Thursday, October 29, 2015

Right or Wrong

As a wife, I never tire of being right. When my husband to be met my Dad, Dad told him, “Even when she’s wrong, she’s right.” Now that might just appear to be sage advice on how to keep the peace in a marriage, but my father was wise beyond that. He’d learned the painful lesson. Without ever, in my memory, admitting he was wrong about something, he knew my mother was always more apt to remember the details of this or that, and arguing generally proved to be futile.  Not that he was a pushover! He chose his battles well.

I have begun to realize that I have forgotten so much about my life. Recently, an almost-cousin of mine recalled a time in Florida about 27 years ago when, miraculously, all of us were visiting. His parents lived down the street from mine. They had air mattresses strewn all over the house to accommodate the overflow. We were with my folks. The timing seems right; my son would have been about 6 months old; my husband would have been celebrating his 40th birthday; all the older generation was alive then so we would have been at no loss for eager grandparents to babysit; I loved Japanese food and would have jumped at the chance to suck down sushi and sake in a tatami room with all my cousins. He had all the details!.... I don’t remember a thing. “Did you take any pictures,” I asked, needing proof.

Once upon a time I briefly dated a guy with a hit song. I couldn’t remember his name! I knew the song but… Bobby something. Bobby Thompson? Noooo… Then Billy Joel sang the song and credited the singer and I texted my husband, “That’s IT!” with joy and relief that I could stop obsessing on this memory lapse.

So, while major and minor chunks of my life have disappeared, I discover I still have a remarkable gift for minutiae. I remember phone numbers, although speed dialing is messing with that skill. If I drive someplace once, I can generally find it again without help. On a recent trip to Kings Park, L.I., the GPS on Waze told us to get off at Exit 44 South. That bothered me. I made my husband check Google Maps. As is his wont, he had refused to use my car’s GPS or even MY phone, which I could have connected to with Bluetooth, permitting me to SEE the damned map as I drove, so I was totally reliant on his verbal directions. Now, my husband can get lost mowing the lawn. We refer to him as “Geographically Challenged” so trusting him to get us there was an issue. Anyway, he reluctantly agreed to check Google Maps, which, with one or two minor exceptions, agreed with Waze. “That’s wrong,” I said, the warning bell ringing loudly in my head. He was getting agitated. “Both GPSes say the same thing,” he countered. “Well, unless they MOVED Kings Park, there is NO WAY WE GO SOUTH!” I made him call our friends who were waiting for us with a burning dinner. Sure enough, we had to continue to Exit 53 and go North. The smugness washed over me like an electric blanket. I never tire of being right.

Our call time for work today: 4:23 or 4:53? I’m right; he’s wrong.
Legends Dinner last Monday: 5:30 or 7:00? I’m right; he’s wrong.

Years ago, there was a ‘discussion over dinner with my birth-father when he came back into my life. He insisted that Ditmars Boulevard was in Brooklyn and Ditmas Avenue was in Queens. I KNEW he was wrong. I lived near Ditmas Avenue and I lived in Brooklyn! But there was no changing his mind. This was before Google. Before computers! The restaurant didn’t have a map! I couldn’t prove it on the spot! I was fit to be tied! How could he cling to this error?

The Ah Ha moment: Maybe this is why my parents divorced!

Postscript: My Dad did once admit he was wrong. He apologized to me for the way the transition to becoming his daughter was handled. He was the best Dad a girl could want and he probably saved me years of arguments, but still, with all the love I felt, I couldn’t escape the harm these acts had caused and couldn’t stop myself from expressing them. Others wanted me to ‘just forget it’. He alone acknowledged that I was right: it had been mishandled. And this was the one instance where I wished I had been wrong.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I Smell a ... What?

One thought occurs to me as I awaken in my brother’s apartment... I could never live like this. Not anymore.

Don't get me wrong! I am so grateful for this place, a stone’s throw from the beach, not to hang my hat but to flop my ass down and sleep between shifts. But the proximity to others is no longer something I find comforting or desirable or even, in some cases, tolerable. I like my house. I like that, in the summer when the trees are full, you can’t see the neighbors. Even in the winter no one is too close.

We crawled in here late last night after working a "concert". I'm putting that in quotation marks because if this is music then music is dead. Four acts of relentless rhythm that changed only when it disappeared altogether. So I was tired. The ride down the Westside "Highway" (another long-dead concept) was not as bad as usual. Someone in the chain of command in Mayor DiBlasio's assault on commuters had the wisdom to open the direct access tunnel to the Hugh Carey Tunnel. (Calling it what it is, the "Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel", is also a dead concept for that might tell the driver WHERE IT IS!) Unfortunately, no one thought to advise drivers that the entrance on the left was open, so all of us clinging to the right were screwed. Anyway, it only took an hour to get to the apartment: a significant improvement over a two-hour trip to CT.

The elevator doors opened on his floor and the smell of cooking slammed into my nose like a plague. It's not the enticing smell of Italian food, with its garlicky promise of mouth-watering deliciousness. It's not the sweetness of baking. It's a sour assault on the senses that takes me back to Brownsville and Mrs. May with the ball of raw dough in her fingers and holding my nose to keep from gagging as I ran to the safety of our own apartment down the hall. I used to challenge myself and press my nose to the seat on the stoop where she had been sitting, only to fall into spasms of wretchedness as my stomach lurched and my throat constricted. What is that smell!???! Boiled something. Turnips? I can’t think of a single food that, when cooked well, would taste like this smells.

Slam the door, open the windows, stand in front of one of the deodorizing devices I installed on my last visit. Ah... Febreze!

Enter the little kitchen and... What's that? Smoke? Cigarettes? Coming through the vent! My husband hollers to whoever it is in an apartment above, below, beyond, "Stop smoking you idiot! You're killing me!" I hush him. It is almost 2 a.m.

It is 37 degrees outside and the radiator is spewing heat like a steel mill. I curl up under the quilt, my nostrils reaching for the salty ocean air that is just beyond the building but has trouble penetrating the wall of humanity that separates us. I keep my perfumed wrist near my face to overcome the sour scent that permeates the pillow no matter how many new pillows I buy or how many times I wash the pillowcase. Eventually I get used to it and fall asleep. The bed is very comfortable.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Going East

It’s amazing to me how it takes 3 to 4 hours to get out to Long Island and less than 2 to get back. What’s even more amazing is, as I consider the number of cars crawling eastward, that there is even a square inch of unoccupied territory left on Long Island! But there is, and it is beautiful…once the traffic moves out of the way. It just seems that, with so many cars flowing eastward, eventually, some will have to be pushed off into the water.

We make the trek a few times a year, mostly for family occasions. Okay, exclusively for family occasions. In truth, those are the only things that could get me on the Long Island Expressway. The occasional invitation from a friend with a house in the Hamptons means a crossing on the Port Jeff ferry. (That’s a hint, friends.) Even on an overnight, vacation starts the minute the car chugs on to that boat and I relax on the deck. But the ferry doesn’t make sense for seeing relatives who are closer to New York than Montauk.

There’s an interesting dynamic that occurs when you only see people at special occasions. The daily growth, or wear and tear, unnoticed on a daily basis, becomes monumental change when seen only annually. It’s like a seedling you plant at your country house that you find has obliterated the sunshine when you return to the house the following year.  Children seem to morph into new people. You don’t have any context for the changes in their faces or their fashions or the fact that they are now a foot taller. The babies you knew and held are now adults with babies of their own. The kids you played with as kids are now grandparents and, oh my god, in some cases could be great-grandparents within a handful of years!

I knew only one of my great grandparents. We called him Little Zaide, partly because we already had a standard sized Zaide but mostly because he was the tiniest man I’d ever seen. He was in his 90s when he died but, to me, he looked like he was always in his 90s.  Now I look at my family and it occurs to me that my 66 year-old cousin has a 15-year-old grand-daughter who could, perhaps, follow in his footsteps, find the love of her life at an early age, marry and have a child by the age of 22. That’s just 7 years from now! That would make him a 73-year-old great grandfather! This math is making my head hurt.

As the years go on, the parties get bigger. There are more children I have trouble recognizing and fewer of the adults I cherished. I’ve gone from being the baby at the family gathering, crawling under tables and getting into trouble, to being the senior citizen in attendance, wanting to kiss the cheeks of children who’d rather be crawling under tables and getting into trouble. It’s like being chased down the Long Island Expressway by sleek sports cars, oversized SUVs and even more terrifying 18-wheelers. Older, slower cars must stay to the right. Eventually, and it will come, we will be pushed off the tip of the Island into the easternmost water.

(Alternate, more optimistic ending: I prefer to think we will relax in the rural beauty that is Eastern Long Island, with its beaches and open spaces, all the traffic behind us.)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

On Getting Older

When I started this blog, I was recently unemployed and felt like I was dead. The New York Times solidified this perception by declaring that women over the age of 57 who fell out of the workplace were not going to get back in.  I was over 57. 

Now I’m 64. There, I said it. And I am employed! Dream job? Not exactly. Two part-time jobs keep me dashing between home and Bridgeport, New York and Brooklyn. Sometimes I wake up and I have no idea where I am. But it’s good! We’re out of debt and looking forward to a retirement that might include something more than cat food. I’m teaching acting in a University. I started playing golf! I really like it and, thanks to my very skilled coach/son, am getting… well, not embarrassing. There is promise for peaceful times ahead. So it upsets me that, just as I find myself thinking less about “Things To Do When You’re Dead”, I’m thinking about “What To Do While You're Dying”. 

Whoa, did I say that? I mean, did I write that? No, I’m not dying. I’m not even depressed! Who has the time? I am however angry that I am indeed getting old. Not just older; Old.

Okay, we all get old. We’re getting older every second. From the moment we are born we begin the relentless journey toward death. And, if we’re very lucky, we get to experience being old. Or is that luck? Is it, rather, some sort of punishment?

I don’t feel good about this line of thought. No one should ever die young. But getting old… It doesn’t make me happy. There are aches and pains that have no logical reason to be there in my estimation. Arthritis! Osteoporosis! Spondylosis. This can’t be happening to ME! I eat well, exercise, am not overweight…really. And yet I have lost ¼ of an inch! The bitch nurse at my internist’s office said I lost ½ an inch but the nurse at my gynecologist said it’s only ¼ of an inch so I’m going with her. Still, I’m shorter! Where did it go? 

And I hurt all the time! My right side is a complete disappointment: my neck, my spine, my hip. Sometimes I can’t feel some toes. Most times my ring finger and pinky tingle. I’m on pain pills and anti-inflammatories. I go to physical therapy, not because it will bring me relief but to keep my skeleton from collapsing altogether like some Halloween toy. Yes, I’ve had a few accidents: the moron in the pick-up truck who decided he was going to make that left despite the fact that my car was already there; the raked aisle at the theatre that decided to level off as I led students to their seats causing me to trip over a floor that was suddenly there. A person should be able to go back and re-sue these people when, years later, a consequence you never imagined occurs. 

There was this woman on the next table at physical therapy. She was old. My mom is 86 and this woman looked like she could have been HER mother! And then she proudly told the therapist she was going to be 75 next year! I might have given myself whiplash turning to look at her more carefully but my neck doesn’t turn that way anymore. Okay, the women in my family have always aged well. But this was ridiculous! I cannot be 10 years from THAT! I refuse!

And that’s the crux of it. I refuse to be old. Another lady at PT was curled into a question mark with osteoporosis. If that’s what lies ahead, give me a bottle of Tequila and a fast car. 

My friend thinks I’m nervous about this; that I am worried. I am NOT worried. I am pissed off! I will NOT go gentle into that good night! My idea of retirement is having the leisure to start acting again! It is NOT about peppering my calendar with doctor’s appointments like they were social engagements to be looked forward to! And it is NOT about sitting around and watching the days go by in an endless thread of doing nothing because I can’t move! This cannot be what my life was for. I refuse. I categorically refuse!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Goodbye Old Friend

I had to put my car down today. Yes, it is an inanimate object in and of itself, but she has been my constant companion every time I pulled out of my driveway for the last seven years. She has been with me on late nights, driving home alone on dark highways. She has been a reliable, faithful friend and I will miss her. She is where I could sing at the top of my lungs without judgment. She allowed me to eat countless meals on the run and never complained when I spilled coffee on her or left crumbs. She has at times been my office, my spare bedroom, my escape route… She’s lugged things I couldn’t possibly carry, cradled my dogs in her caboose and amazed me with her capacity to accept things I never thought would fit, just by folding down her seats.

I do this a lot. I ascribe human characteristics to the inanimate objects in my life. Its odd, I know, but I can’t help myself. It’s called ‘Animism’. Each week, as I pour my many pills into the daily dispenser, I think, “Time to go to work!” Or if an extra pill in my hand gets returned to the jar I think, “Run back to your friends” or “Ah ha! You’re saved for another day!”

So clearly, I was upset when the service manager informed me of a major leak that would require a “diagnostic test”, or what I viewed as exploratory surgery, to find the source of the leak. The result had to do with bolts and seals and they could not guarantee the operation would be a success. My old mechanic recommended cutting my losses and getting a new car.  She was getting old, he said. Old? She’s seven!!!!

But I bit the bullet, put the hold on the repair and set off to replace my buddy. My husband drove me to the service center where I emptied her of my personal belongings: phone chargers, EZ Pass, empty water bottles, junk. I felt guilty I hadn’t washed her, covered as she was with the sand and salt from the nasty winter driving conditions. I had planned to take her for a nice wash after her routine maintenance, before I found out she was really sick.

In two hours time, I will pay the bill for the diagnosis, say goodbye and pick up my shiny new car. Time to make a new friend.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Negativity: A Virus

It’s been a hard year... for everyone I know.

Each year for the past several, I have approached the moment when the ball drops in Times Square with a sense of relief… a “Thank God that’s over” sense of relief. Inherent in that relief is the hope that the next year will be better. 2013 ended horribly for us here in Newtown and I clung to the belief that things could not get worse, ergo they would have to get better. But, instead of opening myself up to the possibility of improvement, I wrapped my heart up in a box and waited. I dared the universe to change. I challenged God to fix it and, since I no longer believed in God as a savior or even someone who was listening, I descended into anger, my sense of hopelessness for the world vindicated. Sickness followed. I’d have a good week here and there but, mostly, I was miserable. I jumped from one doctor to another, one antibiotic to another, one symptom after another, through May. My frame of mind could not have been helping.

When you cut yourself off from the possibility of improvement, you lock yourself into proving that you are right. Three season later I am just starting to lift the lid of the box to see what I have cut myself off from: friends, causes, any sense of well-being. It’s time for a change.

My age old pattern has been to burn all the bridges, cut, run and start over someplace else. In the past I have moved, changed my name, my job, my friends, my activities… I am pondering a new beginning. I am on the precipice of choosing. But, even as I contemplate the alternatives, I wonder, might I not be able to do that right here?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Open letter to Lawrence G. Keane

An Open Letter to Lawrence G. Keane:

What drugs are you on, Mr. Keane, that help you to be so stupid? This quote is so convoluted as to be unbearable!

You said, “It’s completely hypocritical to say you can stay (in Connecticut) and make your products, but they’re so dangerous your employees can’t buy them.”

That’s not hypocritical, it’s the truth! Just because you MAKE an item, doesn’t mean you have the right to USE it.  Would it be legal for a drug manufacturer to buy a bottle of oxycodone just because he felt like having some? No, he needs a doctor’s prescription. He gets the drug because he needs to have it, not because it is available.

There is no hypocrisy in allowing gun manufacturers to continue to manufacture weapons in our state. What we are demanding is responsibility in who you are selling them to.(Yes, I know: never end with a preposition.)

No private citizen needs an assault weapon. We are not Iraq. We are not Syria. The Constitution provides for a well-armed Militia. It does not state that every lunatic should have access to his weapon of choice.  You want to hunt? Fine. I’m not a hunter but it seems to me you’d like to be able to eat what you kill, not rip it apart with a thousand bullets.

Make your weapons. And sell them to the MILITIA: to the armed services, the police, the National Guard. I’m not worried. We are America. Our Government is stable. I have not the slightest concern that there is going to be a military take-over in this country against which we have to defend ourselves with weapons. Try voting instead. Try educating the masses so that voting is truly representative of a thought process rather than a popularity contest or a knee-jerk reaction to extremist views. Try ridding us of prejudice that leads to hate that leads to violence. Try lifting people out of poverty so they don’t need to resort to violence.

Try anything! But shut your stupid mouth while doing it!