We finally! (yes, that’s Finally with an exclamation point!) had a beautiful Sunday here in Connecticut. And so we took a nice drive in the convertible. We were headed towards the shoreline for a lobster dinner to celebrate my husband’s birthday.
Top down, the sun on my face (and kneecaps, I found out later), the radio blaring. And although I would have readily given the birthday boy his choice of music, he was in such a terrific mood he tuned (without my even begging) into Sirius’ sixties channel for me.
With a convertible, the radio actually has to be blaring – to be heard at all. But the surrounding racket has an advantage too. You can sing at the top of your lungs. Which I did.
“Down in the Boondocks” – corny, great beat
“I Saw Her Again” - ah, the harmonies
“Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me” - smooooooth
“Don’t Sleep In The Subway” – Carnaby Street
“Mony Mony” – the best dance song in the world
“A Whiter Shade of Pale” - weird and groovy
“How Sweet It Is” – cool enough for my beloved JT to sing it a decade later
“To Sir With Love” – the song I wanted all my life as the father-daughter dance at my wedding (until I was a 40-year-old bride and it was obviously no longer appropriate)
“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” – cute Herman
“Do You Believe in Magic” – teenage kissing music
“Please Please Me” – well, duh…Beatles
“Sunny” – I spent my allowance on that 45
“Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” – it’s the build
and finally -
“Ode To Billy Joe” - monotonous melody, but how I loved the mystery.
I belted out every song. And every line.
And I won’t itemize the entire playlist on the return trip, except to say I knew all those lyrics too.
Half-way home it dawned on me how many songs were stored in my brain. The sixties of course has the big center parlor up in there, but there’s also an attic full of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac and Johnny Cash and Cyndi Lauper and a foyer with U2 and The Goo Goo Dolls and Pink; and there’s Gene Autry and Perry Como and some Disney tunes in the basement. And every Christmas song ever written.
I don’t think I have an unlimited amount of storage capacity in my brain. All those song lyrics are probably taking up more space than they should. Space that I need for other things.
If I could delete a few songs, I might have some room for other things.
I need to make a few trades.
I’ve decided to give up 25% of the Four Seasons, and 40% of the BeeGees, and 100% of Bobby Goldsboro.
And in exchange I’d like to remember:
- Where I put the only good photo of my college self.
- The directions – or at least the name – of that great restaurant we found by accident last year.
- How I tweaked that dinner roll recipe so they came out perfect that one time.
- Whether I took my allergy medicine five minutes ago, or do I still need to take it.
- The location of the property tax bill I just had in my hand.
It’s my husband’s birthday.
I won’t tell you how old he is, but let me say with some glee: Older Than Me!
In celebration of his birthday, let me pay tribute to the good and bad side of one of this strongest traits.
My husband is stubborn.
Probably the stubbornest person I have ever met. Maybe the stubbornest person who ever lived.
He will never give up. He will never give up an opinion or a grudge. (He still hates his first-grade teacher.)
He won’t give up a broken tool. He will fix it. Or perhaps, put it in the cellar to fix “one day.” We have a very crowded cellar.
He won’t throw away left-overs. I ate the Easter ham for the next nine days. He ate the Easter ham for a month. (He is still alive, but that is only because he is too stubborn to admit he was poisoned.)
When we buy a new car, it does not mean that he will part with the old car. He still has his (non-running) 1979 Porsche.
He has: rakes with no tines, shoes with no soles, pens with no ink, watches that last kept time in 1981. When he lost weight, he wore his old clothes for so long that one day as he walked from the kitchen to the den, his pants fell down to his ankles. Thank goodness he was not at the Post Office.
But here’s the positive side of pig-headedness:
He really does sometimes fix stuff that I would have thrown away. He has repaired vacuum cleaners and jewelry and computers.
And he will keep plugging away at something that he does not know how to do until he can do it.
Before he finally retired (and he keeps saying he will go back to work), he was an amazing salesman. Because he never gave up until he got the sale. Yes, he was one of those obnoxious salespeople that will just keep on until they wear you down. There’s good money in that, by the way. And his customers actually liked him, because he got their business through sheer stubbornness and determination – not lies.
And also because the other thing he will not give up on is: People.
I don’t have a lot of friends. He has a ton of friends, and he keeps them.
He is still friends with this little girl:
He is also still very good friends with the girl he dated a few times in high school, more than fifty years ago. Am I jealous of his relationship with this old sweetheart? Only jealous that he can keep friends for so long. I am not exactly friends with my old boyfriends.
When he had surgery several years ago, he received cards and flowers from his customers. And although he has been retired for a few years now, these same customers call every now and then to shoot the breeze.
Years ago, a girlfriend of mine had a problem and called to discuss it. With my husband.
And although it is annoying (which is the diplomatic way to phrase it) to be married to a guy who saves broken staplers, he also saved something else this year that makes me love him still.
He saved the life of an old friend. He didn’t do this alone; his friend’s sister was the most important factor in saving this guy’s life. But my husband was critical too. This guy is a funny, smart and sweet person, who over the course of many years, developed a serious drinking problem. And one day last summer, my husband received a phone call from his friend’s sister. His friend was in the hospital, dying of liver disease. “End-Stage,” the hospital called it, and were not bothering to even treat him. His sister – as stubborn as my husband – would not give up on him. She had a specialist come in and convince the hospital staff – loudly – that her brother did not have to die. And so the hospital reluctantly began to treat him. And the hospital was not the only source of resistance. My husband’s friend has given up too.
So my husband went to the hospital. And he told his friend, “I am keeping you as a friend. I need you in my life, and I refuse to let you go.”
He was the only visitor (other than the sister) that his friend had.
But sometimes one friend who won’t give up on you is enough.
Just recently my husband stopped by his friend’s house. He was remodeling the dining room.
Happy Birthday to my pig-headed hero.
I’ve written several times about the differences between the way men think and the way women think. Although I have to admit, I don’t know what the heck I am talking about, since after twenty-two years of marriage I still don’t have a clue as to the way men think. (However, ignorance has never deterred me from 500 words or so.)
But I have noticed over way longer than twenty-two years – that there are noticeable physical differences between men and women. And not just the obvious one. I noticed that one when I was four and my cousin Johnny peed his name in the snow. I was not jealous though, because I was four and I could already write my name with a pencil, which is a much more practical skill.
But while I am at it, let me mention this. It is my theory (and probably the theory of a zillion other people, since I am sure this is not original) that because women privates are internal is why we women are so wonderfully sensitive. We feel everything from the inside. Whereas men look at life from the vantage point of, well, a point. It’s outside of themselves. Almost like a foreign object.
But back to my original subject.
One difference I noticed: Elbows. Many men have very high elbows. Their elbows are way up around their breasts. That is how they always fold their arms and look so stern. Women on the other hand, have elbows that hinge right around their waists. Which is perfect for doing ‘stern’ with their hands on their hips and their elbows sticking out. Anatomy dictates our best disapproval stance.
Then there are ankles. Some women have extremely skinny ankles, while others have very fat ankles. (Unfortunately, I belong in the latter cankle classification.) But men only have skinny ankles. I have never seen a fat ankle on a dude. (Except for my Grandpa, but he had gout so that doesn’t count.)
And did you ever notice how men’s toes are really long and straight, while women’s toes often curl under? Of course, it could be our shoes that causes such curly toes, but it makes us better at picking up stuff with our feet. (Take that, snow-writing Johnny!)
Going a little lower, lots of women’s belly-buttons are outties. They are considered very sexy. I read once that French obstetricians purposely give little girl babies an outtie, so they will be sexier when they become women. Men don’t have outties. That would not be sexy. That would just be gross. (and redundant.)
Heads. It’s a good thing women have a lot of hair, because most of us have very flat heads in the back. Maybe God thought it would make us more comfortable during sex (our heads wouldn’t loll around when we are on our back). But anyway, that’s why so many of us women have to tease their hair at the crown to make a nicely contoured head. It’s much easier to see the real shape of men’s heads, and they are never flat.
On the other hand (of heads, though, not hands), men have the scar-riest heads. With buzz-cuts and shaved heads so popular, I have never seen so many scalp scars. What the hell happens during childhood that leaves so many nicks and dents?
But that brings me back around to my first paragraph.
Perhaps all those bumps in their early years is why their brain processes are so weird.
I recently re-posted a piece from a few years ago – “How To Be Old.” I can see the allure of growing old gracefully a la Judy Collins, but I also see the delight of defying old age like Buffy Sainte-Marie.
And this week I saw another approach to old age.
I would call it Gentility.
My husband and I were at A.J.’s, our favorite dive in Goshen, Connecticut. (Yes, there is a Land O’ Goshen here in the northwest corner).
A.J.’s is a cellar. Literally. Upstairs is the kitchen and take out pizza window. You go downstairs to the bar and what you might kindly call a dining room. They did a remodel last year – which basically means they fixed some of the holes in the ceiling.
To put it mildly, A.J.’s clientele is diverse. Lots of bikers and old guys sitting at the bar mingle happily with the families with toddlers. There’s a barrel full of peanuts and the patrons are encouraged to toss the shells on the floor. So walking around is really crunchy. If you have a wobbly table, the waitress hands you a stack of cardboard coasters. Use as many as you want.
But the best thing is the food. The pizza is good, the steak is good, the bison burgers are incredible. And Fish Night – well, Clinton Kelly was there last summer for the oysters. (Good thing I was wearing something cute.)
Sunday night is taco night – $2.00 each. We go there just about every Sunday. We split a big house salad, and have one taco each. Hubby has a beer or two, but I stick with water. We are usually out the door for under $20.00, tip included.
And this Sunday, I was eating my beef taco in the soft shell, when an ancient couple came haltingly down the rickety steps. One foot down, the next foot to meet it. Stop. One foot down. Next foot down. Stop. Repeat.
They finally came into view. Both the old lady and the old man had white hair, bent shoulders, and high-waisted pants. The old guy was distinctly more debilitated than the wife. He could hardly walk, but his gallantry amazed me.
For when they shuffled over to the table, the wife stood, holding the table edge for support (I prayed the rickety thing would hold her), and her husband, with great effort, pulled out her chair, and extending his shaky hand, offered her a seat.
Gentility in a biker bar.
That’s a good way to be old.
My husband took another shortcut the other day.
He is notorious (to me) for taking shortcuts that are anything but. He once took a shortcut that added about forty-nine minutes to our drive home. (not that I was counting). I thought at one point I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Vermont.”
Usually I don’t mind. He’s driving, and I hate to drive. And if he takes a bit longer to get where we’re going, it doesn’t make much difference to me. Except of course if I have to go to the bathroom. (Which is often. So I admit it. Sometimes I do mind.)
Anyway, on this particular trip, I had my overactive bladder in check, so as we went six towns out of our way, I was just peeping into the windows of other people’s houses and wondering what their lives might be like. This is one of my favorite past-times and I get to do it a lot, given the number of looong shortcuts I’ve been on.
At first I didn’t have a clue where we were, and then Hubby turned onto a busy commercial road – the kind with strip malls and fast food joints on both sides of the road. We went under a railroad trestle and on the other side was:
It’s a convenience store now, but in 1971 it was The Printer’s Devil Bookshop.
Printer’s Devil sold used paperbacks – the kind with the covers torn off. If the books were in good shape, they might fetch a dollar. Most of them were in very very poor condition and could be had for a quarter. As long as it was only the cover that was missing, I’d buy really messed-up books. (I remember we had to read “Tropic of Cancer” in my Modern Lit class, and the professor asked me a question about a certain story-point and I said that I had to skip that part because those pages were stuck together, but because of that I could assume that sex had happened. He did not ask me any further questions that semester.)
Printer’s Devil was also a headshop. For those folks not of the Woodstock generation, that means they sold rolling papers and roach clips and that kind of shit. And if you still don’t know what I mean, then you are very nice and very old indeed. I did not shop at that end of the store very much, although I will not say I never did.
And they sold some clothes – gauzy Mexican shirts and woven bags and punched leather belts and soft-soled moccasins. And yeah, I wore all those Hippie things, and bought some of them there.
Then there was a corner with all the essentials for a good little hippie. Sealing wax and stamps – I had a rose stamp with black sealing wax that I loved. (Do you remember sealing letters with a dab of wax? Do you remember letters?) And incense – which I bought and burned even though I really didn’t like it. It was part of the persona and I adopted it without question.
I loved going to Printer’s Devil and the summer that was my hippie peak I probably went twice a week.
I bought tons of books and the few pieces of clothing that my college poverty allowed.
But what I really went there for was a boyfriend.
I went to the Printer’s Devil Bookshop hoping to find a loving boyfriend among those guitar-strumming, barefoot, long-haired, headband-wearing dudes that hung out there every day. How I adored those boys.
And what makes this memory so sweet is this: During that whole summer and all those visits to that shop – that shy young girl looking so desperately for a boyfriend – she never spoke to anyone there.
I’ve long had bittersweet feelings for Mother’s Day.
On one hand, my mother is my favorite person in the whole world. (Sorry, Hubby, but it’s true.)
But the biggest regret of my life is that I never had children. I married late in life and it just never happened. For many years I thought my heart would break. But it didn’t break completely. And as the years went by, a kind of contentment filled that empty space. No one gets everything she wants in life. And I have so many wonderful gifts.
And I also filled that empty space with someone else to love. Children of the furry kind.
Since I met my husband we’ve had a batch of kitties. Multiples at one time. Three right now.
And they are sweet and funny and loving. And I don’t have to sacrifice my wardrobe budget for a college fund.
The kitties ALL prefer my husband.
I want to feel motherly towards them. I really do. But they don’t see me as Mommy.
They have Mr. Mom.
And I see that I may not have quite the maternal instinct I thought I had. Because my husband’s maternal instinct is so much stronger
This Mother’s Day was no exception.
In the morning we took our usual Sunday walk around the yard, checking all the flower beds while we had our second cup of coffee. Our two oldest cats came with us.
Stewart, our big male, is quite a coward, and after five minutes he went to the kitchen door, and we let him back in the house. He was late for a nap.
That left our old girl, Snickers. She’s about 15, but under 6 lbs. She’s a tiny but fearless thing. She followed us around the yard for just a few minutes, and then took off for her own exploration.
My husband went into a panic. “Oh no! She’s run away! She’ll be killed by a coyote! She’ll get lost! I can’t bear to lose her this way!”
And one half hour later, she came trotting up the driveway and came in.
Later in the afternoon, after all our Sunday chores were done, we took our showers and got ready to visit my mother.
I was reading a book, waiting for my husband to take his shower. And he finally came down (he takes as long in the shower as I do) and he said, “Where’s Lillian?” (that’s the youngest cat)
“I don’t know,” I mumbled, not looking up from my book.
And Hubby went berserk.
“I can’t understand why you don’t even give a damn about the cats!” he hollered. “You didn’t even look for Lillian!”
“I didn’t know she was missing,” I replied calmly.
“Well, I don’t see her and you know she was despondent!”
Yeah, that’s the word he used. Despondent.
Here’s the story. Lillian is not only a little fat. She is obese. And we are worried about her health. So on Monday we tried a new healthier, low-calorie cat food. And Lillian went under the bed and sulked. And the next day my husband relented and gave Lillian her favorite Meow Mix, which I think is the Froot Loops of the feline junk food world.
I am a bad mother. I didn’t even realize she was despondent.
And by the way, she was sleeping in the sunshine by the French doors.
Happy Mother’s Day to my husband – mother to Snickers, Stewart and Lillian.
A post from September 2011:
I’m normally not much of a concert-goer. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like crowded parking lots, and I especially don’t like crowded ladies’ rooms. I put up with all of the above for the love of my life, James Taylor. Everyone else, not so much.
Recently, however, I went to two concerts in the same week, in the same theatre (shout-out here to beautiful little Infinity Hall in Norfolk CT).
The first concert was Judy Collins. My longtime friend was turning sixty, and we had attended a Judy Collins concert together forty years before. So it was a nostalgic outing for us, celebrating not only sixty years of living, but our forty-plus years of friendship.
Judy is now 72. She is still lovely. Tall, slim, long silver hair, aristocratic features. She is the perfect example of growing old gracefully. She wore a black pantsuit with a black sequined top – more the Fifth Avenue soiree hostess than the folksinger who inspired us with her voice, and inspired other hippies to write songs like “Judy Blue Eyes”.
She had aged beautifully, if imperfectly. Her voice was sometimes flawless, sometimes wavering. She spent long intervals tuning and re-tuning her guitar, rambling a bit. Worst of all, she forgot the words in several of her most famous songs. We loved her and forgave her, because we are with her in this aging ordeal.
Through a fortunate circumstance (a deal on the tickets), two days later I went back to Infinity Hall, this time with my husband, to see Buffy Sainte-Marie. If Judy Collins was my girlfriend’s favorite forty years ago, Buffy was mine. My husband was clueless, but willing.
A Canadian Cree, forty years ago Buffy was raw and fierce and angry. And when she stepped out on stage in 2011, she still was. Dressed in jeans and leather and feathers, her songs were wild and furious. When she threw up her arms with delight or passion, her shirt rose up too, exposing a very attractive belly-button. She sang with a much-younger backup band of Native American men who were crazy and energetic, and Buffy, at seventy, out-rocked them all.
Whereas Judy showed us the sweet passage of time; Buffy made time stand still.
Judy and Buffy – two different approaches to aging. Graceful and Defiant. Sometimes I am one and sometimes I am the other. Mostly I am the other.
After I so thoroughly and lovingly complimented myself last week, I think it is only fair to acknowledge that I just perhaps – very slightly – might have a few shortcomings.
How I React To Criticism:
Although I recognize that I have a few faults – I do not want ANYONE to actually point out ANY OF THEM.
I am crazy-defensive (or just plain crazy). I am full of faults in my own mind, but I’d better be perfect in yours. (Right, Hubby?)
It’s not that I won’t eventually – at some much later date – in a moment of quiet reflection – consider the possibility that I might have a tiny bit of room for improvement. And maybe, also eventually, take some correction action.
But in the moment – and for many many moments afterwards – I feel just shitloads of anger, denial, and hurt.
Sometimes I can stay that way for a very long time. Years ago I had a boss scream at me in a big meeting: “WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!” And even if I had been wrong, wrong, wrong (which I was not, by the way), that approach to criticism will never get to the quiet reflection stage.
Although I will admit that even the gentlest of constructive criticism (“You might want to consider this little idea the next time you have a project like this…”) is not exactly welcome either.
Mostly I think every human being is as thin-skinned as I am.
But not quite everyone.
Twenty years ago, I witnessed such an accepting and undefensive reaction to criticism, it has stuck with me all these years. It’s a standard of openness that I will never achieve. But still a worthy goal.
It was 1994 (and I am sure because I worked in the television industry, and had a TV in my office, and I remember watching Jackie Kennedy’s funeral). My boss at the time was a super-smart rather grumpy guy who I really liked. He tended to shoot the breeze for a good portion of the day, and then work in tremendous bursts of energy just before a deadline. This style suited me perfectly.
(Not to mention that he liked the same toppings on his pizza as I did.)
We both reported to and were at the mercy of the WRONG WRONG WRONG boss. She was also super-smart, but major stressed out, and the type of manager who got angry before she got facts. She had an advanced degree in Jumping To Conclusions. In a high-pressure job in a male-dominated industry (to try to be fair) she was an ethical and committed executive who was apoplectic more often than encouraging. She’d turn purple to the roots of her hair. If I walked into her office and the part in her hair was still purple from the last meeting, I usually excused myself and re-scheduled.
This particular day in 1994, it was my boss, Eric, on the receiving end of the fury.
I can’t even remember the topic. But Eric got his ass handed to him – with a new asshole torn in that which was handed to him – for something not even remotely his fault. In front of me.
Eventually we were released and crawled back to our own offices. But not for long. I immediately went to Eric’s office in my own furious reaction.
“That was so unfair!” I yelled. “You didn’t deserve that! And she had no right to humiliate you in front of me!”
But Eric shook his head.
“It’s okay,” he said calmly.
“No, it’s not!” You didn’t deserve that!” I reiterated.
“Maybe not this time,’” he said. “But plenty of times, I do.”
And that was it. He got back to work. And sent me back to my office to vent my outrage that he didn’t share.
It was a wondrous thing.
I’ve always hoped that I someday I would display that level of maturity as an example to my own subordinates. Since I am now about one year from retirement, I don’t hold much hope for it.
You know what’s my pet peeve?
The expression ‘Pet Peeve’.
How can a peeve be a pet? A pet is something darling, something cherished. Of course, I have known a few pets (not one of mine, of course) who were pretty obnoxious. Maybe those are the pets being peevers.
I am easy to please. I like just about everything.
But not quite.
Here are a few of my top Peeves.
1. Dolman Sleeve Peeve. I see the perfect red tee on the sale rack. Until I pick it up and there are bat-wings. Why would you want your upper arms to look big and loose? I am sufficient in that area already, thank you.
2. ITS – IT’S – ITS’ Peeve. Come on! Its’??? Really??? This is not hard. Can you change the sentence to “it is”? Then use “it’s”. Anything else is “its”. PERIOD.
3. Penne Peeve. So I have a conversation with the waitperson – “What do you think – is the penne a better choice than the scampi?” And the waitress tells me how she likes the penne and the vodka sauce is really good, and her mother always orders that. And on and on. And then fifteen minutes later she brings out the food and says, “Who had the penne?”
4, Miley Peeve. I’ve seen more of her tongue than my husband’s. Put it away already.
5. Parking Peeve. You know how sometimes you are waiting for a parking place and the person pulling out is insufferably slow? Well, I’m not peeved at the slow person pulling out. I’M the slow person pulling out. I’m peeved at YOU drumming your fingers on the steering wheel so impatiently disgusted.
I’m slow because you’re watching me. Stop making me nervous.