music. His is the voice of the very last years I lived at my parents' home. Seeing what time has done to those who created the background music for my youth and young adulthood only shines an unforgiving spotlight on how many years have actually passed, but closing your eyes leaves you with just the music and THAT remains mostly unchanged. I did it when I saw the Doobie Brothers, and again in July when I saw Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Skaggs. I did it when we saw Paul McCartney.  I wish I could do the same for myself. Looking in the mirror can be really feel like a mean thing to do to some days.

5) The empty nest continues to alter the way I think about our house. Our three sons are doing so well where they are and I love getting reports about every new thing that they're seeing and doing. Mostly, they're learning live to without us. I keep a lamp on in their old rooms at night...just so that their end of the house isn't dark. Lately doing so feels a little like hanging on to the wrapping paper after you've taken the wonderful gift out of it. What's left in there that needs a light anyway? The books they don't have room for and clothes that mostly didn't make the cut. Winter coats they don't need just yet. Awards from school, old yearbooks, and a folded note from a friend that gathers dust under a bed. The Hubs and I are fine and we are enjoying the extra time we have together. However, those boys changed us in a big way and daily life that doesn't somehow involve finding a pair of pants in the living room that someone just stepped out of and then totally forgot about is strange indeed.

6) I like walking along our city's river trails on the weekends. I plug in "This American Life" and let Ira Glass gently speak to how many different human stories there are out there in our world. And it reminds me that my story--even though three very important parts of it have moved away--is far from over. Some days are harder than others to remember this.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Things To Do in the Cardiac ICU Family Waiting Room

                                                                   

1) Use ear buds and iTunes to block out disturbingly funereal Celestial Kingdom -style music that is being piped in for the benefit of those in various stages of fear or grief.  I'm not sure how we should be expected to think positively with the auditory assault of "Nearer My God to Thee" drifting through the air. It would seem we're only minutes away from an alter call at a tent revival and an old woman playing beseeching spirituals on a Hammond organ.

2) Lacking as one might (in an emergency situation) an available sleep mask or even a burlap sack to pull over your head, you'll need to bring polarized sunglasses on the off chance that you will wind up bunking down for the night on one of the sofas provided since the lack of a dimmer or off-switch makes it nearly impossible to sleep due to the visual sting of florescent lighting. I've never been to the "Land of the Midnight Sun", but it's probably a lot like this. You have been warned.

3) Destroy all healthy eating habits dictated by the "Lose It!" app on my phone and--instead--eat  greasy cafeteria pizza, white powdered doughnuts and Twizzlers from the vending machine. As a bonus, inexplicably rack up a $20 credit with your bank card on those same vending machines which--when you need it most--refuses to cough up a lousy package of Cheetos.

4) Bring a sweater and a blanket. Possibly a light parka. It's like "Ice Station Zebra" in that waiting room... all day every day.  I've watched enough ER and Grey's Anatomy to know that sometimes heart patients are put on ice to keep them alive. I didn't think it was supposed to happen to those of us who aren't queued up on the surgical tarmac awaiting the knife.

5) Finish Stephen King's "11/22/63" (849 pages). Did it. On to the next thing.

6) Have roundtable discussions as to reasons why the largest art installation in the waiting room depicts an enormous painted Jesus presiding over similar smaller renderings of an EKG readout,  people having surgery, families waiting on ill loved ones and a person in recovery. Also?  A picture of a man bowling.
                                                               WHUT??

7) Finish grading three sets of tragically lettered spelling tests without forgetting how many letters are in my own name. It's harder than you'd think.  Join me for a victory dance, won't you?

8) Listen to stories about how your critically ailing father-in-law--an imposing local attorney who had just arrived by ambulance-- was describing his symptoms to the doctor in the "cath lab" and cutting up about that BBQ-ed pork sandwich he'd had earlier when his heart stopped beating. Just like that.  I'm thinking it's a rule of thumb not to crack wise about your impending multiple "code blue"(s) unless you want God to smite you with something that requires the doctor to shout "CLEAR!" before applying cold gel and some paddles.

9) Give your youngest brother-in-law a temporary "pass" for behaving like one of the biggest assholes in the entire hospital, including any you could stumble over on the proctology floor. And it's not just because his father is ill. He elected to castigate me for referring to our 10 and 12 year old niece and nephew as young kids. SRSLY, dude?  He wanted to go to the mat with me over those two words. I'm not even sure what his real issue was, but he spent the rest of the afternoon passive-aggressively saying and doing crappy spoiled baby things (including forcing me to step over his unmoving feet and legs when they were in the way and everyone else was moving theirs so that I could go use the bathroom). Trust me when I tell you that it has taken everything in me not to grab him by the lapels and "schrisper" (scream/whisper) "I know way too much about you for you to think you can get the upper hand here and now, Mayor McCheese. Don't make your personal life failures all about me." In the words of Will Smith, "Don't start somethin' and it won't BE nothin'". Also? Take off those sad bastard/sagging emo skater pants, busted Teva sandals and start dressing like a MAN for a change.

10) Realize anew that outside this building we're all moms and dads, lawyers and shop owners, gardeners, and baseball players, musicians and writers. Inside this building? We're bones and blood and flesh and terribly, terribly vulnerable. I remain profoundly grateful for the fact that there are people here who know how to attend to our physical human frailties. The man 20 feet away from me has a hideously annoying ringtone and his voice is far too loud. His assembled family includes young children who are too young to go into the ICU and serve no real purpose in the waiting area (just my opinion) but to create havoc and get bored. But I'm going to give him a pass too. He's waiting on the same kind of news that we are. Still hoping God gives my father-in-law the same consideration.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Guess What? Chicken Butt : Random Thoughts on the Road Ahead


"Teachers go back on the 20th and classes start one week later."

 I wish I had a dollar for every time I've uttered that last phrase lately. Like a lobotomized robot who's been force-fed Prozac (which would take some doing because you'd have to be really strong to pry apart its can-opener jaws, but who cares because this post is not about robots --surprise!)--it's become my doomsday mantra. An dutiful air-raid siren of words that I repeat with emotionless facility every time someone asks. There's bad feeling aplenty, as one might imagine, but it's best not to expend the energy crying over it now. I'll need it all later in order to resist going on a shooting spree after being auditorily claw-hammered by a parent's inability to speak using simple subject/verb agreement and an inside voice.  Some of whom will likely show up to Meet The Teacher Night looking like a first round draft pick for the Gary Busey/Snookie Lovechild Olympics. Classes haven't started yet, but my brain is already in pieces and because of that, this post is going to unfold similarly.

1) Pardon my food baby and cankles. In other words,  I did not succeed in my attempts to lose the 10-12 pounds necessary to exit the self-imposed cone of shame I've forced on myself of late. It appears as though I'm going to return to school/work looking like I've spent the summer living in one of those tragic veal-inspiring pens for young cows while enjoying a diet rich in diabetic-flavored cupcakes, pork cracklins' and Big Red. I'm sorry, pants. I've failed you once again.

2) I'm wondering if it's too late for the school district to restructure my contract to include pauses in the day for naps. Half the walkie-talkies (used for emergency communication) in our building are broken and since we serve a population of children whose unchecked aggression is only encouraged by their low expectation-having families, I would also like to request some form of portable self-defense. Complimentary packs of Chinese throwing stars or maybe a blow-dart gun loaded with napalm. Otherwise, I'll be forced into fashioning the arm of my big paper-cutter into a scimitar. Welcome to Thunderdome. Confront at your own risk.

3) If I thought it might work I would postpone the inevitability of summer's end by scheduling surgery where I donated one of my wine-soaked kidneys to anyone would would take it. But for reasons made evident in the description of said kidney, I've been advised against it.

4) In other health-related news? Welcome to Hot Flash City. I'm the mayor.

5) The youngest son leaves for college tomorrow. We're swimming in a gravy boat of sad around here and as I write, the sky is crying too. If I wasn't writing this anonymously, I'd post a picture of him here. I miss the days when I could do that.

6) I have to add that our district has decided to adopt a "get tough" policy, but it's not about bullying. Or cheating. Not on drug/alcohol possession, weapons, or student discipline or even parental accountability. Nope. The scourge currently dragging our public schools down to a third world status is..... the teacher dress code. Of course! Forcing teachers back into neckties and panty hose is going to erase that achievement gap in record time! By all means allow the female students to wear neon bikini tops instead of bras underneath cheap cotton uniform shirts and-- for the love of God-- PLEASE don't stop a mom from visiting at lunch wearing broke-ass house slippers, see-through Dora the Explorer pajama pants and a bedazzled shirt that says "BEER ME!" Instead? Taking away my ability to wear jeans one extra day each month is somehow going to turn the "lame and halt" into National Merit Finalists. Our delusional district actually believes that parents and students look to us as models of behavior, dress and speech and that --one day--it will pay off. I've got news. I could show up wearing a floor length nun's habit and conversing like some Masterpiece Theater actor and nothing is going to change. It's like expecting to fly coach but wearing your church clothes to the airport in the hopes that you'll get bumped to first class. It never happens. Ditto for the children of parents who think that Amazon.com is a place you can get to by car.

7) Just thinking about #2 and #6 makes me crazy. Not authentically crazy like the type that causes you to drive your car to the store naked (Poor Randy Travis!), or in a diaper (Poor astronaut!) or where you claim that there's a tumor made of meatloaf in your brain and it sings old Glen Campbell songs to you when you're trying to sleep. But more like the gently daffy double rainbow type of non-dangerous imbalance where you cry a lot every time you push your cart past the grocery store's school supply aisle, order alarming quantities of unicorn figurines and Marie Osmond dolls from the Home Shopping Network and then arrange them into families....or make homemade sno-cones from Thera-flu and that excess frost scraped off of a bag of frozen okra. Yeah. That kind of crazy.

8) I'm so excited about the fall television lineup that I've marked the season premieres on the calendar typically reserved for PTA meetings and pediatric appointments. It's sad because it's true.

9) Despite all of the above, I've spent $500 of my own money to buy school supplies for my classroom.  That's also sad because it's true, but it probably means that I'm ready to try again. Pray that I can conduct myself with dignity and respect, no matter what happens. And that whenever you hear a mutual exchange of gunfire in the vicinity, it won't be me. Probably.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eleven

I WANT TO BE HERE!!!!

At the risk of revealing my exact location to those individuals who might turn around and show this blog to my employer, I'll just say that some people in the general region where I reside might refer to this particular moment in my life as "nut cutting time".  Others with more delicate sensibilities would call it "The Eleventh Hour". To me the next eleven days more accurately resemble a sad and panicked ON ramp into nine months of H-E double Hockey Sticks. That's right. It's time to go back to school. I could be wrong, but I'm using last year as my predictor and since I'm looping up with this same set of inmates--from 4th to 5th grade--I feel safe in the assumption that there is little I can do to escape all the crazy that's going to come raining down on me in Biblical proportions.

I have a lot to do in the short amount of free time I have left: 1) Finish Stephen King's "11/22/63",  2) clean out my closet,  3) lose 10 pounds, 4) move the youngest son into his new college home and 5) learn how to make popsicles out of Robitussin for those especially frustrating work days when simply nothing seems to be going as planned and the prospect of taking an all expense paid vacation to the Manson Family Compound seems like a viable alternative.

Like many other teachers, I've spent the last couple of weeks getting caught up on self-maintenance so that it doesn't cost me a sick day later on when I'm not so much sick as I am parked in a waiting room with bad wallpaper and raggedy issues of Highlights and Consumer Reports. So yesterday I drove myself and a questionable looking mole to the dermatologist where the traditional wait time is usually so lengthy that whatever skin infirmity you think you might have has for sure already morphed into full blown melanoma by the time you actually see the doctor. Upon reading that last sentence I feel I need to clarify that I had a mole growing on my arm that I was concerned about. I did not provide automotive transport for a strange looking mammal belted into the seat next to me. Because that would be weird. Moles don't go to the dermatologist.

                                                  MOLE: NO   MONKEY: YES

My friend Mrs. G recently related a tale about her great-uncle and his Capuchin monkey named Judy. I insist you click over and read it --right after you read this. Anyway, her tale brought to mind my own monkey story. Everyone should have a monkey story. I'm completely serious.  Good stories usually have a beginning, middle and an end. This one? Does not. Because of all the parts where I would typically write pertinent information--but instead am forced to write I DON'T KNOW due to crucial facts that I lack. Trust me--there are more of those spots than there should be. Anyway, here goes.

When I was little I had a much-older-than-me (13 years) cousin who was either drafted or elected to go to Vietnam. I offer both scenarios because....I DON'T KNOW which is true because I was a little kid.
Anyway, when this cousin (I'll call him Adam) came back he had a Silver Star and all kinds of fascinating half-stories about mysterious bath houses where women were paid dollar bills to walk on your back in their bare feet which my grandmother--who didn't even like it when you played cards in her house because of possible gambling--didn't like. I say half-stories because that's about all my sister and I were able to hear before my grandmother hushed him up. Insert another I DON'T KNOW here since I never heard what else he did there. 

Anyway, one day Adam came by with what he said was a "gift" for my grandfather. Later, I learned that--aside from the normal kind of present which comes wrapped and can mostly be counted on to smell good--receiving a gift from your grandson who is still not quite the same person after Vietnam can really mean that he needs to park his squirrel monkey at your house for awhile. The same squirrel monkey that seemed so cute and a really, really good idea to buy at the time but which now makes an unholy mess and mostly just smells bad. Oh yes--and he bites when you pick him up. 

"Happy Birthday, Pops! His name is Hambone.  Say, where do you keep your band-aids?"

My sister and I already loved visiting our grandparents, but they just had one television which was frequently tuned to the news or Lawrence Welk and most forms of entertainment were exhausted pretty quickly there, so you can imagine the unbridled excitement we felt over the prospect of a monkey playmate right there in the house. However, our dreams of dressing Hambone in baby clothes and cunning hats, carrying him on our shoulders or teaching him to eat with a fork were dashed when we realized that Hambone was going to be the kind of pet you mostly just looked at due to his predilection for grabbing your nearest appendage--usually a finger-- with his tiny monkey hands and sinking his needle-like teeth into them.

Sure, it was entertaining to watch him eat with his fascinating fingers or imagine what he was thinking as he watched us with his glittery black eyes. His expressions were inscrutable which made it tempting to put small items close enough to the chicken wire in the hopes that he would take whatever it was and turn it over and study it the way a human would do. Things got really exciting when it was time to clean out his cage because Hambone had to be removed so that fresh shavings and newspaper could be spread on the bottom of the cage and the old poopy liner carried out --and hopefully-- burned. This required the use of heavy falconer's gloves for the person holding him. If all went well, he would sit quietly on the curtain rod and not choose that moment to release the contents of his digestive tract nor resist the attempts to put him back into what must have been his own personal Hanoi Hilton when the time came.

Both my grandparents were scrupulously clean people, but my grandmother was more vocal about her simmering hatred for Hambone and--truth be told--his entertainment value didn't play out nearly as well as we children had thought. Also? The smell. I won't camp too long on the description, but if you can imagine a baby's fully loaded diaper dipped in a mixture of hot mayonnaise, pencil shavings and old celery, you'll have an idea of what an assault the monkey's presence had become when it came to our olfactory sensibilities. Sorry for over sharing. The standard for cleanliness was also at stake and people were running out of fingers. This--we came to understand--wasn't going to end well.

One day we came to visit and Hambone was no longer in residence. The enameled table which normally held his cage now featured a doily and a non-ironic bowl of bananas which had no connection to the departed guest. Or so they said

There were vague explanations about where Hambone had gone, though I'm almost positive that no foul play was involved, but where exactly had he gone? I DON'T KNOW. The End.

See? I told you the ending was inadequate.

Anyway, I'm going to try to be positive about the school year despite my feelings regarding the dreadful way the last one unfolded. It may require starting every morning by playing "Eye of the Tiger" on the classroom boom box and possibly something involving a starter pistol.

And --of course-- alcohol popsicles.














Monday, July 30, 2012

Life Out of Balance

Folded over the back of the sofa in the front living room is a pair of men's cargo shorts. They are too big for anyone who lives (or even used to live) in this house. No one knows how they got here. It's usually the kind of thing that irritates me to distraction, especially since I pass by them dozens of times per day and no one else here seems to be interested in locating their owner. Or (for the love of God!) moving them.

However, in a kind of koyaanisquatsi-sort of way, those shorts make complete sense now that our home has devolved into a kind of staging area/launching pad for children who are on the precipice of leaving. Nothing is where it is supposed to be, but there's plenty of crap just sitting where it shouldn't. A drawer of flatware and a bedside table in the front living room. Lamps and an entertainment center in the garage. Bags of clothes and a desk in the spare bedroom. I gave up doing any kind of deep cleaning a couple of weeks ago. It's more than clutter...it's bordering on filth.

The cat's multiple bottles of heart medication are placed dangerously close to our own vitamins and there's a wet sock that someone dropped into the cat food bowl en route from washer to dryer. The odd and lumpy sacks of school supplies leaning sadly against my office doorway that will accompany me when I return to my nightmare job in a few weeks. Laundry--both done and undone. Stacks of mail and books, bins of paints for two art projects (admittedly mine) in the middle of the living room floor. I found a cobweb hanging from the ceiling of the boys' old room that looks exactly like an internet cable. One of the dogs ate aluminum foil yesterday and now we're counting the moments until we discover a canine yard bomb that sparkles like a disco ball. Precious memories!

Welcome to Slumdog Trailerpark 90210.

And that's just the part you can see with the naked eye, Jed Clampett. There's some emotional stuff here as well. In 20 days we'll officially be empty nesters. And I am so conflicted. I'm torn between wanting to gather all of our kids here for a giant do-over because I miss having boys who aren't so tall that I can't smell the tops of their heads without standing on a ladder....and reveling in the fact that my husband and I are still young enough to understand that a house with no offspring in it for more than an hour is code for something that typically requires a locked hotel room in another state.  (Kids, if you're reading this now, I apologize. The bleach for your eyes is in the laundry room.)  I desperately want both. I hope it's clear that the last sentence wasn't about bleach.

I spent a hot Saturday helping the oldest find estate sale items to furnish his house. The sale was held at a former neighborhood couple's home who were elderly until...well...until they weren't...and now we'll be making brownies in one of their old Pyrex dishes. I had a lump in my throat the entire time as I realized that--as expectant parents--you buy a bed for your baby to sleep in and a place to store their tiny clothes so they can come to live with you...and then years later you buy them another bed so that they can move out. To do some of this while standing in the middle of someone's former living room and seeing a stranger pay a dollar for what might have been a beloved vase snagged on a vacation or that front door Christmas wreath I saw for the past 17 holiday season made me realize how one could be sad and happy at the same time. It was confusing. I wanted to huddle up in the corner and cry, but instead I bought a paperweight painted like a clown (because my sister is terrified of them and I thought it might be a fun birthday surprise) and kept moving.





In June I published a guest column in my city's paper regarding the prospect of one's children leaving for the great unknown. From all accounts it was equal parts poignant and true for parent readers. It was a cathartic exercise for me and I think I was able to work through the sadness while making my readers laugh.  After that my husband and I went on the road for a week--Marfa, Santa Fe, Aspen-- and we sort of discovered what we were like before the kids came. I think that's called adjusting.

Shortly after that two of our three sons--and all their stuff--moved back for the second half of the summer. Hence the ever present feeling that the Joad family has been living here without my knowledge. Or that I'm Loretta Lynn and I've time traveled back to my birthplace in "Butcher Holler" wearing a feed sack dress and newspaper shoes. I wish I could say I was exaggerating.

  Anyway... now our sons are moving out again...at least...the two who haven't already left. For one wallet-busting semester we'll have three in college and exactly one year from now...we'll only have one. Meanwhile I'll start teaching again in the same unhappy place where I was last year. I'll use my personal time to get my classroom ready and then my own money to buy supplies. I'll print up enough "Welcome to 5th Grade" information for every prospective parent and student knowing that only a dozen or so will actually come up to meet their child's teacher. Regardless of the preparation time, I'll drag a wheeled cart out into the heat and load it into my car, already overburdened with paperwork and expectations and parental excuses for why they didn't do blah, blah, blah.... And in that single moment,  the restful summer where I read 13 books, lunched with friends, finished two art projects, watched countless movies, discovered a junk shop and one new gallery in town which serves those who love "found art",  renewed my love for yoga, saw a friend/colleague get married in a mountain pasture, celebrated my wedding anniversary on a crisp night in Aspen, cleaned out my office and bedroom closet (not enjoyable but very necessary)...will recede far into the distance.

Tonight at the grocery store I saw the aisle which features all the summer items like cheap flip-flops, chip/dip platters, canisters for making sun tea, water pistols and swim goggles is about to be replaced by crap commonly associated with the beginning of school. As if I needed a reminder. I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one who sees the prospect of that change and becomes upset enough to throw a clot. Luckily, it's on the same aisle as the wine and candy.

Coincidence? Probably not.















Monday, July 16, 2012

Greetings From The Feline Cardiac Unit

So Jimmy Jimmereeno (You can thank Salinger for that name), our fantabulous rescued kitten, who apparently lived for part of one brutal winter hunkered behind the storage barrels in our side yard before we discovered him and then lured him into our family with untold cans of Little Friskies, is not going to live to be an elderly cat. Or a middle aged one. Or even a teenaged cat tear-assing around the yard and threatening all manner of winged wildlife. Saturday, we found out that the typical heat-related malaise that he was exhibiting was actually fluid in his gut, an impacted bowel and breathing problems brought on by an advanced case of heart disease. I'm only being sarcastic to keep from crying, which we've done plenty of this weekend.

Jimmy stayed overnight at the animal spa vet clinic where he suffered untold medical indignities (catheterization, enema, injections, and the shaving of his upper paws --do cats have wrists?--to facilitate the iv needle) in the interest of evaluating his status, though we were told he did enjoy the oxygen chamber and was the best "pill taker" they'd ever had. Like Judy Garland or Elvis? That kind of pill taker?  Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure...though he did return home from his $1,400.00 hospital stay and immediately crawled behind the toilet in the guest bathroom to convalesce...so it seems a likely scenario. The shaved parts give the appearance that he's wearing fancy mittens. And? He's got fleas.

It's not like I'm being nostalgic for what life with an old cat would have been like. God, no! The onset of kitty cataracts, the surprise! pool of vomit in my shoe, skin conditions featuring uncontrollable shedding and scabbing, deafness, arthritis, reflux, dementia and incontinence. I've lived with an old cat before. And it's not about the fact that he won't live to reproduce. His balls were *cough* relieved of their baby making essences, so he was never going to be a father anyway. I think he's okay with it.

It's because he's the best damn cat we've ever had. He's sweet and personable and almost human in his communication abilities. He's the kind of rescued animal who knows he was one snowflake away from certain wintery death and was visibly grateful for the life he had with us. But now he sits and stares at the wall all bereft-like and wheezes a little. He takes three kinds of meds four times a day. Two are for his heart because now--without warning--a moment of unexpected surprise, stress or even an especially upsetting episode of Animal Planet might cause him to suffer a tiny myocardial infarction and die. Or simply lose the use of his back legs which will require us to purposefully end what is left of his time with us at the vet's office.

I'm not one of those people who believes that pets are the same thing as children, so don't expect me to ask about your dog's Petsmart bills when we're talking about the high cost of sending kids to college. They aren't the same thing at all. The loss of a child is horrific and sad and....unnatural...even though it happens. Parents don't expect to outlive the kids they brought to the planet, and mostly? They don't. The loss of a pet is...well...the loss of a pet. It's expected (eventually) and normal... but they are still precious family members whose presence brings quality to life.  And one, I might add, they will never grow up enough or be old enough to be independent from you. Their trust in your abilities to make them happy, healthy and comfortable makes this situation incredibly hard. So the decision to end their suffering still feels like murder-- while not ending it seems like you're just submitting them to misery. You-- and they--are royally screwed either way.

Jimmy's life expectancy? Somewhere between a few days to a few months. A really sad span of time where we get to watch him sit at the glass door and see the rest of the world having fun. A "little boy" cat with an old man's ticker. It's so unfair.

In the meantime, my youngest son thoughtfully brought home three Western Coachwhip eggs from camp. To put it musically? "My baloney has a first name, it's  S-N-A-K-E".  An unexpected hatching episode would definitely affect my heart in a negative way, but--truthfully? It is already broken.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

In a New York State Of Mind


Aren't I always? If you knew me to pick me out of a lineup, you'd know that the answer to that question is always a "yes". Out of the 2000+ books that you'll find in our home (Yes, there are that many and we even have bookcases in one of the bathrooms), you'll find a nice selection devoted to New York City. Biographies, historical studies, architectural commentary, short stories and novels...both about people who live in New York or written by someone who lives there.

You can go ahead and call it an obsession because that's probably what it is. When friends ask me where my favorite place to eat might be I'm going to rhapsodize about the steamed dumplings served in bamboo dishes at Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown. I'm going to talk at length about the need to spend a good long afternoon at the Strand Bookstore on the corner of Broadway and 12th. I'm definitely going to lecture about spending a night at the Algonquin Hotel or having a drink at its historic Oak Room and imagining the conversations held there by some of the best writers this side of the Atlantic. I'll talk about the fried egg sandwiches at the Red Flame Diner and eating homemade biscuits underneath the portrait of John F. Kennedy at Junior's in Brooklyn. There are the crisp morning walks to the museums or strolls with a camera through Central Park with its obligatory pause to reflect at Strawberry Fields. Rides on the subway where you can people watch or read a book....or watch people who are reading books...only to walk up and out into a completely different place: Wall Street or the East Village or Queens if you want to go that far.

You probably are thinking to yourselves that NYC is just a city and you'd be right, technically speaking. However it is--to borrow an overly used phrase--a melting pot of everything that is or was America. Our humble beginnings as a country have roots here and it was a major gateway to citizenship for many others. From brownstones to penthouses and every majestic bridge spanning the harbor, every brick and piece of mortar has a story to tell.

Right this very minute it's all there. The food. The lights. The noise with its constant hum of humanity punctuated by honking taxis. The smells of restaurants, dusty bodegas crammed with absolutely everything, soot, exhaust, new buildings next to old ones, sidewalk tables, snatches of music, subway performers, people speaking Dutch or French or German behind you while you check out the fish market on Canal Street where a Chinese woman sells you the most amazing champagne-hued silk robe. I've been to New York nearly ten times and I know I'm bound to go ten more before I do my final back flip off of the planet.

But Nora? Isn't there anymore.


And it makes me so sad. Nora Ephron...the woman for whom my favorite city was her favorite religion...is gone. This woman who was so full of words and energy, advice and opinions (and whom I had never met...it must be said) died very quickly and quietly at the end of last month. I was devastated. I had collected and read her books back when I was a college student (and every year since then) and though some of her essays were about her own college days, I don't think I was swift enough at the time to grasp the gems of advice she was sending my way. Her novels, her movies, the sound of her very deliberate and oh-so-articulate voice as she expounded on the roles of women or the latest book, or turtleneck sweaters or how to make Yorkshire Pudding. Good God! I've don't even know what it is, but her confidence in the way things should be done convinced me that if I were ever lucky enough to wind up at her kitchen table (Oh, the thought of it!) and she pushed a bowl of it in my direction, I would take one bite and know bliss.

One of the last times I went to New York I spent a good chunk of the visit chasing really old ghosts. I photographed the door of the Algonquin suite of rooms where New Yorker Magazine creator Harold Ross spent some of his last days before dying at the Mayo Clinic during cancer surgery. I dragged my family to the house near Hell's Kitchen where Ross and Jane Grant (writer and eventual wife) brainstormed my favorite magazine which would feature the likes of Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Janet Flanner, EB White and the cartoons of Charles Addams and Peter Arno. We took the ferry out of the Battery to Ellis Island so that I could see the first glimpse of America my grandfather saw as he stepped off the ship that brought him from his native Germany.

It never occurred to me to look for the living model of humor and intelligence whose creative offerings had always been such an inspiration to me. She lived and worked there in the city which--and these are her words--made the best bread on the planet. Even better than the kind you could find in France. I probably passed her on the street...me trying to cross a street while she casually munched a hot dog from Gray's Papaya. Or maybe I walked past her as I looked for the bathroom at Grand Central Station.   Either way, she was a living/breathing fixture of creativity and brilliance who walked among us and now she doesn't.

After her death the internet was filled with tributes and the account of her funeral service was both hilarious and poignant. One of her sisters--in speaking about Nora's wealth of confidence in her own way of doing things...and telling others the same--said that "the universe is practically opinion-less now". There are none left.

When sweet Fred Rogers died, I made a beaded bracelet with the letters WWMRD? What would Mr. Rogers do? Based on what I've read in the last two weeks I'm certain that a similar shirt for Nora would make complete sense.

Her death seems wrong somehow and I know that's strange. Everyone dies eventually. The famous, the infamous and people like me.  It is, as the say in that annoying Lion King song, the circle of life. But I always thought of her as being a part of the circle where the beginning and ending meet.  Untouchable. That's what I get for thinking.  New York City will always be here. Of that I am sure. And for right now? So will a little bit of sadness. Nora loved twinkle lights. The kind which festoon many downtown trees all year round now. They feature prominently in every movie she made. Maybe it's time to hang some more in the courtyard outside my house. I don't think I'd even have to ask what Nora would say to that.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Things Were Said...and Here's Why

                                                                  NOT OUR HOTEL

Our vacation was incredible. We drove a little over 2,400 miles, visited two cooler and more scenic states in addition to the wider and flatter parts of our own, ate and drank with abandon, witnessed a beautiful wedding, heard about the marriage of another set of friends the day after we left them and celebrated our own anniversary. And now we're back. My brain has been sufficiently erased of the stresses which previously plagued it. If this is what electroshock therapy is like, then sign me up.

I would like to clarify my last post as well as its timing. During one notable wedding anniversary my sweet husband offered to accompany me down to the courthouse and buy my old name back for me. I didn't take him up on that offer for several reasons, the main one being that we had been married for a significant period of time and we had three children. Changing my name at that juncture would have offered up the appearance that we were in a bad place. And we were not. We are not.

However, every year the Hubs makes the same offer. He's watched me flinch when we get mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. George Clooney (sorry...I just drew a name out of a hat and it happened to be his). Or worse....a birthday card addressed only to me...as Mrs. George Clooney...and my first name nowhere in sight. Or phone calls from people conducting a survey and asking for the head of the household. When I was younger I used to say, "And just who do you think THAT might be?" or "You're speaking to her.", but now I just say "There IS no head of the household here. We are equal partners." And then I hang up.

Because he does more than offer lip service to the words, "I understand that this is hard for you",  our anniversary has become a yearly milestone where he maintains that he's ready for the change whenever I am. In social situations my husband--whom I still adore for reasons too numerous to mention here-- introduces me using my real name and--for right now--that's enough. I don't mind using his name at work because it is easier and SO MUCH SHORTER than the one I used for 27 years. But in my head? I'm still that kid bearing the last name with 13 letters that everyone mispronounces and no one can spell.

Why didn't I change it back in the beginning? Because I was stupid. This is not to say that women who do change their names are stupid. I'm saying that I didn't know myself well enough then to intuit what would have been right for me, and by the time I figured it out (Yes. I'm slow. You can say it.), I felt that this window of opportunity had closed too far for me to squeeze through it.

So it was the Hubs' yearly offer--and not the new marriages we were celebrating on this trip--that brought on my last....um...t-i-r-a-d-e.  People (women) can do what they want and I have a wide variety of friends who reflect all the name choices women can make these days. I've just always been amazed, though I probably shouldn't be, at the legions of men who are slow to get on board with those choices.

In other news I saw that some of the stores are already featuring school supply displays. Upon spying the rows of crayons and spiral notebooks I had but one thought and it was this: "Angel of Death, take me now!" 

I am nowhere rested enough to face the classroom again, the likes of which--at my school-- made the movie "Midnight Express" look like a delightful spin on that teacup ride at Disneyland. Thank you, but...no.

Right now I'm enjoying the coolness of bare feet. The satisfaction of knowing that I can pick up a book for pleasure any time I want. Or phone a friend for lunch and then actually go. There's a cat passed out on the cushion next to me and a glass of iced tea on the table in front of me. My hair no longer feels like it's on fire. I'm able to think about and talk about things that AREN'T school and it's an incredible feeling. It's like finding a hidden room in your house that you didn't even know existed...and there's all this cool stuff in it. Enjoy all your cool stuff, blog peeps. That's what summer is all about.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Rose By Any Other...

Lately, I've been thinking about tradition as it applies to marriage. About traditions that make sense and those that really do not. The tradition occupying space in my head today is the marital name change.

I know that its roots are based in the ancient principles of marriage...back when a woman was considered to be--both legally and socially--the property of her husband. For nearly all couples in modern times, this is no longer practiced, though I do have friends whose interpretation of religious scripture is informed by a man's view of "what's what" and this usually leaves the female half with the short end of the stick and pretending that she's okay with it. I'm grateful that our legal system is no longer allowed to enforce these archaic views and each marital participant comes to the table as an equal.

HOWEVER!

The name change thing is still alive and well and I don't understand why. I have friends who are all over the map with regard to how they handled this somehow still-controversial issue. Some continue to live and be married with the names they've always had. No harm and no foul. The kids they have either wind up with hyphenated names reflecting both parents (Which is done without blinking in other countries) or their father's name. I guess there's no escaping that last one. In some situations, the woman's name is hyphenated or she use both names without the hyphen.

Personally speaking? I took my "maiden" name as my middle name, though my bank checks, driver's license and work name reflect various forms of something more traditional. I wasn't really thinking about what it would mean until until it really DID mean something--and by then--I was afraid that changing it back would signal something untrue and negative. I still worry about it.

 I have one set of friends--and ONLY one--where the man (Let's call him Tom Smith) and his fiance (Teresa Jones) elected to become Tom Jones Smith and Teresa Jones Smith. It is the only situation I know of where the man made an equal sacrifice of his identity. Mostly though, whether out of religious obedience, tradition, or a desire not to rock the boat, the woman usually just kicks her own name to the curb and takes a new one. Even those who claim that it's not a big deal will notice the first time she starts getting mail that says Mrs. John Sadsack, rather than Mrs. Jennifer Sadsack, because the first thing that will go through her head (and you can't stop it) is, "Seriously? I lost my first name too?"

In practically EVERY case--whether the groom is a flaming liberal or a neo-conservative, he escapes with name and identity intact. AND...in every case the following is absolutely true whether you want to believe it or not and it is this: Changing your name (or marrying a woman who changes her name to yours) does not in any way make you more married or more committed than if you drifted blissfully through life with your original birth names. It also doesn't mean that she loves her husband any more than a woman who chooses to keep the name she was born with.

If you think about it, marriage has long been dictated by both attitudes AND behaviors. What about the attitude or idea that a woman belonged to her father before belonging to her husband, thus the need for the prospective male to request permission to marry her? We no longer believe that a woman belongs to her father or to her husband, but many still participate in the tradition of asking for her hand. So, even though we've dropped the ancient attitude, we still cling to the empty practice that went along with it.  Why do we do this? To me it's like someone who loses a ton of weight and while being a much thinner person, continues to hang on to the old clothes....and wear them. Why continue the practice if the law behind it is no longer in place?

Perhaps, the part that confounds me most is this: Why men who seem to completely understand why their own names are so incredibly important to them and who are 100% resistant to ever changing them or losing them along with the accompanying identity and horrified that you'd even suggest it...are equally adamant--or at least mildly insistent-- that their partner sacrifice everything they believe they shouldn't have to. As though women are lesser animals with a dulled sense of who they are or what they are about and that they probably won't notice the change or feel any different because of it. And? Despite what some insist,  it's NOT more convenient. It's actually very complicated... both emotionally as well as technically speaking, what with all the accompanying paperwork and fees. Sure, you'll have the same name as your kids, but if you divorce? You'll be less jazzed about being saddled with the constant reminder of your association with him and you'll have to buy your old name back. I have it on good authority that it is a fairly expensive process. Consequently--both then and now and whether you stay married or not--name changing is only convenient for the man.

Which means? Some things haven't changed at all.






Friday, June 22, 2012

Tentmaker Wanted


We're here in Aspen for the wedding of a friend and co-worker of mine. This morning, the Hubs took off to play golf and I hiked around town for about two and half hours looking at shops and taking photos (describing the cool weather) to send back to friends in my home state where the climate is approaching its usual 100+ temperatures. Also? I am free from worry about any kind of karmic payback because the altitude her won't allow it. Rocky Mountain High...and all that. Not so much an urban myth.

I amused myself by walking into Ralph Lauren just to see what was going on and there were a bunch of people there working on a display and being oh-so- serious about it because that handbag has got to catch the light...just...so. As though Judge Ralph himself was about to walk in. I spent a few moments finding a non-bourgeois discreet way to look at a tag-- without actually seeming to look--because that's how Lucy did it when she and Ethel went to the Don Loper Salon in Hollywood and she got her ring caught on a tag--and you know this is exactly what I was thinking about when I found out that a simple blouse from the SALE rack at RL is still $950. On the SALE rack. Nine. Five. Oh-my-god! Which means that when it's not ON SALE it's only slightly less than my mortgage payment every month.

I know!!

So I wandered into a small boutique and the woman there was very nice and very...very thin (I'm not a hater!) and we were talking about the climate when her co-worker/owner came in and--without really seeing me--announced to the first woman that she had just bought a bunch of "dresses in really big sizes---like 8's and 10's." 


The words REALLY BIG just sort of hung out there in the air like a cartoon bubble over their heads.

I think the first woman knew--as all savvy clothing store owners must-- how to eyeball a person and determine approximate size and had probably already done so with me. I also think she felt it was her duty to perform a deft verbal recovery of the situation so that I--a decent looking 5'8" woman with credit cards and wallet full of vacation cash who wears clothing in the 8-10 range--didn't become offended. Or possibly have a little come-apart in her store and get my elephantine/ supersized  8-10 tears on something expensive.

Too late.

So she said--very quickly-- "That's great, because--you know--people like that have to wear clothes too."


People. Like that. Shit.

And then the second person DID see me and she said, "Sure, we like their business as much as anyone else's."

You know...as much as the business we get from people without cooties.

Cooties named "cellulite".

I wanted to reassure her and say, "Don't worry yourself about this one bit because I have all my clothes made at the tent and awning outlet near my trailer park community that's two states away and there's nothing here that is of any earthly use to me and--hey--I'm really thirsty. Do you know if there's a place nearby where I can get a glass of gravy to drink?"

Which isn't even true because I just bought a really cool skirt at Old Navy the other day and it's not even close to the size of a picnic blanket, movie projector screen or even a car cover and by making that statement now I know I sound all petulant and....defensive. Am I?

Or am I just offended that the human x-ray who owned that store thinks there are only two types of people in this world: Skeletal people with eating disorders (pretty, pretty people who look good in clothes).....and then everyone else and all those individuals should be rounded up and shot arrested and sentenced to shop at Walmart for the rest of their natural lives.

Other than this? Aspen is gorgeous and everyone else I've met has been very friendly and kind and there's a store that sells t-shirts dyed with chocolate or red wine. I take mine in a size 8-10. Hold the gravy.