Friday, October 29, 2021

There's a Happy Follow Up

PNC reached out to me in a personal, thoughtful, sincere email about an hour after I hit send tonight.

Spend the weekend knowing that at least some part of PNC was listening to me - and wants to try to fix it, though she'll understand if I don't want to try.

It's too late now to write it all up.

I'm going to a credit union tomorrow morning, as everyone suggested.  I pay attention when given advice by those I love.

I feel better, but ..........

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Saga Continues - PNC Redux

(Please ready yesterday's post so that this one makes sense.)

I'm not confident about giving this bank any more of my money.  But I do have bills to pay.  So,  I took the time I'd have used to type in something (my payees) that should have magically appeared (in my not-so-seamlessly transferred Bill Pay page) to type yesterday's post and then look for somebody at PNC to call.

It was hopeless.  An endless round of being routed to the voice banking.  PNC is headquartered in Pittsburgh (anybody have a relative there who'd like to go knock on some doors?).  There is nary a phone number on the interwebs for any of the dozens of VP's nor the President nor the Board.  Scarlet suggested I look at their Annual Report; again, nothing.  

There are a variety of sites - like -  that purport to lead you to emails and phone numbers for corporate executives; obviously, I'm not the first to have tried to find them.  The phone numbers they referred to were either no longer in service  or, once again, sent me to voice banking.

I was beginning to have evil thoughts regarding the voice banking voice.

While this was going on, Gmail announced the arrival of 3 new messages.  Two were from PNC, telling me that I had (1) changed the email on my business account, and (2) changed the phone number on my personal account.  If I hadn't done this, I was to contact them directly.

And.... there was a different phone number, a new phone number, a phone number they wanted me to call.  So, I did.

Hannah answered the phone, and my luck began to change.  

She listened.  She heard me.  She sighed appropriately.  She didn't try to make excuses for PNC's actions.  She understood my pain, laughed with my bad jokes, and then said the magic words : I can help you fix this.

Two hours after we connected, after she sat on hold and I sat on hold listening to her sit on hold (occasionally breaking in to reassure me that she was still there and that she would stay there until she found me somebody good, an on-line specialist,  I was on the phone with Aubrey, another good one.

Hannah had filled her in on the details - I didn't have to repeat a thing.  That, in itself, felt like excellent customer service... which tells you the depths to which this ordeal had sunk me.  After assuring herself that I was in good hands, Hannah said goodbye.  I asked for a supervisor so that I could pass on glowing compliments, she laughed and said No, thank you.  This is a temporary gig.  Just hearing it from you is enough.

Wherever she's going next, they are lucky to have her.

Aubrey, meanwhile, had been doing some sleuthing.  Unfortunately, we are unable to retrieve the information for you was her conclusion - I was never going to be able to see my Bill Pay pages again.  I would never be able to see who I'd paid when, what bills were coming due, which bills were paid on time.   

PNC's information packet had assured me that there was a 90 day window of opportunity after the transition to download and save the information in my BBVA account; I was counting on using the 20 minute spurts while the brownie list brownies were baking to deal with it in spurts.  Now, though, that plan was moot. I'd never be able to see my stuff again.

Fortunately, Aubrey had my back.

She could see all the information.  She just couldn't send it to me, or print it out for me, or do anything but read it to me.  And read it to me she did.  She was happy to stay on the phone as long as I needed her, to give me all the information I needed, including reading every single line of every single payee if I wanted her to do such a thing.  She was mine until I needed her no longer.  

We tossed around a variety of ideas, and settled on a plan. Tell me all the bills that come electronically, and the credit cards to which they are aligned.  Tell me my account number and the routing number. And reassure me that all the bills I had submitted had, in fact, been paid.

Nope. They had cancelled two transactions.

Remember that third email message?  It was from JP Morgan Chase.... telling me that I'd missed a payment.  I never miss a payment.  I pay the full amount on the credit card bills every single month.  I'm proud of this fact.  Getting an email like this put me into The Red Zone.... and you don't want to be around me when I'm feeling that rage.  

I was devastated.  I'm going to ask PNC to pay the late fee - and she laughed. 

We went through a few more details and then she, too, refused to give me a name so that I could compliment her.  You might get a survey about how this call went; you can put your comments there. I assured her that my compliments would be effusive for both her and Hannah, and we hung up the phone.

More than 24 hours have passed and I still don't have the survey.  I guess they don't want to give me an opportunity to bitch and moan along with sharing the love.

My work was not done - I had to call the credit card companies and explain the situation.  LaLa at JP Morgan Chase was the most sympathetic human being I have ever spoken to in my life.  her OH NO's were off the charts.  She was aghast, appalled, sympathetic - all while laughing with me as I recounted my story.

I ended with - And now I wonder if you will cancel the late fee because, honestly, it just feels like piling on.

Ma'am, I see that you pay every month, on time, and you pay the whole amount.  I'm going to waive the late fee, take your information, and everything will be fine.

She, too, has a survey coming in the email, on which I will heap compliments (should it ever arrive).

The other unpaid bill was also cancelled, but was not yet due.  One problem avoided...through no agency of my own or PNC's.

Remember all that web searching to find contact information for PNC honchos?  One of them suggested that 98% of PNC's emails are formatted  2% are  Karen L. Larrimer is executive vice president, head of Retail Banking and chief customer officer of The PNC Financial Services Group.  I decided to send this mess to her, using both formats (assuming that the top execs use their first names, being in the 2% and all.....), and hope for the best.

I went to LinkedIn, thinking that platform would help me connect to her.  Nope - I need a fancy, paid, account to send a message to a person with whom I am not connected.  I'm not going down that rabbit hole.  I didn't even try Facebook - engaging with Mark Zuckerberg on any level makes me vaguely nauseous these days.

So, I'll finish this post and copy and past it with the first one into an email I will send to both formats, hoping that this blurb I found on her LinkedIn profile is true :

Karen is one of those rare senior executives who never lost touch with the people doing the work

Those people need help.  It's true.  It's not only me.  I went to pick up The Uv at the dealership after her 40K check up and my credit card was declined - I forgot and used the JP Morgan card before the bill was paid.  I wasn't embarrassed,  I was peeved.  I took out another card as I told the service advisor that my bank had been swallowed up by PNC and. before I could say another word another advisor looked up, stalked over, and joined it - his wife works at another local branch and she's been stressed and depressed for weeks.

They managed to change the logos and the signage.  That's about the only thing PNC has gotten right.  I love my bank and my people there, but I'm looking for an outlet that is responsive and that won't lose my data.

I'm paying the minimum on my credit card bills until I find a new banking home. I'm not giving another dollar to PNC..... who knows where it will end up?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

It's Not Going Well

Dear PNC Bank, 

I love(d) my bank (which is now your bank).  

I found my bank after waiting for an hour with G'ma at the local BofA branch, only to find that our person had just left for lunch and our appointment would have to be postponed and no, there was no one else who could help us right now, which was really quite late to be honest with you and that was when G'ma said "These people don't want our business.  Let's go."  Even through her dementia, their message was clear.  

I drove past the small building around the corner with Compass Bank in an attractive blue font every day.  One of those days soon after, I went inside and met the bankers and the tellers.  I moved my money from BofA into their competent hands, and I've enjoyed every encounter with everyone who works there for more than a decade. 

How often do you get to type a sentence like that?

Compass Bank was swallowed whole by BBVA;  that went off without a noticeable hiccup.  The staff wasn't stressed; the ambiance was still friendly; the lobby with a smiling customer or two and bankers at the ready; and, most important, all my passwords and user names worked or were easily changed.  

And then, over the weekend of October 8-12, my lovely little bank was devoured by a monster.  It's only because I love the location and the wonderful worker bees that I don't take my money and run, as I told The Banker this afternoon.  

The problem started when I was unable to log into my account on the 13th.  I chalked it up to the system being overwhelmed by the transition; since I didn't have any pressing need to know about my money, I pushed the issue to the back of the To Do List.  When it came up again this morning, things were worse.

After a mind-numbing series of clicks and typing of digits I managed to log on..... to my not-for-profit's account, and only that account.  My personal account was no where to be found.

I didn't panic. I drove around the block and went into the bank, where, instead of seeing my usual friends, I was confronted with a young woman of questionable interpersonal skills.  I asked her about my missing account and she said I had to talk to a banker.  I said that I was quite worried because my account seemed to be lost.

It's not lost came out from behind her mask, with a lot more attitude than I thought my fears warranted.  It's right here on the screen.

Can I see that?


Seething, seeing that all the bankers were busy, I left to have lunch with Amster.  Before I left the parking lot, I remembered that the teller told me to go online and make an appointment.  I logged on to do so, only to find that I could not make an appointment for a business account.  Only personal accounts could be serviced this way.  I'd have to call the bank directly.  

I pressed the phone number conveniently located at the bottom of the pop up, expecting my bank to answer the phone.  Unsurprisingly, instead I was directed to the automated voice banking with its myriad of prompts, none of which could tell me where my money was hiding in their system.

An hour or so later, I returned to the scene of the crime, signed onto the waiting list, and tried, again and again and again, to find my account.  It seemed more productive than Candy Crush Saga, though it turned out to be just as much of a waste of time, and without the endorphin rush. 

A smiling Banker ushered me into an office and heard me out, reassuring me that my account still existed, and that I was not alone in feeling frustrated with the system.  

We thought we were moving up, but these systems are so old..... We got no training, or not enough training, and we're making it up as we go along...... Yes, that Muzak is the same that you hear as a customer; we don't have a dedicated worker-to-worker help line.....all the while, on my phone and on the bank's desktop, we each kept trying to figure out where my account was hiding.

The Muzak stopped and a disembodied voice listened, offered no solutions, and suggested we try signing in using all the different ways we could imagine and maybe one would work.  She hung up the phone and we stared at one another.

That's it?  That's the help the bank is giving?

That's it.

There was a way to fix it, but the system either wouldn't let The Banker enter any information or, when it did, the form wouldn't upload (all of which The Banker had told the voice).  Not that it mattered - the conversion would take 10 days and I have to pay my bills this week.  Everything I need was in my account; I kept trying to find it.

As the next step, I installed the PNC app on my phone.  I used the log in from my laptop; I saw only my not-for-profit's account.  I decided to ENROLL myself using my old user name and the bank told me that I already existed in their space.  The endless loop continued.

So, I made up a new user name, and lo and behold there it was!  My account was smiling up at me from my screen.  The not-for-profit's account was no where to be seen, but for the moment that didn't matter.  I could see my money again.  Perhaps the software cannot link the accounts.  Perhaps PNC thinks I am two faced, Janus, Sybil with only 2 personalities.  At this point, anything is possible.

The home page was fine, but my joy was short lived: the Bill Pay page was empty.  Not a single payee had transferred over.  As I've written before, I pay most of my bills on-line, opting for e-bills sent directly to the bank and letting the bank's software do the math.  

Because I am an old person, PNC will allow me to receive paper statements; otherwise they charge a fee.  Perhaps they want to save the planet, maybe it's just another revenue stream,  but I smiled when I read about it in the information they sent (in the mail).  I thought that they were looking out for my supposed age-related inability to function well in cyber-space.  Obviously, given today's events, that was a misapprehension.

Now I am faced with a decision - reenter all the information or begin to use up the last 150 checks from BBVA and pay the bills by hand.   

Given my experience with PNC's software so far, I decided to listen to TBG's old school advice and write the checks myself.  

I'll get him to do the math.


This is the first half of the story.  The second half will come tomorrow; it's a little bit sunnier.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021


I haven't bought my Halloween candy yet; the neighborhood trick or treaters will be coming around on Saturday evening, rather than on the actual holiday on Sunday.  The parents made this decision because Monday is a school day and they wanted to minimize the sugar rush on a school night.  I think it's a cheap trick to extend the begging season another day, but then, again, my grandbabies have been trick or treating at school and in Downtown South Bend for the past two weekends.  Everything seems to be stretching out, but my trip to the store for burgers and chips yesterday was really beyond the pale.

As I moved from the eggs to the yogurt, I looked to my right and saw this:
That's right - STUFFING!!!
More varieties of stuffing than I'd ever seen in one place - and Halloween isn't until Sunday.
There were brining kits and turkey bags, although there was nary a turkey to be seen.
TBG requested turkey breast and stuffing and mashed potatoes, but a couple of quick phone calls revealed that no meat counter in the neighborhood had anything like that at all in their coolers (hence, my search for burgers and chips).
If that weren't bad enough, look to the left of the oven bags.... 
Yes, those are Xmas colored sprinkles.

There were no trees or Santas or anything else remotely resembling Christmas, but these colored sprinkles nearly sent me over the edge.  
It's still October - what's the great rush???????

Monday, October 25, 2021

Not Hiking

The local Cornell Club had an outing on Saturday.  Eighteen intrepid souls met early n the morning for conversation at the Visitor Center at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area.

That sounds like a venue for ball fields and playground equipment.  It's not.  It's part of the Coronado National Forest; the activities are in those you can do in the great outdoors.  And this is The Great Outdoors.  The mountains loom overhead. The boulders and the cacti and the trees and the water are all the enticements you need.  

There are two options - hiking or riding.  

There's a shuttle to the top of the developed area.  For $12 you get your own brand new earbuds - just like the ones you buy at CVS when  you're on the way to the gym and realize you've left yours at home - and a seat on the open-air tram car.  The narration is in English and Spanish; it hits the right note between nerd and knowledge.  

FDR is responsible for a lot of the comforts along the main road - restrooms and picnic tables and benches and beaches and bridges were all created by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration in the aftermath of the Depression.  The narrator pointed them out, along with the black gneiss and the tumbled boulders and the remains of the last wildfire.  

The shuttle allows riders to get off and re-board at any of the 9 stops along the way.  I rode it all the way up and all the way down, watching sorrowfully as we passed members of our Club hiking up, and then more sorrowfully as many of those who'd ridden to the top opted to hike their way down.

I was wearing my hiking boots - that was as close to meandering on my own two feet as I got.  I sat with Taos Bubbe, which made all the difference to my heart, but my head was busy contemplating how to gear up for being more of an active participant next year.

I loved hiking.  I loved the scenery and the smells and the tiredness in my feet and legs at the end of a long day.  I liked the silence.  I enjoyed the company of like-minded friends.  I was happy using my muscles for fun, rather than for exercise.  

Watching others do what I can't wasn't easy.  It was motivating, though. Now that the weather has cooled down to the mid-80's, perhaps I can start to walk the neighborhood again.  If only JannyLou weren't moving I'd get her to commit to walking with me - I do better with a companion and a commitment.  But it is what it is and she's leaving, so I'll have to be my own source of inspiration.

Writing it down is the first step.  Thanks for reading - you're now part of the plan.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Road Trip

Scarlet's dog needs surgery.  I'll spare you the details, but the best surgeon for her is in Scottsdale.  Scarlet made an appointment and immediately texted me.

Until she moved to Florida to help her ailing, aging mother, Scarlet had lived in a Manhattan apartment for 40 years.  She (like most denizens of The City) walked to most destinations, taking a cab home if it was dark or she was tired.  A car in Manhattan is a luxury reserved for the very rich (or those with elderly parents just outside the reach of public transportation).  

She drove when visiting her parents in Florida, but being behind the wheel is not her favorite place to be.  Scottsdale is 120 miles away; 99% of her trip would be on the highway.  It's mostly 2, recently paved, lanes separated by a wide, grassy ditch.  The speed limit is 75, but that's more of a suggestion than an imperative.  

Hence, her text - was I free for a road trip on Thursday?  

She had other options, including going alone, but she'd really like my company.   I could drive her car.  She'd provide snacks and drinks and lunch or breakfast if I needed it.  She would navigate and provide scintillating conversation there and back.  

How could I refuse?

She pulled into our driveway at 7am.  There was a full tank of gas in a very clean car.  I spent a few moments adjusting and admiring and then, about two hours later, we were sitting outside at Starbucks, having a snack.  Naturally, being who we are, we were an hour early for the appointment.

We dined al fresco, then  I dropped them off at the vet,  parked her surprisingly lovely Camry under a tree in the parking lot, lowered the windows, and took a little nap.  

I watched a Safelite guy replace a windshield.  I read the WaPo and NYT on my phone.  Less than an hour later, they were back.  

We weren't hungry.  We had the dog.  An ultrasound would have given us a window without the pup, a time frame for The Heard Museum or shopping or eating someplace special, but it's still Pandemica and Scarlet's not comfortable being inside.  She declined the offer;  we turned right around and drove home.  

We're driving back next week for the surgery.  In the Before Times, we'd have stayed overnight someplace fabulous, gotten massages, eaten interesting food, visited the Musical Instrument Museum, heard some music, and picked up the dog after her overnight with the vet.  

Instead, we'll drop her off in the morning and right turn around.  

We did decide to add in an adventure on the way home - IKEA .

Scarlet wants a cabinet for her garage.  I will try to spend nothing.... and I will fail.  The big open spaces and our arrival as the store opens gives Scarlet an extra measure of security.  She'll still take precautions above and beyond, and that's okay because the most vulnerable and the most cautious always set the tone these days.  

We'll browse and imagine and judge and fill out those little white cards, trying to spell the unfamiliar names with tiny pencils.  She'll get her cabinet and we'll be doing something different and for a while it will feel normal.

This is what counts as a road trip in these times.  

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Man With One Clock

My phone says it is 88o.   My laptop tells me it's only 80.

The clocks on the microwave and the oven are right above one another.  They are 30 seconds apart, and resetting them has only led to frustration.

They are also a few minutes slower than the clock on the cable box in the living room.  Moving between the kitchen and the couch while cooking is an interesting experience, especially when you're timing something you've just put in the oven.  5:37 in one place is not the same as 5:37 in the other.  It's confusing.

The clock in the Uv used to be perfectly aligned with my phone.  That is no longer the case.  I don't know why the phone is faster than the car, but it is.  I think I'm early but I'm really just on time.  Sometimes I'm even late - and I'm never late.

When TBG was able to handle the noise of the pendulum swinging and the chimes chiming, his grandfather's grandfather's clock kept us on our toes.  The Early American mantel clock I took from G'ma and Daddooooo's house did the Big Ben chimes every quarter hour.  There were no portable phones telling us the exact time - the chimes were a lovely substitute to wearing a watch.

Back then, maybe because I was young, the exact minutes were less important than they seem to be today.  Then again, how can I be sure what the exact minutes are?

The only person who really knows the time is the man with one watch.

I'm sure there's a deeper meaning to that, but for now, it works for me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Colin Powell and The Ballerina

She grew up in Arkansas in the 1950's and '60's.  When they integrated her high school, there were two proms - one Black, one White.  The White families migrated to a Whiter neighborhood with Whiter schools.  She wasn't paying much attention to what the Black families were doing.

She spent no time with people who didn't look like her.  No one did.  There were passing acquaintances and superficial relationships, but nothing that anyone would call friendship.  It just wasn't done.  

Fast forward several decades, and find her sitting next to me at the Marin Speakers' Series in the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Civic Center.  We were comfortably ensconced in the middle, several rows from the back.  High enough to see everything, center stage so we didn't get stiff necks, surrounded by a mostly White and wealthy audience - it was Marin in the early 1990's, and that was who we were.

The Speakers' Series was a long running program bringing world leaders to our little corner of the world.  Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachov (through a translator; it was beyond dull), Garrison Keillor, Margaret Thatcher (standing at the podium in spike heels, refusing to stop taking questions "because this is the fun part!") - TBG and I saw them all.  This time, I took The Ballerina to hear Colin Powell speak.

It was just after he announced that he would not be running for national office; his wife, Alma, was afraid he would be assassinated, he didn't like campaigning, he just wasn't going to do it, though he was grateful that we were all sighing and moaning noooooo as he revealed his lack of interest in the most powerful office in the land.  

He spoke eloquently about Iraq and about CCNY and about learning Yiddish while working in Sickser's Everything for the Baby store.  He addressed racism and militarism and love.  He told funny stories and sad stories and powerful stories.  He reviewed the past and expressed hope for the future.

At the end, he received only the 2nd standing ovation I'd ever seen at the Speakers' Series (Maggie Thatcher was the other one - impressing that decidedly left leaning audience to everyone's surprise).

People were clapping madly, many were teary, including The Ballerina.  She stood next to me, wet eyes and a bemused look on her face.  She was shaking her head when, through a tiny smile, she turned to me and said I can't believe I am standing here applauding for a Black man.

She went on - her parents would not know what to make of it all, this upended her views on so many things, she believed in equality and hated discrimination of any kind, but this was different.  This was an actual human being speaking directly to her soul.  He was right there in front of her and all her upbringing, all her separate from The Other childhood, all of that was put to the test by the distinguished soldier and statesman on the stage that night.  The tropes that filled her youth were banished in a single night.  It was transformative.

It's decades later, but we still remember.  We went out for a snack afterwards; there was so much emotion that food was not a priority.  We sipped wine and she talked... and talked... and talked.

Flags are flying at half staff this week to honor General Powell.  For me, his memory is forever intertwined with The Ballerina.  He made an impact in so many, many ways.

The world is a lesser place without him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Again ?????

I needed gas and milk and other basic supplies, so I headed to Costco.  I haven't been in the store very often, preferring to pay someone else to lift flats of sparkling water and giant jugs of laundry detergent into a cart then a vehicle then my garage.  That used to be a good workout.  Post-perforation, it's my least favorite activity.  But today, I felt the urge.

The lines for gas stretched into the entry lane.  I found a close spot and decided to shop first and feed the Uv after.  I cruise the perimeter of the store, rarely venturing down any of the aisles.  All my needs are met on the most trafficked spaces, which makes managing the huge store a manageable activity.

Queen T went to Costco before Saturday's Pumpkin Carving Party and Big Cuter was quite taken with the rain proof jacket and comfy long sleeve pullover she bought for him - and which I saw today on the tables as I walked toward the back of the store.  I picked up some holiday gifts (along the lines of socks and underwear and comfy, hang-out clothes) in that same area, and some protein from the cold cases.  There were melons to be ripened and apples to be peeled and put into pie snuggled next to the berries and celery and then the milk.

After the dairy room, the outer pathway leads to the paper goods - paper towels and toilet paper stacked deep and wide, covering a quarter of the back of the store...... except today, when there was nothing there at all.

No Bounty.  No Kirkland.  No Viva.  No Charmin of any variety.

If Costco can't keep its shelves stocked, how can the smaller merchants survive?  We aren't importing this stuff, are we?  Or is it the influx of snowbirds, which all of us who live here year round have suddenly noticed?  Are reports of issues with the supply chain igniting another frenzy?  

I understand that toys from abroad may be delayed or unavailable, but I've heard no mention of a toilet paper shortage.  

We're down to our last 6 pack.  We're hosting friends over Halloween weekend.  I really hope that Target or the grocery stores aren't similarly denuded.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Bubbe's Bagels

JannyLou saw the review in her inbox.  A New York transplant's search for a real bagel in Tucson led to the creation of a new shop - Bubbe's Bagels.  It's on the other side of town, but, as she said, Sunday morning is a good time for a drive - so off we went.

Bubbe is Yiddish for Grandma; it's what Taos Bubbe's grandkids call her and what I adapted for her blogonym.  The shop definitely channels a Bubbe like mine.  On a shelf in the storefront was a red and white plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, a paperback Hadassah recipe collection, silver Shabbat candles and a wine cup for Elijah, as well as small coffee cups labeled shuguh and cawfee..... just like we said it in New York.  There are no personal touches in the chain bagel emporia.  This felt special.

The line was out the door at 8:45 this morning, but it was moving fast.  There were pretty yellow cafe tables and chairs in the small courtyard just outside the bagels.  JannyLou and TBG sat and rested their achy bones while Fast Eddie and I stood in line to order.  

We got bagels to go and sandwiches to eat there and when we went to pay I saw a bag with Taos Bubbe's name on it.  There aren't that many people with her exact name, and she lives in that neighborhood; Fast Eddie and the cashier and I had a fine time speculating about it.

I waited for the food, looking at the shelf and listening with half an ear to the cashier as she engaged each and every customer in a quick conversation..... and then I heard her say somewhere on Long Island.... I think he's from..... Oceanside?

I grew up in Oceanside, home to some of the finest bagels in the land.  I shared my surprise with the general public; the cashier apologized that he wasn't there.

It didn't matter.  I had a smile on my face before I took a bite of food.  

Fifteen minutes later,  as we chewed our way through bagels and lox and cream cheese with thinly sliced onions and tomato and a smattering of capers, there was Taos Bubbe, saying Hi! and pulling up another yellow chair, because that is what old friends do when they randomly run into one another.  

There were introductions and conversations and then she went her way, with her bag of bagels and white fish instead of lox, and we went ours, with our bags of bagels (and no fish).  

I'm trying to think of the descriptor for how I felt.  Hamish* comes closest.  The bagels had character, weren't doughy or crusty, had the little holes that three days of fermentation creates - they felt right.  Sitting with our friends, running into a friend, eating what I always ate on Sunday mornings - that felt right, too.

For sure, I'll go back.... if only to meet the man who created the space which brought the joy.  After all, we're lantzmen.**

*homelike, in Yiddish, connoting warmth and ease and familial comforts 

**from the same town, in Yiddish

Friday, October 15, 2021

Getting Away

Does it seem like we were gone for a long time or for no time at all? he asked me after we returned from our overnight at The Boulders.  We were gone for 24 hours.  Our minds tracked it as a very long time away from home.

Everything was different.  The bed was higher. The pillows were bigger.  The view out the window displayed big boulders and spiky trees, not Safford Peak and the sweet acacia.  There were people to carry our bags (not really necessary) and to answer our questions (very necessary) and to serve us food we didn't have to cook ourselves.

Vacation .... aside from visiting children and grandchildren we have done none of it for a very long time.  Our friends' invitation to join them for a night on their week long sojourn in Scottsdale was just the impetus we needed to get out of the house.  TBG is not big on travel, but a 2 hour car ride didn't bother him at all.  

The fact that there were good friends at the end of the drive helped a lot, too.

We were startled to realize that we hadn't visited since Little Cuter and SIR were married.  It didn't feel like that big a break; we email and she's still on Facebook so keeps up with the kids' activities.  Our children have had children and presents were sent and discussed.  Illnesses and accidents required attention.  But we'd not laid eyes on them for a decade.

We fixed that on Monday.  It was as if no time at all had passed.  Everyone looked the same (my hair is longer, but otherwise.....).  There were no awkward pauses, no delicate moments.  We've been friends for 40 years.  Our rich history and overlapping friendship circles coupled with individual adventures and stories and gripes and pronouncements and giggles.... the day flew by.

Neither Carefree nor Cave Creek had an open store - everyone was celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day, it seemed, and no one was shopping.  We drove through two ghost towns and returned to the resort.  There was no reason to leave.  Everything we wanted was right there - 2 dear friends who kept us laughing and feeling all the feelings.

We were home the next afternoon.  We have new thoughts to think and new memories to keep us connected.  There are lots of destinations within driving distance - we are definitely doing this again!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Happy Birthday, Daddooooo

You weren't easy, but you were mine.

You knew more about so many things than anyone I knew.  Not all of it was true, but all of it was interesting.  You knew the details about the cobblestones on certain Manhattan streets, about who lived in which apartment in The Dakota, about who built which building where.

You took classes until you couldn't drive to Queens College any more.  You took copious notes and left them on scraps of paper in The Collected Works of Shakepeare, in Gilbert and Sullivan's Collected Works, in letters you sent my way.  I treasure them all.

You listed all the words you did not know, and put their definitions beside them.  

You were an ice skater and a skier until your body said No More.  You pulled our sleds up hills and ran behind us as we learned to ride a two wheeler.  There was always a kite and a swim suit in the trunk of your car.

You talked to everyone.... whether they wanted to talk to you or not.

You made an impression.... even when fading into the background would have been more appropriate.

You loved your grandchildren and they loved you.  

You were misunderstood (on the spectrum, in retrospect, undiagnosed).  

You've left a giant hole in the world.  

I'm going to get soft serve ice cream today (if only there were a Carvel stand in Tucson... alas) and stir it into soup before I eat it, just as you did.  I'll carry you around in my head and my heart, sharing my day with you.  

I miss you, Daddy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Butterflies are Back

Taos Bubbe and I went to the Tucson Botanical Garden last Friday.  She's new to town and I've made it my business to show her the sights.  These gardens are just the right size for the two hours allotted to our tickets purchased in advance, wear a mask inside visit.  We were greeted by painted horses, commemorating Tucson.  We are definitely house proud.

We admired the plant on the way to breakfast at Edna's Cafe, where our serverbrought the garden and citrus salad in a plastic martini shaker.  It was a delightful and semi-ridiculous presentation.
After breakfast, it was time for the Butterfly Exhibit.  
They hide in plain sight.
Did you notice these below in the photo above?  
How about this one:
The glasswork is as beautiful as the butterflies munching on oranges and bananas with their front feelers.
We admired them for as long as we could stand the humidity beneath our masks, then walked to the exit (a 2 stage process - through one door, check to be sure no butterflies were clinging to our clothes, the out the 2nd door) accompanied by this saucy wench:
She liked it so much she brought her family back over the weekend.
The server told her that the martini shaker salad is no more - the top flew off once.... and that was it.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Going on Vacation

We traveled everywhere with them - Puerto Vallarta and Palm Springs and Marin and Los Angeles and Laguna and La Jolla among others.  First with our 2 and then all 4 of our children, spaced bracketing each other so everyone got along, we ate and swam and laughed.

Mostly, we laughed.

They're world travelers hemmed in by Covid.  In an all too familiar story, they are flying only to visit their children and grandchildren.  Next week, though, they are venturing to Scottsdale, Arizona for a week of golf and sunshine and having someone else make the bed.  

We're driving up today and coming back tomorrow.  It's because of this trip that TBG and I got our booster shots.  We'll do a rapid test before we leave the house, and be sure our friends are disease free (at least as far as can be detected this way) too.  

After that, we're going to pretend that it's The Before Times.   

I'll take pictures and have stories to tell, I'm sure.  I'm taking tonight off from posting, just so that it feels like a real vacation.  I'll be back on Wednesday.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Touching My Heart

Mr. 3 is now Mr. 16.  His big brother is a freshman living in the dorms just down the road at UofA .  Their latest teenage houseguest (one in a long line of waifs Amster has housed over the years), is doing the same thing at ASU.  

Mr. 16 is, for the first time, an only child. He's really enjoying it.

He inherited the oldest of the cars Amster owns; he no longer needs my services as a chauffeur.  He's confident in the weight room; he no longer needs his mom and me to demonstrate the proper form.  I no longer know his schedule of appointments; he's taking himself.

He has a serious girlfriend.  Everyone likes her.  They spend most of their down time at Amster's house; at least she knows where they are.  I haven't met her, but there is a plan.

When they were young, and Amster was semi-parenting Miss Texas, we referred to the youngest ones as The Littles.  I was often in charge of their after school lives, and Ben's Bells was one of our favorite stops.  

Their lives were chaotic and I was still mourning the Before and After of my life and we found peace and comfort and solace while we painted ceramic flowers and balls and beads of all shapes and sizes.  There wasn't a lot of conversation, but what there was often really needed to come out. I always had a playlist on my phone - country western, classical, show tunes - and I usually resisted listening to their pop tunes.  They got to choose the snack stop, I got to choose the music.  

That's just the way it was.  With established ground rules and a safe outdoor space, we could sit for a couple of hours and think thoughts.  It was impossible to feel agitated in that space dedicated to kindness.

Last week, Mr. 16 asked Amster if she thought that they could take The Girlfriend and me to Ben's Bells, you know, where we used to go a lot.  She shared that right away, and we both spent a few minutes in aaahhhhhhh, he's so sweet, where did the time go land. 

We have to settle on a date, but we're on the Volunteer List..... the Studio Manager really liked this story and promised to take good care of us.  The promise isn't really necessary - we've never felt anything but loved while doing our good deeds there.  

That Mr. 16 chose this as a way to introduce me to his girlfriend, to spend some time reliving his childhood, to hang with his mom and her friend at a place he remembers with fondness....... it's just an overwhelming hug around my heart.

Ben's Bells was there for me when I used my walker to get from the handicapped parking space to the studio 100 yards away.  It was a place I could think sad thoughts and not be alone.... and not be bothered.  I could mindlessly play with colors while my mind worried and wondered and then the sadness would pass and I could go out into the world with a band aid on my soul.

I have a feeling Mr. 16 liked it as much as I did..

Thursday, October 7, 2021

I Just Don't Want To Hear It

Loving my Chicago Cubs  has been difficult recently.  The owner is a Trump guy, which would be enough, but this summer they really hit me where it hurts.

They won the World Series five years less one month ago.   It was one of the best evenings of my life, shared with TBG and Little Cuter and SIR, who sabered the top off a  bottle of champagne his family had saved for just that moment.  

Watching Rizzo catch the ball for the final out is a memory to recall when I need a smile.

Unfortunately, Cubs management traded away all that talent, talent which is now playing quite well for teams in contention to play in this year's World Series.  They are hitting home runs.  They are making great plays in the outfield.  

It just makes me sad.

Sarah Spain and Michael Wilbon, Chicago born talking heads on a variety of sports platforms,  said it separately and repeatedly - I don't want to hear about it.

Like them, I am not interested in how well the boys I loved are doing somewhere else.  I want them all together in Cubbies uniforms, happily ensconced in Wrigley Field.  For the first time in a very long time I paid no attention to the Cub's season.

Their loss broke a little piece of my heart.  It's taking some time to repair.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

It's Really Happening

I've been denying it even as I spoke about it.  I know it's the right thing to do - I just don't like it very much.

Fast Eddie and JannyLou, the world's best neighbors ever, are preparing to leave their beautifully restored home right next door.  They are moving to a complex with more services and more conveniences and less need to drive and more activities and closer to their kids and there are a lot of reasons why this is the right move for them........ I just don't have to like it, do I?

I'm being totally selfish and I recognize that.  TBG feels the same way.  But the kids had a meeting and then the whole family had a meeting (Zoom helped) and it was decided.  The parents are loved and valued and respected and the kids want to keep them around for a long time to come - that was the message and there was no turning away from the conclusion.  

They're leaving us and we are feeling bereft.  No more of Fast Eddie's bbq prowess, no more I'm bringing you soup because I made too much, no more spur of the moment lunches or 4pm dinners.  No more girl talk under the trees between our houses, outside where we can scream and not annoy our spouses, together and sharing and not having to do anything but walk out the door .

Did I mention that they've been the perfect neighbors?

The kids, fully functioning adults with adult children of their own, spent Saturday clearing out the garage.  I thought about walking over...... 

I'm laughing at myself as I write this.  Denial is really my favorite defense mechanism.  I'm just going to go along as if nothing is changing.  I loved looking at the floorplans and imagining the views, but I'm not quite ready to people my imagination with my friends inside those apartments.

I'll get there.  We'll still email and text and I'll drive up to Phoenix because they are too special to lose.  It won't be the same, but it will be right.  Without a big house to tend, there will be space in their lives for the fun stuff - for learning and playing and exercise.  They'll be close to the kids and some of the grandkids.  Most important was JannyLou's summary of the decision, one that shut me up and comforted me at the same time:

I'd rather be 5 years too early than 5 minutes too late.

There's no arguing with that.  This is planned and thoughtful and the main participants are fully engaged in every decision.  It's aging with grace.  I'm happy for them.

Really, I am.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Cause and Effect?

Once Daddooooo put away the sleds in the crawl space behind the laundry room, it was sure to snow in the next day or two.

Once, he waited until May.  It made no difference.  The whole family laughed about it.  The whole family knows what I type is true.

Along those same lines, if I get my car washed a microburst is sure to leave raindrops on my formerly pristine and shiny surface.

I ordered a new hose, a fabric, extends to a zillions times its unfilled length, comes with two separate nozzles replacement for the too short though otherwise similar version I purchased last week.  It arrived today.  I was going out to use it for the first time when I looked up and saw gathering clouds.

Didn't I post about the clouds no longer appearing in the Autumn sky.... like, yesterday?  My joints are achy and it's getting darker as I type.  It will rain, for sure.

Of course, if I depend on it raining and don't water the sweet acacia, then no drops will fall from the heavens and the tree will suffer.  I don't know how this particular version of karmic energy functions, but it is a familiar scenario around me.

I'm going to ignore the clouds and go outside to play with my new toy (yes, a hose is a toy for a gardener). If it rains, it rains.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Autumn.... Or Do You Say Fall?

Every time I feel the change, my brain goes to Nat King Cole.  I find myself humming along to a strange mental mix of the smoothest voice ever and the Halloween and Thanksgiving songs The Cuters learned in pre-school.

My brain is a strange place to be, most times.


We all noticed it on the same day, those of us who've lived here for a while.  The Pilates Diva felt it on her early morning dog walk.  Amster came into the restaurant's patio smiling about it.  TBG and I felt it, separately, when we went out to swim.

No one can tell me that there aren't distinct seasons in the desert.  The changes are subtle, but they are real.  The air is no longer incinerator hot.  The monsoon clouds no longer lower in the afternoon.  The air is easier to breathe.

It's Fall.... or do you say Autumn?


The pink silk flowers on the dining room table feel out of place.  It's time to get the orange and yellow and brown out.  

It's hard to do that when I'm swimming in the morning and wearing a tank top and shorts in the afternoon.  I'm reminded of sitting with G'ma on Christmas Day and trying to convince her that it was, in fact, December.  

It can't be.  That woman is wearing a short sleeve shirt.... and so am I.


October is the month for organizing The Brownie List.  Lous deJoy (why is he still there???) is putting a damper on my holiday spirits - every package I (or you) send between today and December 26th will incur a seventy-five cent surcharge.

I wouldn't care that much if The List weren't so long.

Sigh..... what a burden.... so many people to love..........

Friday, October 1, 2021

Called Out At The Drive Through

TBG asked me if I wanted to go on a Mini-Date this afternoon - run an errand and pick up some lunch.
It was the nicest offer I'd had all week.  I didn't have to change from my work out clothes; I wasn't getting out of the car.  We would be dining in the parking lot, under our usual tree, after collecting our lunches from the girl at the drive through window.

We ordered at the speaker box.  The total was $12.09

TBG opened his fanny pack - the black leather one I bought him at the Marin County Farmers' Market in 1992 - with a purposeful air.  We were fourth in line; we had plenty of time.

He kept searching.  I began to feel around in the bottom of my purse for some coins.  I came up empty, but my husband announced, with more than a little satisfaction, that he had, indeed, found none cents.  

By now, we were one car away from the pick up window and the cheery girl (I am sure she is 50 years younger than I am ..... she's a girl) who wanted twelve more dollars than TBG was currently holding.

I unzipped the teeny tiny pocket in the lining of my very small purse.  I pulled out my wad of bills - bills jammed in, randomly, crumpled but secure behind a zipper.  I'm unused to cash and, to be honest, I'm unused to dealing with people in person.  I rarely use it.  When I do, the leftovers are shoved into the safest place I carry.  

When observed by others, I will admit that it looks like Beaver Cle,aver revealing the contents of his pockets.  Some, the 20s from the ATM, are folded neatly staying flat because I slid them against the outer, firm side of the pocket.  Most, though,  are wrinkled and stuck together in a bizarro world origami of randomness.  

It is embarrassing when I'm in public.  This afternoon I was in the car with my husband who was, understandably, bemused by the condition of my stash - the stash which, incidentally, easily provided that which he lacked.  

By then, though, it was too late.  He had already started shaking his head and smiling at me as he began listing all the reasons that I had violated the respected order of things:  legal tender, a piece of our government, the way we pay our bills,  deserving respect and honor and and and the drivel and the giggles went on and on as we pulled up to the window  where the sweet young thing smiled down at our laughter and said "$12.09, please." 

And my date nodded as he put the coins in her palm, then handed her the bills..... and said the wrinkled ones are hers.

Such is the state of my social life.

I was laughing again as I wrote this; TBG asked me to read it to him.  Through tears of laugher there was this:
Sweetie, for many things I will defend you to the death, but on this you deserve to be busted.