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Thursday, August 6, 2020

God Wink #5: Bob Ovitt

Hubs and I host a weekly gathering which could be called " Revisiting The Good Old Days". 

We and our regular guests, including my father and a friend of ours from church, routinely do a temperature check on the status of at least one issue or current event plaguing our country and then we invariably launch into a few light hearted stories about "the way things used to be". We love spinning yarns about the stark contrast between "way back when" and today. As you can probably guess, "way back when" usually wins in terms of quality of life, the joy with which we experienced the stories we tell, and the overall successes that resulted from lives well led and time well spent. 

My Dad's birthday was this week so Hubs and I took him out for dinner last evening and along those lines, we conversed about the latest news involving teachers, students, the pandemic, and all that is expected from everyone who works in and around school buildings as September encroaches. Opinions were shared about what is being done right and a few criticisms were launched about what is being done wrong; and after we'd had enough of today, we shifted to telling stories about simpler days spent in the schools of our youth.

Taking a trip down memory lane, I recounted being a 4th grader, responsible for 26 kindergarteners during the teacher's lunch hour. Back in 1979, this was known as "Kindergarten Duty". 

Let me preface the details by telling you nothing went sideways and we never lost a kid. Everyone came through to the other side of the hour with nary a scratch. 
So stop holding your breath. 
It's all good. 

You see, the teacher needed a lunch break and kindergarten was a half day event back in the 1970s so when the morning class had been sent home, another responsible elementary school student and I would make our way down to the kindergarten classroom to usher in all of the afternoon kiddos and entertain them for an hour while the teacher left the room (and most oftentimes, the building) to eat. In the event of an emergency we were instructed to locate the school custodian, Bob Ovitt. 

We were on a first name basis with Bob, even as 9 year olds. He didn't seem to mind at all.  

I think back to the level of responsibility we were given and cackle like hell about it by today's helicopter parent standards, but back then, we had an hour of laughter and a bit of learning with those kids every afternoon and I welcomed the "job" three years running, through my time in 4th, 5th and 6th grade. Those five hours per week were one of the highlights of elementary school. We played top 40 records, carefully planned and brought from home (no swear words, no weirdness). We illuminated the little ones with step by step disco dance lessons. On quieter days we read books aloud, holding them aloft and turning the pages once every small fry seated in the big half circle had a good look at the pictures. On noisier days we had singalongs, with the best piano accompaniment we could manage as two non-piano playing children, certainly with more flourish than skill. The one task we were asked to accomplish each day was, in an order only the creators of the program understood, to present the Letter People and teach their individual abilities and quirks to the wee ones so that they could recognize whatever Letter Person was held up (we had inflatable plastic blow up Letter People) and shout out their attributes...for example "Mr. H! Horrible Hair!"  "Mr T! Tall Teeth!" 

See the source image

We also created and prepared an end of the year series of skits with the kids, all natural performers at that age, and put on a theatrical style show for the kindergarten teacher during the last week of school. There were simple costume changes, dances, songs, and, without fail, a bemused look of surprise on the teacher's face and a standing ovation when it was over. I think she was repeatedly shocked by the amount of forethought on our parts and the amount of competence with which the children pulled it off. 

In addition to my Kindergarten Duty job, I was also a part of the Safety Patrol. All the "SP"s were early arrivers, sporting white belts and ushering children across crosswalks, keeping them corralled in single file lines and offering problem solving solutions when fights broke out before we were let into the building in the morning. As an aside...the "solutions" were simply a suggestion that the brawlers take it over to the Circle of Doom after school in front of an audience. And before you hold your breath again, the "Circle of Doom" was a big patch of nicely mown grass about three houses down from school. A few times a year we were treated to a big ol' slugfest there around 2:40 pm, you know, back in the glory days where kids fought it out one afternoon and shared a tuna sandwich on soggy white bread at lunch the next day with busted lips and dime sized bald patches where hair was yanked. 

So, as you can probably guess, there were no teachers to find if things went awry during morning line ups. We were told to "find Bob Ovitt" if we needed help before first bell. 

Hubs, Dad and I all agreed that Bob Ovitt was a gosh darn hero. School custodian and maintenance man by trade, he was literally charged with the management of dozens of students every time there wasn't anyone else who could be available for us. We ran for Bob fairly regularly in the morning, interrupting him as he attempted to prepare for the day, making him stop shoveling so that he could put an end to nasty snowball fights where some of the bigger boys would resort to packing snow around broken icicle bits before launching them, or imploring him to grab a first aid kit so that we could put After Bite on a five year old's bee sting after he picked a flower for the teacher and then realized it had an angry wasp on its stem, stinging his palm repeatedly. Bob Ovitt was everyone's go-to and he liked delivering a strict yet somehow comforting message about our collective conduct. 

When Bob Ovitt spoke, you listened.   

My 6th grade class spent a week in the Springtime preparing for some Bob Ovitt-themed occasion. I can't remember if he was retiring, or being promoted, or moving to another school, or maybe it was his birthday...but the important part of the story is we honored him as an entire school. Each class either made a dessert or magic marker'd a banner or rendered a song, or bought a gift. Our class in particular wrote an original ditty about all that he did for us and at the end we used the letters of his name to spell out his special qualities. We all screamed "BOB OVITT" at the top of our lungs following the final T (which was probably for TIMELY because the man was never, as I recall, late for anything).

At the end of my elementary school stories, I said, "I need to see if Bob still lives around here. It might be fun to share these stories with him." Nodding, we agreed. 

Then this morning, less than 12 hours later, I opened up our local newspaper and found this:

It's Bob Ovitt's obituary, plain as day.

Weird, right? I think the Godwink is that, intuitively, I seem to have been prompted to have something prepared in his honor; some little tribute for him at the ready, even though last evening I didn't quite know why, and I honestly hadn't really thought about Bob in a good many years. 

So, here it is. My hat is off to Bob Ovitt and I am happy to reminisce in his honor. 
I'm truly sorry I didn't get to chat with him personally, although maybe he heard us last night, somehow. 
Robert "Bob" E. Ovitt


Sunday, August 2, 2020

New Old Radio

I have been on the hunt on eBay and other auction sights for an old radio; a Panasonic RX 1230, just like the one given to me on Christmas day 1981 by my parents. One of my most favorite gifts ever, I don't know what happened to it after I went to college and left it in my Dad and step mom's bathroom for proper shower-time entertainment. 

I wish I still had it. I wish that about a lot of my early 1980s treasures.

I found written tributes to the radio on antique radio pages, and postings for parts for sale here and there but I hadn't been able to find one in good working order, so, reluctantly I broke down and bought myself a new retro style cassette player this past week instead. Admittedly, my new Crosley is beautiful and has Bluetooth which seems like cheating somehow, but I am sure I will find that feature useful at some point. 

Hubs and I went to CVS and bought some chubby D batteries - the expensive ones so they don't die after one long afternoon. Lucky for me they were buy one pack get one 50% off since this monster uses 6 of them at once. I loaded them in according to the instructions and slid my new prize into my oversized 24 year old LL Bean boat 'n' tote bag branded with my former monogram in heavy duty purple thread. Randomly grabbing a handful of cassettes from our basement understorage, where they've sat undisturbed in a huge bin since we moved into this house nearly 15 years ago, I tossed them into the tote and we, along with the min pin, set off on our Saturday afternoon adventure. 

After hubs and I arrived at our lakeside destination for the day and set up our two low lying beach chairs, I grabbed the radio and the tapes, plunked down, and with the min pin on her leash between us, cranked cassette after cassette. Honestly, it was pure bliss. Between the bright sunshine, the beautiful breeze, and fortunate proximity to water on such a warm day, we were all feeling pleased. Plus, rediscovering the arbitrary assortment of songs was like throwing open a door to the past, having grasped its handle for 25 years. 

Don't get me wrong. Having more than 15,000 songs on my iPod makes for some very interesting and eclectic tuneage at the ready/on demand, and I willingly exalt the inventor of my most favorite musical storehouse but listening to a single cassette, first one side and then the other; the act of flipping and pushing's all delightfully deliberate, old school, and oh so satisfying. 

It's like you can't rush a cassette. Really, you can't. Not wanting to waste batteries by rewinding or fast forwarding, and certainly not risking or compromising the structural integrity of these tapes, most of which were easily over 30 years old, we just popped them in and settled down beside the emanation of their gifts. 

First, I queued Led Zeppelin IV. I was really happy to see it among my unplanned snag. I never tire of it. But this little one didn't have a case, and the plastic was covered in smudges of brown fingerprints. It looked more than a little rough. Dusty and dirty from having been naked in the basement, the sound quality surely would be crappy...but in it went. Three songs later on side one, Robert Plant began sounding more like he was involved in incantation than singing so before the tape got stuck, I swiftly snatched it out and we moved on to Loverboy's "Get Lucky". 

This album was crisp, clean and fantastic. (If you've never Googled the story behind those red leather pants, and the crossed finger imagery, do yourself a favor and get on it. I, too, thought that was Mike Reno's tight Canadian bum until about a year ago when I heard Alan Hunter do a piece about the cover photo on Sirius XM radio.)  

Listening to Loverboy brings me back to the days when I used to be a trim and fit runner; the kind of person who just leaves the house in pursuit of a quick three miles, you know... for fun. Leaning back in my sand chair hearing those songs made me want to lace up my old Nike Pegasus shoes and hit the trails. It's amazing what the brain and body remember when prompted by old queues. Transported to the time I went to Loverboy's concert on a Tuesday night in August 1983 under a canopy of pouring rain, I swear I can smell a combination of old shoes, sweat and dirty water when I hear the opening synthesized notes of "When It's Over". I can feel my bandana undeniably soaked, tight and dank across my forehead (we all wore was a fashion statement) and the acrid tang of my pink can of hairspray burns my top lip.  

When the Loverboy album was spent, I moved trancelike and purposefully. It was time for Black Sabbath "Paranoid". Raise the horns! You'd think a good Catholic girl who goes to mass every weekend might have a problem with Black Sabbath but they are, for keeps, woven into the fabric of my life. My cousin Dootz and I listened to this cassette ad nauseum for an entire summer at our campground back in the day. We carried it around in a two foot long boom box everywhere we went: to the beach where we scared the bejeezus out of anyone over the age of 55; the game room where we used it as unflappable background music for our 8-ball billiard games; and the nightly family-friendly campfire where we turned it up as loud as we could before my Moo Moo admonished us with a stern, "NOT THIS. Turn it DOWN." 

Concentrating on the eerie, witchy lyrics being lifted over the haunting sounds of Tony Iommi's guitar, I pictured my cousin in his white leather high top Converse, unlaced and scuffing beneath his heels; his layered hair messy under his painter's hat with the "Grab a Hiney" Heineken logo a tad bit askew due to the shaky hands of an attractive but inexperienced clerk at the helm of the heat transfer machine in our mall's tshirt shop. I recall us running beneath a sky full of stars, tripping and laughing over uneven terrain in a desperate attempt to get back to our campers by curfew without running into any bears so that we could do it all again tomorrow. As we sprinted our tails off, Ozzy would bang against my leg bawling about death and destruction. We might not have had the best understanding of exactly what War Pigs was all about but conscience told us that killing people was unsavory and evil and knowing all the words, we thought we were the coolest 11 year olds ever...we may have been.

Hubs and I listened to Billy Squier, ZZ Top and the Cars before packing up to return home. We also raised the impressively tall antenna and found the best local radio station around, which was a shock since we couldn't even get consistent cell reception up yonder.  

My new/old radio makes me feel young and gives me a bit of permission to slow down. 
I look forward to rummaging through the basement container to see what other auditory gems await. 


Sunday, July 19, 2020

I'll Save These Letters For Myself

Emotionally assaulted. 

Turned inside out.

Snapped in half like a 7 iron before it's flung into the water hazard. 

I haven't felt this whipped, this filleted, this beat up through no fault of my own since high school when nearly all of my friends conspired against me and I collapsed alone in a whirlpool vortex of 
she said 
    she said 
        she said 
            she said.


No matter where I gaze online these last couple of days there is a seemingly unlimited supply of gobbledygook, of bilge, of amphigory working to eradicate my happy countenance and it's a struggle to stay afloat.

I breathe. I ohm. I try to visualize myself as a daisy but I end up a yellow bellied perennial who throws her head back just in time to see a metallic tonnage of train cars derailing and taking flight; subsequently squashing her and all those surrounding...all us trackside sown and grown daisies, just swaying here minding our own business and facing the sun with our little daisy arms held aloft.

Tonight, I listen to the Foo Fighters song "See You" incessantly, on repeat. I want this ditty rife with sadness in a candy coated shell to help me dance in the kitchen with a glass of wine alternately held aloft and then snuggled at my side like a six gun but right now it just makes me miss everyone I haven't seen in the last 5 months, or 15 or 30 years...really, it's all feeling about the same at this moment. 

I fall inside the song where I crawl about, searching. My worming leads me over top of slivers and nails, right about at "you oooh oooh." Dave's voice closes my eyes and I melt into maudlin. 

But, as the garishly painted and rainbowed rock I found while walking the dog reminded me today, this too shall pass.

On more than a few occasions this week I've thought I'm still here
Disaster and recovery, calamity and recuperation, strife and calm, cataclysm and rebirth. 

Worldly hurt and anger and insolence survival without permanent fracture and overwhelming pain isn't easy. Neither is righting a patch of accidentally mown daisies....but I'll do it over and over. 

I'm going to hear this song in my head all night. 


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Street Fish

Every day, Hubs, the min pin and I walk in the town where I grew up. A couple mile walk generally takes well over an hour because I stop and I talk to at least a dozen people each time we venture out. 

I see my regulars, like Kristin with her delicate body art and long black lashes who raps with me as I'm pouring my Stewarts coffee and auburn-haired Rachel who calls me "my dear" and offers the min pin her highly anticipated complimentary dog biscuit. We grouse with bicycle riding Peter, in his bulky white knee brace. A long distance runner since the 1970s, he's got arthritis now and exercises every morning to keep that joint from stiffening up permanently. We wave to Mike, making time to enlighten the female coffee klatch, ever-present at their red picnic table, with his updates from his children, physicians who know more than we do about Covid-19. The advice, not his fault, changes daily. 

We see Daisy the black lab mix and her owner who she yanks like George Jetson on the treadmill, with his legs flying out of control. We see the tousle haired elementary aged boys who tent on the front lawn, only about a foot from the road, and their mother who seems unconcerned and happy, delivering their Sunny D and Styrofoam cups. We see the gentleman wearing oxygen on his front porch, waving high and proud from his wheelchair despite seeming to be in a seriously compromised position. Cat on lap. Wife inside window.

I see the parents of old friends with whom I reminisce. Know how to make a person feel amazing? Remark on what a great job (s)he did raising their children. Remind them of how instrumental they were in your own childhood. Tell them about how their welcoming nature reminds you, to this day, of being six years old, running down the street with a melting fudgesicle, coming for their daughter and her enormous collection of Barbies. Smiles and hugs abound when I share my tales of the old days, but I have to keep them short and sweet because usually Hubs and the min pin have left me behind and are three blocks down the street by the time I'm tipping my coffee cup in a good-bye gesture. I have two favorites. One is a purple and very expensive Yeti, a 50th birthday gift from a friend. The other is cheap and orange and has Halloween witches all over it. As I strut toward my husband, waiting, I think...this is a great mug and I'll see these good folks again...probably tomorrow. 

Some of the Barbie-playing friends, in-class friends, and friends with whom I played sports are still living in town. A few are even retired or working part time after several decades-long stints as police officers, firefighters, military personnel, or teachers. I stop at their homes when they are out front. We marvel about how fast life flies by, how they're sprucing up the place now that the kids are moved out for good, how they saw in the paper that someone we knew and cared about had passed away, and how the swimming pool has seen better days but there isn't any money in the budget for a new heater and liner...nope, not this year. Then I tip my cup and if it's been more than 10 minutes, I amble to catch up to Hubs and, you guessed it, the min pin. 

We occasionally pick up things on the side of the road during our travels but I have agreed to limit my curbside finds to two very distinct items. Number one: hostas that have been dug up and discarded, because part of my backyard is a shade garden with room for more hostas (and it breaks me to see them shriveled up on the roadside) and number two: "street wood". We have a cauldron, big and black and fit for a sorcerer with punched out stars and moons. Outside fires with friends are one of our favorite summertime social activities. Long ago, we paid good money for wood deliveries but once we started paying attention to all the trees in my old town, hacked down and left for the taking, it's become a sort of game for us. 

"Look! Street wood!" 

Hubs is a good man. Without complaint, he loads up the permanently-tarped-for-such-occasions back of his Prius and we sail on down the road, trippy and happy to have found the filthy, sappy freebie before the city public works truck sidled up and chipped it into mulch. 

Street wood is such a commodity for us that our fireside friends call us when they see it too. 
(Phone rings.)
Me: "Hello?"
FF: "Street wood on Horicon Avenue! Near the entrance to the park! OMG it might be BIRCH!"
Me: "Ok, we're on it! Thanks!"
Then we harness the min pin and off we go. 

So, it should really come as no surprise that today we were gifted with street fish. 
Yes, you read that correctly.
Street fish. 

We park in front of a sweet white bungalow with a welcome sign on the door and a worn but majestic wooden stockade fence when we drive the ten minute ride in from the suburbs. It's right next to where I get coffee and it's close to the first elementary school I ever attended up here, so as we stroll I can tell Hubs, for the millionth time, the stories of the water feature in my kindergarten classroom and the stuffy bomb closet in which we hid from the Russians when the Commie alarm clanged. The guy who owns the bungalow is a hard working, affable, Irish looking chap named Danny. A chatty type, like me, he seems to understand that he is adding immeasurably to my life by letting us park there for our daily walks and I totally understand that I am much obliged because of his kind gesture so I willingly and happily exchange pleasantries whenever we see him...which is a lot. Over time he has deemed the front of his house our "special reserve spot" which is hilarious and I love him for it.  

So, today we saw Danny as we were done walking and about to get back into the hybrid. We spoke of his job, which is taxing, tough, essential mill work, and how he's been putting in more hours than usual, not by choice. When he has a day off, which isn't very often, he fishes. He can't wait to throw the pole in the SUV and drive north for a few hours of aqueous peace and quiet. 

And that is how we were blessed even more than usual on this day. 

After telling Hubs and I about his 6 fish day trip, with 2 swimmers big enough to bring home, he smiled broadly, told us he'd be right back, and came out of the house with a baggie of frozen perch. He also shared three of his favorite go-to recipe ideas. You might not think that this is a big deal, worthy of a blog post, but to me this is the essence of hometown living. Danny, whose space we invade on a daily basis, thinks enough of us to offer us a portion of his catch. I held the baggie to the sunlight and teared up a little on the way home because gestures like this mean everything to me.

I love living here. 
I love the people. 
I love our daily walks. 
I love everything about this place. 

A friend of mine who moved away to Florida 30 years ago once said to me, sadly, "It was always home...right up until it wasn't" but this will always be home to me. 

My heart is here. 
My home is here. 
My people are here. 
And I have street fish to prove it.  



Friday, June 26, 2020

Chris Craft Crisis

"Please take off everything but your underwear. That includes all your jewelry, " Maddalyn said while sizing me up. "Earrings, too."

"All my earrings?" I asked, scrunching my nose up and rubbing my fingers over the four in my left lobe.

"Yes. They show up on the film and make things messy."

"Ok. I'll see you in about half an hour." I joked, unscrewing my hoops and studs. 

She smiled wearily for my lame attempt at humor and left me alone to change.

Entering the imaging room while pinching the back of the huge blue gown together with my good arm for dear life, lest me violet bum (underwear is permitted) scare anyone ambling by in the hallway, I sigh at the sight of the gigantic x-ray machine and ask if I may please remove my mask, worn for the purpose of keeping my nonexistent cough from spraying anyone in my nonexistent 6 foot field of reach during our 6th month of Covid 19.

"Sure, no problem" the masked technician chirped, flipping expertly through the paperwork my new doctor had sent over. I set my mask down on a chair and caressed behind my ears, nearly raw from the constant rub of elastic.

"Were you in a car accident?" she asked.


"Have trauma?"

"No. Why?"

"Well there are so many images requested here, I just..." and she peered up at me over her own bulky white face covering with a look that screamed pity even though all I could spy were her irises and eyebrows.

"I have Lyme." I explain and leave it at that even though my story is so much longer and involves so many other details, problems and realities. It's just that I am tired of explaining myself and have just come from another 90-minute appointment, so I am whipped, frazzled, tattered and I want to make this quick.

She walks toward me and makes a move for my ponytail, which, because of my frozen shoulder, took me approximately four tries and 20 minutes to ‘pony’ this morning. Her close proximity to my hair sends me hobbling sideways in an attempt to skirt her grasp.

“Oh! Well, I need to see if there is metal in it. Yup. There’s metal in it,” she proudly declares. “It’s got to come down.”

I yank my hair, nearly halfway down my back now, out of the purple ponytail holder, carefully plucked straight from the package, new this very morning, because it matched my skort and I wanted to look like I tried.

My locks, gray and soft, fall down my back and tickle the rears of my naked armpits. I stifle a giggle, but ‘Maddalyn’ pays me no mind while she sets me up by scooting me a little to the left and a smidge to the right.

She smells of maple syrup and some sort of disinfectant that reminds me of urinal cakes. I’m sure it’s not urinal cakes. It must be some Covid-approved Lysol that is necessitated between patients. Just the thought of how sterile this place must be kept, by governmental decree, starts to give me a headache.

“You got all the piercings out?” she queries with a raised and perfectly plucked brow. For a red-hot minute, I want to pretend that I didn’t and that I had some nasty barbell hidden deep in my fleshy bits not seen by the public. I wanted to say, “Whoops! Forgot that vulva ring – be right back!” but of course I didn’t, because I don’t have one. I’m 50 and I have a beautifully sensible four door sedan, a prepaid Stewart’s card with which I am going to get a tuna salad on rye and a ginger ale when this is over and I have a doctor’s order with 17 different x-rays necessitated on it. I also have a clear understanding of the mid-life crisis right about now.

I get why the 75-year-old guy next to me on the drive down is going 90 mph in his 500 series BMW, fresh from the car wash and nodding at me in his Serengetti drivers resplendent with their smoke colored Corning glass lenses. I get why my neighbor down the street rips out and re-sods his lawn every Spring even though it is perfectly fine and looks no different once it’s been replanted by 3 twenty-something guys in muddy boots and dingy wife beater ribbed tank tops blasting Megadeth from their truck speakers. I get why the boy who had a crush on my best friend in the 5th grade keeps sending her private messages via Facebook asking her if she understands what is happening in our country right now while his kid is out front holding signs declaring how down she is with the struggle even though she is living rent free in his basement sporting her gel nails and Ugg boots after he and his ex-wife sadly broke their marriage working two jobs a piece to pay for her hundred thousand dollar education.

I get it.

When the radiologic tech is almost young enough to be your granddaughter and all the two of you can chat about, other than your wonky back and constchondroitis during your plethora of x-rays is where to get good pizza in Schroon Lake (incidentally, I have no idea, I was just playing along for the sake of conversation because she saw where I lived on my papers and she is heading North this weekend) it might be time to get that tattoo, that jet ski, that condo by the shore. It might be time to visit that ashram, buy those courtside seats to the Celtics; might be time to stop asking ‘What do I have to do?’ and start asking ‘What do I want to do?’

After Maddalyn finished taking my pictures and I got dressed, I drove home with my Met Opera station at a volume that would have scared passengers, passers-by and dogs if there had been any, but there wasn’t. It was just me and Donizetti and his tragic Lucia di Lammermoor, the adoration of which might be a sign of my own impending mid-life crisis. Who doesn’t delight in a tragic cabaletta with a three-way affair, bodice ripping and family feuding and stabbing and dying over love? Don’t answer that. I know full well my enjoyment of opera isn’t shared by many in my circle. But screw all that. I full well dig it.  

In fact, my love of opera is directly attributable to my sixth-grade teacher who used to play Carmen and Madame Butterfly on vinyl for us kids in our classroom during “quiet” study time. She’d read that music, especially classical and opera, helped students retain information. I believe it to be true. I remember almost every single detail about that school year.

When I got home and slipped all my earrings back in, I grabbed my laptop and, very uncharacteristically, watched three YouTube videos back to back about applying makeup to middle aged faces. A stunning self-admitted 54-year-old with over 300 thousand views on her channel, applied eyeliner like an artiste. I watched her utilize eyeshadow primer and lash fixative. I google searched the products she recommended and then after 40 minutes I went to the bathroom mirror to check out my own sans-makeup complexion. That’s when I started laughing hysterically, the maniacal laughter of a woman gone mad like Lucia di Lammermoor or the wife of the guy up the street who keeps decimating the lawn when that money could be used this time of year for unlimited mimosa brunches, Jack Rogers sandals, and spa days in Saratoga. I laughed until I nearly threw out my back because I am never going to be any younger than I am today, and no amount of fancy Urban Decay eyeliner is going to fix my aging, aching body.

I am hopeful that my x-rays come back with either a treatable condition or no condition at all though I am not na├»ve or high enough right now to imagine that will be the case; but if it comes back with Ankylosing Spondilitis, which is one of the things we discussed in earnest today, I might just start searching for the 1937 Chris Craft I have had my eye on since I was 15 years old when my then-boyfriend took me to a boat show. We sat in one owned by a NY state senator who was a friend of the family. I have coveted that gorgeous vessel ever since. As I recall, that boat owning elder statesman had a well-done comb-over, a captain's hat, an expensive navy blazer and multicolored madras shorts. Those who passed by ogled the boat and remarked about how gorgeous “she” was. He nodded sagely, smiled widely, and adjusted his pinky ring while crossing and re-crossing his Sebagos at the ankle, midlife crisis on full display in the boat he christened “Crew Sin”.



Saturday, June 6, 2020

Honey and Vinegar; a Friendship

I was typing a greeting to a friend via text this morning and saw, before editing, this phrase: 

How are you my friend?

I edited it to read, How are you, my friend? and added the smiley emoji blowing kissy hearts. 

You see, we are long time pals with a 39 year history, therefore we regularly sprinkle in the lovey-dovey emoji. However, as I sat and stared at my screen, I realized that the first iteration of my intended-to-be-friendly phrase would have worked nearly as well as the second. 

How are you my friend?

Now, I know our friendship has been cultivated in very rich soil, the soil of two score years of laughter, comradery, shared experiences and showing up for one another. However, the strange part, the part that might chafe and rub, the part that keeps me wondering if our next beer might be our last, is...for the last two decades or so, we have come out of the starting gates agreeing on almost nothing. 

Our economic views are incompatible.
Our religions are convergent but not always in union.
Our reproductive views clash.
We can't agree on whether buying an American made vehicle is the patriotic thing to do.
One of us digs Biggie. For the other, Tupac is the preferred artist. 

How are you my friend?

We were raised by thoughtful and sensitive people who encouraged us to think for ourselves but we ultimately and unwittingly adopted their ways of thinking anyway...about politics, about family dynamics, about responsibility, about whether to use honey or vinegar as a way to frame a statement. 

How are you my friend?

Thankfully we have a common love of music, of world cultures, of old cartoons, of local history, of the environment. We are fans of unadulterated aging, of antique boats and of 80s era MTV. We had matching Swatch watches. We can't stand cafeteria pizza. We are most comfortable in hot weather. We laugh at any good joke about a rabbi and a priest. 

Some people don't believe in the respectful approach to friendship. They refuse to walk on the occasional eggshell because it's just not in sync with their egos. They post on social media about how they heartily and rightfully dumped folks who used to be a part of their lives because, darn it, they just can't seem to agree. They bluster and puff and decide to be right as opposed to being happy. All of this makes me flinch and although sad is an emotion I clearly identify with, when it comes to friends, I purposely and willfully choose happy. 

How are you, my friend?

I try my best to listen and learn. I state my opinions, though I usually do so with a light and upturned hand so that my friend will keep coming back to our virtual party wearing a chin strapped and paper-tasseled hat, slapping at me as I blow iridescent bubbles from a wand. 

We are honey and vinegar.

I think a lot about the concept. I see myself as the honey, my old friend as the vinegar...and before you or I tie any value to either, you should know I take honey and vinegar into my physical body every day to heal what ails me. The combination strengthens my immunity. It helps my tummy troubles. It balances my inner body systems. Honey and vinegar is part of how I survive. 

How are you, my friend?

Trying to come up with a list of things I appreciate about friendship would be difficult at best because I have so many friends and they are all so incredibly different from one another and from me and the kind of friend I try to be. The list would take me days to create but I only have ten minutes here so this is a short register of what jumps out at me today, particularly at this specific moment in time. 

I guess they keep you close to heart even if, actually, especially if, you disagree. They accept you while you're being obstinate. They judge rarely, but fairly. They find value in who you are as a human being even if who you are isn't within a mile of who they are. They'd walk that mile for you or with you if there was trouble. They open doors for you and celebrate your successes. They notice when you are afraid, even if that fear stems from something they seriously encouraged you not to do and instead of broadcasting an "I told you so" while lording over and peacocking in the neon of their brilliance, they bring you a blanket and tea. But if they can't do any of that because they aren't huggers and talkers and cheerleaders, then they stand by your side and at least they do no harm. 

At least they do no harm.

How are you, my friend?

I look forward to hearing from you. I always do. 


Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

I woke up gasping for breath again today.

Where is Vinny? I can't find him.

My heart races. I brush the hair away from the back of my neck, cloying with sweat, and then as I emerge from the haze that is is a dream, uncommon because I haven't slept in 16 years, I remember that Vinny is gone.

Vinny is my son. Was my son. Was the little one that we worked to conceive and who has haunted me every day since we found out his little heart stopped beating.

Vinny's birthday was supposed to be July 14, 2009. He would be 11 this year. Something about that kills me...slays me like a dull knife to the back of the head where someone is sawing my skull off but doesn't have the strength or the perseverance and leaves me half hanging because they have run out of steam. Maybe it's that I love preteens with all of their bravado and their adult but not really adult-like ideas. Maybe it's because my most favorite part of my professional counseling experience was with middle schoolers and they trusted me and I adored them and we were so connected that I physically felt it when they hurt. Maybe it's because he would've been a scrappy and tough little league all star, following in the footsteps of his father. Maybe it's because he would have been a smart but stubborn boy with broad taste in music following in the footsteps of his mother. I believed he would have loved hockey and Christmas and nature and God and animals and he would have been the first to hop up and lend a helping hand, all in the footsteps of those who went before. Who cares what he looked like since looks have never meant that much to me, but in the cavern that is my soul I know he would be the perfect combination of all the genetics that were afforded him.

But Vinny never breathed air or cried. He never announced his gifts, or his presence in our world and I was too heartbroken and grief stricken and too fucking broke and tired and insane after two years of constant trying to try again. Broken and broke went hand in hand. And because we kept things private and no one was intimately involved, we inadvertently chose to have no network on which to rely for rallying and support and casseroles and cards, and it all ended with Vinny, though he also had a half dozen unnamed precedents who I am hoping he met in heaven. My daily prayer is that they are all together.

So memorial day means soldiers and it means the fallen and it means those who went before and it means cleaning graves and it means prettying things up at the cemetery which we faithfully do every year but it also means my son is dead and it means I never got to hold him and it means that because of this I ache for him every day in my heart which was actually shattered like a fragile wine glass dropped from a ten story building long before he existed. I suppose you aren't supposed to give a kid a job...I've read that...but Vinny was already at work repairing my heart when he died. Maybe he would have been a cardiologist. Maybe he would have been a bum. I don't know...but to me he is the little kid in the Memorial Day parade...the pumpkin with his hat on backward which I focus on a little too intently and hoot and holler and clap for even though he's not mine, because if I don't spread this love somewhere it will eat me from the inside out. It will devour all that I have to give and it will bury me.

And Memorial Day will be something more entirely.

(Thanks for reading this...I know it's dark as shit but I am, as my friend Patti recently remarked, finding catharsis in my writing. If this resonates with you in any way, I wish you peace and I wish for you to have closure, whatever form that takes. Also, many thanks to my friend Kim D-H. who gave me the encouragement to put this out there again after I published it and then retracted it minutes later.)

(PS. People were very good to us after we lost Vinny, I took a little liberty as a writer here with the no casserole, no card comment. I mean no harm to anyone who happened to know and who lovingly expressed sympathy.)