Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Past, Revisited

I have a Facebook friend I don't really know.  Do you?

She connected with me when I was perforated back in 2011.  Among all the high school friends and acquaintances (there were 600+ of us in the class) she is one of the few who maintained the relationship.  I've watched her grandchildren grow, even as I wondered how I knew her.  The yearbook picture didn't help.  Who was she?

Finally, I asked her.  It took a lot of courage to decide to say "I don't remember you from high school.  Why weren't we friends?  I think we would have liked one another."

The pause she took before answering my question left me hollow in my heart.  Had I insulted her?  Was my carefully crafted questioning, developed over several days, shared and vetted with my closest friends, more annoying than we had supposed?  I didn't want to lose her, but I had to know.

Just before it got really awkward, she sent a little laugh over the phone and into my ear.

"I was from Island Park (a neighboring town which sent its K-8 graduates to our high school) and I was kind of a hippie and I kept to myself.  But I remember you - you were always nice to me."

I was always nice to her.

I didn't know that I was powerful enough to make that much of an impression.  It never crossed my mind that anyone would care whether I was nice - to her or to anyone - or not.  I thought I was living on the edges of several groups.  I wasn't integral to any of them, or so it seemed to me at the time.  I was surprised to find that my opinion of someone else made a difference.

I had good friends.  I wasn't ostracized.  I just never felt like I fit in to a specific group.  The girls from Bayfield Boulevard were friends.  The cheerleaders and pep squad girls were friends.  The cool kids and the greasers knew who they were and who was not.  I was there, but looking in from the outside.  In the overall scheme of things, it never seemed to matter if I like someone or not.

Yet here was a classmate, 40 some years later, remembering kindnesses I never knew I shared.  "You were always nice to me" leaves me wondering who was mean to her, and why.  What could I have done or said that made a lasting impression?  How did she remember me, out of all those other kids, when I had no memory of her existence?  And that always..... that's the part that makes me smile the most.

It's nice to receive a commendation, even after decades have passed.  It's nice to know that, at least for one person, I was a smile in the middle of the day.  It's surprising to consider that I was important enough to have made a difference.

There's a lesson here, isn't there?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ideal - A Snippet

The display on the table attracted my attention as I was leaving the gym.  A lovely woman, a bit younger than I, wondered if I wanted to take 30 seconds and determine my body mass index.

I held that weird device in my two sweaty palms, arms straight out in front of my chest.  She took it from me almost immediately, asked my age, told me my number and directed my eyes to the chart on the table.  

I smiled.  I was ideal.

Not average, or low, or high.  Ideal.  Sounded pretty perfect to me.  I was proud, and expected the gym's health and wellness person to share my joy.  

No such luck.

She wanted to get me off my high cholesterol medicine (even though I failed already on a diet-and-exercise regime).  She knew that there was more I could do and she and her trainers were ready to help.

I smiled, shook my head, told her I was satisfied with ideal and left.

I refused to be aggravated.  I was having too good a time with ideal.

Really.  What's wrong with ideal?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Cubs Win!

People who never post on Facebook - like Not-Kathy - posted this

There were on-going love letters all series long, like this one, from SIR:

Dear Jake Arrieta, 
You complete me!

but something about this game brought out people who, in ordinary circumstances, would never turn the television to sports.  Look at these texts from JannyLou, yesterday during the 3rd inning:

Cubbies lookin' good.  I cannot believe I am watching baseball for you so I can root for them!.....
I've been sitting all day.... Fast Eddie did GOTV door knocking.... 
Double Play.  Wow.

My shirt from the 1989 National League Division Championship
and my gym rat tank top
will soon be joined with one featuring these guys.
But my favorite graphic is this one, sent to all those doubters and disbelievers.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Scary Clowns

Have you heard of them?  Ask a youngster with access to YouTube to show you one, I refuse to link to such nonsense.

Following on the heels of an unsubstantiated report of children being lured into the South Carolina woods by an evil, scary clown, the interwebs have exploded with videos purporting to show teens battling fright wigs and face paint.  Mr. 11 and Mr. 13 spent a recent evening talking sports with TBG as the game was on our tv and begging me to watch the clown videos.

No, thank you, I have no interest in being scared.

It's not scary.  It's funny.  Watch this one..... this one.... this one....

Since nothing is more persistent than an 11 year old on a mission to improve my life, I looked.  A car full of kids crushing a clown beneath their tires, over and over again.  A clown with a machete chasing a kid.  On and on and on it must have gone, but two were enough for me, but not for Mr. 11.  He giggled until it was time to leave.

Fast forward a week or two, to my nail salon and Thiu, whose fingers I carry around on the ends of my arms.  Her 4th grade daughter is refusing to dress up for Halloween.  She's scared of it all.... especially the clowns.

Yes, it's on YouTube.  Yes, all the kids with phones show it to everyone.  Yes, she's terrified.

So I shared the beginning, the middle, and the end of Mr. 11's story, hoping to help.  Here's the end:

Amster called me the next morning, laughing.  Guess where Mr. 11 slept last night?  In my bed... because the clowns were scary.

I'm really glad I didn't see any more of those videos.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Woe is Me

I'm a Cubs fan.  It's my natural state of affairs.

I allowed myself to buy into the hype this year.  I was foolish and I was forgetful and I got what I deserved.

Only 2 out of the last 20 winningest teams in baseball have won the World Series.  When you hit a losing streak in a seven game series it's hard to regroup, to recoup, to make the fans smile again.

And so, tonight, when I should be able to turn to Fox Sports One for an escape from debate, I have no alternative but to stick with Hillary and The Donald.  I'll have a belly ache no matter where I land.

Woe is me, I'm a Cubs fan.  I don't mess with the mojo.  When we checked in on-line and saw that Chicago was ahead we knew that we couldn't start the tape delay until it was all over.  They were doing just fine without us.

And I fell right back into it, along with half the crowd in Dodger Stadium.  Russel and Rizzo broke out of their slumps and everyone was smiling and, once again, I was reminded that the roller coaster nature of the relationship is half the fun.

Woe is me.  I'm a Cubs fan.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dear Ivanka,

Dear Ivanka,

I know what you're going through. I had a difficult father, too.

He asked a young father at an adjoining restaurant booth if his almost-2 year old son was "retarded.... why isn't he talking if he's not?  Are you talking to him?  He should be talking......" and when the over-6'-tall-muscled-and-furious gentleman stood up, I just shrugged.

"Go ahead.  Smack him.  He's totally out of control."  And then, because I really didn't want him to come to any physical harm, I added this harmless lie: "You should see him when he's off his meds."
I ushered my embarrassment and my never-medicated-even-though-he-should-have-been paternal unit out the door, apologizing to the point where the insulted father smiled and shrugged back.

"Good luck," he said, "you've got your hands full."

And so do you, Ivanka.

The difference is, I recognized my father's outrageous behavior, and never considered it anything other than reprehensible.  I knew him to be a warm and loving Daddy, when he wasn't creating tumult for the sake of creating tumult.  Those delightful times made it easier to ride out the nauseating ones, but, eventually, I decided to keep him to myself and not foist him on others.

My parents missed many graduations and championship games because Daddooooo couldn't be taken out in public.  The Ballerina had a similar parental situation, and she loved me enough to be the one sitting beside him at the soccer games we could not avoid.  Off to one side, in low chairs that, once-he-was-in-he-couldn't-get-out-of, she kept him occupied and away from anyone he might have insulted or annoyed.

I kept him involved in our lives but refused to allow him to become the center of attention, even if that meant not inviting him if I couldn't keep him contained.  That's what you do with those you love who can't be taken out in public; you protect the rest of the world from their madness while doing all you can to maintain a relationship.  This is neither easy nor fun.  There's guilt and there's trying to fix that which cannot be fixed and there is, at the end, resignation.

Daddooooo and I had many fantastic adventures.... just the two of us or with The Cuters.... surrounded by love and by those who could call him on his nonsense.  He loved us.  He listened to us.  He was often surprised that we were remembered the words.  It was more than the content.  It was being the center of attention.  It was the celebrity.

I had no problem with that around his adoring grandchildren and me, his semi-tolerant offspring, the one most like him, the one he never worried about, the one who began calling him Herb when she was 16, because a Daddy wouldn't treat his son that way.  Was he hurt?  It never crossed my teenage mind to wonder.  I bought him personalized Herb the Superb gear and he seemed to love it.  

But, Ivanka, even at 16 I knew what was right and what was wrong.  I didn't stay silent.

You, however, are enabling the behavior, and the rest of us are suffering.

Y'know what, kiddo?  It's on you.  Daddooooo had a wife of many decades whose Oh, Herbert, Shut UP! was the Muzak of my childhood.  Since most of us think that one of your dad's wives leaked his tax returns, looking in that direction probably won't get you very far.  Your  brothers don't give me much confidence and Tiffany is wisely staying away.  You're all that's left.

And honestly, sweetheart, don't you want to tell him to put a sock in it?

Your father is talking about International Bankers, Ivanka.  Those are your people, the Jewish people, the ones you dunked in the mikvah to join, and I bet that the phrase resonated with the Kushners even if it didn't for you.  Has no one mentioned it to you if you didn't get it yourself? They've come for us before and there's hardly a Jew on earth who doesn't worry, in a small corner of her mind, if they'll come for us again.

Us, Ivanka.  Not just me and mine, but you and yours.

You father is pandering to a very dangerous element of our society, an element which until his rise was suitably hidden under a rock.  He's brought it into the sunshine, and that is terrifying to me and, I think, it should be terrifying to you.... and your children.

He's your father.  You're stuck with him.  Perhaps you could do the rest of us a favor and tell him to Shut UP, Donald!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What Do They See When They Look At Me?

This is the face by which I will be remembered.

This is not the face I see when I think of myself.  That face is younger, smoother, tauter, darker and so much less grey.

That's the ME which created the SHE who they see.

FlapJilly will never know the scurrying, go-on-forever, sure-I-can-do-that-with-you woman who was lost in 2011.  She'll have lots of fun with the wait-for-Gramma woman who will take her to the park and throw rocks into the river and push her on the swings; of that I am certain.  But I wish she could have hung out with me before bullets took my flexibility and my stamina.

TBG mourns the fact that I never really knew his mother.  Nannie had her first cancer surgery while her son and I were on our first date.  I met her when she was old; the cancer diagnosis changed her, he says.  I knew her when she was in her recliner in the tv room.  He remembers her pitching fastballs and swimming and whistling for him to come home with a blast heard 'round the neighborhood.  That's the mom he remembers, the woman whose personality was unaltered but whose physical appearance said tired, worn-out.

I'm not afraid of aging; surviving perforation did that for me.  My wrinkles and grey hairs are honestly earned.  I'm proud of each and every one of them.  But they are not what I see when I think of myself.  I'm amorphous in my own mind, the reality bumping up against the pictures I conjure.  I'm not surprised by the image in the mirror, but I do give myself a faux-face-lift sometimes, pulling my skin tight and seeing, for a moment, who I think I am.

Weird.  Very weird.

Not, perhaps, as weird as how I am sure my parents always saw me:

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Universe is United

The Cubbies clinched the first of the three series, and they were on my mind.  They defeated the San Francisco Giants, so Marin was on my mind as well.

I never think of watching sports in California without remembering Bunionella and her brood, cheering in front of the bigger-than-ours-with-more-than-quadrophonic-sound media system her husband and son had installed in their family room.

They didn't watch much tv beyond Nat Geo and sports, but they did watch their sports.  And so did we.

And so it wasn't totally surprising that Bunionella called me as I was driving into the parking lot that morning.  I was thinking of baseball and so was she and our thoughts collided in the quantum sphere and there we were, Did you see that game???? talking for a minute or two.

It's been months since we spoke.  It may well be months until we speak again.  But we both know that we'll each be thinking of the other as the Cubbies play on.

 Good friends are connected that way, in the ether and in the world.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Happy Birthday, Daddoooooo

An earlier version was published on 10/14/12, three weeks after we hosted Little Cuter & SIR's wedding.
It was always very confusing - was his birthday the 12th or the 14th of October?  One of them was Columbus Day and the other was Herb's Day and to this moment I still have to stop and think.... and it's gotten harder since the bureaucrats moved Chris's Day to the generic.

But he was around me in spirit at the wedding he missed by a decade or so, and he's not having an easy time returning to his life on the other side.

Yes, I am much happier blaming him for intruding than wondering why I am conversing with dead people. In my defense, we're not so much conversing as he is hovering and I am feeling nudged.

For example, I misplaced the green metal hiking pole I've been using to keep me balanced and symmetrical.  I could have used the metal one with the "I Love Tucson" sticker crookedly affixed just below the grip, but it looks too much like rehab and not enough like life. 

Then, I found myself with Daddooooo in the potting shed, leaning on the wall above the bucket of handmade walking sticks he'd crafted from fallen branches of the pin oak in his backyard, personal walking sticks measured for each and every member of the family.

I have been using  G'ma's all day.  Herb's been chattering in my ear the whole time.

That was his way.  Deaf-as-a-door-nail, hearing aid batteries constantly squealing or dying or resting comfortably in the breast pocket of his plaid wash-and-wear shirt, he monopolized conversations so that he would know what was going on. That works well until your audience hits second grade or so; after that, it becomes a full fledged "Herb Attack."

I know this because I have been guilty of them, myself.

His tales were fascinating.  If the facts weren't really facts, well, they should have been.  He went to City College with Richard Feynman.  He lived down the block from Jonas Salk. He knew every cobblestone, every cornerstone, every brick and street sign in Manhattan.  Serving as tour guide in The Big Apple made him about as happy as anything else I can imagine... and I've been sitting here thinking about it for a while.

Surrounded by his grandchildren-of-a-certain-age, those who were sentient but not yet sarcastic, he was the tour guide of his own life.  He could sit for hours, regaling them with stories about the chickens they raised in the backyard on Hessler Avenue, about the boat he and his brothers built one summer... the boat that almost floated, about the time it rained frogs, and about all the times he got into trouble at school, because he just wouldn't stay still.

He probably deserved a diagnosis or medication; for those born in 1916 those options were nowhere on the horizon.  He was "just being Herbert." He continued being just himself, sui generis as I called him in the obituary I wrote for the New York Times, until the very end.

He died at home, between the first and second commercial of the 10 o'clock episode of Law and Order on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving.  There's some confusion about the date, since the hospice nurse didn't get there to sign the death certificate until early Sunday morning.  Like his birthday, I need cues to keep the date straight.  Like most things Daddooooo related, this is not now nor has it ever been easy.

The funeral home attendants gave her a moment in the hallway before they wheeled him out the front door.  G'ma leaned over, kissed him, and then admonished him, one last time: "Behave yourself, Herbert!  Don't give them any trouble."  The paramedics were bemused.  My mother looked right back at them.  "If you'd known him, you'd understand."

Happy Birthday, Herb, you strange and singular father of mine.  Happy Birthday to YOU!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Ground Beneath Their Feet

Big Cuter's high school lacrosse team got no respect.  The administration, the athletic department, the other students, no one seemed to care.  Parents hired coaches and tried to cobble together practice schedules on fields that were never available.  One year, they used a paved parking lot and the grassy overflow area behind it.... and they had to travel to another town's Rec Center to do so.

Then, a private/public partnership was proposed.  The Community College would allow the high school to renovate the college's playing field.  In return, the high school could hold lacrosse practices and games on the College's campus.  We had the money, they had the flat land, the field was in disrepair, the kids needed a place to play.... it was a perfect plan.

Parents were dunned for the funds, of course.  There were a lot of fabulously wealthy families who were more than able to fund the whole expensive-but-not-obscenely-so project without blinking, but TBG and Blake's Dad stepped up and paid for it themselves.  

At the first game on the new grass, the parents sitting beside me in the stands wondered where our husbands were.  "Down there, sitting on their field," said we, pointing to the guys, on the side of the field, down by the crease, in their low-to-the-ground-portable-game-watching-chairs.

They paid for it and they were going to sit on it.

Fast forward, to yesterday.  I was explaining to TBG that we were buying four 70 oz. Metallic Brilliant Blue Garage Floor Kits for SIR and Little Cuter's anniversary/new house present.  No one sets up a better garage/workshop than SIR (unless, perhaps, it's Big Bob, his father).  Here in Tucson our lovely (if often dusty and dirty) garage floor factored heavily in our decision to buy the house.  

I'm serious.  

So, SIR's desire for shiny blue flooring was a simple solution to my shopping dilemma.  "But," said TBG, "it's not a present if he has to do it himself.  That's work, not a gift."

After reminding my spouse that his daughter had married a man who loves projects, who loves his garage, who is already grinding the existing nearly-but-not-perfectly-pristine floor, whose wife is delighted with the idea, I smiled.

He has two sons.  He's paid for the ground beneath their feet twice now.  


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