Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kid Justice


I believe it is good for kids to pitch in and help around the house. Not only does this make for a more harmonious household, but it trains them for adulthood when they will need such useful skills as vacuuming, loading the dishwasher, making beds, putting groceries away, sweeping, raking and, of course, doing laundry.
But kids do not want to do any of these things. No matter that they are the CAUSE for needing these things to be done on a daily basis. They are blind to this. I, as their mother have, in the past, failed them miserably, that is, let them get away with not doing chores, simply because it seemed easier to do said chores myself than fight with them.

"Pick up the clothes on the floor in your room," I would say to one daughter. "Aw, mom, why? Later, when I check, the floor is still littered with clothes, all except one small corner, that is clear. "I picked up MY stuff," she stated. All that other stuff is Jenny's. Jenny is a friend who she invited for a sleepover three nights previous.

"Clear the table and load the dishwasher," I say to my other daughter, after spending two hours cooking and serving her favorite dinner. "Aw, mom, why do I have to do ALL the work around here?" I leave the room. When I return in a half hour, there is exactly one fork, one knife, one plate and one glass in the dishwasher. The other dishes, pots, pans and flatware are strewn on the counter and dirty in the sink. "Why didn't you do as I asked," I barked. "I did," she said, not looking up from her Facebook page. "I loaded the things I used."

This is kid justice: "I am on the receiving end of countless thoughtful and caring deeds and yet I see none of it. I am forced into unfair child labor when required to lift any extra finger contributing to the welfare of the household of which I am so fortunate to be a part."

My 24-year-old son was home for Christmas. He cooked for us, cleaned up afterwards, folded my laundry before doing his own, walked the dogs and fed the cat without being asked. He got his siblings together to chip in on the expensive gift I had mentioned that I wanted and shoveled two feet of snow from the driveway so I could get my car out.

I like his version of kid justice better.

Monday, November 22, 2010

To Leap, Perchance to Die


Several times a week, my partner and I walk our four dogs together. The walk is lovely, down a rustic path that skirts a flowing stream on one side and fragrant woods on the other. We let the dogs off lead here. Watching them run at fill-tilt down the path and through the brush is such a joy. It seems at these moments that this is what they were born to do, and they love it.

There are a few problems, however. Three out of four of our pooches are not the best at coming when called. And they have become more and more brazen in their exploration lately. Sammy tends to walk too close to the railroad tracks off in the distance. Charlie likes to run up the hill and inspect a few private backyards while up there. But Percy takes the cake. Somewhere around mid-walk, we come to a big duck pond. Here we see an idyllic scene, complete with waterfowl and small mammals scampering about. Lurking beneath the mirrored surface, however are snapping turtles and piranha (okay, maybe none of the latter). We have had a few close calls with them. On the far side, the pond pours over a ledge in a 20-foot waterfall, down to a shallow pool below, filled with jutting rocks and debris. Percy loves this ledge.

The ledge itself is about 18 inches wide and runs the width of the pond, breaking open only for the waterfall itself. The ledge has a 2-foot step-down at one point. Percy usually just scares us by trotting out halfway or so, and coming back. Last week, she got braver. She went out far. My partner called to her, getting very nervous. Percy hopped down the 2-foot step and walked a little close to the falls. "Percy!, get back here," my partner yelled, some desperation now in her voice. She decided to go out on the ledge herself to rescue her, knowing the silly little dog could not scoot back UP those two feet. Now I was afraid. As I made my way to the edge, I heard my partner scream. "NO!!! She JUMPED!"

I ran down to the bottom of the shallow pool, waded in and scanned the water for what I thought MUST be a limp fur ball. I was ready for a November swim. Fortunately (for me!) Sammy located her on the edge and began barking. I ran to the edge, leaned way over and pulled her out. She looked like a drowned rat. I took off my jacket (just like in the movies!) and we wrapped our shivering daredevil up. My partner was crying. We carried Percy a ways back home, setting her down after a while to make sure she had not been injured. She was fine and said in dog body language, "Hey! That was fun! Let's do it again!". We said no.

We came home, made a fire and sat around eating dinner. The dogs, tired out from their excellent adventure, slept peacefully by the hearth. We re-capped, noting the similarity of the leap to the dramatic one taken by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in that movie classic from the sixties. "I can't swim," Sundance says sullenly. Butch bursts out laughing. "Are you kidding?", he asks. "The FALL will kill you!"
They leap, shouting as they drop, survive and go on to further adventures.

Percy must have seen the movie.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Winter of the Goose


On the mornings I go walking without my dogs, I often pass Baxter Pond. Baxter Pond is man-made, I think, but lovely and natural-looking. There are weeping trees and hearty indigenous plantings all along its banks. A small bump of land in the middle is homebase to several clans - mallard ducks, sea gulls (visitors from the bay next door) and, especially, Canada Geese.

These geese are a lot of fun. They are not afraid of people, either pedestrian or automotive. In the spring, when goslings have hatched and the gaggles are especially close-knit, it is common to see those geese families crossing the road to get to the bay where, I assume, the menu selection is better. With one parent in front and one in the back, the geese babies walk carefully in a straight line across four lanes of stopped traffic. Most of the time people are very good and patient. They stop, roll down their windows and smile affectionately as the geese waddle their way across. Some crabby people try to weave around them or, even worse, try to muscle the geese out of their way by driving real close and honking their own horns. We don't like these impatient, heartless people.

Usually, the waterfowl of Baxter Pond keeps to itself. But one winter, a few years back, there was an odd bird (sorry, had to) living in the pond. He was a goose, but not a Canada Goose. He was brownish-gray and had one of those bumps over his orange bill. He was extremely friendly and openly solicited snacks from passersby.

I named him Harry. Since I was walking nearly every day at that time, I saw Harry quite often. It got to the point where I would stroll by, call his name and wait, knowing he would appear out of the rushes momentarily. And he did, honking and flapping. I fed him cracked corn (I know I shouldn't have) and talked to him for a few minutes before continuing on my way. Harry ate from my hand. He didn't seem to have any friends among the others. He was the only gray-brown goose and all the other birds pretty much kept to their own kind. I felt sorry about that. Such a friendly fellow deserved a few buddies.

These visits continued into the spring, until, after several straight days of not seeing a trace of Harry, I decided he was really gone. I never saw him again. It is interesting how powerful an impact even small interactions with other living things can have on us. I can still see Harry popping through the reedy grass upon hearing his name called. I can still hear his insistent honk when I took too long getting his snacks out of my pocket and how he would try to help himself, nosing in and sometimes getting my fingertip instead of corn.

A friend later suggested Harry may have been someone's pet at one time. That would explain his lack of shyness and his only-ness at the pond. Part of me wished I had taken him home, however impractical that would have been. I wonder and worry about him, even now. Does he know this? Can he remember these moments in his life? I wish I knew.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What Happened to Richard?


As recently as one generation ago, the name 'Dick' (most often a nickname for Richard - now how does THAT work?) was a fine and acceptable moniker. Dick Clark, Dick Van Patten, Dick Nixon, Dick Van Dyck (unfortunate sounding in every way).

But the name 'Dick' is only met with snickers nowadays. We all know what a dick is. When used in traffic, it is spat out with rage. When used to belittle, i.e. "dick-for-brains", the accent is firmly planted on it as first syllable.

There is a great big sporting goods chain that used to have a different, cool-in-an-athletic-sort-of-way name. It changed hands and became 'Dick's'. Whose bright idea was that? You go to the mall and it is the anchor store. You turn into the parking lot and see small signs for J.C. Penney. Macy*s. Hot Topic. Anthropologie. Then, looming in front, DICK'S!!!!

Now, there is some subconscious, Freudian reasoning, I guess. Dick's sells golf clubs and big weight sets. It has an enormous hunting department and carries many basketball and hockey jerseys.

But studies show that women are by far, the main patrons of such shopping centers. Did the new owner really think these women would be thrilled and enticed by this new name? "After lunch at La Petit Sushi and a pedi at Spa Francois, where should we go next, Brittany?" "Hmm, like, let me think. . . I know! Let's go to my totally favorite boutique! DICK'S!!!"

I don't think so.

In the animal kingdom, brains come in all shapes and sizes.
This is also true of humans.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yankee Doodle Went to Town, Sitting in a Wine Bar


I live in a fairly close-knit town. I can wander down Main Street or the aisles of the local supermarket at any given time and run into people I know. I like that. I grew up in a different Long Island suburb during the 50s and 60s, when suburbia was coming into its own all over. But this town, now, seems friendlier somehow.

The two towns met in my world the other night. I play at this local wine bar every couple of weeks. It is a small place, but a nice easy venue to have a drink, chat with friends and listen to nice unplugged music. I walked in a few minutes before my gig time and saw a face from my distant past. "Patty O'Brien!!", I exclaimed, without thinking first. The woman, who was at a table with a man (her husband, I later found out) looked at me with surprise and concern. I could tell she had no clue who I was. "Lisa from Saint Edward's", I said, a little too earnestly. Her face changed and I saw a registering of recognition.

Patty O'Brien and I had gone through kindergarten and elementary school together. Her mother, Sally O'Brien, was MY mother's friend. They cleaned the church's altar together, the only women at the time who were ever allowed in past the communion rail. Even the nuns were not allowed back there. Patty became my faithful friend in first grade because I shared my lunch dessert with her every day.

We all brought lunch boxes in those days. They were metal and had glass thermoses inside that you could not put soda in (I learned the hard way) because they would explode and soak everything else in there. We all had our favorite lunches and, except for Fridays, when we Catholics could not eat meat, our lunches were the same every day. Nancy had a plaid lunch box and raisins. Mary Ellen always got a little wet wipe in her box which she washed her hands and face with. Terry had carrots (ew!)
I had a Gene Autry Lunch box. I did'nt even know who Gene Autry was, but it was the only lunchbox the hardware store carried when I needed one in a hurry. I had salami on Taystee bread every day except I had peanut butter and apple on Fridays. The Taystee bread was white and soft and spongy and could be flattened nicely and bitten into a disc which we pretended was Holy Communion.

The best part of my lunch (and Patty's by association) was dessert. I got an entire package of Yankee Doodles. That's three, count 'em, three cupcakes. I could only eat two, so, every single day, I gave the last one to Patty.

Sitting at the wine bar, we reminisced about our school days, our moms, and our lunches. Time stood still for a moment and we were back in the cafeteria in our green plaid wool uniforms, eating cupcakes and drinking milk out of little wax cartons. Funny what you remember.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Choiring Minds Want to Know


So. I belong to my church choir. I sing alto. I like the lower notes and I like to sing the harmony parts under the sopranos, who invariably sing the melody. Many women WANT to sing soprano just so they can get the melody. I admit, sometimes the alto line can be boring, a drone, or make no sense when sung alone.

But harmony is where the magic happens. Anyone can sing a plain old melody. La, la, la, go the sopranos, all high and mighty. Where would that melody be, really if not for the wonderful notes below, the wind beneath their wings?

My choir director lives and breathes music. He has either sung or played or conducted his whole life, and he is MY age. Which says a lot. But often, because he is so musically educated and perhaps a little bit gloomy, his tastes run to either the painfully classical, the obscure, the difficult or the grimly dark. Think Phantom of the Opera. You want to make this man happy? Give him a good Requiem.

Our choir is made up of a bunch of amateurs - the musical equivalent to weekend warriors - and a couple of professional ringers, uh, I mean, singers. The director hands out several weeks-worth of music at a time. He's the only person I know who can choose an Easter Song in a minor key. To keep our spirits up, we choir members like to poke fun at any weird names we can find on our sheet music. Pepper Choplin. John Rutter. Natalie Sleeth. But by far the best recently, was a piece of German music by a guy named Fuch Dich. I kid you not. Needless to say, we had a field day.
I won't go into the particulars here. Oh, okay, some references to Penal Colonies and Richard Nixon.

Choir is fun. Give us a rollicking good Requiem and we're off and running. Maybe Rutter knew Fuch Dich. IDK.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Driving Miss Crazy


I am teaching my 16-year-old daughter to drive. Just starting, really. She doesn't actually have her learner's permit yet, so we are practicing in parking lots for the moment. I don't think they ticket you on private property. She really wants to learn and she really wants her permit. Allow me to be crabby for a moment. We went online to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) site to find out where to go for the test, directions and hours of operation.

Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Not open on the weekends or holidays.

Okay, let's see if I understand. 99.9 percent of all people looking to get learners' permits are 16-year-old high school students who are IN SCHOOL from exactly 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. They are free to have their parents get them to the DMV after school or on the weekends. But wait! The DMV is closed at those times.

Are we living in the Soviet Union? Where is the line for toilet paper? What the hell? Now, since both the public schools AND the DMV are state-run institutions, you'd think they would work together, seeing as they're cousins and all. "You there, public schools!", said the DMV. (It helps if you use the Boris-and-Natasha voices from 'Rocky and Bullwinkle' here). "I see you must keep ze juvenile hooligans until 3:30 p.m. How about eef I stay open until 6 p.m. so they can be driven by parents for their permit tests in timely fashion?"
"That is sounding great, DMV!", exclaimed Public Schools. "And for my part, I vill offer Drivers Education for free to all 16-year-old comrades as an extra curricular class before and after school, to accomodate both ze busy kids and ze worker parents of ze world."

Help! On behalf of my daughter. I taught her older sister to drive a few years back. A closer DMV was open then (since closed, due to lack of caring about being conveniently located to anyone) and she got her permit on the first try. We did have to wait on three lines for about an hour each. Luckily we had all our necessary papers - birth certificate, passport, Social Security card, student photo ID, library card, Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, you get the idea. She took drivers ed in the summer before work and passed her road test the first time out. Yay!

Maybe this will happen again. Maybe not. I heard if you fail your test more than once you get sent to the Gulag.

This, of course is my delusional idea of practicality and logic. The Soviets obviously do not agree.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The (Other) L Word


So, I went to get ashes on Ash Wednesday. Ever since I was a young Catholic school girl, There was something about Ash Wednesday and the ritual of the black smudge on the forehead that made me feel serious and holy. "Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return," the priest would intone as he rubbed a vigorous thumbful of ashes onto my freckled forehead.

As a child, I would rush home after getting my ashes in order to examine the results closely in the mirror. The ashes were supposed to be in the shape of a cross, and sometimes, if one was lucky, a nice clear, black cross was evident. But sometimes all you got was a grayish smear, often looking like you were just shot in the head with a bullet. When my ashes did not pass my own critical muster, I went to the fireplace in my livingroom, got a handful of fire ash and carefully improved my cross. I would not wash my face that night either.

Now I am grown and still, I find an irresistible mystique to the Ash Wednesday ritual. So I went. When my turn came, I closed my eyes in a reverential sort of way and felt a measure of satisfaction when I felt the strong thumb of the minister make an unmistakable cross on my head. I said a quick prayer and left for home. My daughter looked up from her homework as I walked in the door.

"Hi," I said, dropping my bag on the bench. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at the place just above my eyebrows. She started laughing out loud. "What's so funny?," I demanded. "Look at your forehead in the mirror," she smirked, wiping tears from her eyes. I went into the bathroom with some trepidation. There, as clear as day and nicely etched, was a large "L" smack in the middle of my forehead. Two arms of the so-called cross had obviously worn off.

Was this some cruel joke? Did God (or at least the minister) really think of me as a BIG LOSER? I am philosophical. The Father in Heaven wanted to cheer up a gloomy teenager and entrusted this worthy task to His valued servant - me. I am honored. Really.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lord (okay, Lady) of the Dance


My three daughters have all taken dance classes at the local studio. My oldest began as a pink-leotarded kindergartener and finished up strong with some raging hip hop. My second daughter developed a fondness for tap, which was good, since she is in every school musical. Tap comes in real handy for her. My youngest, a little gangsta girl, yo, also took hip hop for a while.

The studio belongs to a remarkable woman, a former dancer and mother of three grown daughters of her own. Her oldest recently retired from a world reknowned dance company where she was a featured performer for a number of years. Together, mother and daughter run the show, day in and day out, going on 25 or so years, now. The mom is about sixty five years old now, but has the lithe dancer's body of a lucky 25-year-old. Her posture is perfect, her severe white hair (channeling Meryl Streep in 'The Devil Wears Prada')frames her face like a helmet. Although officially retired, she retains an active emeritus status. She is there every day, still teaching the youngest students and energetically leading step aerobics classes most weekday mornings.

At the end-of-year recital, she always comes out, mid show, to introduce and say a public farewell to her graduating senior students. This year was my daughter's turn. After her spotlight hip hop number (awesome!) my sweaty girl was taken by the hand and introduced to the packed crowd as one of those special students who came as a tiny red-haired five-year-old, and was leaving a brilliant, honors student, red-haired young woman. The teacher cried a little.

Today was the first day of dance class for the new season. My daughter is away at school. Her sister went back to tap, this year an accelerated class, and already has plans on dancing in the upcoming fall school musical. She has a dancer's legs and a dancer's posture. Her teacher, a former student of the owner, and a seasoned professional herself, used to tutor my son in math. It's a small town that way.

I don't know how to dance at all. In another life I would like to learn. Even from the pink leotard on. It is a language I admire, but do not speak.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Dog's Life Can Suck Sometimes

Today was the last day of my job at a local animal shelter. I was hired as a dog trainer. As it turned out, the dog trainer they needed was a strapping young experienced, fearless, at least 200 pound dog trainer. I am not these things.

Anyway, I did learn a lot these past six or so weeks on the job. The place I worked was a large, private shelter where dozens (sometimes hundreds) of dogs and cats would arrive on a regular basis. My job, in the Pet Behavior department, was to train and maintain the hardest cases - those dogs who have bitten either people or other dogs or at least, shown an inclination to do so.

This job is not for the faint of heart. In my brief tenure, I traveled to two city shelters where the stench was only matched by the hopelessness in the eyes of the dogs in their care. I watched as two caring and careful city workers corralled a scared pit bull for euthanization. I sat and petted a friendly mastiff mix who nuzzled me and poked for the treats he knew were in my pocket, only to find out that his number was up later that very day.

At my shelter, I was given a handful of difficult dogs to train. They all had different issues, all not ready for prime time.
There was Dash, a medium sized Australian Cattle dog mix full of energy and bravado. There was Diablo, a terrier mix who looked like a Jack Russell on steroids who jumped and lunged at every opportunity. There was Rosie, a big neurotic lab mix girl who cried and wailed when left alone and pushed and prodded for attention to the point where she became aggressive. There was Benny, a compact, skittish, feral dog, rescued from the streets of Taiwan where he might have otherwise been caught and eaten for dinner. And then there was Ace, a large pit bull mix who would bite me soon as look as me.

Dash had been adopted and returned twice. It seems he attaches to one particular member of his new family and guards them against all the other members. He thinks he is doing his job. The first time around, he nipped at a child. The second time he bit a man on the leg. And yesterday he was returned for the third time for biting his female owner up and down her arm.

Today, Benny, the little feral pup taken from an alley in Taipei, greeted me excitedly in his cage. I took him out and we played for a while in the yard, together with another dog recently rescued from a Virginia puppy mill. Benny never met a dog he doesn't like. As fearful as he is toward people, he solicits as much play and fun from other dogs. Benny and the Mill dog bowed and pranced around each other, allowing me into their game as well. They chased me and I chased them. They zig- zagged around, coming up from behind to nose at my leg. When we were done, I put the mill dog back into his kennel and took Benny up to the office with me. This has been our regular routine. He hops up the stairs and darts under my desk. I kneel on the floor and he comes out for ear scratching and belly rubs. He snoozes under there while I write up my dog behavior entries.

Later this afternoon, I went looking for Dash. He was in the bad dog wing where the kennel door has a big sign that says, "AUTHORIZED PET BEHAVIOR PERSONNEL ONLY." Dash was hopping around, excited to see me. I put him on leash and we headed out of the building for a walk. He stopped and sat at every door, waiting like a perfect gentleman for my go-ahead. He is strong and pulled when we reached the sidewalk so I took him to the play area so he could run. He found a tennis ball and brought it to me. We played fetch for a while until the hot summer sun got the best of both of us. I sat in a chair in the shade. He chewed the ball contentedly under my chair.

By 4:15 I had only 45 more minutes before quitting time. I brought Benny back to the big kennel. While I navigated my way through the public area, a young woman and her mom came up. "He is so cute!", the mom says. "What kind of dog is it?". I am used to this question. Benny doesn't look like any dog one normally sees in America. He looks something like a cross between a hyena pup and a dingo. A very cute dingo. He has a reddish brindle coat and wide, round paws. His harness (don't ask me why) has attached blue angel wings. I told them his story, and for the first time ever, he came over to greet them. He let them pet him. This was major. I checked my watch. 15 minutes to the end of my shift. After what seemed like a long time and a lot of discussion, the mom turned to me and said, "we want him". I left them filling out forms and ran back to see Dash in his kennel. He had finished his dinner. He looked up expectantly at me. I had to clock out across the street in five minutes. I rubbed his cheek through the grill and slip him a few treats. As I went to leave I took one more look. He smiled a big cattle dog smile as if to say, "See you tomorrow." But for Dash, his tomorrows are numbered Even though it is a no-kill shelter it's still "three bites and you're out". Dash will be shipped back to the pound he came from - that same city shelter I had visited two weeks earlier. They have no room for dogs who bite.

After clocking out and heading toward the street, I heard someone call to me. There, walking proudly in his angel wings and brand new blue leash was Benny, flanked by the young woman and her mom. Benny, who traveled across the ocean from the mean streets of China was walking into a fine new and loving home where he would never have to look over his shoulder or scavenge for food.

I looked at Benny. I thought of Dash. The afternoon sun was turning August red. Time to go.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Florence Cracked Corn (and I DO Care)


It was late fall. I parked my car alongside the Starbucks on Main Street, got out and turned the corner into the shop. I got my usual quadtallamericanohotwithroom, ($3.10) fixed it at the fixings counter and walked out. As I rounded that same corner back to my car, I saw a pigeon huddled against the side of the building. This pidgeon did not look well. Her feathers were ruffled up against the wind whipping straight down the sidewalk. I approached, doing my best pigeon coo. She had her eyes closed and seemed a little wobbly, even though her little red legs were tucked underneath her. She had found a nook in the facade, right in front of the taxi depot. It was a poor wind shield, but it did allow some sun to shaft down, warming her a bit.

I went back into Starbucks and came out with a corn muffin ($3.75) When I returned, she was as I had left her, head down, feathers up. I crumbled some corn muffin up and spread it on the ground a non-invasive distance away. She looked up and stood. Her legs, red, like most of our town pigeons' were distorted with painful-looking tumors, especially the left one. She hobbled over to the muffin crumbs and ate with gusto. I got into my car and drove home.

The next day, she was there again, in the same spot, huddled, waiting for a few friendly sun rays to penetrate her shivering body. I got another muffin, cooed to her and crumbled it just the way she liked it. She ate greedily, nodding occasionally to me as if to say, "hey, by the way, thanks for the food".
I decided to name her Florence.

Visits with Florence continued into the winter, when the livin' outside ain't easy even for the hardiest of wildlife. Some mornings I would come and a crumbled muffin would already be in place, courtesy, I believe of the rangy taxi dispatcher who dressed in cowboy boots, ten gallon hat and fringed vest. He chain smoked and had that constant raspy smoker's cough. I switched from corn muffins to cracked corn, since I had googled pigeon food and learned that cracked corn was a fine food base for most any bird. Florence liked it and cleaned her plate every day. Word spread throughout Pigeon Hotel (A large tree by the train station) that Florence had a rich benefactor. When I came in the mornings, now I would find a robust (yet still limping) Florence chasing and pecking opportunistic relatives away from her recent and regular windfall. It was futile. Every time she shooed one cousin away, another would sneak in from behind and grab a beakful of corn. Invariably Florence would give up and join in with the group, pecking and flinging dried corn kernels all over the sidewalk.

Florence could fly just fine. Some days, she would not be in her spot, but if I cooed, she would drop from a nearby eave and walk over saying, "what took you so long? I'm starving!"

The cold days dragged on. Spring finally came and the winter birds left, replaced by courting robins, sparrows and starlings. Florence too disappeared. I looked for her for a few weeks, carrying my container of corn in the glove compartment, just in case. I half-heartedly threw some out to the new crowd who waited until I was gone before coming down.

Another winter has come and gone. I don't know how Florence has fared or even what the life expectancy of a pigeon is. I do know she was a lovely creature sharing a moment and a space on the sidewalk with me. I hope it made a difference to her.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mass Wedding and Me

28 years ago this past July first, I was part of the mass Moonie wedding at Madison Square Garden. It was the summer of 1982. Older folks will remember this as an offbeat news item of that time. I was 27 years old and had been a member of the Unification Church (UC) for 9 years then. My husband and I had been matched by the Reverend himself three years earlier in the main ballroom of the (UC-owned) New Yorker Hotel. We were lucky to have those three years to get to know each other a little. Hundreds of the 2000-plus couples married that hot day had only met three DAYS before.

I was also fortunate to have gotten an American guy, with an extremely similar family background to mine. White middle-class Catholic Republican. We grew up on the same TV shows, same rock bands, same knock-knock jokes. These commonalities helped a whole lot as we spent time getting to know each other well enough to feel comfortable being actually married to each other.

I am flashing back here. The day dawned hot and sunny. We couples were all staying at the same New Yorker, just a block away from our wedding venue at the Garden. I was staying in one small room with five other brides-to-be. We got up, prayed and began putting on our identical wedding dresses (Butterick pattern # 56709 or something) and taking turns in the bathroom. I wanted coffee, but there was none to be had. We went downstairs, lined up for yogurt and fruit and met with our new life partners in the lobby. Mine looked dashing in his new blue suit (they all wore blue suits and red ties) and bright red wavy hair. We queued up again and, slowly processed up the block and across the street to Madison Square Garden. Bystanders stared, some smiling, some scowling at us. A few muttered utterances were heard about "cults" and "brainwashed". We looked straight ahead and did not answer.

Now that week, the Garden was also hosting the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Circus trucks and trailers were parked everywhere and the aroma of wild animals was in the wind. As we walked into the building we could smell elephant all the way up and around. Fortunately, the staff had the wisdom to turn off all the escalators so our long dresses would not get caught. THAT would have been awful. As we came closer to the opening of the main room, we could hear the excitement of the audience, made up of relatives who were willing to come to such a show, other church members, curiosity seekers and the media.

Since I actually liked my fiance, I was happy and calm. In the UC, marriage is called 'the Blessing' and it is not only the joining of two people, it is meant to be the beginnings of a new and holy human lineage from which would spring the kingdom of heaven on earth. No doubt, a great thing to be part of. As my soon-to-be husband and I entered, we passed through the gate of the Reverend and his wife, standing on platforms on either side of us. They were wearing white robes trimmed in gold with matching crowns. The 'Wedding March' played over and over and over again. The Moons threw handfuls of 'holy water' on us and we continued to our spots. Hymns played softly in the background. I looked around at the sea of believers around me. Some looked scared. Some looked miserable. Some were crying, moved by the magnitude of what they were about to do. Or maybe they were just crying. I'm not sure.

Vows were read simultaneously and the Reverend pronounced us married in the sight of God. We did a loud Korean victory cheer and moved off the greet our families.

My husband and I were lucky. My mom, dad, brother and my favorite neighbor, Mrs. Schramm (see blog entry entitled, 'One of the Boys') all came. His dad had traveled from the midwest to be there. I loved his dad. A D-day veteran and career military officer, he was a man of few and carefully chosen words. "I don't approve of this method of marriage," he had said to his son. "But it looks like you got lucky." The Colonel passed away two months shy of 9/11 and was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery. That is a story for another day.

My dad took us all to Tavern on the Green for a celebration dinner in the garden room. I don't remember what we had, except I do remember champagne and white cake. Looking around the room, we saw several other parties from the mass wedding there as well. They toasted us and made us feel loved and special. Despite the oddness of the occasion, it was a really good day for both of us.

My husband and I are in the process of divorce right now. 28 years, five children and an entire adult lifetime spent together is coming to a close. I have no regrets. We are still friends and we have been good parents. An end to a chapter that ran the gamut from exhiliration at the births of our kids, fun summer road trips to see grandparents, to bouts of depression, unhappiness, misunderstandings and misplaced expectations.

We are moving on with new homes, new dreams, new loves. Not a bad way to spend an anniversary.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Snap Decisions


My dogs and I take a long walk down a nearby secluded creek trail most mornings. To find this trail you have to go down my street into a blocked-off driveway-like easement meant for use only by the local water district. You head south, and then west past the barbed-wire gate of the expansive Water District property. Didn't you always wonder why they need acres and acres of fenced-off grassy fields upon which nothing seemed to be happening?
Anyway, after passing this waste of prime space, you find a lovely dirt path running parallel to an even lovelier creek. The creek runs north to south, with some little waterfalls, a duck pond and a bigger waterfall. Someone years ago built a treehouse by that waterfall.
In the pond - which is in full barren view in winter, but hidden by reed grass in the summer, there is abundant wildlife. Ducks and geese nest and raise families there. Herons and hawks live there too. Garter Snakes, toads, squirrels and rabbits abound.
My dogs, Charlie and Sammy love this walk. they get to be off-lead here, up and down the ravines, splashing in the creek, chasing squirrels and geese and raising a fine ruckus. One day in late spring, as we walked together past the sandy footbridge, Sammy spied a creature of great interest in the middle of the path. I was a ways back and all I could see was her barking at something, sniffing and jumping back. Barking, sniffing, jumping. Charlie joined in the chorus. As I came closer, I could see what it was. A large snapping turtle had decided that this high-traffic area would make an ideal nesting area for her eggs. She sat in the scoop she had made with her back legs, bravely facing her yapping tormentors, alternately pulling her head in and poking it out for a warning snap. I know that snapping turtles can bite your hand off if they want, so I called to the dogs, waving cheese in the air as I moved away from the scene. No go. Charlie and Sammy were mesmerized, circling and barking. I got worried mama turtle would connect with a snout at some point and I would be making tournaquets out of my bra, like I had read about in a story about a man who was mauled by a bear and his wife stripped off her undergarment and saved his life.
It's interesting how whole dramatic scenarios come to you in those moments. Maybe this is where movie scripts come from. Maybe some bored commuter riding a city bus to work imagined 'Crash' during a Monday rush hour. Idk.
The dogs were fine, the turtle was finally left in peace and our walk continued. A gaggle of geese glided along the pond, oblivious to the mayhem occuring nearby. A woodpecker could be heard from a spot in the trees where a shaft of early morning light poured down from the sky like a slanted silent waterfall. I reached into my pocket and the dogs came running to me, knowing well the slight sound of ziplock baggie holding bite-sized chunks of cheddar just for them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Filling in the Blanks

My father is not doing so well these days. He turns 84 tomorrow. He lost his eyesight about five years ago and lost my mother about a year and a half ago. And although he has lost much more than this in his life, these two losses have taken the wind out of his sails entirely.

Dad lives alone now, in the house he bought brand new in 1955, the one I grew up in. It is small according to today's standards, where McMansions abound and computer rooms, media rooms and master suites are must-haves. It is a three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath ranch house with no finished basement, den or office space. Small enough for two, when my mom was alive, but somehow swallowing my dad in his solitude.
He really should live either with lots of help, or in an assisted living situation. He gets disoriented a bit and has hallucinations in the middle of the night. My brothers and I visit, cook meals, do his laundry and shopping, help him with his bills, take him to appointments. He has a cleaning lady once every two weeks.

My dad does NOT want to leave his house. This is not uncommon, I know. He knows every inch of his house and property. He was an electrical engineer by trade and, like many men of his generation, could fix, rewire, unclog or re-route just about anything. He can still feel his way to the circuit breaker box and the furnace.

My younger brother believes that if we insist that dad move, it will kill him. My older brother believes moving him is necessary now. I just don't know. He sits in the living room on one spot on the sofa day after day. The sofa is depressed and worn right there from all the sitting. Because he cannot see, he does not notice when his shirt is stained or his beard has sauce residue. Sometimes, when I go there, I give him a haircut and trim his beard. We both like this. It is a chance for contact - my hands on his head, his face. Dad was never demonstrative in that way. But now, as I wrap his shoulders with a towel to keep the hair off and touch his chin and cheek for a better angle, he closes his eyes and relaxes into my care.

It's a small thing - way too small. Part of me wants to wrap my arms around him from behind and stay there for many moments. But enough of me is not that brave, so I don't.
In my house, my kids - even the grown-up ones - still climb in my bed and lean on me while watching TV or talking. Random hugging is much easier here than it ever was there. How do I give my dad what he needs, what he misses and longs for? I cannot fill the gaping space my mom left. But I can do more. . .

Saturday, June 19, 2010

And Then There Were Nun


I grew up Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic elementary school and Catholic High School. I wore scratchy wool skirts, knee socks and saddle shoes. The skirts were supposed to reach the middle of our knees, for modesty. Since this was the sixties and the age of Mary Quant and mini-skirts, the middle-of-the-knee thing was completely unacceptable. We girls had a simple solution. Roll the skirts up at the waist until desired mini length is reached, leaving us with a bunchy middle, but great leg exposure. The principal (Sister Mary Sebastian) would appear at our classroom door randomly throughout the school week to do 'skirt check'. All the girls would have to exit the classroom and line up in the hallway. We were then told to kneel down against the wall facing out. If our skirts brushed the floor, we were safe. Any knee action going on would give us a one-way ticket to the Principal's Office, where our mothers would be called and they would have to come bail us out. This was the days before 'Harper Valley PTA'. Our mothers did not wear mini skirts, nor were they aware we created such on our own.

Some of the nuns - we were taught by the Sisters of Mercy, a teaching order - were old and crabby. We called them the Sisters of NO Mercy. Some were young and groovy. The young ones would tell stories, laugh at our jokes and sometimes come out to the schoolyard at recess, hike up their long skirts and jump rope with us. With Veils a flying and belted rosaries (as deadly as a nunchuk!) swinging, it seemed they were able to snatch a moment of childhood back for themselves.

I always wondered what they looked like underneath those crazy, restrictive black habits. Did they have hair? What did they wear to bed? Were they allowed to go swimming? And if so, did they have to swim at the 'nuns-only' beach, far from prying eyes?

The priests - there were three of them in our parish - lived in the rectory, with a maid, a cook and their own suite of rooms. They smoked and drank alcohol. They each had their own car. The youngest priest had a Pontiac LeMans convertible. And exept for sharing the weekly mass schedule and appearing at the occasional baptism, wedding or funeral, they never seemed to be very busy. I did see them walk to their cars sometimes with golf bags slung over their shoulders, however.

The nuns lived in the convent on the top floor of the school. It was communal. They each had a tiny cell for a room and shared the shopping, cleaning and cooking. They shared one old bomb of a blue station wagon that some parishioner had donated. They worked full time downstairs as teachers and were transfered every three years. This was so that they could not develop deep relationships with anybody, thereby devoting themselves entirely to God.

It was always a little unnerving seeing them in the supermarket. When you are a kid, you like to keep your worlds separate. Family and relatives here, friends over here, and teachers over there. When the worlds collided, it was so disorienting. Nuns in the toilet paper aisle? Ew! Even the thought of a nun using the bathroom was unimaginable. Feminine products? Please stop! My head is exploding!

Nuns are a dying breed (literally). Not many young women these days are interested in giving up their lives, not to mention sex forever. Many have left the convent (or as we used to say, 'kicked the habit') for more normal and free existences. Maybe some of them wear mini skirts. I hope they are still jumping rope.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

One of the Boys


The Schramm boys lived across the street. Jackie, the oldest and most mysterious to me, Henry, my brother David's age, and Alex, who was in my grade, but not in my school, because I went to Catholic school and he did not.

This was a sorrow to me because I was in love with Alex. Never mind that we were only seven or eight or nine. To me he was THE ONE.

Actually, I was enamored of the entire Schramm family. Their father, Jack, or, 'Mr. Schramm' as I called him 'till the day he died, was a loud man, who always seemed to be yelling, at either one

of the boys or his wife, Jean. It was only partially because he was often annoyed, and partially because he was quite deaf, even as a young man. I remember him standing right in front of me, smiling at my pig-tailed little girl self and yelling,"So! Lisa-the-Tower-of-Pisa!" This was Mr. Schramm's way of communicating affection. I thought he was great.


I also loved Mrs. Schramm. Although it might have seemed that she was somewhat long-suffering, what with being married to loudmouth, and being the mother of three rambunctious boys who always broke their Christmas presents by Christmas afternoon, she had a ready smile and a sharp wit. She was not cowed by her husband, or anyone. She and I had a special bond. On most afternoons, after coming home from school, I would sit and have tea with my mother. We would chat about the day and then I would go off to my room to do whatever. But every Tuesday afternoon, my mother would lend me out to Mrs. Schramm. I would have tea with her, as her surrogate daughter, a civilised afternoon she could never enjoy with her boys. We would chat and I would pet Archie, their English Bulldog. I was in heaven. Not only was I almost a Schramm on those days, I also could imagine I had a dog too. We were never able to have one, because stupid David was allergic to EVERYTHING.

Every summer, for a couple of weeks, my family would load up the Plymouth, push its gear buttons and trek upstate to the Catskills where my grandparents owned a summer house. It was a fairly big house, uninsulated, so you couldn’t use it in the winter, in a sleepy little artist-colony town called Palenville. I loved going there, loved the house, the musty smell of the basement, the lingering smell of gas in the kitchen, the smell of the straw rug in the living room. Funny how smells conjure up vivid emotional memories so instantaneously. It’s like when we smell a familiar smell – like musty basement – we get happy for a second, even before recognizing what it is we are recalling.

For a number of years, the Schramms came to Palenville with us. We would caravan the two-and-a half-hour trip, or try to. Mr. Schramm always drove very fast, faster than my dad was comfortable with, so usually they would either beat us there by a half hour, or they would stop, buy cool boy stuff, like new pocket knives or copies of MAD Magazine, get crew cuts, or new white Keds high tops. Mr. Schramm and the boys wore Levis and white underwear tee shirts as regular shirts. My father and brother never did anything like that. My dad always wore a button front shirt and, as far as I know, never owned a pair of jeans in his life. David wore dorky jeans from Penney’s with equally dorky striped shirts. I, being the girl, had to wear ‘outfits.’ This was summertime, so an outfit was usually shorts with no pockets and a matching sleeveless top that buttoned in the back. What sadist invented buttons in the back anyway? And who wrote the rule that said girls’ clothes couldn’t have pockets?

When we finally all arrived at the Palenville house, our moms unloaded groceries into the gas-smelling kitchen, the dads brought suitcases upstairs and we kids checked to see if the outside freshwater spring was running. The grass would be as high as my shoulder and we would be set to work with sickles, cutting paths to the cars, the tool shed and the spring. I loved it. Me and my brother and the three Schramm boys. It was as close to being one of them as I would ever get.

When we were all settled in, we put on our swimsuits (back then they were only called ‘bathing suits’) and walked down the road to the swimming hole, or ‘the creek’ as we called it. To get to the creek, you had to know exactly where to step off the road and into the woods, pushing aside branches and brushing through thick poison ivy. The trail would widen slightly and wind around into a clearing where the swinging bridge would appear. Now the swinging bridge was like one of those rope bridges made by African natives that dipped across enormous drops into crocodile-infested waters. To cross the swinging bridge meant bouncing and swinging and possibly falling through one of many holes made by missing floorboards. When we got to the middle, swinging and bouncing as much as possible, we would stop and synchronize ourselves into a massive side-to-side swing. Our moms were terrified every time. After the bridge, the trail continued down and down, until forest floor gave way to smooth creekbed stones. We would park our towels and belongings on a rocky outcrop and leap off the rocks into some of the coldest water I have ever been in. So clear. So cold. A little bit of heaven. The local boys, always in cutoffs, never in bathing suits, would leap off the high cliffs, flipping and chasing each other like Peter Pan’s lost boys. Only Jackie, who was a few years older than the rest of us, ever tried those cliffs. Once, a number of years later, I went back there with a group of campers I was taking care of. I actually went off that cliff then. I saw it, and I jumped. Didn’t stop to think about it. It was about a twenty foot leap, and you had to have a running start and jump OUT to avoid being smashed by the rocks jutting closer to the edge.

This one summer, with the Schramms, I brought the mask/fin/snorkel set I had bought with the Plaid Stamps I earned by doing shopping for my mom at the A&P. This set was a big deal to me and I was not sharing it with David or the Schramms, since they pretty much broke everything they touched. A man, a stranger came up to me there and asked if he could borrow my mask. I couldn’t say no to a grownup, so I handed it over. He put it on carefully and was swimming around in a kind of circle with his head down in the water. After a while, he swam over to me, thanked me for letting him use the mask, got out and, together with his family, gathered their things and began to leave. “What were you looking for?,” I asked. “My wedding ring” he sighed. “It fell off while I was swimming. I think the coldness of the water made my finger shrink.”

I took the mask back, and had a funny feeling all of a sudden. Strapping it on, I swam over to one particular spot in the middle of the creek, a spot I had seen the man swim past over and over. Looking down, I saw it. Right there next to a large rock, about eight feet down. I took a breath, dove down and came up quickly. “Hey! Wait!,” I called, seeing the man was already halfway up the trail. “I FOUND IT!” He turned, said something to his wife, and came trotting back to me. He thanked me effusively, almost tearfully and left.

I was feeling quite pleased with myself, not only because I had found the man’s ring, but because I did the heroic deed in front of the duly-impressed Schramm boys. I had proven myself. For that moment I was one of the boys. It was a beautiful thing.

Being one of the boys, however doesn’t spill over to bedtime. They all, including David, got to pile into the big iron sunken-in mattress bed wearing no shirts at all. I had to sleep on the hard cot in my parents’ room, suffering in my scratchy flowered pajama set, because I had gotten such a bad sunburn that afternoon at the creek. I could hear the boys whispering, laughing and poking on the other side of the wall. A wall that divided the boys from the non-boys. . .

I saw the Schramms infrequently after I grew up and moved away. Jackie married, had triplets and divorced. Henry married and had two daughters and a son and became a wealthy insurance agent. Alex joined the Air Force, married, divorced, married and had a son and a daughter. Mr. Schramm died of cancer in his late sixties. Mrs. Schramm came to my wedding and visited me a couple of times when I had just had one baby or other.

She came, along with Henry and Henry’s wife Pat, to my mother’s funeral last January. We hugged and cried a little. She looked frail and lost. Even so, even in that grief-stricken moment, time and distance disappeared. I sat with Henry and we reminisced about our childhood for a few minutes before it was time to leave in the limousine. “I remember Palenville,” he said with a sad smile. “It was like we were all one big family. All us boys and you. But then, as I remember it, you were really pretty much one of the boys.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Playing like a Girl (and in this case, that's a good thing)


I grew up on Long Island. I was born in Brooklyn, where most Long Islanders are actually from. My parents bought a promise of a house in a new development after the Korean War pretty much around the time Suburbia was being invented. As with most subdivisions, the streets were all named after the builder's relatives. In my neighborhood, there was Sherman Drive, Ronald Lane, Richard Lane, Ira Road and Miller Boulevard. The builder - Mr. Miller - may have been Jewish. I don't really know. Maybe he was related to Mr. Levitt.

Our block, Sherman Drive, was a dead end. Not a cul-de-sac, mind you. A real DEAD END. No friendly circle turn around at the end, just a guardrail. There was a sign that said DEAD END. Some wise acre kid (I think it was Wayne, who we called, 'Wayne, Wayne, the big fat Pain') had carefully printed the word 'REAR' between the DEAD and the END. When you are seven, this is hilarious.

Since there was little traffic on our block, we kids often played in the street. Kickball, Stickball, SPUD, Monkey in the Middle, Touch Football.

Both girls and boys played most games, with the exceptions being Stickball and Touch Football. These manly games remained boy-only. There was one girl on my block named Patty, who was a natural athlete (she went on to play high school and college sports and to this day referees at high school field hockey games). She was so good, the boys realized they would be fools not to include her. Patty was in.

But in order to balance out the teams, one other girl was needed, or so our young senses of fair play dictated. There was Elizabeth Ann. No. She didn't like getting her nail polish chipped. Or Tracy. Tall and awkward. Marylee. A crybaby. Nancy. No. She lived on Ronald Lane and, as everyone knew, THEY were the enemy.

That left me. I was a pretty good choice. I was small and wiry and fast and not afraid of the ball. I hit fairly well and, even though I didn't own a mitt, I could catch too. So, I was in.

Much of my remembrance of that time of my life comes, not from actual memories, but from the enhanced recall that the 8 millimeter home movies my father took of us imparted. Once, after dinner, instead of playing the usual ball game, we decided to have relay races up and down the block. The hard part was that the races would be run on my little brother's John Deere Tractor and my other brother's hand-pumped go-cart. We had all outgrown these two vehicles and looked very funny and awkward on them, with knees and elbows sticking out to the sides.

This was my moment in the sun. I was still small enough to handle both vehicles smoothly. And, as I mentioned, I was wiry and fast. We have film footage of the races, where Bobby and Jackie and Henry and Alex and David are having trouble getting the go-cart to do anything but go backwards and me fiercely pumping for the win every time. Did I mention we have actual footage of this?

At one point, the boys got tired of losing and began sabotaging me on my laps. They would dart in front, or hand off the cart facing the wrong way. At one point, Bobby actually jumped ON to the front of the tractor I was pedaling and tried to brake with his big clodhopper feet. I was furious. The final footage of this delightful film reel is of me punching Bobby in the back so hard, he falls off sideways. Henry jumps in and pulls from the back. I turn around and slug him hard in the ribs. He falls off. I win and all the boys are lying on the ground. Dad, can we see this one again?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Seaside Cinema

I live in a medium-sized town on a peninsula that juts south to north and curls around west a bit at the end. Like the tip of an elf's hat, but with no bell at the end. There is a lovely bay surrounding it which feed out to the Long Island Sound, which in turn, feeds out into the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn, feeds over to Europe and . . . um, okay.

My town is really nice. It is home to about 30,000 and can, in turn, feel like a small town or a hip urban neighborhood. There is a Main Street where parades can march and a walking path that winds around the shoreline, ending at the town dock and the Sunset Park band shell. In the summer, Sunset Park and the dock provide lots of cool things to do. There is a Farmer's Market every Saturday morning where, if you come early enough, you can get locally grown organic produce, fresh-caught fish, homemade baked things and locally harvested honey. It's not cheap, but there is always something colorful and delicious-looking to toss into your hemp grocery bag and place in the wicker basket of your beach cruiser. Folks bring their dogs and wear their birkis. The women don't color their gray hair and let it fly loose and long.

On weekend evenings, the bandshell hosts free events. Sometimes the town band (a conglomerate of professional local musicians and high school kids) plays and some nights they show a movie. You bring snacks and water bottles and sit on blankets and watch for free. Earlier tonight they played"Mamma Mia." A fun romp with catchy ABBA tunes, beautiful Greek Island scenery and attractive, energetic people. I saw the Broadway show with my three daughters a couple of years ago. I love it.
On this night, my friend, my daughter and her two friends all went. We parked, put on our sweatshirts, spread out our beach blanket and settled down to watch the setting orange sun shoot pink and purple out of its arms on both sides across the western sky. We greeted and chatted with friends and neighbors, catching up and filling in. As the dark grew darker, the movie began. Mamma Mia is basically one song after another with three or four lines of dialogue in between. We sang along. Quietly, privately at first. Then we realized others were singing along too. We sang louder. By the time "Dancing Queen" started and Meryl Streep had every woman on that Greek island singing and dancing with her, we had a fine chorus backing her up across the lawn.

The movie ended and we folded up and drove home. ABBA tunes lingered in our brains and the smell of low tide and salt water remained on our skin and in our hair.

See that girl. Watch that scene. Digging the Dancing Queen.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Don't Call Me Shirley


Even though we are living in a more 'enlightened' and 'progressive' time, I still see signs every day that male chauvenism is alive and well. I'm not so much talking about keeping women in the bedroom as opposed to the boardroom. I more talking about how men, especially men who are hired to fix your car or something in your house, behave around the women who hired them.
My friend's furnace broke. She turned on the heat and all she got was a loud clacking noise. This, of course meant no hot water either. She calls a local plumber. The office gives her a time 'window' of when a guy would show up. A half hour AFTER the window had closed, the guy comes.
He is cheerful enough, but it is clear he is tired and wants to call it a day. She tells him the symptoms and shows him the way to the furnace. He comes out five minutes later. "Your switch was off, dear," he says with a condescending smirk. "I'll do you a big favor and not charge you for the service call."
"My friend turned off the switch AFTER the furnace died," she informed him. "That's not the problem. Go back down and look again." "Okay, hon, but I'll have to charge you. I was tryin' ta do ya a big favor here."
He goes back and clanks around for a while. He comes back up. "Whaddya know, dear, you were right. Ya need a new pump and a new hot water tank. I can do you a favor and put them in for only $800, but ya gotta give me cash this minute."
"Fix it, give me the bill, and THEN I will pay you," said my friend. "And sweetie, don't call me dear. Or hon. Or babe. Or darlin'.

One time we ordered a new refrigerator. We were excited because it was a side-by-side with water and ice right in the door. Now in order to hook up the water, a guy had to come special.
They gave me a time window. An hour and a half after the window closed, the guy came. No apologies. "I gotta tap into your cold water pipes to hook it up, hon," said the guy. My ruff went up. "I'll show you where that pipe is, I said, because I have lived in my house for 17 years and I have made it my business to know my pipes. "No need, dear," he smiled. He went down the stairs to the basement. I heard nothing for a while. The I heard drilling and clanking. He came back up looking perturbed. He tested the water in the door. Only a dribble of lukewarm water came out. Mumbling, he went back down. "Are you sure you tapped into the right pipe?" I called down. "I can show you the right one." No response. More clanking. He made several more trips up and down. While he was on the phone with another guy about the issue, I went down to see what he had done and immediately understood the problem. Instead of tapping into the main cold water pipe, he had drilled a hole into the monoflow pipe that sends hot water into all the radiators in the house. When the guy came down I pointed this out, showing him how the monoflow went all around the basement and fed into different rooms. He wasn't listening at all. Let me handle this, dear," he said without looking at me. He mumbled that he would come back in two days to 'fix' the problem.

Two days and two hours past the new window, a different guy came. I insisted on coming down to the basement with him. I told him about the monoflow and showed him where the proper cold water pipe was. He studied the situation and walked over to check the offshoot hose the first guy had attached to the wrong pipe. "Shit," he muttered under his breathe. Making quick work of it, the second guy removed the hose and attached a new one exactly where I told him to. The water in the fridge poured out cold and strong. He called headquarters on his cell phone. "The lady was right, you doofus," he barked into the phone. "Next time pay attention!"
Guy number two apologized for the inconvenience and left.
To quote Leslie Neilsen, when someone said to him, "surely you're kidding," Leslie said, "I never kid . . . and DON'T call me Shirley.
When it come to male chauvenistic attitudes, I say, "I'm not a dumb woman . . . and DON'T call me sweetie. Or dear. Or hon. I may hit you over the head with a cold water pipe.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Domino Effect


Domino is a dog. A black and white pit bull mix to be exact. I don't know anything about his days as a puppy or who his people were. I do know he has lived at the animal shelter in a small cement kennel for the last two years. Domino is a problem child. He is skinny and jumpy and outrageous. He doesn't listen and won't look at you when you speak to him. It's as if he is blowing you off deliberately.
But Domino is a very smart boy, and, despite his shenanigans, he has learned a slew of commands and can perform them on a dime. He will work for treats and does settle in to work after a while. Domino is not your friend right away. He must be won over. If you watch him, study him, let him know you are the boss and, really, that you are his trusted friend, he will look into your eyes and lean in for a good scratch.
Two years. At most any shelter, two years is unheard of. Overcrowded conditions and low pit bull adoption rates would have made Domino's chances at going home very low indeed. But he got lucky. The shelter he wound up in has a high adoption rate, a caring staff and a great volunteer program. He and all the dogs there are trained, exercised, bathed and fussed over. Gradually over time, the street-wise, 'trust no one' Domino began to relax and have some fun. He plays with toys. He chases balls. He sits for treats and closes his eyes in bliss when a friendly handler scratches behind his ears.

Domino got adopted on Saturday. A nice young man from New Jersey saw his face on Petfinders and decided to come and get him. The two of them played for a while and, after papers were signed and fee handed over ($29.50), Domino and his new friend climbed in the car and went home.

For you and me, the words 'going home' are uneventful. For Domino, they are the promise of dreams come true.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Memorial Weekend Ode to Joy


One fine warm afternoon toward the end of the week and the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, my son asked me if I wanted to jam with him on the front porch. This was in part because we are working on a few songs to sing together at the little wine bar where we both play, he on Thursdays and I on Fridays. Jamming with him is great fun, and we sound really good, if I am allowed to brag.

So, there we are on the porch, rocking and rocking out. From around the corner, muffled by a shrub comes a small voice. We stop. The voice and the face come clear into view. It is the little boy who lives next door. This precocious third grader is often out in front, playing historical make-believe, mostly by himself. Sometimes he shows up as Sherlock Holmes or Robin Hood. But mostly he is a colonial-era man, complete with knickers, blue coat and three-cornered hat. He brandishes a flintlock firearm and dumps tea into the harbor. His mom, God bless her, even made him a little wig out of white pillowcase material, with side curls wrapped around toilet paper rolls. He has a tiny black ribbon attached to the tail of it too.

Anyway, boy-next-door comes around the bend with wide eyes at the sound of the music on the porch. "I can play Yankee Doodle on the violin!", he cried with excitement. "Oh, and 'Ode to Joy' too!" "Well, then go get your instrument!," my son charged. The boy smiled and skipped off. He was back in a flash, armed with violin, bow and sheet music. He began to play a clear and excellent 'Yankee Doodle'. "Wait!" I cried. "I'm going to get my banjo!" Now we had guitar, violin and banjo. We began to play. It sounded great. The door flew open. My other son (also a musician) appeared with his tin whistle. Four instruments playing the most classic of American songs. We also played 'Ode to Joy', but on that perfect patriotic weekend with flag flying from the garage door and little Mr. Militia fiddling energetically, I glimpsed a moment of pure heaven. I was proud of all three of these boys, proud of the REAL militia who gave everything and who we remembered that very weekend. Life is good. God Bless America.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Mighty Wind is Mighty Nice

A week ago Sunday was Pentecost Sunday at Church. You know, when the mighty wind swept through the door of the upper room and the disciples were given little flames on top of their heads and they were able to speak in foreign languages without the aid of Rosetta Stone courses.

It is also traditionally Confirmation Sunday, when all the eighth graders re-affirm their commitment to the church. In our Methodist church we do confirmation through a one-on-one mentoring process. Each kid is assigned an adult mentor who guides them through the lessons and (hopefully) becomes one more trusted grownup in their lives.

This year was my third year as a mentor. My girl was great - enthusiastic, thoughtful and always came to our sessions with stories and questions. The day dawned bright and warm and the five to be confirmed looked so fine in their white robes and red corsages. Two of the confirmands were first cousins, from an exceptionally close and exceptionally LARGE family. There were photos being snapped, hugs and greetings being doled out. My confirmand was an only child of a single mother. No family, no relatives at all. When each child came up to kneel before the pastor for their special blessing, their entire families are invited up to place a hand on their head in support. When the cousins went up they were surrounded by a crowd of milling, proud relatives.

I was worried for my girl. Would it just be me and her mom? It was her turn. Her name was called and she took her place on the kneeler. I stood on one side, her mom on the other. But then I looked up to see all her friends coming forward to be her 'family'. Without a word, they took their positions and placed their hands on her head.

Family is what you make it. In this instance, family made it good.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dog Gone From Fat to Skinny




Charlie is my dog. He is one of three who live at my house, along with a cat and various injured wildlife who need nursing at any given time.
But Charlie is mine. His old owner died and he ended up at the pound. He was only around five years old, but looked a lot older. He was obese and moved like a codger. Seems like his owner was elderly and never exercised Charlie while feeding him too much junk.
The shelter put him on a diet and exercise regimen and he lost about 12 pounds. He regained the spring in his step and the gleam in his eye. He looked forward to coming out with the staff and volunteer handlers to play and run up and down the trail.
Now, being one of said volunteer handlers, I got to take Charlie out a few times. This was before my old dog Murray passed away. I loved Charlie (everyone did) but was busier and busier with Murray and his issues. Murray left us fairly suddenly and the hole in my heart seemed to cry out for Charlie. So one fine day this past winter, he came home with me. He was a little stressed at first, wondering where he was, pacing the perimeter of the house and panting loudly. But after only a couple of days, he settled down and settled in.

Charlie is now at fighting weight, light and fast. He charges up and down the ravines that lead to the local stream where he loves chasing geese and ducks. Charlie comes home with muddy paws and a big smile. He sleeps on my bed and sidles up to me whenever I am within reach.

I knew Charlie was home for good the day I got him. As I watch him snoring now up against my leg, I know he knows it too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Girls who are not my daughters, but, really, sort of are

Yesterday was Sunday. At my church we are midway into our Confirmation process. There are five confirmands this year, two boys and three girls. Over the years, the pastor has installed a Confirmation "mentoring" curriculum, where each confirmand is matched with a faithful (and hopefully appropriate) adult member of the congregation. I have been the parent of two confirmands, and the mentor of three.
I think the pastor chooses me often because he knows I am a heretic. I do not believe in the traditional Christian party line and have wrestled with both God and the devil in my own life. He tends to give me kids who are: a) not interested in organized religion, or, b) way out of the box in other ways.
My first confirmand was not interested in church at all. She was one of the most conscientios kids I ever met, thoughtful, serious and caring. She is a world-class figure skater and happens to be the only girl on the high school hockey team. I love her. She had doubts about the existence of God and found little meaning in classic religious rituals. After she was confirmed, I never saw her in church again.
My second confirmand was a delightful handful. A professional child actor, she spoke and moved with dramatic flair and gusto. Her intensity could be a fearful thing, but her heart was as pure and sweet as honey. She was distractable to a fault and when I tried to sit down with her and plow through our required curriculum, she would jump around, burst into song or just go off on an excited tangent about friends, family (crazy Italian) or pets. As I got to know her better, I was impressed with the breadth of her thinking and the depth of her heart. Her confirmation day was a joy for her and her family, and, immensely, for me.
My newest confirmand is again, altogether different. She has a reputation for being something of a 'wild child.' The only daughter of a single parent, she often does everything in her power to worry her mom to death. Now, remember, these kids are 8th graders (read 13 years old). This girl can look 18 on any given day. She is a natural beauty and carries herself with a style and confident flair that belies her age. We meet at a local pizza joint every week and see each other at church on Sundays. This one HAS to be out of the box. I begin by outlining the lesson and let the conversation then go anywhere she chooses. The abandonment by her father. The untimely death of her best friend's dad. Her relationship with her science teacher and her love of astronomy. Her french cousins. Her dog and cats. Her mom. She is growing up fast and is a quirky mix of faux-adult and sweet child. Her Facebook page can be scary to read. I am lucky to have her. So.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Joys of Left-Hand Brushing

In church today, during the children's sermon, the pastor spoke about willpower. This being Lent, the topic was timely. Now, my pastor is an intense man. He is burly and strong and, when he does something, he does it all the way. This can either be bad or good. He exercises strenuously, but also eats in the same manner. He is something of a 'foodie' and will regale any listener with lessons ranging from the subtle differences in apple varieties, to the best restaurants for Israeli hummus or Polish dumplings. He makes impromptu visits to my house, armed with dog biscuits for my three crazy canines. He will sit at my dining room table and hold court for an hour, talking about movies, food, or the health benefits of walking in those rocker-type shoes that are becoming popular.
The pastor has put on weight in the past few years, despite his active lifestyle. It's the foodie thing, I think. He simply loves food. The idea AND the partaking.
So. Back to willpower. For Lent, this year, the pastor has decided to fast every day of the week except Sundays. He reports that he drinks milk and juice, but eats nothing from Monday through Saturday. Now Lent is forty days long, not including the Sundays within it. Many of us are used to 'giving up' something, be it chocolate, or cursing, or the mall. If we have given up something dear to us, then we need WILLPOWER to stay on track.
During this children's sermon, he asked the kids, "what IS will power?" No one spoke. "Willpower is when you set your mind to do something and you DO IT," he thundered. He threw out some examples for them, like giving up junk food, or bodybuilding. The kids nodded silently. "Willpower is like any muscle," he continued. If you exercise it, it becomes stronger day by day. He suggested to them that they all practice brushing their teeth with their non-dominant hand for the remainder of Lent. "This will train your willpower," he said. "Try it."
After sending them off to Sunday School, I pondered his message, with the knowledge of his own resolution in mind.
I don't usually do the Lenten 'give up' thing anymore. But I do like the idea of strengthening my willpower muscle. Tonight, Sunday night, we all gathered at the church for the weekly Lenten Potluck supper and study. The pastor ate his once-weekly supper heartily. He never made mention of his fasting resolution. And tomorrow he will move on about his day, with strength, conviction and intensity. And he will not stop for lunch.
So be it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A True Story

My old friend Vicki was something. She was, and is an amazing photographer (professionally even) and a great singer. Vicki's got game. As the oldest of six, growing up Catholic in New Jersey, she obviously knew a lot about babies and where they come from.
When Vicki was in second grade, she and her class were practicing at school to receive their First Holy Communion. Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church is one of the seven sacraments and considered the ACTUAL body of Christ. Okay, that debate aside. So, the nun who was running the practice, complete with her little clicker (you know like the ones that came in the box game of Jeopardy that you were supposed to use when you knew the answer in lieu of a buzzer) clicking when the kids should sit, stand and kneel.
The nun was also drilling the kids. "Who can tell me what the Holy Eucharist is?" she quizzed. Vicki's hand shot up. "Yes, Victoria," said the nun, who always called the children by their full Christian names. "You know," replied Vicki with a small secret smile, pointing to her stomach. "In here."
"What do you mean?" asked the nun, slightly disturbed. Vicki was annoyed at the nun's denseness. "You KNOW," she pressed on. "In here. Where the babies grow. The Holy Uterus."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Caterpillar lip

I like facial hair on men. Beards, goatees, long sideburns. Even the much-maligned soul patch. You know. Apolo Anton Ohno has one of those under his lower lip.
I do not like moustaches. On anyone. A caterpillar under the nose. An extension of nostril hair. A reminder of unsavory characters from history and literature. Hitler. Stalin. Dan Dastardly. Vincent Price.
Beards are biblical. Sideburns were named after that famous Union General Burnside. Goatees remind us of cute goats. Moustaches have no redeeming value whatsoever. They are prickly and seem like something awful and alive is coming out of your nose. It also looks as if you are trying to lie and hide it.
I say, abolish moustaches! To fully beard or not to beard. The wimpy, half-hearted moustache will never display the measure of a man. Only the contents of his upper lip follicles.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday night and Sunday Morning Music

I play the guitar and sing at a local wine bar a couple of times a month. For two and a half hours, I am unplugged background music for an upscale crowd of everyone from 20-somethings to 60-somethings. I, myself am much closer in age to the latter. The music I play is mostly 60s and 70s acoustic stuff, James Taylor, Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Everly Brothers, Cat Stevens, et al.

People like it, or so it seems. Folks call out requests and more often than not, I can send out at least a stanza or two of what they want. What is remarkable is that the 20-somethings know all this old music too. With the advent of iTunes and other online music snatching sites, the generation my children belong to has claimed, not only their music, but also mine, as their own. This is very cool.

My 23-year-old son also plays at this same establishment sometimes. And sometimes we play together. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, how sweet is that!, mother and son singing together!" And it is sweet. I love singing with him and we are not bad, you know. Many of my friends come, as do his, to hear us and hang out on a weekend evening. This gig, however small and really, insignificant, has come to mean a lot to me.

I also sing in the choir of my local Methodist church. I have been a steady alto presence for over ten years now, and, even though my religious views are, well, shall I say, HERETICAL, it is a great group of people and we have fun. Singing hymns and religious anthems every Sunday morning is at least as inspiring as the Saturday night stuff. To me. I don't analyze it. I just feel it and go with it.

Emily Saliers, one half of the Indigo Girls wrote a book a few years back with her father Don, a reknowned hymnast (rhymes with gymnast) for the United Methodist Church and co-editor of that church's universal hymnal. The term 'music of Saturday night and Sunday morning' was stolen from them.

Some of us worship at the altar of the pub. Others at the church altar. Some of us manage to fit in both. For me, one is not complete without the other. So.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snow Day (or not)

Everyone who has ever been a child in this country can relate to the excitement of the possibility of the ever-magical SNOW DAY!. We here in my town have had two already this winter. Now, I used to be president (actually CO-president) of my local PTA and as I recall, our school district only built one Snow Day in to each year's calendar, in order to reach the state's proscribed (or is it PREscribed? Idk.) number of school days in the year. I recall that if we fell short of the 185 or so days of school, the state would withhold all funding, take our buses away and remove all monkey bars from the playgrounds.

So. today it is snowing big flakes. It is sticking and the forecast is for snow through the next two days. My daughters, their friends and my significant other sat by the fire, looking out onto the white wonderland outside when the phone rang. We recognized the number of the office of the school superintendent. Excitement built to a frenzy. We turned it on speaker. "Good evening," the serious sounding pre-recorded voice said. "This is Dr. Gideon, the superintendent of schools. Due to the inclement weather and the threat of increasing precipitation in solid form and with concern for the mental well-being of all involved, I, Dr. Gideon, superintendent of schools, on this day, February 24, in the year of our lord, 2010, being of sound mind . . ."

Tension mounts in the room. We are all straining to hear the magic words. . . . "keeping our eyes glued to the latest weather reports and carefully studying teachers' contracts as to entitled days off, will let you know tomorrow morning whether or not you have a snow day."

We let out a collective groan. "What the hell!?" several of the girls shouted. We moms did not correct their language. "That message said absolutely nothing!"

True, no? The politics of school administrators reaching into the sanctuary of our homes and wreaking havoc with our minds, our hopes and our dreams.

Snow Day tomorrow? Maybe. If there is one, I think they will have to take a day away from spring break in late March. The teachers would not like that. Well, I probably wouldn't like it so much either.